In Jewish mystical tradition – Kabbalah – there is a teaching that speaks about “redeeming the sparks.” The sparks are the drops of divine light, which got scattered when the “vessels” into which God poured his light when creating the world did not withstand such abundance and shattered. The scattered sparks then got trapped within the “shells.” While God has clearly miscalculated, the task of repairing the initial damage has been assigned to people. This process is called tikkun olam – “repairing of the world.” Whenever we perform the deeds of loving kindness, whenever we engage in healing our own lives and helping those who suffer we redeem more of the divine sparks from the “shells.” Thus human activity is perceived as having a cosmic impact.
While this tradition has an incredibly rich potential for psychological exploration, this is not my intention to engage in it here. However, I would like to draw one analogy. In a similar way as the sparks got trapped and hidden in the “shells” after the “big bang”, the creative, intuitive, spontaneous parts of us get arrested when we experience an emotional trauma. Although people can suffer traumas at any age, children are particularly vulnerable because their nervous system is more sensitive and because they do not yet have enough life experience and psychological maturity to integrate their experiences. For these reasons children are easily impacted by seemingly small events. We are used to think of trauma as something that is inflicted through abuse and physical violence. But, in reality, it does not take much to traumatize a child! People are not aware of it and there are many “ordinary” traumas that go undiscovered. I once got a call from a client who said in an urgent voice “My acupuncturist told me that I have an emotional trauma, but I don’t know what it is!” As it transpired during the session, she grew up with an emotionally unavailable mother, who, being a high achiever herself, championed her daughter to academic success while repressing any spontaneous expression of emotions and creativity. Thus the fear of expressing herself became ingrained in the mind and psyche of this person, with a result that as an adult she could hardly identify her emotions at all, while suffering from anxiety attacks.
When children experience something that frightens them, threatens their safety, makes them doubt themselves or their parents’ love and the effect of such an event is not neutralized promptly it can have long-lasting consequences. The recurring seemingly minor traumas (such as a parent repeatedly calling a child stupid) are particularly damaging because, as I said, they often remain unrecognized, neither by a parent nor by a child (even when this child grows up), and so nobody seeks help. But also, in the face of some bigger events, such as a death of one of the parents or a close family member children are often treated as people who supposedly do not understand the significance of what has happened and are told to be quiet and not to disturb adults who are having the hard time. It is only when these people eventually come for therapy as adults (if they do) that they discover they have suffered a major trauma and were not even allowed to grieve properly.
When a trauma occurs it is as if a part of us gets frozen in time. Even though we may develop various coping mechanisms, our natural growth is impeded and we do not realize our potential as fully as we could. We continue to carry within us those children trapped in time, children that are still hurting and feeling scared. These children do not know what we know. They do not know that they will survive; they do not know that they are beautiful and lovable just as they are, in spite of what has happened to them. When these children – the sparks of divine light – are liberated from the prison of the “shells,” a remarkable amount of wonderful creative energy is released and life assumes the richness and fullness we have never known before. Our relationships improve, our enjoyment of life greatly increases and we find ourselves dreaming of and doing things that we thought were beyond our ability.
But how can we set these children frozen in time free? Therapy, of course, is helpful, but there is a lot we can do on our own. To start with, we need to identify events that as children we experienced as traumatic. There is a simple technique for doing that.
Think of some uncomfortable feeling you experience in certain particular situations. For example, you may feel anxious when you need to speak in public, or you may have difficulty saying “no” for fear that people will not like you any more if you refuse. Connect with these feelings and ask yourself when you experienced them for the first time. Very often it leads people to some early memory of an event where in a similar situation they felt hurt, threatened or otherwise discouraged. Allow yourself to feel the emotion. Stay with it, however uncomfortable it may feel. Tapping (for those who are familiar with EFT) is generally very helpful in assisting people to reconnect with their feelings (and eventually release them). Remember that even if you feel engulfed by an emotion, it is not the whole of you, but the child within you that experiences it with such intensity. Imagine that child. See what she or he looks like. What are your feelings towards the child? What does the child need in this moment of need to help her/him? Does she/he need a hug? A loving word? Reassurance? Does she/he need to be heard as they express their pain?
Now comes the most interesting bit. Imagine yourself time-travelling to the scene and giving the child what they needed and did not receive at that time. If you use tapping you can use it throughout the whole process. I personally find it helpful, but it is not a necessary requirement. What is important is that you try to experience your bonding with the child as deeply and vividly as possible. It is a meditation of a sort. If you hug the child, try to feel the touch. If the child throws his/her arms around your neck and cries – feel it! Try to imagine it as real as you can, as if you were comforting a real child. When the child feels calmer and the bonding is established you can talk to him/her. You can tell them that even though this thing has happened to them they are still wonderful and lovable and that you love them and want to take care of them. This can be a very powerful experience, an adventure like in science-fiction. You can take the child with you for a trip in the future and show them some beautiful places where you have been. One client of mine has taken the little boy within him to a football match and they had a great time together shouting and jumping up and down. You can also give a child a “magic” token which they can use to call you whenever they feel lonely or afraid and need your help.
When children are “frozen in time” they do not develop. That is why you may sometime observe in an adult person the behaviour of a three year old. We mature, but these children within us don’t. Like Kai from The Snow Queen fairytale they remain trapped within the palace of ice. Just as Kai’s vision was distorted by the speck of ice that entered his eye, our vision of ourselves and the world around us is distorted. When we begin to liberate our inner children from the constraints of hurt and fear, when we “redeem the sparks,” when we repair our own world our heart begins to grow warmer and our lives change.