I enter into a small, badly-lit room. It’s warm there, cosy, almost oppressingly so. The fireplace is burning, there is steaming tea on the table and the shutters are down, even though it’s a beautiful day outside. A small child is sitting on a comfortable chair, reading. She hasn’t noticed my presence yet. It seems as if she has been sitting there forever, reading near the fireplace, minding her own business, sipping tea. There is a stack of books near her, a closet with her clothes and forgotten toys just behind, a door leading to a small bathroom on her right. Now I suddenly know for sure that she never leaves this room, that she is petrified of going outside. She has given up on life outside of these four walls. She hasn’t talked to anyone in years. Her parents are near, I can sense it, hovering like a threatening presence. I can sense the tension in her muscles because of it. She can never fully relax. She has to keep them outside.
A stab of compassion makes my heart contract and I go stand in front of her, willing her to notice me and to bask in my full attention. That’s what the books on meditation say. I have to give her my full attention so she will bloom and heal.
She puts her book down and looks at me, squinting her eyes.
I start at her harsh, hostile tone. Doesn’t she know that I’m here to help?
‘Go away, you’re creeping me out. I know your type, looking at me, seizing me up, searching for my faults so you can mock and criticise me. I can’t stand it! GO AWAY!’ Her voice turns into a roar, her face contracting with pain, her eyes blazing with wild hatred.
I take a step back, not knowing what to do. Why isn’t she grateful that I’m here, giving her the love and care she so desperately needed as a child? Why does she push me away?
I instinctively know that if I try to approach and disregard her wishes, she will attack me. She will kick and scream and throw burning wood in my face.
As my annoyance increases at this unruly child, it hits me that I have turned into my mother. I have turned into a high and mighty adult demanding affection from a helpless child. I have taken society’s expectations with me in this room and have decided what’s best for her without listening to her story, to why she’s here in this room in the first place. This was never going to work.
So I sit down on a chair in a far corner, asking her if this is ok. I can tell she’s uncomfortable.
‘I don’t know. What are you doing here? What do you want?’
‘I want to be your friend and help you.’
‘I don’t need any help. I’m fine. Please stop looking at me.’
I look down and say nothing. I have to respect her wishes, but I’m not giving up on this precious little child.
‘I’ll be here if you need me. You don’t need to change or do anything differently.’
‘I know I don’t need to change! And I’m fine!’
‘I’m not giving up on you.’
‘We’ll see about that. You have abandoned me plenty of times in the past. Why should I trust you now?’
‘Because I’m trying. And I’m sorry for all the times I hurt you. You deserve better. You deserve to be happy and free and comfortable exploring the world. But nobody has taught you how to do all those things. It’s not your fault.’
She stares at me for a second and picks up her book again.
‘Close the door behind you when you leave.’