Recalling Our True Nature
Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
– Jesus of Nazareth
We all came into this world as loving, trusting, intensely curious creatures, eagerly searching for connection and meaning. And at our most basic level, in our core self, we remain loving, trusting and curious, and we are still seeking to discover meaning as we explore our interconnections with the life teeming within and around us.
This is the essential quality of the energy at the source of our being, our fundamental human nature. And it never changes.
But an awful lot has happened since our birth. Today, that love, trust and curiosity may manifest as indifference, wariness and dull confusion; even as hate, fear and closed-mindedness. Or in a myriad of other configurations. But the outward expressions of our core essence, however corrupted they may have become in transit, do not alter the nature of the wellspring from which they emerged.
The unsullied life force that emanates from the source of our being can get twisted and warped on its journey through our psycho-emotional makeup toward its outward presentation. If misshaped enough, the innate qualities of our elemental energy can be rendered unrecognizable by the time that energy presents as feelings, thoughts and behavior.
The forms taken in these distortions of our deepest nature are influenced by numerous factors, including our cultural and social conditioning. But the driving force that leads us to subvert and disrupt our native love, trust and curiosity is our survival-instinct impulse to prevent or at least blunt life’s inevitable pains, hardships and misfortunes.
If we were raised by parents who were loving and wise, we likely acquired at least some understanding and tools to deal with adversity in ways that help us learn from the experience while also honoring and preserving our inborn nature. Or perhaps we developed such life-affirming perspectives and abilities later in life through our own intentional efforts, most likely with help and guidance from others.
But sadly, we live in a culture that, for the most part, hardly recognizes let alone robustly supports this kind of inner personal development. And since tribulations and afflictions are inherently challenging even under the best of circumstances, the lack of widespread education in such critical life skills leaves most of us reacting to our fears, troubles and sufferings out of deeply ingrained habits and thought patterns rooted in our primal survival mechanisms.
Over our years of bearing and reacting to suffering and sorrow, we shelter our hearts with a labyrinth of defensive strategies and devices in an attempt to ward off future pain and anguish. As our naturally open and loving heart progressively becomes more densely and aggressively defended, these protective layers increasingly disrupt, constrict and entangle the energy that issues forth from the core of our being, creating and coloring our day-to-day reality accordingly.
Sometimes the intrinsic goodness at our source maintains its coherence when responding to adversity and thus manifests in keeping with its true nature, to the benefit of all concerned. At other times, when our life force gets molded into feelings, thoughts and actions that to one extent or another contort and mask its inborn integrity and virtue, we produce correspondingly suboptimal results.
This dynamic is at work in every human being. The differences among us in how we experience this phenomenon are of degree and variety, not of kind. This, as I see it, is simply how human energy works.
Remembering and Reconnecting
In each and every one of us, the foundational loving, curious and trusting energy at our source keeps radiating, no matter how distorted it may become in its expression and however concealed its essential nature may be from our everyday awareness. And therein lies the goal and journey of self-knowledge and personal growth: to rediscover and connect with our source, our foundation, our core self.
Wherever I currently find myself on a spectrum of aliveness and fulfillment – from, at one end, deeply connected to my vital center and wide open to the life flowing within and around me; to, at the other extreme, completely closed down and disconnected from my source and isolated from others and the world – I can choose to either relax my attention and open up my ongoing perception of reality, or focus my attention and narrow my view.
In fact, this fundamental choice – relax my grip or tighten it, expand my awareness or contract it – presents itself at each and every moment. The all-important question is whether or not I am conscious of having that choice.
There is nothing wrong or bad about the action of tightening down and focusing. To the contrary, if I did not concentrate my attention, contract my muscles, and get to work I would never get anything done. But problems can arise when I get so engaged in what I am thinking or doing that I lose awareness of my ever-present option to step back, relax, and consider changing course.
If I feel vulnerable in any given situation and am not aware of having the choice to open up, in all likelihood I will tense up and close down in an attempt to protect myself, acting on an impulse created long ago. Yes, sometimes we do need to respond proactively to real danger. But our reflex to fight, flight or freeze in the face of virtually any perceived threat, whether to our physical, emotional or intellectual safety zone, is not the most effective response in the great majority of cases and is more likely to be self-defeating or even destructive.
If, instead, we can train ourselves to respond to vulnerability with the wide-awake, in-the-moment presence intrinsic to our core nature – as sublimely demonstrated by my seven-month-old granddaughter in the video above when she suddenly finds an excited dog a few inches from her face – we are much more likely to produce a healthy result.
Life continually invites us to rediscover our authentic self and reclaim our true nature, to “become like little children.” The call to again become like a child, full of wonder and trust and love for the world within and around us, does not negate or overlook our adult knowing gained from life experience. We just want to infuse our adult thinking and acting with the wonder, trust and love of the child.