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The Inner Child and Life’s Instruction Manual

The Inner Child and Life’s Instruction Manual

By Phil Reckard

Everyone has an inner child; a miserable brat who always wants their own way, a young boy wandering in marvel through the sunlit woods, a young girl flying on the back of a spirited pony, or some combination of all three, if only in our imaginations. Ideally, we need to maintain a bit of our inner child because it helps keep us young at heart, playful, ever wondrous about the natural world, capable of enjoying the simplest pleasures, and owning the sense that anything and everything is possible. This was a time before we knew what the word “cynicism” meant and felt like.

Make no mistake about it, our inner brat finds a way to come out more often than not, especially when we’re stressed out and H.A.L.T.-y ( H ungry, A ngry, L onely, T ired), and we, like babies, want quick fixes for what ails us. One simple method for getting ourselves out of this loop is to do the H.A.L.T. thing – stop (halt) and realize that we are either hungry, angry, lonely and/or tired, and take remedies to break it down to correct whichever one of these maladies is most attainable. This is the fashionable new parenting technique of “time out,” which young parents know too well might work some of the time.

Another trick is to go back to being a child, and remember the wisdom encapsulated in the first song you probably ever knew, “Row, row, row your boat.” No matter what anyone may try to tell you, life does indeed come with an instruction manual, and it is perfectly encoded within this “dumb” little tune.

For those of us stuck with an inner child issue, this song can allow us to remember all the things we’ve forgotten over time. This is what the nature of karma is all about – remembering those things we’ve forgotten.

The word “row” is sung three times to start this song, and the number 3 is sacred in virtually every spiritual tradition, so it is by definition a sacred tune. Repeating it three times is indicative that work is needed on our part to make it all (life) happen. Rowing a boat is repetitive and consistent, and perseverance is required to stay on track.

Rowing your own boat is only implied, but strongly recommended, as trying to row someone else’s boat makes life difficult for yourself, and impossible to empower the other to exercise their own free-will. You’d only be going around in circles with one arm out of service – glued to something you have no right to hold onto.

Everyone has their own boat, and some may seem to be speed-boats passing us by on all sides, but they have a tendency to not see the rocks in the stream until it’s too late. Others seem to have only tubs or cardboard boxes for boats, and always seem to be adrift or sinking. We might feel the need to help lift them out if we are able, and lead them to the safety of the shore, but then we need to let them go, and allow them to mend their own boats and lives.

The next word “gently” allows us to enjoy the scenery – the grand pageantry of life – both the great tragedies of current events, and the minor and major miracles of everyday life. By rowing our own boats – gently and peacefully – and enjoying the changing scenery, we get to know that something different and potentially spectacular awaits us just around the bend downstream. We also get to see potential obstacles and steer clear of the things that threaten to sink us.

“Down” (the stream) might seem like a no-brainer for the serious seeker, because fighting against the flow is so counter-productive to our spiritual goals. “Gently” and “down” means moving with the flow of the stream, and not rowing madly to get ahead, or desperately trying to move backward – back to where we’ve come from – back to our inner child.

Both images – moving too fast, and moving against – implies either an impatience or a denial of the truths involved. Patience and acceptance are the keys. Life isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey.

The stream does eventually flow into the ocean, but this fact isn’t mentioned in the song for a very important reason – the ocean is in fact the ultimate destination. The ocean represents a symbol of oneness, where all things are connected, kind of like a group Soul. It’s widths and depths seem measureless, and are impossible to fully fathom, but this is the realm of Spirit – the source of all life on Earth – back to which we are all compelled to return to. But we can’t get there from here unless we’re peaceably moving with the flow, and in no mad rush to get there.

The next word “merrily” is repeated four times, perhaps in an effort to place the greatest emphasis on the concept of joy. This is how life’s instruction manual tells us how best to navigate the stream of life – merrily – happily, joyfully. Living in this state of grace involves an over-riding sense of gratefulness, perhaps the most difficult mindset if we’re viewing life as a pain-filled struggle, living in the past, staying stuck with our inner child, when we’re not going with the flow.

“Life is but a dream” concludes the song, telling us that we can imagine our lives any way we want to, especially if we own our birthright of free-will. It also hints strongly at the Hindu concept of Maya – the illusions of the world that keep us separated from our Source – the inevitable reunion with the ocean of Spirit.

But if life is only a dream, we ask ourselves “why do we even do it?” Well, that’s what we’re on this river to figure out. The either/or precept of “sink or swim” is therefore irrelevant, and should be replaced by “whatever floats your boat.” In this case, the answer is Universal, the river of life floats all boats.

A very interesting thing about this “stupid” little song is that it’s tonal structure is called a “round,” where three groups of kids pick up the tune at three different times. The harmony it creates stays with us our whole lives, but we tend to forget how necessary harmony is as we age. The double meaning of the word “round” is also lost on us if we ignore that a circle is round, and the circle is the sacred geometry of connection to all things.

(All thanks go out to the late [great!] Rev. Jack Graf, Unity Church of Raleigh North Carolina, for reminding me about the significance of the “Row, row, row” tune.)

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More on Working with Your Inner Child:

Releasing the Inner Child
Healing the Wounded Inner Child
Techniques for Releasing the Inner Child

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