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I stood at the kitchen sink, sipping day-old coffee, and staring out the window at the encroaching clusters of magenta leaves on the Bougainvillea bush growing outside the house.
Its vitality was intoxicating—full and vibrant, with green leaves, and tissue paper-like petals.
Movement nearby eventually distracted me from my intense gaze when I noticed the little Mexican girl walking around the gardens of the Airbnb ranch that I currently call my home—a remote location between the Gulf, and Carribean coast of the Yucatan peninsula. My partner and I have driven from our homes in upstate New York to California, and throughout the country of Mexico to have finally landed at this tropical oasis.
The little girl’s home is here on the ranch as well. She lives with her mother and father who work on the grounds, and maintain this little slice of paradise where nature, both human and wild, come to flourish and rest.
A short coconut tree bearing several fruits was planted behind the gravel path. The path rambles through the lush foliage where the little girl, about three or four years old, continued to wander. I watched as she meandered through the gardens, brushing her little hands against the bushes and plants as she passed by, gently grabbing at the leaves as they met her palm, giving them a quick squeeze with her miniature fingers, and quickly releasing them as the next bunch of greenery gave way.
She stopped at a bush with oily leaves, adorned with what appeared to be a delicate rose in the lightest shade of pink. I say appeared, because as quickly as she reached up to the delicate flower, it was gone. Its petals remained in the grip of her little hand.
I watched as she stood there holding the petals. She didn’t litter them on the ground and continue meandering on as I had anticipated. Instead, she took two small toddler-style steps toward the sun, raised her petal-filled hand above her head, and showered herself in a cascade of rosy pink. Opening her palm to her face, she watched as the petals stuck to her purple shirt and faded shorts, and the rest landed softly on the ground surrounding her tiny feet.
I can’t tell you what that experience was like for her—this miniature act of self-care may have been an average part of this little girl’s typically magical world. But the genuine innocence and naivety of that moment brought a feeling of warmth and comfort to my heart that I hadn’t felt in a while.
I was once like that little girl. Where had my sense of awe and wonder gone?
Certain circumstances, in reality, were beginning to feel increasingly stressful, and heavy. Sadness from the past was able to break through my defenses too easily, and what had once excited and inspired me was now feeling burdensome and flat.
Traveling such great distances has helped, but in the presence of this moment, I was able to recall one of the voices that had shown up to judge this little girl—one that was criticizing her for her curiosity and destruction of a peaceful flower.
Where were her parents? Shouldn’t they teach her not to do things like that?
My mind immediately launched into a mental dissertation on how she should be taught to treat things better in the future, behave properly, be more careful, and not to destroy beautiful things.
I could hear these echos of voices from the shoulds and should-nots of family and other adults that taught me how to navigate the world and live my life.
I began to question how long that voice had had so much power.
I started to draw back my projection from this little girl and see how this internal critical voice had been drawing too much power from me and my best self; how it had been draining my energy, muting my enthusiasm, and quieting my dreams.
Worry and what-ifs were ruling over optimism and courage. The resulting feeling was a deepening depression.
Growing up is a part of life. We must learn to navigate carefully, not to touch fire (for too long), to admire beauty, and look but not touch. But we must also be taught and encouraged to dream, live creatively, and keep a sense of awe and wonder about the life we live.
I get lost in the drudgery of the day-to-day, or the traumas of my own, and others’ experiences. Getting lost and failing to come back from an experience caused me to lose touch with what is important, and what is possible. I had disconnected from myself.
This moment reminds me to make a conscious effort to greet the world with childlike eyes—to learn to see things as they are in the present moment once again, without the memories of the past.
It takes courage to greet each day with wonder—to let go and operate with a sense of trust and belonging, no longer holding on to the baggage of the past.
When we stop spending so much energy trying to protect ourselves, we can begin to connect authentically with the world around us. When I take care of myself in this way—lowering my defenses—I am able to show up for the world in the way it needs me.