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Mythic Passages - the magazine of imagination

Jerry Wennstorm Re-inhabiting Our Innocence:
Beginnings and Endings

by Jerry Wennstrom
© 2006 Inferential Focus
and reprinted with permission

When we are living on the outskirts of our own true nature and the way we are living our lives begins to feel forced, innocence remains the only real reference point to our humanity. Quiet, simple, and essential; it waits and remains available to us. Its unshakable presence holds out something more grounded, relaxed and sane, and it does so under any and all conditions. In the daily activity of life, innocence can serve as a barometer, informing us and providing navigation back towards a more healthy center. More importantly, in the larger rhythm of our lives, a time does come where our original innocence is either consciously reclaimed and fully inhabited or it slips into the realm of the unconscious.

Like death and like dust, our innocence is so consistently present in our lives that it is the place we come to rest when we slip, fade or fall from the world. Left unclaimed, we live out our innocence unconsciously, where it takes the form of childish behavior or even senility. At the other end of the spectrum there is the child-like presence of a great soul who embodies something that has the sweetness and innocence of a child, yet is fiercely aware and consciously able to juggle innocence, emptiness, paradox and wisdom all at once! Innocence for them is a natural, humble expression of their relationship with something mysterious and holy. Like a child looking up to their all-knowing parents, they stand before God in complete humility and awe. And unlike those with innocence unclaimed, they take responsibility for the power and position they have devoted so much of their lives to inhabit.

The Fool from the Rider-Waite tarot deckIn a recent radio interview I did for a show that caters to the psychological community, my interviewer cited Jung's interest in the Tarot and made the comparison that my journey was similar to that of the Tarot's Holy Fool. He suggested that destroying my art, giving everything I owned away, and deciding to trust the universe to provide for my needs was comparable to The Fool stepping off the cliff.

The Fool, which is the first card in the Tarot deck, represents our naïve state of original innocence. Unaware of the dangers in life, the Fool is often depicted with his dog, mindlessly stepping off a cliff. Perhaps the dog is warning him of the danger; perhaps it is his instinctual nature unconsciously aware of the perfection of his youthful folly. This image is representative of the way most of us begin the journey that leads to self-awareness. There is a saying: "fools and children are divinely protected." The Fool is protected, but only up to the point where he notices the "hands of grace" working on his behalf. Once this is discovered, the universe seems to up the ante, and he must take responsibility for consciously tending the conditions of the grace he may have previously taken for granted.

The radio interviewer was a psychologist who had studied both Jung and the Tarot, so he had a pretty good sense of what the Fool represented as a Jungian-oriented archetype. However, at the time I destroyed my work, I was in a different phase of the journey. Unlike the Fool, just beginning the journey, unaware — I had intuited the significance of the moment, was completely aware of the dangers, and stepped into the void anyway! As adults, consciously re-inhabiting our innocence begins where the Fool's journey leaves off; they are two completely different experiences.

It is only after our complete and exhaustive involvement with will, strategy and reason that we come to see the limitation of this overrated trinity. Under its tutelage, we may have developed certain skills and talents, or may even have fulfilled some of the desires of youth — however, here at the place of limitation and surrender, we must humbly submit to the fact that our essential journey has been carried more by the Fool's grace than by our controlled folly. It is in acknowledging and surrendering to the truth of this realization that we begin to move forward toward a more determined and established place of innocence.

Paradoxically, this move forward toward something resembling our original naïve state of innocence may actually be perceived or experienced as a move backwards. As a result, there is a certain loneliness involved in committing to this journey. It can easily be misunderstood or judged by some to be withdrawal or even weakness. It is only when we find our strength in the actual journey itself that we are able to override the doubt and rely on the quiet power of innocence to carry our lives. Most adults spend their lives fortifying themselves against the doubt and vulnerability required of this kind of introspective inquiry.

It is clear to me, after traveling extensively and working intimately with adults in all stations of life, that there is currently a shift occurring — especially iin relation to work and the work place. I see two camps emerging. One camp is pushing beyond what is humanly possible to keep some fixed, out-of-control plan afloat — even if the plan no longer serves the beauty of their original dream. This camp has bought into an idea-reality that cannot possibly be sustained. At some level, we all recognize the destructive nature of the attempt, yet many of us cannot switch camps for fear of the emptiness that might cause. The spirit of the time and the nature of the change seems to be calling on us to explore this emptiness. It promises to deliver a more awakened innocence, yet its call is feared and perceived by some to be loss.

The second camp is made up of people who have either "crashed and burned" as a result of pushing their natural limits, or who have decidedly awakened to the inevitability of the change at hand. Either way, this camp is involved in the return to a more sober and innocent way of being, even if it is not defined as such.

To embrace this change and re-inhabit the ground of our innocence, there is a level of unknowing and trust to which we will inevitably have to commit. Few of us trust a thing for very long without experiencing the substance of that trust. However, by beginning the move to re-inhabit our place of innocence, we come to see the powerful effect this return has on our lives. As we continue to trust the mystery of this quiet power, more and more, it begins to work on us and grows more solidly into an established way of life.

It is important to find peace and learn to coast with the momentum of the innocence we have begun to inhabit — especially as we grow older. Once we have fully re-inhabited our innocence, the idea of "Retirement" is no longer just an idea based on financial security and adequate medical coverage. Retirement becomes a reality rooted in the celebratory phase of the conscious, well-lived life!

The Elder
by Judith Adams

©2006 Pomegranate Seed Production
and used with permission of the author

Strange to be living at the outpost.
In the city they are not yet tired of
telling tales for commercial reasons.

But they, too, will grow old
and make their way here.
The view across the landscape,

especially at sunset, is lovely.
Everyday, it is easier to impress yourself.
You grow fond of the slow moving hour

as your witness. You grow fond of the erotic
nights, more passionate, more complete.
You have found a way to worship.

and it doesn't involve praying in unison,
kneeling at noon, or bowing to anyone.
It takes a lot of youth to pry open the

stiff and difficult borders of the heart.
Forget the tools, the expense is not worth it.
You need old hands and a

devotion not always found in mosques
or churches. It is a holy season.
You are peeling away to the

soft inner fortress, and there you
are held in the magic
of that moment.

Publisher's Note: At the age of 29, artist Jerry Wennstrom destroyed all of his work, gave away all of his possessions, and set about living a deliberately simple and profoundly spiritual life. He practiced celibacy for 15 years until choosing to marry his life partner, singer Marilyn Strong. He is the author of The Inspired Heart: An Artist's Journey of Transformation. He has published over 50 essays and interviews, and his life's work has been the subject of Holy Personal by Laura Chester. In 2001, Parabola produced a documentary film called In the Hands of Alchemy: The Art and Life of Jerry Wennstrom. Sentient Publications is distributing a new 3-feature DVD, which includes In the Hands of Alchemy, the new film Studio Dialogue, and The Life and Works of Jerry Wennstrom (1979).

Visit Jerry Wennstrom at his website

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