Reflections on childhood and God

Over this Easter I have been thinking a lot about my childhood and realising while it was painful in many ways (very dysfunctional, disjointed family and chronic bullying at school) I have a lot to be grateful for. I spent a lot of time in nature, whether it was picking blackberries down the field over the fence that backed onto the bottom of our council estate, or hiding in a makeshift ‘den’ which consisted of a tree stump surrounded by overhanging hedgerow over the fence that ran alongside our house. I spent a lot of time in nature and had freedom that many kids these days can’t even imagine.

Most of all, though, I found comfort in the Bible. I took my Good News Bible down to my den and read it there. No one forced me to read it; on the contrary, I grew interested in it myself being an avid reader of Enid Blyton books where, being the 1950’s, every child went to church and Sunday school. I decided I wanted to go and my mum, being drawn to religion herself, took me every week. It was there I bought my Bible, some workbooks, and several wonderful books by Patricia St John about children of my age who were troubled in some way before finding God and becoming Christian.

My view of God was very simple. I could talk to him daily and did through the Bible workbooks I completed in my den. He was all powerful but loving and good. I wanted to be good to please God. That was massively important to me, so much so that I completed many notebook entries simply asking God to help me to be good. My childhood inevitably tapped into this need to be good because I was the ‘good child’ for my mum whilst my sister had severe mental disturbances and caused my mum a lot of pain. I wasn’t told to be good, however, and I certainly wasn’t threatened with God’s wrath if I wasn’t. The desire to find God and do right by him belonged to me alone.

In some ways I miss the simplicity of those years. I had no doubt that God had my back. I saw him as a loving parent, someone who cared for me. Someone who was always THERE. My view of God is now much more complicated. When I pray, I no longer feel just as though I’m praying to someone outside of me, but affirming something inside. God isn’t a personal being sitting on a cloud, but an energy that exists in each one of us and the entire universe. This means the power lies within and always has done. My childhood dreams of God enabled me to tap into that power and transform myself through my faith.

What I’m missing is that certainty, that focus, that point of power. I’ve lost that innocence and now my mind questions and critics everything. It’s no longer straightforward. I have purchased a few of the Patricia St John books that I used to read to help me tap into that energy again and the part of me that knew the truth no matter what form it took. I didn’t even consider any other forms. I didn’t question it. It just was. I’m finding my way back there through meditation and – yes- prayer, but I need to be mindful that I don’t get side-tracked by critical thoughts such as ‘but God doesn’t exist outside of you.’ Says who? God is everywhere, inside and out. It doesn’t matter what term we give it – God, Divine, Energy, Source – we are all part of it. But the point of power has always been within. The difference between the child and the adult is that the former didn’t know this, but the latter does.

Family, being triggered and grief

Ram Das once said ‘If you think you’re enlightened, spend a week with your family.’ Now, I don’t think I’m enlightened at all, very far from it, and I’d be suspicious of anyone who said they were. But I have worked hard on my spiritual awareness and can access a certain level of inner peace when I keep my focus on being in the present moment and responding from love rather than the less conscious and wounded part of my personality. However, Ram Das was right on point by saying that it’s our family who trigger us the most.

Even after all these years (I’m in my 40s) the essence of my struggle lies in not being able to let go of the wish my family were different and the need to belong to some sort of family unit. Even as an adult this need has been denied me for so many reasons. I try to see the positives; I am free to live my own life in the way I choose now and I don’t have to answer to anyone. But somehow this need survives and at times it is all pervasive. Christmas stirred it all up of course but the reason I am writing this is not even about Christmas, it is due to the realisation that deep down I still carry hope and expectations that my family will change and so many unconscious wishes still underlie my (albeit limited) relationship with them.

I know that how they were and are with me is not personal. There’s some sort of comfort in that. Most relatives don’t even know me as a person so it couldn’t be personal. A baby came into the family at a certain time and it happened to be me. Their lack of interest wasn’t a reflection on me but what was happening in their life at the time. For years I blamed myself because, well, as a kid you always think it’s your fault. And if it’s your fault you can potentially fix yourself. There is a lot of grief in realising there’s nothing you could have done because the problem lies elsewhere. It’s freeing, for sure, but devastating all at once.

It’s so hard to break free from longing for a ‘proper’ (I hesitate to use the word ‘normal’) relationship with my family. I get on well (on a surface level) with my mother, so it’s not even the lack of a parent, albeit we don’t have a deep relationship; it’s more the longing for a sense of belonging because growing up that just wasn’t there. My family was divided in ways that I can’t begin to write about despite living in the same household. There were secrets and rules, family members I could talk to and those I couldn’t. Nothing was ever said, only implied. Mental health issues were rife. I wasn’t brought up, I pretty much did it all myself. I was so withdrawn at school that I had very few friends and was bullied. I turned to God so I never felt truly alone even though I was terribly lonely in my family.

I’ve moved on. I’ve had loads of therapy. I’ve come to terms with so much of it. And yet…there is a part of me who can’t let go, who is still crying out for external acceptance and belonging, to know I am valued as a family member. I’m still seeking their approval even now. I’m glad I have realised this so I can grieve for what never was and won’t be. I don’t need anyone’s approval any more other than my own, it’s just so sad for my inner child who longed for it when she should have been given it. I know I’m far from alone on this healing journey. I’m grateful for that knowledge. That and my spirituality gives me strength.

Thinking of those who are struggling with similar issues around families. I hear and feel you. You’re not alone!

Christmas: The eternal light within

Firstly, I truly hope everyone had the best Christmas possible, whether spent with family, friends, strangers, or oneself (I have done all of these at some point).

I was listening to another you tube video by the wonderful Matt Kahn yesterday entitled ‘Choosing to be here’ and thought how badly I need to take that in and really, really, apply it to my life right now. I am feeling a lot of inner resistance to what IS. I spent Christmas day with a few relatives and while I was blessed to have somewhere to go, I felt very disconnected and sad. The wounded part of me was crying out for my upbringing to have been different, for my relatives to behave differently, for my life to feel more connected and loving than it does. On reflection it was obvious that the disconnect came from me. Not that it means blaming myself for my feelings or experiences because they happened and they hurt, but I have a choice now in how I relate to myself and those around me.

Matt Kahn talks about relating to each moment as if we had chosen it. I know this is a common idea in spiritual circles but I had not fully grasped it until now, whilst feeling the pain of resistance to the extent that I did after spending Christmas with my family. It does not mean that myself or anyone else ‘asked’ for abuse or other horrific experiences or even that we literally chose them before incarnating (although we may have, who can know); instead it points to the idea that everything that happens is our teacher and we can sift even the most terrible experiences for their gold. Rather than sinking into despair over our longing for something different, we can look at what IS and ask how we can respond to this, how we can learn from it, how we can let it transform into something greater.

My hurt is real. My inner child is real. A common pitfall on the spiritual path is to ‘bypass’ our woundedness in favour of intellectual spiritual wisdom, all the while forgetting that true wisdom is found in facing our darkness, our pain, head on and understanding and accepting it. The essence of Matt Kahn’s teaching is loving whatever arises, or if we cannot love it, loving the part of us who cannot love. In this context, I can love the little girl in me who was sad at Christmas because she knew others were having Christmases that she could only dream about. More than that, she longed for the experience of belonging to a family who loved each other and had fun together in ways that hers never did or will. Those longings are valid. Who as a child didn’t want to be cared for by people who loved and respected each other and came together at Christmas of all days? It is okay to hurt. But the key is not getting stuck. We feel to heal.

I spent two nights crying with emotional pain that I thought I’d transformed ages ago. I felt so awful that I wondered if I was dying. Then it occurred that maybe I was. Not literally of course, but dying to a past that has gone; dying to the wish that things could have been any different. I can only accept the child’s emotions and tell her that she is loved and accepted and we’ll be okay somehow. She needs to know that it is not ‘wrong’ to feel the way she does. But as with any child, she also needs to know that those feelings are only a small facet of her world and they’re not going to destroy her entire being. On the contrary, they will bring rainbows once the storm has passed.

The adult me knows that I can only change myself, not other people. Maybe the gift of Christmas lies in knowing that ultimately I belong to myself. I am made of light. I can love and accept myself. I can learn to feel at peace within my own being. No matter how dark and dire our personal circumstances are, how agonising the despair, our inner light is stronger. Whilst I feel on the outside with family members and indeed many others at Christmas, the learning lies in what Christmas is all about: love and hope and transformation. Emotional pain WILL be transformed, if we let it. The image of the crucifixion is what THIS is all about: ‘I have overcome the world’ says Jesus. So can we all. This doesn’t mean never being affected by anything – Jesus himself felt abandoned by God in his darkness moments – but we can trust in our eternal light which cannot ever be destroyed. This is the spirit of Christmas.

Wishing everyone the very best as we approach the end of 2021.

In the moment you have a choice

When your childhood wounds seem to have you in a tight grip, squeezing the air out of your lungs, closing their fingers around your heart, desperate for another temporary release from a lifetime of pain, you have a choice.

When you can stop, feel the longing, the anger, the desperate need to escape from this pain into what you think you need, or what some part of you thinks it needs, you have a choice.

Even when you feel the tightness, the agony, and know you have a choice, but you act out anyway, you have a choice.

In awareness there is always choice. Even when the desire pulls you this way or that, you remain aware, the compassionate witness, understanding that there is space between the ‘you’ that you think you are who is gripped by a need for something out there to relieve fear and feel safe, and the witness which is ever present, eternal and loving.

The witness, the soul, higher self, Divine spark or whatever else we may call it, does not need to judge the child who is consumed by painful emotions and desires. The child is simply reaching for whatever seems to provide the relief from pain and the security it needs. Until the child learns there is another way, the witness can love the child – not the behaviour, but the child – and let the child know that love is found here, in this moment.

Even when the child does not believe you, or refuses to listen, maybe because the messages from the past are too entrenched, the fear too great, the desires too tantalising, and the witness totally disappears, all is not lost because the witness has not really gone away, it is always there; the sky within which everything else passes. And once again, there is a choice.

You can choose to reach out to the higher power to which all of us are connected, to pray, ask for guidance, ask for the courage to choose love.

In the moment, you have a choice.

Coping with disappointment

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I probably speak for almost everybody when I say I don’t cope well with disappointment. It’s such a crushing, sickening feeling that makes me want to scream at somebody or rage at the injustice of life itself. Quite often there’s nowhere for it to go, thus compounding feelings of helplessness and hurt. But like all emotions, it has something to teach us.

Perhaps more than any other, disappointment is an emotion that brings forth the wounded inner child and reminds me that it is still alive and kicking within me. If I listen, really listen, to that child, I can hear her pain and know that it’s valid and understandable, even though my adult self is tempted to try to escape those feelings or criticise myself for ‘being silly’ or even bypass them with spiritual teachings.

Years ago, when I was married, my ex husband proudly told me that he was starting a new healthy eating regime and was making himself a salad to take to work for his lunch. That evening I asked whether he enjoyed his lunch. My ex told me that he’d mixed the dressing with the salad while preparing it so when he opened his new lunch box it had all gone limp and horrible and he’d had to throw it away. Not a pleasant, yet very unremarkable experience, but the pain in his voice revealed the hurt and disappointed little boy who was crushed by the loss of not just his lunch but the excitement and plans for a new diet. It brought tears to my eyes as I empathised with just how upsetting that experience had been.

The disappointed child within us needs to be listened to and validated. This child carries our deepest wounds and the difficult and often painful work lies in understanding what they are. Even if it seems utterly inconsequential on the surface – such as my ex husband’s lunch – it often points to a deeper loss and sadness that needs and deserves compassion. Ironically, while I was empathic on that particular occasion, it’s only many years on that I can see how wounded my ex was – we both were – and how often we ‘triggered’ each other’s pain. Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle calls this the ‘pain body’ which I really like and resonate with.

Despite my years of intellectual spiritual study I am only recently learning how many of my childhood wounds still exist in me and how emotions such as disappointment serve to make these wounds known. As painful as the experience is, I am trying to take a small step back and notice what’s happening – remain in presence as Eckhart will say – and not resist, deny or lose myself in it. In letting every moment be my teacher, I can learn how to embrace the disappointed little girl and let her know she is seen and heard, as well as accepted and loved.

Wholeness

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What does wholeness really mean? Almost every spiritual teaching refers to it, pointing to the fact that each of us is whole at the core, not in need of anything outside ourselves. Of course this is not meant to be taken literally as human beings depend on each other for our very survival – most of us (not all) need others to build our homes, prepare our food, make our clothes. Even going beyond the absolute basics, it can be argued we need others for companionship and support. No man is an island, as the saying goes. We shouldn’t have to live alone. For a great many people, that would be hellish.

Wholeness points to another kind of independence, or perhaps put better as inter-dependence. Many teachings say that there is no separation and that in fact we are each part of the same soul. Put differently, we are each a spark of the Divine so we carry the God-like wholeness within our very being. We are both whole and part of everything and everyone else. We can look to others to supply what we need – food, clothing, emotional support – without losing a sense of our own self, or our own Divinity (if one is so inclined to call it).

Well, in theory anyway.

Painful childhood experiences (or indeed, adult experiences) can derail this whole process (pun intended). It is hard to grow up feeling whole when a child has been neglected, belittled or abused. Their mind will become conditioned into thinking there is something very wrong with them. Not only that, they won’t have received what they need from their parents or other loving adults to be capable of growing into a psychologically healthy adult. Trauma, not even just the ‘obvious’ kinds such as abuse, can fragment a child’s sense of self, causing them to grow up emotionally dependent on other people and unable to gain a sense of their own self – known as co-dependence.

This is why I love Carl Jung. He stated that integration is necessary for one to achieve individuation (which to him was about fulfilling one’s potential, which can also be viewed as a connection to the Divine within). Wholeness means acknowledging the painful parts of themselves, not ignoring or denying them. It doesn’t have to mean loving or even liking them, but accepting they are there and part of the whole process.

Some may call the soul the part of us that is truly whole and the mind as the flawed ego. But I feel a little uncomfortable with this. I prefer to see the soul and the mind as working in tandem. The mind, when opening to something outside of itself, can learn to serve the soul’s agenda, but the mind is not wrong. It is doing the absolute best it can considering its experiences. It’s possible to accept those parts of us that block us from being open to something more – the spark of Divinity that we are. It’s an in depth process, as I know myself. I’m not sure it ever stops. It means being aware of the aspects of our personality that we consider less than perfect – the desperate neediness, the controlling behaviour, the jealousy – and trying to accept and understand them as being part of where we are on this journey while always holding onto our potential. That’s how I have come to see it.

Wholeness, then, for me is about love. It’s all about love. Loving oneself, loving others without getting lost in them, accepting and learning to love even the parts of ourselves that take us far from the feelings and behaviours that we wish we had; learning to integrate it all like a beautiful radiant kaleidoscope of Divine colour. Everything is truly Divine; there is nothing else.