I recently started re-reading some of Carl Jung’s work, and I came across his quote, “What did you do as a child that made the hours pass like minutes?”. I don’t know about you, but when I think back to my childhood I can see the truth behind this question – for me the hours did pass like minutes back then.
My childhood had its difficulties, to be sure, but when I think back on it now, it feels like a peaceful and magical time. This was a simpler time for me, growing up in a small town in the 1980’s. We didn’t have cell phones, we barely had television, and definitely did not have internet. Yet, I don’t recall ever feeling bored, and the days stretched out into what felt like weeks to me. Looking back, I realize that I was content without any of those things. A life before school, work, Netflix, or social media. How was I spending my time? What was my work as a child?
Anytime I close my eyes and reconnect with that little girl, I’m flooded with memories and a sense of nostalgia. I loved animals, I had my walls covered with animal posters, and I was forever trying to rescue snails and baby birds that I thought needed saving. I loved being outside in nature. I can remember going on what we called “nature walks” with my dad and thinking they were the most exciting excursions ever (really, we were just walking through the woods behind our house, finding fungi that had fallen off of trees and bringing them home with us). I had a love of writing as a child, I can remember believing that a certain that a story I had written called “Kiki the Kiwi Fruit” was a literary masterpiece, destined for publication. I relished school projects that involved writing and sharing information with my class. I loved music, riding my bike, swimming and eating ice cream. I loved playing in the river or in the creek and getting filthy. I loved reading, and some of my proudest moments as a child were when I could tell someone the speed with which I had finished a new book. And I loved music. Music with interesting sounds or lyrics that I could connect with and sing along to. I also believed there was magic in the universe. One of my family members read a lot about spiritual ideas, and I used to flip through the books, not understanding any of it, but feeling drawn to the idea that there were unseen forces at work in our lives. I also wanted so badly to believe that Santa Claus was real, that when my mom finally told me he wasn’t, I was convinced that she just didn’t know because she didn’t believe (even now, part of me sort of wants to think that this could be true).
I also remember the moment my childhood switch turned off. I was at my dad’s for the weekend, and all of the kids (there were five of us) were playing out on the porch at the home of my stepmom’s parents. We had spent many an afternoon out there, a giant screened in area with couches to jump on, and a few toys to play with. They weren’t fancy or trendy toys by any means, but we had the time of our lives with only those toys and our imaginations. I remember being on the porch one day, the five of us doing our usual thing, and then having the thought that I wasn’t really enjoying it, that it didn’t feel the same anymore. I have no idea how old I was at the time, the memory includes only a vague visual impression of the porch, one of my brothers on a toy car of some kind (the ones you straddle and use your feet to push yourself along), and that thought. That crushing, switch-flipping thought. That was the moment I started to lose my childish wonder.
I wish I could say I found it again soon after, but that wasn’t the case. My adolescence was incredibly tumultuous and far from wondrous. All of my 20’s were spent in university, learning, researching, and doing academic writing, in various windowless offices on campus. I became rigidly focused on the things we can see and measure, and lost my sense of wonder and interest in magic and spiritual things. I held onto some aspects of my former child self. I still loved animals, and got my own dog when I was 24. I also continued to eat ice-cream regularly. Those things aside, however, that little girl was lost for many years.
After I had finished grad school and had been working for a couple of years, I started to feel an intense desire to reconnect with my inner child. Having achieved the one thing I had been working for all those years, I found that I still felt restless and rather empty, something was missing. It turned out to be several things, but one of them was my ability to let go and have fun. So I began going back to the things I had once so enjoyed. I slowly started to rediscover those things I had loved so much as a child. Nature was the first. I started hiking, camping, and canoeing. I moved close to High Park in Toronto, where I went every day with my dog. I remember one day, finding a giant autumn leaf, and carrying it back to my apartment. On the way, I passed at least 10 young children who were carrying a similar leaf. I felt silly, but I loved that leaf and wanted to keep it. Next, I started to find music that I liked, music that made me feel something and made me want to either cry or dance when I was alone. A few years ago, I started reading non-academic books again, both for pleasure and for learning new things. It turns out that I can still finish a book in record time if it interests me. Last summer I got a bike, and the first time I got on it, I immediately remembered how free I used to feel flying around on one as a kid. And when I started doing obstacle course races, I loved the feeling of flying across monkey bars, always went through the deepest mud on the course, and felt the excitement of a small child every time I got to dunk myself into muddy water. At least once a day, I get down on the floor and wrestle with my dog (she’s 10 now and doesn’t love to play as much these days, but she still humours me for a few minutes). I like wearing rubber boots in the rain, so I can splash through puddles. I get stalked by costumed characters at haunted houses, because I love the feeling of being scared and allowing myself a moment to believe that they might be real monsters who are chasing me. More recently, in the past year, I’ve found that I’m still very much interested in magical ideas, unseen forces and spiritualism. These things have brought some joy back into my life, and reminded me how to be open and how to have fun, even as an adult with a rather heavy-duty job.
So, I encourage you to reconnect with your inner child. Return to those activities that filled your heart with joy when you were a kid, and fully embrace them. Pick up the giant leaf at the park, let yourself scream and run away from the gremlin chasing you at the haunted house, walk directly through puddles when it’s raining, and do your best to love every second of it.
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