The KEY Questions: What did I learn as a child?

What are my earliest experiences?

I’m sure they are very similar, if not identical, to yours. Is it fair to assume that like me you were wrapped in cosy blankets, cradled and fussed over, beamed at by adoring adults, mum, dad, uncles and aunts, carers, older siblings or any combination of the above? And most – though not all – of us are lucky enough to be wanted, cared for, kept from danger. It’s not hard to love a tiny, helpless baby after all. We humans are programmed that way.

It’s later on that the trouble starts.

They’re called our ‘formative years’ for good reason. The child’s developing brain, as greedy for information in infancy as it was for mother’s milk in babyhood, will take every experience on board. Unable to differentiate between good and bad, the child naturally absorbs each new experience as if it was written in stone. This may be why so many of us suffer as adults as a result of thoughts, beliefs and behaviours unconsciously learned ‘at our mother’s knee’. It seems those early lessons are the hardest some of us have to deal with, being so deeply buried in our subconscious minds.

I recently visited the States as a guest of George and Linda Pransky. They were hosting a Three Principles retreat at which I was alternately coaching and participating in discussions on many different topics. One subject that came up was childhood, and at some point George made a comment that struck me with some force. In fact it pulled me out of the warm feeling that I’d had up until that point and made me feel suddenly separate from everyone else in the room. I was alone, or so it felt in that moment, and I realised that my face was wet with tears. It was the next day before I could properly share my feelings with the group.

Like many people I had a difficult childhood, caught in the middle of a very acrimonious divorce. Being an only child made it worse as I inevitably became an emotional football, passed back and forth between my parents, one of whom stayed here in England, while the other began a new life in South Africa. That meant nine different schools for me, five of which I got kicked out of for being, shall we say, less than a model student. I’ve documented some of those early experiences in my book ‘Joyride’ and I don’t want to repeat them here, except to say that well into adulthood I carried a lot of what we all refer to nowadays as ‘baggage’.

Until that moment in La Conner I would have stated confidently that my understanding of the principles behind our human experience had finally swept away any residual negative feelings I may have been harbouring about that time. I knew in my heart, in my bones and even in my head that the past was over, that it could not hurt me. My thoughts were transient and could not dictate my reality. I had forgotten – and therefore forgiven – the bad stuff.

But still, those words of George’s had got to me.

One of those painful memories I’ve referred to had to do with my mother. Our relationship had never been very good, for reasons I won’t go into here. But I realised that I’d built for myself a resentful attitude towards her over the years. I was working from a set of negative presuppositions about her that had got so ingrained in me that I no longer thought it possible to view her in any other way. But the truth that suddenly hit me was this: I have never been a mother!

For some reason this biological impossibility had never really occurred to me before. How could I know the experiences that she had gone through before, during and after my birth that had affected her behaviour towards me? Perhaps after all she had been doing her best in the circumstances. I decided on my return from the States to give her a ring. Her voice on the phone sounded surprised (which tells you pretty much all you need to know).

“What did you want? Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine. I was just calling to see how you were.”

We had a pleasant chat, and I felt warmer towards her than I had for a long time. For years I had unwittingly projected that negative attitude onto her whenever we spoke. All I needed was a loving feeling to change the relationship instantly.

And you’re probably wondering what George had said in that seminar in La Conner that had brought me to tears. It was very simple.

He said: “Everybody loves their mother.”