When I was in grad school I took a particular interest in cross-cultural healing. What I found was that many ancient and tribal cultures approached psychological issues with great concern for the creative, younger part of the individual. If someone was unhappy, anxious, depressed or just feeling stuck in life, they would visit the village elders. By way of assessment, the elders would first ask the following 4 questions:
1. When did you stop singing?
2. When did you stop dancing?
3. When did you lose interest in stories, particularly your own?
4. When did you become uncomfortable with silence?
I love these questions because they speak to something which brings many people into therapy – healing the inner child. When you think about it, children are clearly passionate about each of these four topics – singing, dancing, stories (especially their own), and while they may make a lot of noise themselves, they are certainly not intensely uncomfortable with silence the way adults are. We were all passionate about these things at one time. And although we are now adults with busy schedules, we each still have an inner child who is in great need of care.
Between early childhood and adulthood something happens internally which causes us to lose touch with our inner child. As we grow up we make all sorts of assumptions about ourselves and the world around us, which in turn, teaches us to close ourselves off from our feelings, from taking risks, and consequently, from experiencing true joy. Think about those four questions again. Each of those topics asks us to embrace an attitude of openness toward experiencing a full life, releasing ourselves from the rules and “should” statements we have created for ourselves. Our inner child is longing to be set free, to help us relieve stress and adopt a more flexible way of viewing life.
Often times, however, facing those four questions involve facing our inner critic. How many of you read the first question above and thought “Oh no, I can’t sing!” That was your inner critic speaking. If you look again, the question is not “When did you stop singing well?” It does not matter one bit what you sound like. The simple act of singing is what brings healing and growth to the soul. Children understand this. They have the freedom to sing simply because they love to. The question of whether they can sing well or not doesn’t even cross their minds.
Many of us may have lost touch with that open, risking-taking, creative part of ourselves, but the good news is we can heal our inner child. We may have learned faulty lessons when we were young that caused our inner child to become wounded, but we do not have to wait until we feel healed in order to embrace that child-like freedom. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. By choosing to sing, dance, tell our story, and sit in silence, before we ever feel totally comfortable doing so, we will find that healing of which we are in need. New, healthier beliefs will replace the old, and our liberated inner child will transform each of us into a new person.
So for today, even if you don’t feel like it, what will you sing? Where will you dance? What story will you tell? And when will you set aside some time for silence?