Above is the illustration by artist John Cooper, UK, for the cover of Inner Child Journeys.
Robin Grille came into my life in September of 2016 in Findhorn, Scotland. He and I had the privilege of speaking at the same conference. This offered us the opportunity to get to know each other while hanging out in the cool evening Findhorn air. I knew immediately that, with Robin, I have a brother in kind. Robin is the real deal! He’s as authentic as they come. He’s passionate, personable, wonderfully skilled and exquisitely articulate.
Today, as I’m writing this, I’m also experiencing my 74th birthday. I’m in my third read of Robin’s new book, Inner Child Journeys: How Our Children Grow Us Up.
This book is more than another parenting book by another expert. This is Robin personally and eloquently guiding us through an introspective process in order to know ourselves better, heal old wounds and expand our ability to intuit and to give and receive love. Robin’s wisdom is this: if we do indeed come to know the depths of ourselves, we are empowered to create deeper connections with others. As parents, grandparents, professional caregivers and teachers, we increase our capacity to support the flourishing of our children.
In the 1970s for 5 years, I was a single dad raising my young son. I was fortunate to have excellent counseling and a group of like-minded parents to help me become the kind of father that could truly learn from his son. When I first began reading Robin’s Inner Child Journeys, I thought about how much I could have used this book back then! Robin, where were you in the early 1970s? This is not to diminish the value of this book today; and how it has helped me as a grandfather in my relationships with my adult children, grandson and life partner.
You see, this is not a book to just read; it is an interactive process. It is a stimulant for deep reflection, loaded with illustrative stories and helpful exercises. More than reading; you find yourself stirred to the most visceral feelings, while at the same time savoring the many insights, the bursting ‘ahas’. Robin guides us through wisely designed exercises that support us to integrate the most challenging imprints from our distant past and to find a way forward, relieved and renewed.
As you enter these pages you will find yourself led by an expert and articulate thinker, philosopher, professional therapist, writer, husband, father – a deeply feeling human being. Robin does not leave himself out of the writing. He includes himself in intimate, contemplative and uplifting ways. Many of the examples that he offers are from his own life and his own struggles. His candid self-disclosure creates an alchemy that helps alleviate my own harsh inner critic. My sense of aloneness and isolation dissipates as I move into the realization that our most core experiences are actually shared.
Through Robin’s transparency, I feel him there with me as I journey through the exercises. I’m not alone on the journey. Furthermore, Robin shows us how to share our inner journeys with our loved ones and friends, and with like-minded folks who can gather in supportive groups.
A consistent theme throughout Robin’s work is that by coming to appreciate how we came into this life and grew up, we grow in our compassion for ourselves and each other, especially our loved ones and our children. There is no question that my children are and have been among my greatest teachers. Children are programmed to bring us great joy; but at the same time they are capable of provoking the darker depths of our being. By design, our children will often touch us in those regions of our consciousness that we least want to look at.
My kids have done their jobs well; our interactions have often forced me to have to look into myself. So many times, especially when I was a single dad with my firstborn, I would be triggered into anger. I had clung to the idealistic belief that I would never ever find myself treating my own children as I had been treated as a child. I never wanted to rage, especially not at them! Yet, there I was, as a parent, wrestling with the forces of raw, early childhood rage that had remained inside me from before I could talk. What to do with all this anger?
I remember such a day when my son was barely 4 years old. I felt totally unable to reach him, to connect with him. Although I was knee-deep in helplessness and frustration, I remember looking at him and feeling that somehow, in some miraculous way, we were going to get through this. Somehow I had a flash that my son was doing an amazing job of communicating how he was feeling. He and I were raging at the same time, together. I realized that we both knew how the other was feeling. What my son had brought back to me, in an instant, was the distinct memory of what it felt like to be a little boy, out of control with unspeakable anger. It was at that moment that I learned my young son and I could be on the same side of the fence; with each other rather than in destructive opposition to each other. Instead of trying to get him to “behave” and connect with me, I saw then what he was communicating through his behavior and the raw energy of his emotion. I got it! As soon as this ‘ah-ha’ hit me; I was calm. It was as if I had been given a new set of eyes, a new way to listen, and a new way to feel and be with my son. This was a parenting game-changer for me; to understand my child from the inside, through the senses of my own Inner Child. This new perspective transformed me as a parent. The guidance Robin gives us lines us up for many such inspired realizations, and the deeper connections with our children that these new perceptions bring.
In Part A, Robin lucidly shares neuro-scientific research that sheds light on why the emotions and sensations of childhood, from the dawn of life onward, can so readily be triggered to resurface. In the most accessible terms, he introduces us to the neurobiological underpinnings of human empathy, explaining how we affect each other so profoundly; why we humans seem so irrevocably intertwined. We are wired to have our own internal template for what others are experiencing and feeling. The feelings of helplessness and rage that my son had triggered in me, for instance, were a window into myself; showing me when and how I had once felt exactly as he was feeling – we were deeply connected to one another.
With Inner Child Journeys, Robin has helped me to better understand myself and my children at the same time, assisting me to become more conscious, mindful and present; with myself and with my loved ones. This introspective method provides a vessel in which we can differentiate feelings that arise from our past from feelings that make sense in the present context, to recognize when we have been triggered and to distinguish our projections from our children’s real needs. These gains in self-awareness enable us to choose more wisely how to respond to our children.
I found Robin’s anecdotes particularly inspiring. The stories feel close-to-home; the challenges they depict involving family or classroom dynamics have a poignantly familiar ring. We are brought home to the most universal agonies and triumphs of human growth and transformation. These real-life tales do what a didactic explanation cannot: they make the rich and complex psychological concepts come alive, in crispy clarity and full color. Swinging back and forth between anecdotes and exercises, Robin creates a rhythm between them: the anecdotes give me inspiration while the exercises give me the opportunity to pause, look inward and feel. I experienced this rhythm in the narrative like a pendulum; moving me through my own inner world in a slow and gradual integrative cadence. Robin’s pace is gentle, always prioritizing our emotional safety, so we don’t have to take-in our own childhood story in big unmanageable chunks. We are reminded to pause, take our time and to modulate our passage through the Journey.
So far, I’ve been mostly writing as a parent and grandparent; but I have also found Robin’s Inner Child Journeys equally useful as a professional who works with families, adults and trains other professionals. Whether we are physicians, nurses, psychologists, body-oriented somatic therapists or teachers, so much of our training emphasizes the primacy of an empathic rapport with our clients: the people we are treating, counseling or instructing. Robin advocates for the need to cultivate self-knowledge; before we can properly understand others. Only when we can tap into our own historic joys and sufferings; can we achieve our fullest potential for compassion, intuition and the ability to support and guide others.
I remember being a music teacher in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in an upper/middle-class white, suburban community seventh and eighth grade junior high school with students in the range of 12 and 13 years of age. I was young and very idealistic. I had the hope of contributing to the transformation of what was then a very demanding, teacher-centered junior high school; into a truly student-centered educational system. Beside myself there were a few other colleagues – the art teacher and the Spanish teacher – who valued student-centered learning. This was in a school that still in 1970 adhered to occasional corporal punishment. The wood-crafted paddle on the wall in the principal’s office hung as a reminder for students to behave rather than connect. I would have so loved to have a copy of the Inner Child Journeys book in those days. My like-minded colleagues and I knew and appreciated each other, but we needed more guidance on how we might be able to truly support one another. I am deeply moved by Robin’s description of an Australian high school where the faculty are committed to understanding their own Inner Child processes, and where the teachers are encouraged to explore their own psychological roots of the challenges and impasses they face daily with their students. I am so heartened by the synergy and mutual support and cooperation that story presents between the teachers, as well as between the teachers and students. Even more heartening is the fact that this type of guidance is ever more available today for teachers around the world.
Robin’s Inner Child Journeys is full of wonderful, enlightening wisdom that I remain excited to share with my family, loved ones, my clients, colleagues and students.
I firmly believe that the more of us that take Robin’s invitation into our own Inner Child Journeys, the better parents, grandparents and professionals we collectively become.
I want to see this book in the hands of all the people I am fortunate to work with: clients, families and students of all ages and walks of life. Inner Child Journeys is a must read for all of us, parents, grandparents, teachers and health professionals.
Thank you Robin for giving us such strong, well-constructed and passionate guidance to journey into the emotionally rich wisdom-filled realms of our Inner Child.
July 11, 2018