February 21, 2017

Childhood: Revisited

The spiritual concept of “inner child” has been repeating itself to me lately. Inner child refers to the innocent, child-like part of our soul that still yearns to practice both the attitudes of our childhood (wonder, curiosity, playfulness, shamelessness, humor, lightheartedness) and even the actions of our childhood (building a fort of blankets and chairs, dancing, singing, walking around barefoot, etc.).

As I began writing this post, the first memory that came to my mind was my dad, sister, and me (my brother was just a baby) dancing to Billy Joel in my childhood living room. I remember my sister and me being in our underwear with disheveled sleeping kid hair, skipping around the living room while my dad pressed play on the Billy Joel Greatest Hits CD in our stereo. I particularly remember playing with my dad, being tossed and caught in the air, jumping on the couch, and having a blissfuly joyful time in that room when River of Dreams came on.

As I just wrote the previous paragraph, I said to myself, “Instead of just writing about connecting with my inner child, why not actually reconnect with my inner-child?” Then, right before beginning this paragraph, I pulled up River of Dreams on YouTube. Immediate misty tears flowed. I haven’t heard this song probably since that time in my life, and seeing the album cover art–which I wouldn’t have been able to describe to you without seeing it–suddenly jogged a million memories. I can feel the plastic CD case. I can see myself opening the glass case to the stereo system, carefully opening the case, seeing the bearded man with the whimsical drawings behind him, popping the CD into the stereo, and shutting the glass case to the stereo–always a slamming it a little to hard–in the pure excitement of my song beginning to play.

After pulling up the song on YouTube, I knew what had to come next. I pulled my computer not the living room, put that shit on blast, picked up my unsuspecting dog, and danced around the living room with her for the entirety of the song, rolling around on the floor and wrestling on the couch as well. My windows were wide open, not giving a fuck who saw. In the span of those four minutes, I saw the existential mindfuck of that moment: Here I am, twenty years later, playing this song on YouTube, a concept unfathomable in 1995, in my dual role as a child reliving my experience, but also as father dancing with my daughter. Lillian was dog-smiling the whole time. Her intuition helped her understand there was some spiritual significance to that moment.

So I continue to write, misty-eyed, as I am reminded of the power of the inner child: how we yearn for those simpler times, forgetting that we can still create those moments as long as we’re willing to temporarily suspend our adult socialization of shame and caution. As I caught glimpses of myself dancing with my dog in my living room mirror, I wondered if all that much has changed about me since that time, or if I’m still very much the same four-year-old boy who just wants to dance in his underwear.

According to Dr. Kevin Leman and Randy Carlson, co-authors of a book called Unlocking the Secrets of Your Childhood Memories, the answer would be, No, you are still the same person. Their work suggests that the same core values, personality traits, and behaviors we exhibit as adults were present when we were children, but due to our mild cases of amnesia we experience growing older, we aren’t able to remember every detail, significant or minor, that would provide us with evidence to support the consistency of our personality. They call this the law of creative consistency, which states we selectively compile memories that fit into our paradigm of what we already project ourselves to be.

This book outlines some wonderful exercises to help you delve into the memory banks to experience moments you have completely forgotten about since it occurred in real-time. Those memories are never lost; they’re sitting there in your brain waiting for you to remember them! I had never consciously thought about my Billy Joel memory and the significant level of detail associated with it until I reflected on childhood rituals as a result of this book.

To continue testing this theory, I dove into my box of childhood photos. I felt like I stepped into a time machine–I never look at these photos, the context of my past and the predictor of my present. When I did, I couldn’t help but let out many sighs of understanding, humor, and relief: I am totally the same person I was as when I was a child. My soul has a personality, and it is ever-present along my entire journey in this incarnation. Consciously we would think that our scarring experiences of teenage years, college, and young adulthood would have derailed us and made us a “completely different person,” but the truth is that we were always that person; we just didn’t have the language and cognitive understanding to identify as them.

For example:

My inevitable adoption of tattoos (with the exception of being next to my sister, this photo could have been taken, like, five minutes ago):

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My inevitable interest in drag, opposing gender appearance norms, and dress-up, as evidenced in this childhood genderfuck look:

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My inevitable adult value of pairing healthy with less healthy:

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My inevitable career as a teacher (Note: This is a separate post in the making, but know that my obsession with Matchbox cars for the majority of my childhood had nothing to do with racing the cars, but everything to do with assigning them each a first and last name, arranging them into “classes” with class rosters as if they were my students, and lining them up for a class photo like the one below, where I am the teacher posing on the side):

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My inevitable love for the aesthetic and smell of candles that now surround me as an adult:

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My inevitable irreverent personality that began with exclusively making weird faces in photos as a child, manifesting into still not giving a fuck about adhering to etiquette norms as an adult (which is clearly a family value as well):

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A few invitations for you:

Do your equivalent of the Billy Joel underwear dance. Whatever thought immediately came to mind when you read that sentence is what you should do.

Go through childhood photos if you have them. That experience was shocking, empowering, and blissful for me.

Listen to Sunday’s podcast about this same topic for some practical memory revisitation and reflection techniques to help you tap into your inner child.

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