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Lions Roar : September 2019
2. LOVING-KINDNESS: HEALING YOUR INNER CHILD PEGGY ROWE WARD and LARRY WARD on how to give yourself the love and compassion you deserve. And send some of that love to the wounded child inside you. They need it. T HICH NHAT HANH, our teacher, described love as an extremely powerful energy that has the capacity to trans- form ourselves and others. But many of us find it difficult to direct love toward ourselves. We quickly become aware of negative feelings like shame, guilt, and self-criticism that make it hard to love and care for ourselves. Unfortunately, this is all too common. Luckily for us, the seeds of love, compassion, joy, and equa- nimity are in our store consciousness, ready and waiting to grow. We can study and practice in such a way that we shrink the seeds of self-aversion, self-criticism, shame, and guilt inside us and grow our hearts as wide as the world. When we are able to practice self-love consistently, returning over and over to maintain a soft heart in the face of our own suffering, eventually we’re able to let go of our negative thought patterns and find ourselves transformed. Thich Nhat Hanh talked about healing the inner child within each of us as a key way to give ourselves the love and compassion we need. For children to feel a sense of belonging, they need to feel understood and loved. They need the feeling of connectedness that comes when they are seen and held in love. But if our parents, teachers, or society didn’t listen to or respond to our fears, or sent messages that we were not good enough, we may continue these behaviors with ourselves as adults. We may disconnect from and bury parts of our inner life because they are too painful to face. The inner child may hold memories of abuse, neglect, and other traumas we endured during childhood. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events in a child’s life that can have lasting negative effects on our health and well-being. ACEs may include the following: psychological, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; violence against their mother; DR. PEGGY ROWE WARD and DR. LARRY WARD are dharma teachers ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh and founders of The Lotus Institute. They are co-authors of Love’s Garden : A Guide to Mindful Relationships. neglect; bullying; or living with household members who were substance abusers, mentally ill, suicidal, criminal, or impris- oned. Such maltreatment causes chronic stress that can disrupt early brain development and the development of the nervous and immune systems. Over time, ACEs can lead to post- traumatic stress, migraines, chronic muscle tension, fatigue, and chronic illnesses such as autoimmune diseases and skin conditions. These childhood traumas can impact our capacity for self-love as a result of stress trapped in the body. This is one of the reasons that the following meditation begins by strengthening our heart and mind with the somatic sensations of love and peace. However, it is important to remember that the inner child is not a separate, unchangeable self. It is not a permanent essence or state of being, but rather deep patterns resulting from many causes, conditions, and perceptions that are both individual and collective. While these patterns may arise in any moment, it is our good fortune that there is a natural neu- roplasticity of our brain and mind. This plasticity allows for deep healing and transformation illuminating the divine child hidden in the suffering of adversity. Healing that inner child within us is the first and most important expression of love and kindness toward ourselves. Here are several ways we can practice love for ourselves, heal the wounds within us, and expand our capacity to love other people, because to fully love others we must first love ourselves. SEND LOVE TO YOUR FIVE-YEAR-OLD SELF When we experience our own suffering, the first invitation is to name this experience. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s words, “We call it by its true name.” Whatever arises, you can name it and send it the energy of loving-kindness. You can say, “I am experiencing the energy of shame and self-criticism. I put my arms of love around these feelings.” Although you are not trying to fix or change any- thing, the practice of holding your suffering in arms of love will help it to shrink and your self-love to grow. LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2019 44