Whether you’re a mother or a father, an aunt or an uncle, a friend or a stranger, people have long been drawn to the beauty and purity of children. It’s more than their ready smiles, their precociousness, their simplicity, their endless awe. They mesmerize us precisely because they represent the parts of ourselves we have lost with time.
We are born whole. Think about it: We are tiny creatures with little more than the basic instinct to survive. And yet within those fragile, miniature bodies, we have resilience, untainted knowledge, and vision. Ancient texts attest to this, in different forms and in varied volumes: “…the people are one, and they all have one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do: And now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” To put it plainly, we are comprised of and possess the same qualities, just as we are all capable, to some degree, to think, speak, and imagine in boundless ways.
The singular, signature language of humans, however–which I define as one that seeks love, comfort, health, wisdom, and grace–becomes warbled and unclear as we grow older. Societal, familial, and financial pressures invite self-doubt. Our gleeful, promising paths are often obscured by wanting to impress or please someone else other than ourselves. We make sacrifices–to our true goals, our authentic emotions, and our honest desires–in search of acceptance, stability, and success.
This separation seems innocuous enough. After all, the aim to fit in, get ahead, and prosper is seen all around us, from neighbors and colleagues to media. Ultimately, though, this distancing from the selves we were as children produces internal discord: Anxiety, grief, depression, envy, and anger. As Buddhists say, we become hungry ghosts, with appetites that can never be sated, no matter how many triumphs we have under our belts, material possessions in our garages, or money in the bank. Someone, somewhere has it better than us. And, through the illusions we allow to absorb and internalize, we want what they have.
“On the level of Spirit,” Marianne Williamson once said, “we are all one.” We tend to forget this, however, in our pursuit to quell cravings that refuse to be satisfied. While owning a home is a valid goal, why do we seek the grandest residence in town? While financial security diminishes angst, why do we strive for more, and more, and more, until dollar signs is all we see? What if we were to stop trying to outrun or even keep up with one another, and use that time and effort to be present for each other and ourselves? To speak the same language again?
Take into consideration this: We are all imperfect. We all need to be loved. We seek through others recognition and belonging. The hungry ghost that resides in us is trying to run away from this acknowledgment as quickly as possible–and, in so doing, our inner critics become amplified.
That’s because in order to be “on the right track,” we develop at an early age an interior analyst and detractor in response to the limitation of our expressions, which arrives primarily in the form of our parents, teachers, and peers. Believe it or not, we’re better equipped to collaborate with our inner critics as children than we are as adults. When young, our inner critics serve to correct our mistakes or gently suggest better alternatives; with time, this voice becomes insidious and unkind. It wants to control everything we do, say, feel. Often, by the time we become adults, our inner critics are yelling from megaphones–and if someone gives us even the slightest signal of not being “good enough,” we condemn ourselves to the point that we aren’t able to function effectively, freely, and happily. This corrosiveness, borne out of separation from ourselves and others, leads to lives of despair.
As I write this, I’m reminded of two dear friends. Both have created vast chasms in their lives between who they are and who they want others to perceive them to be. The first is a woman who has a long list of insecurities. Like many of us, she comes from a troubled past, and gravitates towards people who mistreat her because it is all she has ever known. When incidents occur in which she suffers the consequences of others’ actions and behaviors, she makes elaborate lists of the wrongs she finds in others and the pains she’s endured. The second is a friend who sees the world in black and white, with only an occasional shade of gray. Rarely can she spot the strand of gold in the stack of hay, so to speak, and spends countless hours judging those she believes have judged her with the exactness she projects unto others.
The time and energy these two women have spent concentrating on the wrong subjects provides us with a vital reminder: Introspection leads us to solicitude–internal and external–far faster than animosity, regret, and pointing fingers. Focusing on HOW others perceive us adds to the separation that starts in us as children, ultimately blinding us, and making that language we all speak sound foreign to even the most attentive ears.
Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Barrack Obama, to name but a few, are widely known for not wasting time looking outside of themselves. Instead, they’ve provided critical tools for progress. Their concentration on being whole, innovative, and attuned to others has inarguably changed our present landscape. They’ve retained the resilience in character with which we are born.
Focus not on the world outside of you and begin focusing on the world inside of you. From there, we’ll discover unity with others–and, even more importantly, harmony with ourselves.