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Reclaiming the Wisdom of Innocence

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Can you recall the last time you felt innocent? In our sophisticated, fast-paced hyper-connected world, it feels like a quaint concept. In a society that values keeping up with trendsetters, being perceived as innocent can be the death knell for a career or relationship.

Since I became a parent, my appreciation for the value of innocence has increased year by year. I marvel at young children's enchantment with the simplest things and their excitement upon discovering something new.

To be clear, I am referring to the aspect of innocence related to purity and simplicity. Usually, this definition is associated with children. While thinking about a well-known story found in many spiritual traditions, I had an insight about innocence and wisdom that very much pertains to the so-called grownups among us. Here is the Chinese version of the story:

An old Chinese farmer used an old horse to till his fields. One day, the horse escaped into the hills. When the farmer's neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?" A week later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills. This time, the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?"

When the farmer's son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this was very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?"

Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer's son with his broken leg, they let him off. "Oh what good luck you have!" the villagers cried. "Your son has been spared being taken off to war because of his broken leg!" The farmer shrugged his shoulders and said, "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?"

Since I first heard it many years ago, I attributed the old farmer's equanimity to his many years of life experience. He gained wisdom through seeing there is a greater force at play behind events. He knew even if the outcome seems obvious, it is impossible to know if it will be for the good or bad.

Recently, it struck me that this is also a story about innocence. Instead of seeing the old farmer only as a wise, world-weary man who has seen it all, he is also a person who can see a situation with fresh, pure eyes. He embodies a level of mastery where the complex has been transcended. He was able to return to a place of simplicity, and one can imagine joy, in effect seeing life with child-like eyes and a wise heart.

Imagine bringing enthusiasm and wonder to a less-than-stellar event in your life instead of a cynical, negative point of view. Imagine the possibilities, both energetically and physically, of allowing room for outcomes beyond what seems inevitable.

A few years ago, Alan Hutner and I interviewed Yossi Ghinsberg, motivational speaker and author of "Jungle," for our radio program Transitions Radio Magazine. At numerous points during the interview, Yossi answered our questions with, "I don't know." Eventually, Alan said, "Yossi, I never hear anyone say 'I don't know' so many times. How wonderfully refreshing!"

It was refreshing to hear Yossi say it because he was coming from a place of wise innocence. His years of life experience, including being lost and close to death in the Amazon rainforest, had not left him jaded. He expressed a sense of wonder at what human beings are capable of creating in difficult circumstances when connected to the greater life force animating all of creation.

We can experiment with wise innocence. We can choose to see the world and ourselves with fresh, pure eyes in any moment. Who knows what opportunities might open for us if we do?