Reflections on Innocence

by Peter Milhado PHD on November 3, 2017

There are quite a few people who are tremendously influenced by the archetype of Innocence.  After all, we are born as innocents, aren’t we?  People who believe in reincarnation might argue that point, but I’ll hang with Sheldon Kopp on this one.  He takes the ‘concept of reincarnation’ to be a symbol of the many opportunities for psychological and spiritual rebirth all of us get in this life.  Freedom comes when we become aware of how our modern society, our families and our early wounds tell us how we ‘ought’ to live our life.  Once we become conscious of these soul-wounding instructions, we can choose another script for our life altogether.

I’ve experienced that – but I’ve not experienced a past life.  For myself, I also accept the notion of Karma – which certainly could be paradoxical with meaningless suffering all around us, but like the poet said ….”I give myself the right to contradict myself!”

Carol Pearson Ph.D., whose great work this article is based on, gives us three stages 1) Original Innocence, 2) The Fall, 3) The Return to Innocence.

Original Innocence

I’ve seen too many patients in the last three decades, who desperately cling on to the state of original innocence and get devastated and bloodied up by life.  In my experience they’re very sweet souls with many virtues.   They’re usually kind, trust others and learn from them and keep hope and faith alive… They know how to have fun!

We all need to start each new beginning or endeavor with some innocence.  One of the major temptations of the “Innocent” is to ignore pain and suffering.  Denial at this level has an addictive quality.  They do not let themselves know what is really going on…this may hurt themselves and others.  Their intuition usually points to their inner truth, but they ignore it, therefore betray themselves.  There is often a tremendous need for external affirmation, giving too much power away to their bosses, husbands, wives and other so called ‘authority figures’! They trust when trust is not warranted.  The ‘Innocents’ goal is to remain in safety and their biggest fear is abandonment, which ironically, they unconsciously conspire with and set up.  The ego, in all of us, desperately clings to safety, it is the soul who wants to live!!!!  So, the shadow side of innocence is denial.  It’s too painful to acknowledge that your parent or lover can’t be trusted, that is why there is a tendency to walk back into the same abusive situation again and again and again…. If we deny we are being abused we don’t have to stand up for ourselves.   This is especially painful for children who blame themselves for being abused rather than confront the abusive parent.

In a way ‘Innocents’ are absolutists – they either hang on to purity by denying their and other people’s faults or guilt and shame controls their life.  They’re tossed back and forth between perfection and idealism or disillusionment and cynicism.  Some young women, who are anorexic or bulimic, refuse to ‘fall’ into puberty and having a woman’s body and therefore sexual body, to avoid their loss of imagined innocence.  Early sexual abuse is often in their history.  (Woodman)

Another shadow side of the ‘Innocent’ is a need to be taken care of.  If you’re that good, the universe should provide!  They have difficulties chipping a piece of the earth out for themselves.  On a deep psychological level they want to merge and go back into the womb of the “Great Mother’.  Many ‘Innocents’ had mothers who couldn’t mother.

The Fall From Innocence

If the reader can hang with a religious metaphor… the image of the Garden of Eden symbolized innocence.  When the serpent seduced Eve and Adam into eating of ‘The Tree of Knowledge’, they fell from paradise into a world of suffering and pain.  The tree of knowledge let them know that not only ‘good’ but also ‘evil’ exists.  The fall is from ‘innocence’ and ‘wholeness’ into dualism.  (Re. The realization that there is both ‘good and evil’).  For some, the serpent is a symbol of Satan, for others a symbol of consciousness.  It’s very easy to see evil around us,….the out of control violence, abuse of power,  judgement, greed at the expense of others etc.  It’s much more difficult to acknowledge that cruelty also resides within.  That’s why religious fanatics, whether in Islam, Hinduism or our own Christian religious right don’t cop to their own cruelty.  They only see it on the outside, because they are ‘Innocents’.  They misinterpret the saying by Jesus “Except ye become as little children, ye shall never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Before you get to this place you have to take along, hard and courageous look into the mirror.  Let me tell you, I’ve seen enough spouses, children, neighbors and acquaintances of these religious zealots to know different.  They are mean and cruel suckers.  If we project our faults unto others we don’t have to change!  I have no doubt that that ignorant maniac Osama Bin Laden thinks himself an ‘Innocent’ – but the bitter and sad truth here is that most of our national leadership in business and government also do   – we haven’t had soulful leadership in this country for many, many, many moons.

Return To Innocence

The fact is none of us live in Paradise and none of us are pure innocents in this world.  There is inevitable failure in all of our lives.  We all get hurt, whether it is by teachers, parents who abuse power, or by tragedies that we have no control over.   All human beings experience major betrayals, it’s on the map for all of us.   If we continue to unconsciously cling to ‘Innocence’, our thirties and forties give us another shot at realizing the ‘Fall’:

- a woman puts her husband through law school and he leaves her for a trophy wife

- a husband slaves at a burdensome job to support his wife and children… and she absolutely needs a divorce to ‘find herself’

- after 20 years of preparing for your vocation as a Psychologist a twenty-two year old clerk hired by the intrusive and greed based managed health care insurance company tells you how to treat your patients – otherwise they’ll ‘cut you off’.

The truth as I know it is that we cannot develop depth without pain…. We cannot live life without risk.  People who want to be safe at all costs have lost passion and are overtaken by emptiness.  Eventually, many ‘Innocents’ realize that challenging their anxiety and fears is less painful then accepting the status quo of a chronic depression.

So, as with any other archetype, virtue or attitude towards life, what is critical is whether we are conscious or unconscious about its influence on our life.  If we unconsciously cling to ‘Innocence’ we end up in major trouble and betray ourselves as well as others.  On the other side, we need to be able to stay consciously connected to ‘Innocence’ through the ‘Fall’ until the end of the journey in this life.  Unconscious ‘Innocents’ need to become wise in the ways of the world.  On a deepest spiritual level it is safe to trust, but don’t leave your wallet or purse on a park bench while you go to the Post Office – even in Libbey Park.  They need to be able to size up others realistically, not on how they wish them to be.  Like all, they have to be able to deal with disillusionment, failure and defeat as well as experience rage, sorrow, despair and primal sexuality.

The conscious and healthy ‘Innocents’ are able to forgive themselves when they make mistakes and ‘fall’.  They become wiser and less naïve as they journey through life.  They have faith and hope when the world seems bleakest.  It is only in a state of innocence that mystical experiences and miracles happen.  To the conscious innocent, dreams are letters of the soul.  Deep inside our souls is Eros, a life force of energy and passion.  Only through spontaneity, courageous openness and innocence can we get to it.  Another worldwide symbol of innocence is the ‘Virgin’ which doesn’t necessarily imply physical chastity, but rather a state of wholeness – one who is in herself or himself whole- not the property of any man or woman.

One for all and all for one. Love to Mother Meera

Peter Milhado © 2015

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