Accepting ourselves with compassion
Last week I took an early morning stroll. Spring is in the air—the cherry and apple trees are starting to blossom and the birds have returned, singing their spring song. The new season is upon us and everything is waking up.
This season of renewal also reminds us that we are always changing too. But what about us stays the same? On my walk, I recalled myself as a child, around 10 years old, at summer camp. As a boy, I was a keen observer of the adult world, although I didn’t understand what I saw. The adults in my life said I was mature for my age. Perhaps that’s what launched me towards psychology as a profession. Many years later, a family friend who knew me as a child commented to me— “You’re just the same as you were as a child”. But what was the same? What was different?
As parents, we can see this phenomenon most clearly in our children. We remember their ways as babies, toddlers, and young children. When they are teens, these early characteristics seem to disappear. What happened to them! Where did they go? But when they become young adults, their basic nature often blooms once again, like the trees around us now. We see the familiar colors of childhood return, but in an adult person.
Our basic nature—our temperament, personality, and spirit emerges and is visible at a very early age. And then throughout our lives, we grow into our own shoes. Our spirit is honed by experience, development, and time. Some aspects are sharpened, and others become dulled. Some seeds are watered and grow into sturdy stalks with beautiful flowers. Others may not grow at all. Some nurtured early on, but not tended in adult life, either.
It takes time for us to grow into ourselves. We have to journey through our adulthood. As we get older, our perspective sharpens. But to see who we are and who we have become, we have to look within with a lens that can both zoom in and out. When we zoom in on ourselves, we are able to see how we interact with the world around us on a day to day basis. When we zoom out, we see the larger landscape of our life and our choices. This helps us see how our basic nature, given to us through nature and nurture, has evolved into its adult setting.
Hopefully, as time goes on, we can come to accept ourselves, as we are, with love and compassion. We can see our shortcomings, and be more realistic about what we can change and what is less elastic. When I was younger, I was much more ambitious about overcoming my bad habits and flaws. As I stand on the doorstep of older adulthood, I am more realistic about what progress I can expect to make.
Coming home to ourselves in adult life requires periodic inquiry into whether we are making choices that are consistent with our values. Are we living the life that we want to live? And more importantly, are we the person that we want to be. If not, there are always opportunities to water the seeds we want to grow, to make the choices that are consistent with what we hold dear, and to make course corrections on our path.
Fortunately, growing up does not end at age 18. It continues on throughout adult life. And, as we mature, we develop the awareness of what is the same within us, that has always been with us, and will always be part of us. And, we also see what has changed and matured too.