My One True Disneyland
In my early years as a mum, I was plagued by guilt for my distinct lack of interest and effort to play with my child. My memories of play as a child tend to be more about conscious socialising rather than spontaneous fun. I frequently wondered if I was too self-absorbed or too disconnected from my inner child.
Recently a mentor asked if I had lived my childhood dream, what would I have become? I thought about how I spent most of my time as a child; I have no doubt I would have become a daydreamer. I spent most of my time in my mind.
And it dawned on me that my perfect Disneyland is my inner world.
Too ‘old’ to play
Being empathic and highly sensitive, my feelings were my best friend as a child. And I played a lot in my mind. I felt the most alive when I created my own worlds and re-enacted dramatic scenes complete with elaborate dialogues. I imagined myself being loved, being dumped, being pursued, being courageous, being psychotic, being killed – a whole gamut of possibilities. Just so that I can feel the dizzying and addictive aliveness of extreme feelings. It’s my secret world; I can’t imagine anyone else understanding all these craziness happening within me.
Alas, I grew up with little difficulty in empathy. Pain and difficulty, devious motivations, desires of all sorts, morbid thoughts – I have lived it all, at least in my mind. However, without grounded guidance, this secret playtime inevitably proved to be extremely challenging for adult life. I was lost in my mind a lot, yet had very little in real life to reflect a similar level of intensity and tangibility. The drastic contrast and incoherence were tearing me apart.
And I did fell apart when I became a mother, when I perceived my life to be burdened by mundane and repetitive routines day and night.
Protecting Myself From My Feelings
Fluctuating between helplessness and depression, I desperately wanted answers. I learnt a lot of tools and resources to stabilise my thoughts and feelings, yet I remained wary of them. There was a constant fear that they would drag me back into the dark abyss. I was functional but I felt like I was constantly living inside a protective wall, protecting my feelings from me. Inevitably, we learn it’s quite futile to do so. You want to block out one feeling, you block out the whole lot of them. While I successfully block out my fear, anger and grief, I was also losing my joy, openness and child-like curiosity.
The Long-Lost ‘Friend’
I was mostly sceptical and resistant when my mindfulness teacher invited us to befriend our feelings. All I could think of was “They don’t understand how terrible these feelings are” or “So what if I know my feelings? And I do know them! They are bad!”
With the help of many wonderful teachers, it took me more than a year to realise I haven’t been allowing myself to feel fully. At the end of class one day, I felt like I have had enough of these ‘we love and accept who we are’ and ‘we welcome all’ crap. I rushed out of class and I began to cry. And cry. And cry. And it was then, something changed.
“Oh hey, we finally meet, again” said my feelings to me.
A long-lost friend found. A slight opening to the possibility that I could allow myself to feel safe with my best friend again.
Nowadays I set aside time to play with my feelings, especially when it gets stormy. People around me call it meditation.
In this space, I can be super curious about my feelings. That I could approach my inner world with curiosity and playfulness, just like when I was a child. Only this time I don’t have to conjure fantasy worlds and imageries to feel engaged. I don’t have to chase a more intense aliveness than the last. The practice thought me that it’s just as interesting to meet whatever is here in this moment.
Sometimes I would watch from afar, and sometimes I go close. I examine how the feelings move through the body. I play with how different thoughts might affect my feelings moment to moment. I experiment with movement and dance to see if the feelings and sensations changes! Most importantly, I let them come and go as they wish.
When I am tired, I rest back-to-back with my feelings.
Not needing more or less.
Not needing anything to be different.
Just like my best friend.
Strangely, this openness and safety to play within somehow open the space for the desire to find that same joy and ease to play in real life. I might have missed some years with my daughter, and probably quite a number with myself. But I guess it’s never too late to learn how to play.. for real.