When I think of myself as a holistic adult in the world, I can recognise both my ‘adult’ side: a person that can be serious and mature, sometimes pensive; but also, a more youthful, fun and lively part – my inner big kid. And I think it is this latter part that makes me love children so much. Not being fortunate enough to be a parent yet, I very much enjoy spoiling and spending time with my family and friend’s children. So, I am known as ‘Auntie Caz’ to 6 kids, and, of course one of the best things about being an Auntie is having a good excuse to visit fun places as an adult!
So the other week, I took my 5 year old niece, Lucy, to Legoland. Now she is pretty lucky to be one of those children who is able to revel in her imagination, so when she goes to these places, she gets well and truly stuck in. One ride, was a fairytale boat trip (think It’s a small World on a smaller scale with a less catchy song), so on this, as went around, I had the benefit of her running commentary on the many stories encapsulated such as Billy Goats Gruff, Hansel & Gretal etc… Like any child she gets whisked off into a land of dreams and fantasy.
I can remember the importance of this as a child. I grew up surrounded by books, and loved watching films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Bedknobs and Broomsticks over and over again. In fact, I still find inspiration in these things – I even have a place that I go to sit and think in that I call ‘Cherry tree lane’ because it reminds me of the road in Mary Poppins. Inspiration comes in weird and wonderful places!
In Mythography and Psychology, writers such as Carl Jung and Bruno Bettleheim have conducted studies into fairytales and their underlying meanings. I am not going to focus too much on in-depth analysis, but rather on the collected literary themes that appear in most childhood stories (including, but not exclusive to fairytales). By this I mean a created world where anything seems possible, dreams come true and just for a moment, we as the reader, can be, or identify with, the main protagonist in the story.
What this produces is, for many children, a hopeful innocence, where the world of imagination has a place, and hopes and dreams can exist – if even, in their heads. Even those children who have had difficult lives, or cruelly have their innocence taken away (by whatever manifestation), a breakaway from reality, as difficult as it might be, can be at times a lifesaver….. hence why many children have imaginary friends, or secret worlds in their minds.
So I was asking myself how, a healthy balance of imagination and belief and hope in dreams, can be achieved in adulthood, without living outside of the realms of reality (because of course, for adults, we have to live in the ‘real’ world)?
I have clients who sit in front of me, and seemed to have lost all hope. The fairytales they longed for have yet to transpire, or they feel like they will never ever come true. Some find themselves grasping onto things that are not right for them, just to fill the empty void inside.
Let me take something like a relationship break-up. This often brings people into counselling – being broken hearted is about as painful as it gets. I once worked with a lady whose husband cheated on her, and when she found out, her whole world was thrown into the air. She told me he was her world, and how they had had this fairy-tale wedding, which: “clearly to him, meant nothing”. In fact, as we worked together it became apparent that the marriage had been anything but perfect, but at the beginning of our work, in her mind, her dream marriage was over, and she would never trust or know love again. Amongst the pain of loss and unhappiness, it sure can be hard to have your dreams taken away. It can be even harder to imagine that there might be a better dream out there for you, and that as time goes by, change, and understanding of oneself at any moment in time can keep that hope going in life. Sometimes, it can be even the smallest things that are meaningful, but while we grip onto the ‘idea’ of the perfect fairytale life, we often miss them.
One of the first things I wonder about people I am sitting opposite is who they really are? Sometimes, I hear a lot of words, and if the words I hear, and the energy I feel between us, do not match up, then I wonder, does this person know who they really are? If not, how can they pin their hopes and dreams to things and want to achieve it when that may not fit with them? I think counsellors who are really in touch with themselves in their work, can learn a lot about their clients through intuitive response. My supervisor often says that sometimes clients or people in general, find it hard to ‘think’ for themselves – I agree with this, but what I would add is that some people don’t feel themselves, and then…. think and process. The ‘shoulds’ and the ‘must nots’ get in the way: in the psychological world, we call these rules/schemas/beliefs. The power of these can often lead the head to runs away with itself and the thoughts to rule the feelings. The real person is pushed down, and sometimes a ‘false self’ emerges leading the person to believe that they must follow the ‘rules’ according to the beliefs they hold about themselves (even if these are outdated).
Imagine we took the fairytale story of The 3 little pigs, and 1 of those pigs from it decided s/he wanted to instead play the role of Little Red Riding Hood. The reason the pig gives for this is because it is “a better story” and because more people like it (in the pig’s mind). Well of course the wolf would still do the chasing (liking pigs and little girls equally as much), but, it is plainly ridiculous to think of the squealing, yet clever pigs becoming the beautiful, yet naive Red Riding Hood. And come on, the red coat on the pig?! This just would not do! We all have our roles in our lives, and the reality is, that we all have the capacity for our very own fairytale within ourselves – not, a pre-determined one. This was further cemented in my mind when I visited the Olympic park the other week. I saw a lot of very over-excited kids in awe of the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. Of course he has an amazing talent, but what is perhaps most important about him is that he uses it to inspire, so kids love him and want to be him! But, not every one of those children is going to be the next Usain Bolt (although it would be good for British sport if we could have at least one!); however it is important to remember that the inspiration behind him does not count for nothing. Inspiration can touch us, and when used in the right way, a combination of ambition, imagination and patience can help us dig deep into our own hearts and find our own dreams for that moment in time.
Every once in a while, we find in our reality that somehow something has happened, and suddenly the inspiration or the dream we had wondered about of all our lives may suddenly be coming true, even when we least expected it. And if it is even better or even incomparable to the hopes we have long held onto, then it is probably more likely to be our very own fairytale. That makes it more special. Without even dreaming it, you become that protagonist who becomes ready to inspire others with their own story.
Before I finish, I think there is something also to say too for those small things that fill our lives every day. These can often be the most grounding for us, and yet produce the same ‘happiness’ as the fantasies. True, they may not possess the excitement of being a hero slay a dragon (whatever the modern day equivalent of that is), or the beautiful heroine finding true love, but they matter. This can be anything that means something to us, or connects us with who we really are and makes us feel like we ‘are okay’. Sometimes, it is a hobby such as a sport, art, cooking, going to the cinema…Sometimes an everyday activity that we connect with; I like feeling connected with nature so a walk on Clapham common, or even spending time with my budgies keeps happy!
Appreciating these small things can be hard especially in the midst of a tragedy or in the face of adversity, but finding what grounds us and what reminds us of us, is paramount. In the same way, the dreams and hopes of the child in us can stay alive forever, and somewhere outside of all those adult responsibilities, and ‘serious life’, there is a place for this. It is like a little light inside of us that never has to completely burn out. Yes, it flickers, yes it gets blown so hard it is almost extinguished, but for those of us who are alive and living in the world, then even in the most difficult and terrible times, that unique flame inside you holds a place in the world.
So whether it is a big, amazing ‘fairytale’ like happening or a relatively small constant within your life, exploration, understanding, and acceptance of ourselves (inner child and adult) is a good place to be. As the ancient Chinese Philosopher Chuang Tzu (369-286 BC)said:
The realisation of one’s true nature is happiness. And when one reaches happiness, one is close to perfection.
(Interesting that in those days, the word ‘perfection’, had a very different connotation).
So, go out, stay true and keep an open heart on your hopes and dreams, wait for your moment to be in the spotlight…. and in the meantime, take stock of what you have and appreciate and love it – it may mean more than you think.