I think I’ve written about this before on this blog. Apologies if repetitious. To recap.
There was a day when, as I young mother, I stood waiting for a bus. I’d come to live in this sprawling, straggling town expectant with my first child. Now I had two children – a baby of a few months old and a toddler. It’s not an easy town to make friends in, as it has no centre, strings out along the coast – and I was not a driver back then. Plus, I was shy. But I had made one friend, and once a week used to catch the bus to visit her. In those days, strollers on the bus were unthinkable; you had to fold them down and carry them on. It was hard to do this with a toddler whose hand needed holding by the busy roads, and even harder carrying a daybag of nappies and wipes etc, and a babe in a sling. The walk to the bus stop from our house was about half a mile – a long way for a two-year-old, but we made it.
It was harder still for a two-year-old to stand still at the kerbside waiting for a bus that did not appear. An hour went by. In the end we gave up and walked home, as by then the baby was awake and crying. My toddler cried too. The day was hot. She didn’t want to hold my hand any more. I judged it not safe for her to walk alongside the road without holding my hand, so I made her do it – just by gripping on tight. All the way home, she screamed and I gripped. Her eyes were screwed shut, her cheeks red and shiny, her mouth wide in a ceaseless yell. For half a mile. At two-year-old pace. All the way home. I had a bag to carry, and a baby. I said nothing. We just had to get through it. I remember that day.
Ram Dass said, “We’re all just walking each other home.”
Thich Nhat Hanh said: “Be present for yourself and for the Sangha. Practise for elder sister is practice for younger sister.” He said: “If we are an elder sister or brother, we have to act in such a way that our capacity to communicate remains solid and the bridge of understanding is maintained between us and other members of the Sangha. When this bridge collapses there is no help for us.” (from his book Joyfully Together)
Sometimes you can build it again. I was not present for myself or for the community in the form of my child, that day. I let the bridge collapse, even though I kept her safe from the traffic and held on tight to her hand. Well: I guess, the least you can say, though she yelled steadily and I stomped along in stony silence, we were still holding hands, still walking each other home – after a fashion.
Thich Nhat Hanh also writes very helpfully about anger. He has the best chapter I’ve ever read on the subject in his book Peace Is Every Step. See his steps of anger management/mindfulness here.
He says, when we are angry, the tendency is for the anger to be bigger than us; we become consumed by anger, and therefore identified with it. So the first task is to notice the anger. In so doing, at once we have separated ourselves from it, and made it safer. We are no longer consumed by it, no longer inside it and identified with it.
He suggests we treat our anger as a parent would treat an angry child. Take it on our lap and speak soothingly to it, wait for the storm to pass, find out what is wrong.
I have noticed, recently, that my (uh-oh) inner child (dang, how I hate that phrase!) is angry. Actually, enraged. This last few days I’ve caught myself out looking for things to be angry about – and finding them. Pegs to hang it on.
I think for a long time my inner child has been very, very angry. We walk along together, elder sister and younger sister. I cannot escape the task of walking my inner child home. My actual child is a grown up woman now. But here’s my inner child – I’m stuck with her – screwed-up eyes and bright red cheeks, yelling and dragging her feet, trying to wring her hand out of my grip. I have no idea how to deal with her. For fifty-seven years I’ve been trying to walk this child home. I sure am sick of her. I wish she’d shut up. She wants to be heard. She wants to be noticed. I haven’t the foggiest idea what’s the matter with her. I have tried Wise People but they all turn out to be quite normal really; not functionally wiser than me. I’m elder sister. It’s my job. We still have a long way to go. Whatever can I do?