essays on suffering and awakening

Our inner child can lead us

Christ tells us that "in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must change and become like children." Similarly, the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki writes, “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.” What do they mean?

All of us come into this life connected to an innocent, open, playful and creative place inside ourselves. We quickly start to think of this as our child-self. Even as children, we also start to think that this inner child is something we need to protect, or to cover up, as part of becoming an adult.

As we grow up, we begin to build an adult-self over this inner child, almost as armor or a carapace. We learn to push our child-self away. If you’re like me, you might even feel a sense of shame or failure if you touch your inner innocence, and think, “I need to grow up. I can’t be a child anymore. The world is hard and I need to learn to be an adult. Everyone else is doing it, I should too.” 

Many of us carry this attitude throughout our lives. It hardens us. But it doesn’t serve us.

The truth is that in order to get free and find peace, we need to put our inner child back in the driver’s seat. Far from being something fragile and weak that needs protection, that playful innocence deep within us is our connection to the divine, and to the power of the entire universe. Rather than trying to shield it, we should bring our inner child into all areas of our lives. 

We can invite it into the parts of ourselves we like and the parts we don’t. We can let it teach us and guide us. We can learn to let go of our armor and our preconceptions, to achieve that state of beginner’s mind where every breath is new and fresh and full of possibility. We can live with joy. 

Our inner child isn’t afraid. If we put our faith in it, we don’t have to be either.

Ian Cooper