Healing the Inner Child
The Energy of Awareness
“The energy of awareness is the salve that will recognize and heal the child within. But how do we cultivate this energy?”
Buddhist psychology divides consciousness into two parts. One part is mind consciousness and the other is store consciousness. Mind consciousness is our active awareness. Western psychology calls it “the conscious mind.” To cultivate the energy of awareness, we try to engage our active awareness in all our activities and be truly present with whatever we are doing. We want to be mindful as we drink our tea or drive through the city. When we walk, we want to be aware that we are walking. When we breathe, we want to be aware that we are breathing.
Store consciousness, also called root consciousness, is the base of our consciousness. In Western psychology it’s called “the unconscious mind.” It’s where all our past experiences are stored. Store consciousness has the capacity to learn and to process information.
Consciousness is like a house in which the basement is our store consciousness and the living room is our mind consciousness. Mental formations like anger, sorrow, or joy, rest in the store consciousness in the form of seeds (bija). We have a seed of anger, despair, discrimination, fear, a seed of awareness, compassion, a seed of understanding, and so on. Store consciousness is made of the totality of the seeds, and it is also the soil that preserves and maintains all the seeds. The seeds stay there until we hear, see, read, or think of something that touches a seed and makes us feel the anger, joy, or sorrow. This is a seed coming up and manifesting on the level of mind consciousness, in our living room. Now we no longer call it a seed, but a mental formation.
Formations– When someone touches the seed of anger by saying something or doing something that upsets us, that seed of anger will come up and manifest in mind consciousness as the mental formation (cittasamskara) of anger. The word “formation” is a Buddhist term for something that’s created by many conditions coming together. A house is a physical formation. My hand is a physiological formation. My anger is a mental formation. In Buddhist psychology we speak about fifty-one varieties of seeds that can manifest as fifty-one mental formations. Anger is just one of them. In store consciousness, anger is called a seed. In mind consciousness, it’s called a mental formation.
Seeds– Whenever a seed, say the seed of anger, comes up into our living room and manifests as a mental formation, the first thing we can do is to touch the seed of awareness and invite it to come up too. Now we have two mental formations in the living room. This is awareness of anger. Awareness is always awareness of something. When we breathe mindfully, that is awareness of breathing. When we walk mindfully, that is awareness of walking. When we eat mindfully, that’s awareness of eating. So in this case, awareness is awareness of anger. Awareness recognizes and embraces anger.
Non-Duality– Our practice is based on the insight of non-duality—anger is not an enemy. Both awareness and anger are ourselves. Awareness is there not to suppress or fight against anger, but to recognize and take care. It’s like a big brother helping a younger brother. So the energy of anger is recognized and embraced tenderly by the energy of awareness.
Every time we need the energy of awareness, we just touch that seed with our mindful breathing, mindful walking, smiling, and then we have the energy ready to do the work of recognizing, embracing, and later on looking deeply and transforming. Whatever we’re doing, whether it’s cooking, sweeping, washing, walking, being aware of our breathing, we can continue to generate the energy of awareness, and the seed of awareness in us will become strong. Within the seed of awareness is the seed of concentration. With these two energies, we can liberate ourselves from afflictions.
The Mind Needs Good Circulation
We know there are toxins in our body. If our blood doesn’t circulate well, these toxins accumulate. In order to remain healthy, our body works to expel the toxins. When the blood circulates well, the kidneys and the liver can do their job to dispel toxins. We can use massage to help the blood circulate better.
Our consciousness, too, may be in a state of bad circulation. We may have a block of suffering, pain, sorrow, or despair in us; it’s like a toxin in our consciousness. We call this an internal formation or internal knot. Embracing our pain and sorrow with the energy of awareness is the practice of massaging our consciousness. When the blood doesn’t circulate well, our organs can’t function properly, and we get sick. When our psyche doesn’t circulate well, our mind will become sick. Awareness stimulates and accelerates circulation throughout blocks of pain.
Occupying the Living Room
Our blocks of pain, sorrow, anger, and despair always want to come up into our mind consciousness, into our living room, because they’ve grown big and need our attention. They want to emerge, but we don’t want these uninvited guests to come up because they’re painful to look at. So we try to block their way. We want them to stay asleep down in the basement. We don’t want to face them, so our habit is to fill the living room with other guests. Whenever we have ten or fifteen minutes of free time, we do anything we can to keep our living room occupied. We call a friend. We pick up a book. We turn on the television. We go for a drive. We hope that if the living room is occupied, these unpleasant mental formations will not come up.
But all mental formations need to circulate. If we don’t let them come up, it creates bad circulation in our psyche, and symptoms of mental illness and depression begin to manifest in our mind and body.
If we can learn not to fear our knots of suffering, we slowly begin to let them circulate up into our living room. We begin to learn how to embrace them and transform them with the energy of awareness. When we dismantle the barrier between the basement and the living room, blocks of pain will come up and we will have to suffer a bit. Our inner child may have a lot of fear, sadness and anger stored up from being down in the basement for so long. There is no way to avoid it.
That is why the practice of awareness is so important. If awareness is not there, it is very unpleasant to have these seeds come up. But if we know how to generate the energy of awareness, it’s very healing to invite them up every day and embrace them. Awareness is a strong source of energy that can recognize, embrace, and take care of these negative energies. Perhaps these seeds don’t want to come up at first, perhaps there’s too much fear and distrust, so we may have to coax them a bit. After being embraced for some time, a strong emotion will return back to the basement and become a seed again, weaker than before.
Every time you give your internal formations a bath of awareness, the blocks of pain in you become lighter. So give your anger, your despair, your fear, a bath of awareness every day. After several days or weeks of bringing them up daily and helping them go back down again, you create good circulation in your psyche.
The Function of Awareness
1st- Recognize, The first function of awareness is to recognize and not to fight. We can stop at any time and become aware of the child within us. When we recognize the wounded child for the first time, all we need to do is be aware of him or her and say hello. That’s all. Perhaps this child is sad. If we notice this we can just breathe in and say to ourselves, “Breathing in, I know that sorrow has manifested in me. Hello, my sorrow. Breathing out, I will take good care of you.”
2nd– Accept, Once we have recognized our inner child, the second function of awareness is to embrace him or her. This is a very pleasant practice. Instead of fighting our emotions, we are taking good care of ourselves. Awareness brings with her an ally—concentration. The first few minutes of recognizing and embracing our inner child with tenderness will bring some relief. The difficult emotions will still be there, but we won’t suffer as much anymore.
3rd– Understand, After recognizing and embracing our inner child, the third function of awareness is to soothe and relieve our difficult emotions. Just by holding this child gently, we are soothing our difficult emotions and we can begin to feel at ease. When we embrace our strong emotions with awareness and concentration, we’ll be able to see the roots of these mental formations. We’ll know where our suffering has come from. When we see the roots of things, our suffering will lessen. So awareness recognizes, embraces, and relieves.
The energy of awareness contains the energy of concentration as well as the energy of insight. Concentration helps us focus on just one thing. With concentration, the energy of looking becomes more powerful and insight is possible. Insight always has the, power of liberating us. If awareness is there, and we know how to keep awareness alive, concentration will be there, too. And if we know how to keep concentration alive, insight will also come. The energy of awareness enables us to look deeply and gain the insight we need so that transformation is possible.
Source- Reconciliation< Healing the Inner Child by Thich Nhat Hanh
Adapted by, G Ross Clark