On the Art of Innocence

When considering what it means to experience a second naïveté, my thoughts generally center on the mechanics of seeing. That is, what it means to see with fresh eyes: to be privy to the kind of penetrating and revelatory perception that is capable of discerning the magical in the everyday. A kind of unitive, playful, poetic perception which is not only inherently (and obviously) childlike, but which is also requisite for transforming the tasks of everyday living into creative, awe-inspiring, aesthetically vibrant rituals, which may, in some cases, border on the mystical. But it wasn’t until recently (as I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time outdoors, soaking up the rhythms of nature as I contemplate issues such as this one), that I began thinking of the second naïveté less in terms of perception, and more as a return to a much profounder, more soulful kind of innocence. 

And while I know I’ve got a great deal more to grapple with on the topic of an adulthood return to innocence, I feel a sort of intuitive pull to put this post together now. At this early stage in my thinking. If only as a means of working through preliminary definitions. Here are some thoughts on what it means to fashion our lives in a mode of innocence, or to practice the art of innocence as an adult:

Innocence is intelligence. 

It is less a characterological, or personality, trait than it is a capacity. A way of knowing, perceiving, understanding that is, it appears, so seldom attained—and consistently fostered and maintained in adulthood—that we tend to think of its attributes as almost magical. Mystical. Otherworldly. Or absurdly naïve. But, the more I consider it, the more convinced I am that the capacity for innocence is one of the most rudimentary. And the most human. It’s how we communicate with nature. What links us to other creatures. And our ability to perceive the sameness in them. The single thread of life that runs through us all. What Thoreau refers to as a matter of natural intelligence: an innate ability to grasp the “indescribable innocence and beneficence of nature.”

Innocence is the ability to perceive life.

And is, to my mind, the simplest, most unjaded, most holistic form of perception. Although, it is more than just perception. I imagine it is also the epitome of being that form of perception allows us to attain. Self-actualization, full functioning, or soulful living by any other name…But, with regard to innocence as perception, I imagine it is as Maslow’s suggests: inherently creative and “non-rubricized.” That which isn’t conditioned. Which remains wild, untamed and so refuses categories, labels, concepts, and other abstractions of social importance. Certainly, this is the same kind of perception that allows artists to continually reinvent the everyday—through image, metaphor, or sound. That which resists conformity and strives to maintain its essential nature. 

Such people can see the fresh, the raw, the concrete, the ideographic, as well as the generic, the abstract, the rubricized, the categorized, and the classified. Consequently, they live far more in the real world of nature than in the verbalized world of concepts, abstractions, expectations, beliefs, and stereotypes… – A.H. Maslow

It also occurs to me that even the most innocent among us are not fully immune to a deadening of this kind of perception. And that, at the heart of innocence as art (as a capacity we can each work to hone and keep), is the need for newness. To keep our eyes fresh and maintain that sense of wonder. When I think in terms of my own life, I imagine my innocent eyes would become (and have historically become) markedly jaded when I stop imbuing my daily activities with life. With creativity, thereby continually making them new. Holistically engaging and sensorially alive. Indeed, I think I’d find it impossible to perceive the life in all creatures if I could not experience the vibrancy of my own, which leads me to my final point…

Innocence and self-reliance go hand-in-hand.

And by self-reliance I mean not only the willingness to do things for oneself but also the willingness to use the full range of our human capacities for their own sake. Without tethering them to secondary outcomes like increases in status, income, or social approval. It’s the innate satisfaction that comes from doing what feels good at the deepest levels of our being. That’s the reward and that’s characteristic of innocence. This is the same fusion of means and ends that Maslow repeatedly talks about.

Capacities clamor to be used, and cease their clamor only when they are well used. That is, capacities are also needs. Not only is it fun to use our capacities, but it is also necessary for growth. The unused skill or capacity or organ can become a disease center or else atrophy or disappear, thus diminishing the person. – A.H. Maslow

I envision innocence as a figurative return that is also a way forward. That is, if we were able to fully experience the life that both surrounds us and exists within us, we’d probably be overcome by it. But, I also imagine that catching glimpses of such sublimity would stop us from chasing empty pursuits like happiness, meaning, and self-mastery. And might even be the thing that saves many of us from ourselves.

14 responses to “On the Art of Innocence”

  1. Aldous Huxley, and Timothy Leary,
    convinced me to use a psychoactive
    key. But within the essence of
    Holy Innocence is the patience
    to wait upon the Great Spirit for
    wisdom and hyper-awareness to
    liberally dispense 😎✌️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! Honestly, this is a wonderful post and your thinking is very in-line with mine. I have been labelled as ‘innocent’ most of my life, and I felt so bad about it for too long. I was taunted with ‘innocent Lynne’ by a boy at school for a while, and I didn’t like the connotations as a teen. It went on bothering me for years. However I’m still the same way. Today I bought a chinese style jewellery box in a supermarket and the cashier told me and my hubby that someone they had previously served had filled the box with nail varnishes in order to steal them undetected – they would pay for the box and get away with the nail varnishes. My immediate reaction, before the explanation, was that the box must have refunded and the varnishes were accidentally sitting inside. I’m 57 and still think this way. After reading your post, long may it continue. I know suffering, I know the world can be cruel, but it doesn’t mean you have to lose an innate childlike wonder with the world. And you’re right, connectng with nature fully does require an innocence of perception. If we lose this, we really are lost as human beings. Such a deep post, well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, can I relate to your comment! When I was younger, I was always told I was “too nice.” (I’ll bet “innocent Lynne” bugged you the way “too nice” bugged me.) I was terribly naive as a child. And even now, I know I still have a naive streak. It can take me an extraordinarily long time to see when someone does not have my best interests at heart, is trying to take advantage of me, use me, have fun at my expense, etc. Once I finally figure it out, of course, the proverbial fangs come out, but it just doesn’t come naturally to me to think that way. It never has, and I honestly don’t think it ever will. But what’s interesting: I think it gives us more power to assert ourselves in such situations if we acknowledge our naivete. It’s just as you say: “…the world can be cruel, but it doesn’t mean you have to lose an innate childlike wonder with the world.” Maintaining the ability to see what’s wonderful is a great strength. And one that can certainly help us balance and even respect some of our own less desirable attributes. I am reminded of the Jung quote: “The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.” Innocence may be the essence of the light. Thank you so much for the comment! I love that you and I seem to be on similar journeys and can share our experiences.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I actually think innocence stops you from fully perceiving life. Innocence is like a shield from the bad and nasty. Life is filled with that.


    • Yes, life is filled with bad and nasty things. But I tend to think if more of us integrated, healed or otherwise came to terms with the propensity for wickedness within ourselves (and what drives it), we would arrive at a place of innocence. And the world might be nicer for it. Thank you for the comment.


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