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    « "I look for the good." A 109 year old Holocaust survivor shares the wisdom that helped her thrive amidst terrible adversity. | Main | 20 Things Happy People Do Differently... »


    Innocence is much more than being above reproach or free from guilt. It is a return to our natural state of being, an insight into our true nature. It is the essence of all spiritual teachings, east and west, what we love most in nature, in children, in animals. And something we have a great deal of difficulty feeling in ourselves, because we have been taught to believe the opposite, that we are wrong by default, and only through great effort and discipline are we able to feel "good" or "right."

    But feeling our natural innocence is not "I didn't do anything you could call wrong." It's "There's nothing really wrong."

    A sense of innocence is naturally empathetic, naturally moral. It inclines us toward the good. Wrongdoing and hurtful behavior have their basis not in a sense of innocence and empathy, but in a learned sense of guilt and shame.

    What do we teach our children? That they are naturally innocent and good? Or that they must work hard to suppress their inherent tendency to be selfish and "bad." The guilt and shame that is heaped on people in this way does far more harm than good. It divides people against themselves, and is the basis of many inner conflicts.

    Anne Frank said at the end of her diary, "Despite everything, I still believe that people are naturally good." She was right. People are naturally good.

    The evil we do has more to do with guilt and shame than it has to do with innocence.

    Empathy is the basis of kindness, and innocence is a prerequisite to empathy. Innocence = empathy = kindness.

    The return to innocence the recovery of our primal nature, our self nature. It is the essence of what is called yoga, satori, salvation, redemption, perfection, the return to the Garden of Eden. It is a presence of being beyond social ideas of morality or control or good or bad or right or wrong.

    Innocence is our birthright. It is our default. It is who we already are. It cannot be achieved through effort or action. We pretend sophistication, but in truth we are all only children of the universe, vulnerable and innocent and learning. Children don't achieve innocence, they are born innocent, inherently loving and supportive of others. It is only when we teach them guilt or shame that they form a more negative sense of themselves.

    The chief characteristics of innocence are openness, trust and love -- knowing that trust may not work out in the short run but it always works out in the long run, and that love is not always returned.

    And innocence is also knowing that distrust, blame, suspicion or guilt never work, not from the beginning all the way through to the end.

    Trust isn't something that's earned by another. It isn't something someone else's integrity allows you to do or keeps you from doing. It's a way you relate regardless of the other person's integrity or lack thereof.

    Trust is freedom. You won't always be "right" when you trust. But you will always progress and evolve, you will always learn and grow, and you will always benefit in the long run.

    Trust isn't blind following or submission. Trust is open, engaged, awake, alert. Trust is the "beginner's mind" --  interested, engaged, sharing . Trust sets the right example example for others, as well. We're modeling what it is we want to see more of.

    Not trusting bogs everything down. Distrust is the basis of the breakdown in relationships, in communities, and even in the economy.

    We live in a paranoid culture. We don't trust trust. The older we get, the more we are exposed to the suspicion, the distrust, the defensiveness, the blame. It gets to seem normal.

    But it is our childlike innocence that most reflects the purity and beauty in the world, that allows us to see the good even in the midst of the so-called ugliness of life.


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