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, brave, intensely curious creatures, eagerly searching for connection and meaning. And at our most basic level, in our innermost core, we remain loving, brave and curious, and we are still seeking meaning and connection as we engage 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, courage, and curiosity may manifest as indifference, apprehension, and dull confusion; even as hatred, fearfulness, 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 our spacious, attentive core 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, social, and family conditioning. But the driving force that leads us to subvert and disrupt our native love, courage, 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 life’s hard experiences 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 hardly recognizes let alone robustly supports this kind of inner personal development. And since tribulations and afflictions are 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 intended to suppress the memory of past transgressions and ward off future pain and anguish. As our naturally open and loving heart – our innermost core – 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. But when our life force gets molded into feelings, thoughts and actions that 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, bold energy in our spacious, attentive core keeps radiating, no matter how distorted it may become in its expression and however concealed its essential nature may be from our everyday outward-directed awareness. And therein lies the goal and journey of personal/spiritual growth: to rediscover and connect with our source, our ground, our innermost core.
Each of us chooses, by our ways of attending to things, the universe we inhabit and the people we encounter. But for most of us, this ‘choice’ is unconscious, so it’s not really a choice at all.
– Alan Wallace
Wherever I may be on a spectrum of aliveness and fulfillment – from, at one extreme, consciously connected to my core and wide open to the life flowing within and around me; to, at the other, completely closed off and disconnected from my source and isolated from others and the world – I have the choice to either a) relax my attention and widen my field of perception, or b) tighten my attention’s scope and narrow my view.
This fundamental choice – relax or tighten my grip, expand or contract my awareness – presents itself at each and every moment. The all-important question is whether or not I am conscious of having that choice. Far more often than not, I am unaware of having this choice, which effectively means I cannot access it.
There is nothing inherently wrong or bad about tightening down and focusing my awareness. 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 my attention becomes so affixed to what I am thinking or doing that I forget to stay awake, that is, I lose awareness of my ever-present option to pause and step back from my current thought or action and change course if I so choose.
When I feel threatened or vulnerable in any given situation and am not aware of having the choice to step back and open up, in all likelihood I will tense and close down in an attempt to protect myself, acting on an impulse created long ago. Yes, sometimes we need to respond proactively to real danger. But our reflex to fight, flee, or freeze in the face of virtually any and all perceived threats, whether to our physical, emotional, or intellectual safety zone, is not the most effective action in the great majority of cases and is more likely to be self-defeating or even destructive. And in those relatively rare instances where an aggressive response to a threat is necessary, the more deeply within myself that response comes from the more effective it is likely to be.
If, instead of reacting to vulnerability with our first fear-based impulse to strike out or close down, we can train ourselves to respond with the loving, brave, curious presence intrinsic to our essential 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 and reclaim our core nature, to “become like little children.” The call to become like a child again, full of wonder and courage and love, does not negate or overlook our hard-won common sense gained from life experience. We just want to infuse our mature thinking and acting with the childlike wonder, courage, and love that still exists in and radiates from the source of our being.