It’s been said, and it’s certainly been true in my experience, that if you laugh long enough you’ll cry, and if you cry long enough you’ll laugh. Two sides of the same coin, these emotions are closely entangled.
As participants connect to the joys of play in my playshops, it’s common for them to feel the stirrings of grief rising within. With each moment of exuberance and freedom reclaiming its rightful place in their body, it becomes harder to deny the despair from having lost their innocence decades ago; from forgoing beauty and wonderment to survive a challenging or unbearable childhood.
Indeed, for many who delve deep into the wild fields of childlikeness, grief co-arises with newfound playfulness. Play draws it out from its sleepy doldrums to find wakefulness in the body.
Illuminating the shadow
Dark co-arises with light until it lives in light, as light itself.
In our brightest moments we often find jewels buried deep inside that need tending to, old neglected aspects of self. The light of our spirit takes us there, leading us to what was denied and then forgotten.
You may find yourself in the following—dark (aka a “contracted state”) co-arising with the light of empowered choice (an “expanded state”):
- A bold decision to, alas, publicly express your creativity gives rise to fear, its fierce face leaping from the shadows—the fear of not being enough, of your art, you, being rejected.
- In choosing to finally put yourself first, guilt barges from the underworld—an admonition to not make yourself a priority and to always put others first.
- When the mystery of unbridled intimacy courts you, shame finds its determined way into your felt-sense—sexual shame, shame associated with deservability, desirability.
- Considering taking a long-deserved break incites fear—arms tighten, the abdomen tenses just at the thought of relaxing. A lifetime of vigilance, being on, makes turning off unnatural and scary.
- In choosing to finally trust and ask for much needed help, sadness unexpectedly rises from yesteryear—the forgotten sadness from doing it alone for so long, from denying your needs for the needs of others, as you were taught.
Entering a more expanded state—creativity, self-prioritization, intimacy, relaxation, reaching for help—the frozenness trapping our spirit thaws and bubbles to the surface of our psychophysiology. We become consciously aware of what we’ve hidden, what’s kept us “in place” these many years, away from the light—our fears, doubts, guilt, shame, etc; all that was unbearable as a child or impossible to be with and thus move through because we were alone in our turbulent experience. Now it’s here, the darkness, present, as we choose to shine a bit more, the light illuminating the dark forgotten corners of a distant self.
This is what makes being seen, heard, honest with oneself and others, difficult and courageous—we confront traumatic imprints or contractions held in the shadows since as early as our pre-natal period. Yet, the light of inner truth cannot exclude the pain of having long denied it. They rise together, spiraling intimately into each other. It is to be expected.
“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to truth.” ~ Pema Chodron
What helps is to expect the shadow’s arrival.
For the person whose proclivity is to put others first, doesn’t it make sense that finally saying No would incite the guilty voice of, “How can you be so selfish?!”? Doesn’t it make sense that the moment the reluctant artist decides to schedule an art exhibition, a strong dose of fear would arise: “No one will attend!”?
This isn’t the “inner critic”. It’s far more compassionate (and true) to see this internal reaction as belonging to the adaptations of the wounded inner child who learned to suppress his needs and question his creativity.
And so it is with play. Choosing the be playful as an adult draws out the wounded inner child who learned to hide his playful heart. Now into their forties or fifties, when my participants sink into lost imagination, reclaim the exuberance of spontaneous, wild expression, it’s only natural that their eyes suddenly fill with tears. It’s to be expected. The grief of what was lost, of what could have been, is felt. The many years of having to be responsible, rigid, confused, “good”, quiet, “realistic”, resulting from adverse childhood experiences or parental / school expectations, hit home.
With the reclamation of play, and other empowered states, there is also the grief from realizing how our unprocessed pain has impacted our relationship with our children. How our hurt has hurt them. The grief of having not been playful with or attuned to our son or daughter in the way they needed us to be. The grief of expecting too much from them, from not letting them be little. The grief of time lost.
And so we must expect light to shine on darkness, to draw it out. Fear, sadness, guilt, etc, are the price of admission to a more empowered you.
Not easy, but what if you saw these experiences as validation that you were honoring yourself? Fear, for instance, can be viewed as a sign you are no longer choosing to play small—because it gets louder as you move closer to the edge of empowered choice. In other words, paradoxically, the voice calling you to stop is also a voice signaling that you are going the right way. Grief can be viewed similarly. While profoundly uncomfortable for most, this rawness is a doorway into your forlorn vulnerability, where you may just make contact with the lost little one inside and feel the tears s/he could not shed.
Grief as a rite of passage
Hurt co-arises with truth. Grieving coalesces them.
To reclaim our rightful instinctive place as playful beings, grief is almost always a necessary rite of passage. Each tear drop is a movement towards honesty, towards coming to terms with what we had to give up during our difficult early years. We discover with greater heart-felt clarity what was absent that we needed when young and what was present that caused harm.
Grief is the illuminating portal to truth, a truth that hurts. There’s less room for the coping strategy of normalizing that helped us survive. “Normal” dissolves with each tear drop. And with the “spell of normal” fading, hurt rises. Emotional pain that could not be felt in our tender years, when no one was there to gently console us, and all seemed so utterly “normal”, finally has its somatic say.
Pain, playfulness and other empowered states integrate, together, back into our consciousness. With the help of grieving, not only do we remember to play and be authentically expressed, but we remember to feel as well, to be vulnerable, like a child. To surrender to fuller expressions of laughter and sadness, joy and pain, both of which, as previously mentioned, are so deeply entwined. Including our pain, both past and present, relaxes the impulse to dismiss the full spectrum of our emotional body, and the rich aliveness of feeling finds it fluid place once again.
Over time, with a commitment to healing and self-awareness, we learn to live in our body as a whole human being, just as we experienced ourselves when young. More integrated, connected, we gradually honour ourselves and the vulnerable little ones in our life with greater ease and much needed love.
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Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults