Choosing Innocence

By Keith Varnum

Out beyond the ideas of right and wrong, there is a field—meet me there.

– Rumi

Once in a while, I receive wisdom on the human condition from a specific aspect of nature. These direct transmissions have consistently helped me weather the changing tides of fortune and emotion in my life.

It was a crystalline winter afternoon. I was walking with my friend Ted through the snow seeking solace from the fatigue and despair we were feeling about the seemingly endless stream of challenges in our personal lives. Our walk ended with us lying on the snow in the center of a stand of young, bare birch trees. The sun was blinding, but soothingly balmy as it reflected off the stark white, tender bark of the saplings. The welcomed warmth eased us into a relaxed, receptive state. We asked the spirit of the slender fledglings for comfort and guidance to meet the hurdles placed before us.

The unaffected, fresh energy of the virgin trees shared a message about innocence:

“If you return to a state of innocence, your life will be much easier. The majority of humans are born with natural innocence, openness and trust. For a few years you enjoy a period of grace during which life is simple, direct and pure. Later, as you gain experience in life, you encounter dishonesty, abuse and betrayal. You become wary, jaded and disheartened. But at one point in every human life, an opportunity to return to innocence is offered.

“If you should choose to re-enter the state of innocence consciously from free will, this openness can never be lost or taken away—as was natural innocence. When chosen innocence is fully embraced, you are free of judgment, expectation, all conditioned beliefs and restrictions of the past. You have no limits whatsoever. Living in chosen innocence allows you to enjoy your real self, your true power and the only genuine reality—the present moment. The present moment is the space of magic, miracles, transformation and total supply. It is the path to enlightenment and peace.”

Ted and I didn’t believe the birch trees. On that emotionally woeful day, we couldn’t imagine ever feeling good about life again, let alone being able to enter into a permanent state of innocence, openness and joy.

Some years later, I experienced a moment of striking clarity during which I remembered the tender message of the young birches. I realized I possessed the desire and the power within me to choose freedom from preconception and evaluation regarding every aspect of life. I reached a level of spiritual growth in which I was able to comprehend the great advantage in approaching each day—each encounter, each moment—with freshness, newness and innocence.

On that day, I chose to be innocent again and live in the gift of the present. And as the young saplings promised, I’ve never lost that quality, that space, that grace.