Paula’s last child had just gone off to college and Paula was struggling with a deep inner emptiness. While she knew this day was coming, she was not really prepared for the intense hollowness that welled up within. After all, she had a life of her own. Her work as an occupational therapist, which she had gone back to after all her three children were in school, was fulfilling to her. She was fortunate in having been able to schedule her time to be home when her children came home from school so she could take them to their various activities. Paula had been a loving and devoted mother and was very proud of her children. She had been looking forward to this time for herself and her husband, but now that it was here, Paula felt lost.
It’s not that she didn’t have things she loved to do. She was a talented and athletic woman and had many creative and physical activities that she enjoyed. She and her husband had a good relationship with a wide circle of friends they often spent social time with. So, why this emptiness?
Paula sought my help when she realized that she was slipping into depression.
“I just can’t figure out what’s wrong,” she stated in our first session together. “My marriage is fine, my work is fine, I have lots of friends and activities I enjoy. I don’t understand why I’m feeling so unhappy.”
I asked Paula to tune inside to the unhappy part of her and let this part of her speak. “Imagine that the unhappy part of you is a child within. There is some very good reason this inner child is feeling so unhappy, and you need to ask her. Start out with asking her how she feels about you as the inner parent.”
Paula asked and was quite surprised at the answer. “You never want to know how I feel,” her inner child complained. “You always wanted to know how the children felt, and you were always there for their feelings, but not for mine. You spend your time in ways you think make us happy, but you never ask me about it. While the kids were growing up, you were able to ignore my sadness, but you can’t ignore me anymore. I’m here, and I need you to pay attention to me.”
“I don’t get this,” said Paula, “What does this unhappy part of me want me to do?”
“Ask her,” I stated.
Paula asked and the answer came. “Our work and all our activities are fine, but I need something deeper. I’ve been wanting you to open to something spiritual, but you haven’t listened to me.”
“I have tried going back to church, but that doesn’t seem to be doing it for me. This does seem to be some kind of spiritual emptiness, but I don’t know what to do about it.”
Paula had never taken the time to develop a personal relationship with God. While she believed in a Higher Power, it was something “out there”, not something she connected with and brought into her heart and soul. Her soul was missing the sense of deep connection and inner fullness that comes from having a personal relationship with a spirit source of love and guidance, as well as with her own inner feelings. While her children were filling this empty space, she didn’t deal with it, but now that they were gone, it was time to face the emptiness that had always been there but had been covered up with mothering.
I asked Paula to close her eyes and imagine a wise and loving spiritual being, perhaps her own highest self, perhaps a relative who had died that she loved, perhaps a religious figure she felt connected with, or an image of a teacher, mentor, or guardian angel. She was able to imagine an angelic Presence that made her feel very loved and safe.
“Now bring the love from this Presence into your heart and then down into the empty place within. Imagine that you are loving the child within in the same way you have loved your children, hearing your inner child’s feelings and needs in the same way you did with your children. If you also open to learning with this Presence about what is loving to your inner child, and then take the loving action for yourself, you will start to fill that emptiness within you. Are you willing to try this?”
Paula was very willing to learn to create the deeper connection with Self and with Spirit. She reported to me a few weeks later that she was no longer feeling depressed. Her “empty nest” was now being filled with her inner and spiritual connection.