Sunday, March 2, 2014

Lessons from our Inner Toddler

"I celebrate myself, and sing myself."~ Walt Whitman

The intuitive nature of self-love is apparent in the toddler. The love of all aspects of self from the fascination with their toes and fingers to the total embrace of emotions, the young child neither judges nor resists any aspect of his or her humanity. The toddler accepts her tears with the same abandon as her laughter. However, around the age of six or seven, the toddler child develops an awareness of outside, cultural expectations. The intuitive instinct to accept the self unabashedly is stifled by judgments both internal and external. The child now questions their internal voice and looks for validation from parents, friends, and community. The good news: we can reclaim our loving, knowing selves by reacquainting ourselves with the toddler within.
The toddler accepts his intuitive voice wholly and without question - As growing children, the need to, as psychologist and educator Robert Kegan writes, “look into the souls of our neighbors for verification,” begins the act of separating from our inner knowing. What was once innate and effortless becomes a struggle. As we learn to judge ourselves as culture, parents, peers dictate, thus begins an internal battle to bring together the instincts of Self and the learned values of the outside world. We even question our thoughts by polling others. Do you instinctively know the answer but must ask everyone around you how they would act to gain approval before allowing yourself to take action? Discover who you are by remembering who you were as boundless, all-knowing child.
The toddler experiences emotions without judgment  - As toddlers we laughed with abandon and let that laughter shift into tears only to shift again into curiosity. We accepted our full range of emotions without feeling weighted or defined. As adults we question and feel trapped by our emotions. We no longer accept our tears. How many of us apologize for crying, stifle laughter when it is deemed inappropriate, or even quell our joy fearing that our jubilant show will somehow be compromised if we put it on display. We hold joy as precarious by questioning how long it will last, and we may even feel we can jinx ourselves by enjoying life a little too much. Our emotions inform us and guide us. If we resist our emotions, we deny a part of our humanity.
How do we get back the self-love we had as toddlers? Fully accepting all aspects of our humanity, like the toddler standing in proud awe of her poop, is the key. The practice of acceptance is not an easy one. We will have to learn how to love our thighs, our bank accounts, our failed relationships as much as the toddler within us loved her fingers and toes.