When I grow up, I want to be a toddler. And Helen Mirren. I want to be a toddler Helen Mirren. Toddlers and adults have a breathtaking awareness of self, but this awareness eludes us in the inbetween years. We have it as a free unconscious gift when we're very little, and then we lose it, and then we have to consciously give this gift back to ourselves, earning it back pinch by tiny pinch.
The next time you have a toddler around, look at them. Exclamation points shooting off them in all directions, all the time! Life is as an exclamation! And it's underlined for good measure!
¡Me! Me! Me! They say with their bodies. Whatever they're doing, they are really doing it, all the way. Their senses and minds are in overdrive, perceiving experience on a thousand levels at once. Their total absorption in Self and Moment is beautiful. They're totally present, all the time,
and there's no room for anything else. ¡I! Am standing in the grocery store!
What if we brought some of that engagement into our own lives?
“But it's easy for toddlers,” you say. “They're not doing it on purpose, and they're not aware of their awareness.” Ah...so what if we were Helen Mirren? (Or Meryl Streep, Marvellous Meryl.)
Adults who have spent their lives learning about themselves have a grounded, giant-tap-root quality to them that is similar to that of toddlers who don't know about anything else yet. The difference is that babies and very small children have little feathery roots growing out of them in all directions, everywhere, connecting them to society so we'll take care of them. They have an overwhelming sense of self, but, they do not have a sense of differentiation of self from other, yet. This merging is developmentally appropriate for beings who could not yet survive without being cared for constantly by others.
Adults with a sense of self, on the other hand, have tended their self-plant over their lifetime so that by now instead of zillions of soft little tendrilly roots growing out of them everywhere, they have one majorly huge root that goes straight down into the earth (like Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul). Maybe some little ivy-clingers here and there to connect them with society, but most of their power is focussed into this great big fat root that goes down far, far, far, and all that focus makes it formidable and useful. It helps them say: .I.
As little ones, we know everything but we aren't aware of it. As big grown-up ones, we can use what we know because we're aware of our knowing. Little ones don't yet have a template for defining themselves by other's judgments of them, and big grown-up ones draw their self-definition from their giant tap-roots. It's a work in progress for everyone, but they do so much more noticeably than in-the-middle people do. Little ones, ideally, still live in a version of life where they assume everyone will love them, instantly, as much as their parents do, because all they know so far (ideally) is love. Love pervades them, in and out. Big ones live in a version
of life (to varying extents) where their fundamental source of love is that giant tap-root connecting them with the rest of the world, so for them too, there's love in and out.
Why do we temporarily lose this ability to “I?” Rather, why is this iBility overwritten by a world that thinks it knows your “I” better than you do, and where does the world get off thinking that?
Why does civilization consist of telling people whom they should and shouldn't be? Human DNA has never combined in exactly the same way twice. We're all bespoke. So why does so much time get wasted by others trying to force us into their off-the-rack clothes for us that aren't going to fit anyway?
When we're little, not only is everything about us and everything we do wonderful and fascinating for us, it's also wonderful and fascinating for everyone around us. Oh look, the clever baby found his toe! That's amazing! —And when we're big, we have earned
self-definition of truth, so we decide what's wonderful and fascinating for us and that's where the buck stops. I recently found my toe after a yoga practice and it was amazing, and it didn't matter that no one else was around to marvel at my toe with me. Experiencing the toe was everything; outside input would have been irrelevant.
But there's all these years inbetween where suddenly, instead of the world celebrating us and our journeys, it spends an awful lot of time smacking us down. Everybody has probably felt like they were “different” in some way at some time, and everybody has probably been made to feel bad for not having the right energetic body to fit into somebody else's opinion of what energetic clothes we should be wearing. As a smart white girl born into the educated class, I was expected to be good at and interested in math, science, and computers (perhaps as a token of gratitude to the women who fought so hard to point out to the world that there weren't as many girls as boys studying these things). But I was really not good at or interested in any of those things. (I was interested in relativity, quantum mechanics, and particle physics. But they're more like magic than like science.) I was really good at a lot of other things! But nobody cared about those other things. Bit by bit, my innate iSense got beaten down by harsh words and trammelled and picked on by a world that wanted me to be someone else. You know what they say... “sticks and stones may break my bones, but rejection and cruel words hurt worse than anything.”
I grew up into a world that had overbalanced itself into an era of socially catastrophic hyperexclusion, a world that valued only a tiny percentage of the population, especially where I lived. Every day the world told me that my kind was not welcome on this planet. The world did not want to give me money for anything I could do, because even though I could do a lot, they were all the “wrong” things. And eventually, I reached a kind of snapping point, where I saw that the world was just going to keep saying this to me, either until Doomsday or until someone woke up, threw all the computers out the window, and proclaimed an emergency state of Renaissance, to be held by martial law until matters improved. I saw that the world was never going to value me, so I had to value myself doubly, picking up the world's slack. I would always be a disappointment to my dad, so I had to be extra proud of myself, picking up his slack.
Sometimes getting youSense is a helpful byprocess, on your way to reclaiming your iSense. I was always very good at being a Champion of the People. I felt I had to continue the struggle of showing the world that it was good to be me, because there were people out there who had qualities in common with me, and I had to make them feel that they were good just as they were. I had to give them a chance to reacquaint themselves with their Selves. I could never resist even the possibility that someone might be shining my Bat Signal—that someone out there in the Gothic wilderness might be crying out for reassurance that they were just right as they were, and that they knew what was right for themselves. I spent years trying to make others have faith in themselves and trust themselves and honour themselves and see how special they were, that they were all God's creatures.
But it was all half-understanding, half-practice, until I relearned that real compassion has to be just as in-out pervasive as that love that we first (ideally) feel when we're babies. I had always loved myself (despite the world doing its best to knock that out of me), I had always admired my own fine feathers, and I had always been the first to put myself in line for treats. But I had no conscious specific intention of showing myself compassion. Not until I went to the asylum because I wanted to die so that my son would get all the resources, and I could stop draining away the world's resources as I continued not finding paying work. The asylum was so terrible I was terrified of ever having to go back, and I realized that in order to stay out of it, I would have to spend the rest of my life treating myself as a recovering mental patient. And that meant, every single day I would have to actively practice compassion for myself, and trust that no matter what the world was saying to me by voting with its dollars, I was worth keeping alive. Even if the world did not want to give me resources to help me survive, I was worth those resources. I had to trust that this was a phase that would eventually pass. And every day, as soon as I felt despair and terror creeping in, I practiced slamming the door in their face and telling them they were not welcome here. —I did have to start with a crutch; by deflecting from myself and still making it be about someone else. In this case, it was about God. Destructive forces were not welcome here in this temple of God (i.e., me), because this was God's house. I still couldn't let it be about me. It was ok to protect myself as a manifestation of the divine, but I still couldn't bring myself to say that I deserved to be here just for myself, and for no other reason. I had had too many job rejections.
Growing up in general gives us an accumulated iSense. (Except for those for whom it doesn't; I feel sorry for them.) But apparently, conscious compassion for the self speeds up this process. My acquisition of iSense skyrocketed after the hospital, because it had to. The world sure didn't help. Suddenly not only could I still not get a job, but I was now crippled with multi-thousand-dollar hospital bills. This made every day a Herculean practice of self-compassion. It was what
kept me alive. I will always be grateful to Luz, who helped me acquire tools for getting closer to that conscious compassion. But I was the one who did the work. I had to do it. Otherwise I would be dead. And I had promised my son I would live.
As with any practice, at first it took a ton of conscious effort and was difficult. When it was new, it took up much of my time and energy. And I was so busy being in it, I didn't have time to step back and see how it was changing me. But now, thanks to neuroplasticity, I've gotten a good start at turning this new way of being into just “being.” I brainwash myself with the truth, a little every day, and after drinking enough Kool-Aid, you do start to turn purple.
And then one day after that I saw a picture of myself and I didn't recognize myself. Who was that person with the amazing giant tap-root? WOW! That was some person who had been in the wars, man, and who had lived to tell the tale! They looked incredibly cool. And powerful. And sexy. And they looked like they were tapped in to the greater love of the universe (for lack of a less-hippie way of phrasing it) and understood what was real and what was bullshit—and like they had learned that the bullshit didn't apply to them. They knew what was essential and what was irrelevant. They had it going on.
And I knew, because I had photographic proof in front of me, that that amazing person was me.