I didn’t recognize myself.

I was staring in the mirror, like I do most days, yet something was different. Who was this old woman staring back at me? It was shocking and extremely disconcerting, as if there had been some alien transformation overnight – or possibly worse – that it happened a while ago and I just noticed it. But how could this be? I looked at myself in the mirror every day – possibly several times a day. How could I be seeing this version of myself now?

It was my birthday, and I had been feeling old. I think I looked in the mirror for reassurance, taking in the totality of me. What I got was visual justification for the feeling of being old. It wasn’t the silver hair – I’ve had that for years. It wasn’t the wrinkles on the face – those too were nothing new. Yes, the extra weight put on during the past year of quarantine did lend a dowdy countenance. And the sweat pants and t-shirt and no makeup certainly didn’t help. And while all of this would have been enough to convince me that I’d aged, there was something else that was missing: a spark. I truly had been “languishing”, as was reported in the New York Times recently. Feeling joyless and aimless, stagnant and empty. Sure, I had a lot to be grateful for, but there was something missing, and here is what it was:

I was missing my inner silly child. 

I noticed it first in my eyes. They were dull and expressionless. There was no spark. This is SO not me that it scared me. Where had I gone? 

In Shirzad Chamine’s book “Positive Intelligence”, he talks about the innate power we each have in our “sage” qualities: Empathize, Explore, Innovate, Navigate and Activate. While each of these holds a unique ability to serve us positively in life, it is the Empathize quality that “recharges our batteries and renews the vitality that is drained” from us, by a variety of situations and circumstances. By finding empathy for ourselves, we are able to find that missing energy and learn to fill ourselves back up with much-needed self-love.

One of the exercises Shirzad takes you through is to Visualize the Child in yourself. Find a photo of yourself as a child and take in the essence of that lovely being. Use the image to remind you that your true essence is worthy of unconditional caring and empathy. 

It is in the eyes. When I saw this picture of myself, this silly, joy-filled toddler, absolutely full of life, I saw what was missing in my “old” eyes. I saw that spark. I knew then that layers of life had tamped down the brightness in me. I also knew that it was not lost, but merely buried, and was retrievable with a focused effort.

And that is how I found my way back to me. Not the old lady in the mirror. Me, a tad weathered, but with eyes shining with joy and expectation. Talking with others, crying, laughing, sleeping, exercising, resting, taking in nature and just being quiet: these are the tools that helped me chisel away the sludge that kept me from being fully me. 

I recognize that little girl again. She’s right there in my eyes, sparkling away. Ready for the adventures of life. I owe it to her to keep it that way.