Once were officially grown-ups, there is only one way to grow: accepting that we’re still actually children and that, well, from an inner growth perspective, grown-upness is mostly a myth. Or at the very least, that it’s only true in one minor aspect of reality, that is, the one where we’re full-size creatures with all our biologically programmed features in place.
In all other aspects, for deeper inner growth in particular, our journey revolves around being a child. This journey has two basic stages:
- The discovery that makes us wonder, and
- The wonder that leads to discovery
“The discovery that makes us wonder”
If we’re on some kind of inner exploration path, it’s because, at some point, we realised we were still children. For the majority of us, this happens when we’ve been “adulting” away for some time, making ourselves at home in life. We’ve been exploring adult attributes like profession, new living quarters, various form of partnerships. We’ve been discovering our adult self — who we are when our primary identify is no longer child of X, but rather, we’re our own person, carving out our own life for ourselves. We might have started to see how in some aspects we want the opposite of the life our parents created for us growing up, and in other aspects, we notice how we are indeed very much like how they must have been, one generation before us.
Grown-upness getting wobbly
Ironically, we are unlikely to be this grown up ever again. And the first thing that pokes our firm belief in grown-upness and starts making it a bit wobbly is the recognition that we are doing at work pretty much exactly the same things we were doing in the sandbox, in kindergarten or 1st grade. We start noticing how intact our inner child is is there, obscured behind us voting and driving a car and paying taxes and perhaps even having children. And if this does indeed nudge us in the direction of inner growth work of some sort — which was likely the case for you if you are reading this — we start to wonder: did I ever grow up in the first place? Did I fake it? Everyone else seems to have genuinely become adults. Is it just me who didn’t really; who’s merely going through the motions of “adulting” but actually still carry my unprocessed emotional baggage, my coping-strategies, my old issues, and my deep-seated fears with me?
Helpful hint here: Just a little bit into the journey, especially if we ever travel bits of it in packs like growth-circles or support groups or suchlike, it’s quite clear that no, we weren’t the only one. In fact, everyone who found reason to do any deeper growth work, even if solely in the psychological arena, will have found this residual childhood energy within themselves, however they perceived it and whatever name they’d use for it. This is the point: It’s what get us onto this path in the first place. So, cherish your inner child. Just like I’ve said before that the ego isn’t all bad and in fact is most likely responsible for you beginning your growth work in the first place — which I wrote about in another article — the same goes for the inner child. (And of course, to a large extent these concepts will overlap.)
… and we start to wonder (hopefully)
Actually, there’s still a chance that we can discover this unpalatable fact, or at least suspect the presence of an “inner child” type energy, and NOT go into inner work. If we notice these “flaws” (which is no double how we’ll label them if we’re in this group) and do not start to wonder, but rather opt for shutting them down asap by employing various strategies, then we also opt out of true inner growth. Maybe we’ll even describe what we’re doing as “personal development”, but the point of our activities will be to rid ourselves of the flaws in question, creating a shinier, happier, more successful version of ourselves. It most definitely will not be to wonder what else is buried underneath our adult veneer, let alone go exploring those things for their own sake, curiously and kindly.
So, that’s if we don’t start to wonder. However again, if you’re here, it’s likely that you did. You got curious. You wanted to, as the tired but descriptive phrase has it, get to know yourself. My warmest congratulations, really. Because when we start to wonder — wonder what else is there, wonder how it got there, wonder about our inner workings, about our relationships, about our hearts and minds and instinctual selves — that is when this journey, and so the inner growth, can begin in earnest.
This is where we engage in whatever modalities of inner work that attracts us, likely in a scheduled fashion at first, then more and more spontaneously (to use the terms from The Enneagram Way). On occasion (and sometimes those occasions might go on for an uncomfortably long while), we might forget our wondering and fall into self-doubt, accusations, and harsh self-criticism — but ultimately, if the wondering was ever there at some point, we can make our way back to it again. With it, we rediscover the curiosity non-judgemental, open-minded gentleness that is so essential in this work. And even when we lose sight of it, we can come back to it, time and time again.
Ok, but the next step is true adulthood, right?
On this journey, especially in the beginning, it’s reasonable to still think that the goal, or perhaps rather the expected final outcome after the wondering and explorations, will be an adulthood untainted by inner child-business. That, once we’ve scrubbed ourselves clean from festering childhood wounds, unwelcome and unhelpful patterns, and other neurotic traces lingering from our imperfect history, we would be even-keeled, nicely balanced, well-adjusted, mature adult human beings. Right? Please …?
Well. In a way, sure. Very often, we do get less reactive. Our patterns dissolve or change for something radically better. We stop fighting quite so hard, or at all (regardless of how that fight might have looked before; not all of us fight outwardly). It’s likely that some of those effects and others like them are built into this image of psychological maturity. So, sure.
(you probably know this is one of my favourite words)
Yes, well, no. Not really. Because while that kind of effects and outcomes are common and welcome, they are not what truly signifies that growth — real, deeper, inner growth — has happened. Rather, what signifies this is the next step: The wonder that leads to discovery.
“The wonder that leads to discovery”
So, finally, we’re here. This is by no means the end of the inner growth-path, but it’s definitely a significant station, truly worth mentioning. If we are to stick with the scheduled vs spontaneous growth work (again, I refer to The Enneagram Way), here, if not before, spontaneous work starts becoming much more frequent, happening by itself and through our allowing it, rather than as something we need to sit down and do.
Because here, the word “wonder” takes on another dimension. It’s no longer only about curiosity and investigation-style exploration, probing into ourselves and our experience banks for new insights and connecting of dots. Here, “wonder” becomes more of a noun, less of a verb. (Make no mistake though, these stages overlap hugely and we can still have a fair amount of verb-wondering going on.)
Wonder, lightness, and effortless change
What happens here is that, because of the lack of some old reactive patterns and the radical diminishing of the grip of others, we can meet our world and ourselves — including our pain as well as others’, our imperfections as others’, our joy, and confusion, and longings as well as others’ — with a sense of wonder. Again, we might still be wondering, but we have a lot more of a live-and-let-live approach than a gotta-fix-me approach, whereas the latter might still have lingered around our work a fair bit into it (especially in our oops-I-forgot-about-wondering periods).
And the magic is that anything still in need of changing does indeed change, without our meddling, it its own time and at its own pace. Because now the wondering and the sense of wonder merge into a sweet welcome of whatever we discover. We might recognize the frame of mind from Rumi’s poem “The Guest House”, where he describes all the flavours of our inner experience as lodgers showing up at a boarding house and instructs us to simply receive them, welcoming them, and offering them space to stay for however long they need.
So here, rather than iffy, troublesome, or occasionally joyful discoveries leading to wondering about them and exploring them, the general sense of wonder and welcome in relation to our experiences can lead to discoveries, seemingly all of its own accord. From what I can tell, this is as final a stage as any deeper inner growth gets, as long as we are still on earth, still inhabiting a physical body.
The significance and insignificance of words
Now, of course, whether we label this stage of accepting innocence “childlike”, or whether we call it being “truly mature adults”, doesn’t matter a whole lot. But the encouragement to ”grow up!” that is so often thrown around as a be-all-end-all cure to many ailments doesn’t necessarily stretch to much. That grown-upness is usually a place where we use our cognitive capacities to keep emotions and impulses in line. (The reason for this is most often that we we’re called upon to “grow up!” way earlier than we had the mental and emotional capacity for it, which meant we did the next best thing: imitating the adult world without really understanding why or truly internalising the point of it.) In many families, that might be all we can hope for in the way of peaceful co-existence on Earth. However, from what I can tell, the people who’ve really embraced these two stages of “being a child” contribute to peacemaking in a much truer, safer, and sweeter way than any law-and-rule-enforcement ever could.
And of course, we might have both. We will likely need both for a long, long time to come. But if you are in any of these stages where you realise how much of a child you still are — or have gone back to being — just know you are important to your world, the world, and humanity as a whole. Thank you ❤️