The Weight of Adulthood

Can we unlearn in order to rediscover the presence of childhood?

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When I was younger and getting ready for vacation, I would always ask my dad, “Are you excited yet?”

Without fail, he would always reply, “I’ll be excited when we’re in the car.”

As a child and even well into early adulthood, I found his response unfathomable. I could never understand how the excitement and anticipation weren’t coursing through his veins in the same way they were for me. How could he be aware that we were embarking on the adventure of a lifetime and not be consumed with the thrill?

I suppose that the pure and overwhelming elation of childhood fades as it is replaced with the responsibility of adulthood. As an adult, you are not along for the ride, but you are the one responsible for getting the ride there.

Instead of seeing the adventure that awaits us, our vision becomes focused on all the steps separating us from it. The packing, the preparing, the planning. This focus is, of course, necessary, but why does it so often cost us our excitement?

We steep ourselves in pools of worry about all that is left to be done in preparation to relax or celebrate. Then, during our experience, we’re often thinking about all that awaits us on the other side, slyly checking our emails or dreading our return.

We trudge through our experience with the weight of what’s to come. So many of us have lost the ability to be present.

That presence is the key children have to life that we grown-ups have misplaced. The irony of it all is that presence, that now moment, is all we really have anyway. Yet, it becomes so challenging for us to maintain contact with it.

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This hyperfocus on our responsibilities braces us for what’s ahead. But, bracing for life’s events that have yet to unfold does little to actually help us.

We anticipate in all the wrong ways — wasting our precious time worrying and guarding ourselves against what may not even come our way.

If our worries are fulfilled, our worry is reinforced, and we rinse and repeat ourselves back to the start of the cycle.

And, if our worries are unfulfilled, we spent our time living in the mind rather than the world once again.

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Many of us use this bracing and worrying as an attempt to control. If we focus on the plan and prepare, life cannot surprise us, and we will maintain a false sense of control over our world.

Our mind learns to work on overdrive, tricking us into believing this illusion, and we become attached to maintaining it.

We suspend ourselves within the avoidance of our emotions, worrying our way through life to ensure our rigid and limited emotional homeostasis will not be disrupted.

Part of us believes that if we guard ourselves against feeling the fullness of our emotions in the same way we plan in an effort to guard against the unexpected, we can not only control what happens to us but how we feel.

This is operating incorrectly: it’s not forcing our homeostasis in an effort to avoid the unwanted that makes the difference, it’s finding our balance along the way, while we’re in the trenches.

It’s not closing off to the parts of our emotions or experience that feel dangerous, it’s rediscovering that childlike part of us that permits the fullness of our emotions to run through us.

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How can we relearn to allow our emotions to move through us?

How can we relearn to feel our feelings but not let them overtake us or cause us to lash out at ourselves or those around us?

I don’t have an exact prescription, but I think embracing the practice of giving our emotions space brings us closer to living in the now rather than the confines of the mind.

Turning away from our experience only waters the tree of control and its roots of shame and guilt.

Tara Brach does wonderful work on acceptance and compassion. Her meditations and books serve as guides on using acceptance to foster compassion for ourselves and others. Over time, these practices help us become more active participants in our lives through the art of allowing.

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When the to-do list is long and the responsibilities are ours, can we loosen our grip on life to let in the joy and presence of a child? Can we rediscover our ability to let the now moment influence our state? Can we pacify the mind and remove ourselves from living in the future or the past?

As those once-foreign responsibilities have become my own, I find myself answering questions the same way as my dad: “I’ll be excited when I’m on the plane.”

Although I now understand the heaviness that plagues many of us adults, I’m working to unlearn the habits that hinder me and prevent me from experiencing my life in its entirety, the good and the bad. The more I practice accepting what is, the more I find I am able to open to the richness that surrounds me.