Innocence “Except ye become as little children ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” —Jesus by Catherine Ingram
On the last day of one of our silent retreats a man spoke about the parting words he had heard from his girlfriend before leaving her the week before. “Now, don’t you go and fall in love with someone there,” she told him. The man looked around at the group of sixty and said, “How am I going to explain that I fell in love with everyone?” I assured him his girlfriend wouldn’t mind that as much.
One of the great gifts of my life comes from witnessing what happens in silent retreats. Participants, many of them strangers to each other, come together and, with the exception of two hour-long group sessions per day, are silent for a week. They are given no spiritual prac-tice or instructions but are encouraged instead to rest as much as needed and to notice throughout the day the clear aware-ness to which no thought ever sticks.
Day by day, joyousness and surprising bursts of energy infect the participants as they feel the naturalness of being awake and sharing companionship without the stories and ego presentations that usually make up society. People frequently describe feelings familiar from childhood such as waking up in the day and feeling excited for no particular reason. We refer to this as causeless joy or the pure joy of existence. It is sometimes experienced as a current that flows inside, like champagne bubbles of well-being.
The feeling of well-being emerges from our natural condition of innocence. In awakened awareness, the clear perception through which we regard the world is renewed each moment. We are no longer mentally dragging around the hardened crust of history about ourselves or having to wear the weighty armoring of self-importance.
I once spent a couple days on the island of Lanai in Hawaii at an exclusive resort that often attracts guests who are titans of industry. One day I was walking on a path down to the ocean and an older man passed me. I immediately sensed an imperious attitude in his purposeful march and his cheerless determined face that seemed carved out of stone. We looked each other in the eye, and a chill wind blew through my soul. I was reminded once again of the burden of thinking of oneself as somebody in the world, someone with power over others. I felt compassion for the man because, despite whatever wealth he had accumulated, I sensed only his impoverishment at missing what I consider the best of life. If one is not in touch with one’s innocence, there is no heaven to be found, even in the most beautiful places on earth.
The most consistent characteristic of awakened teachers and people I have met is a childlike nature. They laugh, cry, twinkle, and joke, all with a spontaneity born of freedom. Their faces are fluid and reflect a timeless sweetness, even into old age. Poonjaji, a model of dignity into his eighties, could be at times downright goofy—and we loved it. He also exhibited a free flowing range of emotions. On my first visit to meet him I noticed that almost every day he would laugh and cry several times during gatherings with students. Sometimes his tears would come from the happiness of seeing a person release a long held burden; sometimes he would cry with someone who had suffered a loss. As with a child, feelings would pass through him and be gone as quickly as they had come, leaving no lingering mood behind.
We all love the innocence we see in children. We delight in watching them learn new things and play in wild abandon. We love to hear their questions and reflections about the world because they spring from original awareness and the brilliance that obtains. We wistfully watch them sleeping and remember that feeling of perfect peace. We delight in the company of children because they remind us of our own innocence.
But in awakened awareness, innocence is no longer the special province of children. We, too, delight in learning new things and playing in abandon; our original awareness questions and reflects in brilliance; and we, too, sleep in deep peace. Innocence is a condition not dependent on age but on attitude. It lives in continual surprise, not knowing how things are supposed to go, not needing them to go a certain way.
When I was a child growing up in Virginia, my parents would, on a regular basis, tell my brother Bob and me to get in the car. We would rarely be told where we were going. We might end up at the grocery store or in Florida. Each journey in the car was a wondrous adventure because we could turn up just about anywhere. We not only had no clue about where we were going, we had no notion that our destination was something of which we should be informed. We were truly just along for the ride.
In awakened awareness, we rediscover our innocence. The intelligence sees that, despite the memories of many years, there is yet a presence that has never been written upon in memory and exists only and always now. We are once again along for the ride, and life itself becomes a wondrous adventure as we let it take us rather than chase it down. This doesn’t mean that we passively lie around until someone says, “Go get in the car.” It simply means that we feel and move through the world with hearts of innocence. Wherever fate leads—in passion or quiet—an innocent heart makes the journey heavenly. Where we end up or what we see along the way is of less consequence.
Catherine Ingram is a dharma teacher currently living in Los Angeles. She will be in Portland on the following dates: March 28, 7:30 pm, Powells City of Books; March 30, 3:00 pm, New Renaissance Book Store; April 1, 7:30 pm, Dharma Dialogues at New Renaissance Book Store; April 2, 7:30 pm, Dharma Dialgoues at New Renaissance Book Store. For additional information on these events, please visit www.dharmadialogues.org or phone 503.246.4235
Reprinted by arrangement with Gotham Books, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright (c) 2003 by Catherine Ingram.