I love being four years old!
Yes, you read that correctly.
Being four allows me to run my business. Being four allows me to get through tough days. Being four helps me deal with difficult people.
I know, I know. You think I’ve lost my mind.
My driver’s license doesn’t say I’m four years old. It says I’ve been on the planet over ten times that long.
So, let me tell you what’s up.
More importantly, I’m going to share what you can learn from me, a humble four year-old.
The Max: Playing Full Out
I discovered my four year-old self about two weeks ago, while I was at the Esalen Institute, taking a life-changing five-day workshop called The Max with 24 other participants, eight assistants, and a leader named Paula Shaw. She’s a professional actress and acting teacher who conducts workshops for people interested in expanding their self-expression, well-being, and creativity. The workshop is about discovering yourself beyond who you know yourself to be. I signed up because I’d been feeling limited, and playing small in my business. It felt like time for a breakthrough.
During the workshop, Paula asks each person to stand up on a makeshift stage. The audience area is pretty dark, but you can make out the first row or two of chairs, filled with your fellow workshop participants. You’ve got a spotlight on you. From that vantage point, you look into people’s eyes. Not just skimming. Really looking. Then you choose one person and continue to look into his or her eyes, as Paula asks you about what you’re feeling in your body.
When it was my turn to get up, I felt curious and excited. Since I’ve spoken on hundreds of stages, so unlike other participants, I wasn’t nervous before getting up on stage.
But then I looked at the audience, slowly, seeing each member, one by one. And I fixed my gaze on Meg and her warm smile and short-cropped blonde hair.
Then I was nervous. For no apparent reason.
Paula asked me about the sensations I was experiencing.
“Um, my legs are shaking. Trembling, really. ” I uttered, as my voice shook.
Paula kept her eyes focus on me and said, “Let your legs shake and tremble. Where do you feel that? And what else do you feel?”
“The shaking is moving up from my knees to my hips.”
“Great! Great! Keep going. What are you sensing now in your body?”
Paula and I went on like this for five or six minutes, with the shaking intensifying. My body felt full of intense waves. I was undulating. The only other times I’d experienced this intensity of full-body shaking was in a body-centered practice like a Kundalini yoga class or a Continuum movement workshop.
Although I’m trained, through my experiential PhD in Somatic Psychology, to be highly attuned to my own sensory awareness, the sensations in my body were honestly starting to freak me out. My mind was trying to make sense of these unusual inner vibrations. People in the audience later told me that the shaking was quite visible.
Five or six minutes into the shaking, Paula asked me, “How are you doing?”
“I feel dizzy.”
She came up on stage and put a hand on my back for support. I kept looking into Meg’s eyes.
“Susan, you have shaking in your legs and hips. Can you connect it to anything in your life?” Paula asked me.
“Hmm, yes. I wore braces and casts on my legs from three days old until I was five years old.” I replied.
Oooh, boy. I opened up a powder keg.
Connecting Past and Present
“I was born with my feet turning the wrong direction. Essentially, a mild case of club-foot. So, to correct that, at night, I wore special shoes that fit into a bar. Kind of like having my feet connected. And sometimes, my feet and lower legs were in casts. And I wore saddle shoes, backwards. Well, I’d wear the shoe made for the left foot on my right foot, and vice versa.”
Paula asked me if I had any pain with this setup as a child. “No, my parents told me I was a good baby, and I didn’t cry or complain. Apparently, even though I don’t recall it, I learned to ride a bicycle while I was wearing the casts.”
While Paula and I spoke, she had me keep looking at Meg. Despite not looking at Paula, I imagined her grimacing as she said, “Really? Do you really think that your parents knew how you felt?”
Paula hit pay dirt. Tender feelings. A deep wound.
“No, I imagine that I was in pain. But my parents didn’t want to see the pain. So they focused on the smiling, happy me.”
“Were you allowed to be — or supposed to be — smiling and happy as a child?” Paula wanted to know.
“Yes. But sometimes, my family had enough of my exuberance. For example, I wanted to put on little shows and perform for people. I’d sing. And dance. And be silly. I could do it for a few minutes, but soon after, especially if we had company or visitors, I was told “that’s enough.” Somehow, I came to feel like I was too much, like I was a show off.”
“And how old were you when your parents started closing down your performances?” Paula asked.
“About four, I think.”
So, for the next two days of the workshop, Paula asked me to be a four year-old, and to play, full out. To be silly, goofy, unbridled. To sing and dance.
I latched on to people. I asked lots of questions. I ran. I jumped. I wore mismatched clothes. I skipped. I was a very messy eater. I interrupted conversations. I blabbered on and on. I told potty jokes and giggled at them.
I tugged on people’s shirts. I made funny faces.
In short, I reveled in being a four year-old.
At the end of the two days, I had a startling realization:
I’ve always had this four year-old energy in me.
“Little Suzie” is the self who shows up when I’m improvising. Little Suzie fuels my imagination and allows me to come up with improbable, yet dazzling answers and insights. Little Suzie gives me the guts to do difficult things because she just shrugs he shoulders and says, “Oh, OK. I’ll do that,” without overthinking, worrying, or analyzing. She jumps in, fully. Unbraced. Unimpeded. Uninhibited.
I just hadn’t used that four year-old energy consciously. My experience at The Max helped me to see that I can call up that lively, childlike energy at will. When I need it. When I want it. No one has to know I’m doing it. Or I can tell everyone, like I’m doing now, with this story.
With my consciously invoked four year-old energy, I feel so much more powerful, creative, and excited about the directions I’m planning for my work. I’ll be sharing my plans with you in a few weeks. Woo hoo!
In the meantime, I have a big question for YOU…
When you look back at your life, what energy or aspect of yourself would you like to recapture? Maybe a playful four year-old?? A rebellious teenager? A clingy toddler?
How about you tell a few friends that you want to play that part, full out, for a day, and that you want their support by playing along? What might you discover about yourself? And if you’re not quite ready to let this energy loose for a day, how about for an hour? Or in your mirror? Or in your journal?
Getting in touch with your unexpressed energy is, in a word: Sensational!