When I was a kid, between 7 and 10 years old, I remember a very clear thought process that went something like this: “All these adults around me seem terribly bored and like they’re not having fun. I’m never losing the part of me that is a child.”
I was standing in front of a cabinet where my mother keeps her vast collection of coffee mugs. I have a memory of looking up toward it while having this thought. I wasn’t tall enough to reach the handle and open it, but that view is solidified in my memory.
It must have been some sort of event with lots of my parents’ friends around, some of them with kids around my age. The thought is so clear and I’m so sure of it; I hope that it is a true memory.
Since then, I’ve noticed on a regular basis how much I have to “reign in” that part of me that gets very excited about things, like a “child.” As I get older, I hear comments all the time about how adults are supposed to act in certain situations, what the appropriate emotional responses are to things, to what degree we are supposed to feel those emotions, etc. How very constricting, especially for a woman on the spectrum!
Because here’s the thing: I get really excited about things. And I fucking love that I do that. Granted, I feel the whole spectrum of emotions pretty intensely. Depression can bite very hard, and anxiety can be unbearable; my resting state is accompanied by a low hum of anxiety that simply rises and rarely falls. I do my best to restrict that childlike enthusiasm in the company of others when I need to; though, honestly, this kind of event rarely happens anymore. When I get excited about something, it’s nowadays usually a solo experience, though my husband and I share a very joyful love and have learned to navigate the other emotional blips when they occur.
It’s not just joy, like when a child sees something new or finds something that is really fun to do. What I’m also talking about, and which is much more important and intense for me, is the sense of childlike wonder. You know, the look up at the stars in the desert and feeling small kind of wonder. The feeling of magic during an amazing show. Feeling a breeze at night and listening to the silence and feeling struck by life. Things still surprise me, amaze me, bring me to a true sense of awe, and, what’s even better—oftentimes I’m compelled to go create something or express the feeling. And I don’t mean, “cool, I’m gonna think about writing something about that” or “I should cover that sometime.” No, sometimes when I’m watching a movie and there is a beautiful song in the soundtrack or the characters are dancing or singing or playing guitar, I will immediately feel compelled to stop the movie, skip over to my computer and guitar, and dance or play something, usually for hours. Nothing else matters, and it feels like the most important task I’ve ever been given in those moments. Sometimes those things I’ve discovered to cause such impulses turn into my next obsession, sometimes not. But I love that experience and that I still feel that—whether I want to or not—and that it is always unexpected.
This doesn’t happen when people are around, I think, because that capacity is totally clouded by the social anxiety and the effort I’m putting in to “keep it cool.” My inner child sleeping quietly until the next time it is awakened by a movie, a song, a story, a truth. But she is always there looking out and searching, and her mind wanders from thoughts of existential crisis all the way to its resolution and back again. She is never in the same spot twice, and she is always moving and cycling through thoughts and emotions, gradually moving closer and closer…to…
Then there is the eternal child that I connect in my mind to a lot of religions which espouse how one cannot “enter the kingdom of heaven” the way we are as adults. We must become children. What the hell does that mean?
Well, I’m assuming that means we have to have dropped all the bullshit that begins to clog up our minds when we enter adulthood, snowballing relentlessly until we die. The goal is to return to that innocent, open-minded, present state of being. That space where joy and wonder come easily.
So why do we reprimand adults for being childish but then hold up this ideal of childlike open-mindedness and joy? An adult looks weird jumping for joy when they are happy—unless they are autistic, or otherwise neuro-atypical—and I can’t help but imagine onlookers feeling envy of a person that feels so free.
For me, meditation is all about a focused effort on returning to that state of childlike presence, joy, openness, and then trying to close all those gaps in the day when that state is forgotten; the goal being to eventually reach a state where all those gaps are closed and this is simply how you live. Not a small feat for modern life. There is just so much bullshit to get done as we race toward the finish line holding a million burdens, objects, and facades that won’t matter in the slightest when we are preparing to depart this life. You know what will matter? Those moments when you were a kid, looking up at the sky, dancing to pretty music, playing pretend, or holding a friend’s hand and feeling awe, wonder, joy, presence—love.