ROSALIND PEARMAIN looks at the emotional issues facing young people today, and shares her research findings on the importance of feeling safe and grounding ourselves in the inner shelter of the heart.
It seems as though there is a strong human feeling towards old and tall trees as if we want them to keep growing and expanding onwards into the sky. We are drawn to look up wondrously. How do they manage to do this without falling over? Perhaps there is an echo of our own longing towards transcendence and the expansion of our consciousness.
As one of the ’60s and ’70s generation, I realize that we had that yearning to go beyond limits, to experience as many different kinds of mind-expanding opportunities as possible. We wanted to disrupt and change things that seemed limiting. Did we also undermine the roots of our societies that had allowed this heady growth to evolve? Perhaps we made it harder for our children and even more so for our grandchildren to find stability and an inner base of support?
When my son was 18, his best friend died in a tragic accident, falling out of a car. Within a short period of time, another friend fell off a balcony at a party and also died. One more later fell out of a tree. Needless to say, this shocking loss of poignant, youthful promise had a deep rippling impact on many. Symbolically, they alerted me to the question of how we fall out of our lives, ourselves, so easily in our youth in different ways.
At present, we are aware of the escalating problems of young people around the world, who are often depressed, lonely, despairing, anxious. They are on the front line of a world that we have created and they are showing us that it is not working for them. We fall out of ourselves often as teenagers trying to fit with outside demands and pressures from others. We may feel that we have to hide ourselves away to fit in. We lose faith with our own inner self. Can we ever find a way to fall back inside?
At the time of these deaths, I wanted to do something constructive. Having observed the transformative effect of Quaker summer schools for teenagers for my own children, I wondered if they could be offered far more widely. Finding an American model based on creative arts, I worked as an adult volunteer in both. I also visited a summer program for teenagers run by Heartfulness in Europe. From a small piece of qualitative research carried out in each, I discovered that the most significant aspect for the young people was the sense of safety they got from all of these structures which had ground rules of inclusion and encouragement for everyone equally.
“I had never felt so safe,” said one. “I cried when I had to leave.” It was a bit of a shock to hear how these young people felt so unsafe to be themselves. They felt a lack of supportive acceptance from their parents and peers. They felt a level of conditional love, dependant on pleasing their parents. They also experienced exclusion and denigration from peers and constant pressure from expectations in the education system. Some experienced far more dangerous conditions in urban settings from crime and gangs. Ten years later, the situation appears to be worsening. The pressure of social media now adds to the feeling of shame and self-hatred that young people may feel in comparison with an illusory ideal projected outside and beyond reach.
Another small piece of research emerged in my doctoral study: Heartfulness meditators experienced far higher levels of a deep sense of safety at some time in their experiences of meditation than another comparison group.
All the studies of attachment and neuroscience show us that we cannot learn and integrate information if we are feeling anxious or under threat. This can be aroused from our own inner self-attack as much as from others. So how can we fall back inside to the inner shelter of our heart, the source of love and our true being?
I had thought it was the deep taproot in a tree that anchored it so securely. But on further investigation, it seems that it is a system of shallow, thin horizontal roots that give trees their stability. These roots spread two or three times as wide as the height of the tree. Thin delicate roots mix with other fungi and fibrous material and put down vertical shoots as well. So it is the small horizontal roots that reach out and support the tree in its connection with the earth and other organisms.
It anchors us into the environment of our true Self,
our ground of being, and into the earth and connection with others.
We can be sheltered in our divine source as well as connected
with the world. This is Heartfulness.
It is a way to fall back inside ourselves
and never fall out again.
This is a beautiful metaphor for the working of the heart. It anchors us into the environment of our true Self, our ground of being, and into the earth and connection with others. We can be sheltered in our divine source as well as connected with the world. This is Heartfulness. It is a way to fall back inside ourselves and never fall out again.