Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Wisdom of Innocence

"Pristine Beauty"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

I'm away from my Desert Retreat House this week. We are visiting family on the East Coast, and so we get to spend a whole lot of cherished and devoted time with our nine-month old baby grandson. 

Many times over these few days we have sat on a mat and literally spent hours playing with  our baby boy- playing catch with little toys and banging blocks together as he laughs and giggles at the silly faces we make. Yesterday as we all sat around playing, I was suddenly struck with a realization: I had been away from babies for so long that I forgot what an important spiritual lesson a small child has to teach.

It's no wonder Jesus holds up a little baby as a model for his disciples to follow:

You have hidden deep mysteries from the wise and the learned
and revealed them to little children.

As we were playing yesterday I observed two things about our little grand baby: 

First of all, he is always totally and completely present in the "now," he is filled with a constant sense of wonder as each new moment unfolds. He giggles with delight at a silly face and then in the next moment he literally jumps for joy as he bangs two plastic blocks together. He doesn't ponder, strategize and calculate his next move. He doesn't sit pensively evaluating what went on in the previous hours or past days. He is simply available to what comes along as he embraces the surprises of every moment.

The other thing I observed about our our little baby boy yesterday was his total "sense of belonging." Nine-month old babies haven't yet developed a clear sense of an individual self, they haven't formed an "ego." They haven't yet learned how to think "dualistically", how to see themlsves as distinguished from others; and they make no distinctions  between the inner world and outer world- everything and everyone is a "relationship" and everything belongs together. 

Most adults talk about how babies eventually grow up and discover the "real" world . As I observe our little grand baby I wonder if he isn't in fact teaching me something about what the "real" world is "really" all about, and maybe he is teaching me a lesson about how to live more fully in this real world.  

The Buddha taught that the enlightened person has evolved into the wisdom that everything and everyone IS a dynamic, interdependent relationship- everything belongs.  To this very day,  Buddhists teach that a mindful awareness of the present moment is our greatest source of peace and deeper wisdom in this life. Dwelling in a past that is no longer happening or planning for a future that will never be brings only suffering- joy comes from mindfully embracing each and every moment.

Our little baby grandson has an original sense of enlightened wisdom.  Like all of us, he was  born with an original innocence, a deep awareness of what the real world is all about.  He will lose this innocence and then, like anyone on any spiritual journey, he will spend the rest of his life reclaiming that lost innocence once again.

I am reminded of something author, Christian Wiman, once said about innocence: 

To be innocent is to retain that space in your heart that once heard
a still small voice saying not your name so much as your nature.
You must protect this space so that it can protect you.
You must carry it with you always.

Our beautiful nine month-old grandchild still hears that "still small voice" telling him something about what it means to be a real human being. He still hears that voice of "God" telling him that our authentic nature is that we all belong to one another.He has some original sense that we experience our greatest joy when we can embrace life with awe and with wonder. 

Our innocent little baby boy is still enjoying the wonder or his original innocence - a wisdom I so dearly hope to reclaim again as I evolve into my old  age.

Author and theologian, David Bentley Hart, observes:

Wisdom is the recovery of innocence at the far end of experience;
it is the ability to see again what most of us have forgotten how to see.

I hadn't quite realized that a visit to our grand baby would be a course in wisdom for me. I am learning an important lesson that I will try not to forget ,however, I still have a lot of miles to go on my road to innocence. As the artist, Picasso, once said. 

It takes a long time to be innocent once again.


  1. So glad you are getting to enjoy your grandchild. It's great being in the grandparents' club.

  2. Beautiful. I know that my children are my greatest teachers. Enjoy xxxx