How to Get Your Innocence Back
Trail running has become my guilty pleasure lately. As a dad of two little boys, adventure comes in short bursts. Whatever I can get to the quickest, the better. So throwing on a pair of running shoes and busting out my front door has been my wilderness.
Someone had the brilliant idea of carving out an open space right in the middle of suburbia, right across the street from my neighborhood. It’s called Ute Valley Park and it’s actually not a park at all—unless you’re mountain biking or running. Think gorgeous, flowing land with ridges and beautiful canyons. This is Colorado, after all.
A couple weeks ago, I extracted myself from our morning routine with the boys and jogged out our front door towards the park. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning. I took the route that had me climb a ridge right in the first mile. Go, lungs, go.
As I made my way along the top, I was stopped by the sudden sound of a couple bucks locking antlers. “Sudden” sounds dramatic, I know—and it was. Somehow in my focus on the trail, I had missed three giant bucks off to my left, now only 20 feet from where I’d stopped.
They could not have cared less that I stood there. These guys are used to suburbanites. They actually find us quite safe compared to the hunter types just a few miles up the mountains.
I run with my phone in my hand. Yes, it’s to track mileage. But honestly, it’s more because when I’m running, I’m beauty hunting (thanks, Morgan, for the idea). If something captures my eye—a bend in the trail, the light on a pine tree, or three giant bucks locking antlers—I’m learning to stop and behold the beauty I see. A camera helps train me to do that. It’s a means of practicing awe.
So I started taking a little video and snapped a few photos as these bucks played around.
Right in the middle of the video, I heard something behind me. I turned the camera ever so slowly and caught another buck, their fourth buddy, nibbling dry grass just off the path. That put him about 10 feet from me.
I may as well have been a tree to this guy. He was working his way towards his brothers across the path as calm as could be. It was all amazing. Except another runner up the path decided to crash our party. This guy had his two little dogs out for a stroll on jangling leashes. That proved a little too much for my newfound friends.
The lone buck finished his crossing a little quicker right in front of me. We were now five feet apart. Five feet! I swear to you I could have touched him. And once they were joined up, they bounded off into the rising sun.
After my run, still moved by the experience, I Instagrammed that lone buck and his buddies and posted the photos to Facebook. Come on, you know this was worthy of that. And sure enough, my friends thought it was pretty cool.
In this internet world, that’s where this whole thing should end right? I’m supposed to move on and find something else to “like.” Yesterday is so last year. But now, even a month later, I still can’t get over that experience.
And I’m actually trying not to move on.
Dan Allender has said, "Innocence is the ability to be in awe." And so I've been working on practicing awe as often as I can. Because I really like my innocence and I want every bit of it back.
Your Innocence is Lost
We all eventually lose our innocence along the way. In whole or in part, in a moment or the subtle erosion of a lifetime. A thousand windy days bend a tree. It can also be cut down.
So how did you lose your innocence? What are the stories? Some of them you know, I am sure. They are flashing back even now. Some you’ve forgotten, because it seemed so inconsequential.
We don’t lose our innocence by what happens to us. Seriously. You can experience or witness a lot of dark and broken things, go through hell itself, and still have an innocent heart. Innocence is not naivety.
Loss of innocence is really a loss of an open heart. We lose our openness to life, to people, to dreams, to desire. Our ability to be in the present and feel what we feel gets compromised. We may still laugh, we may still play, but it’s just…less carefree, less authentic. It takes more energy to get our hearts into life.
Or we become jaded. We laugh a cynical laugh. Nothing shocks us, nothing surprises us. Or so we say.
Because we’re trying to not be a fool anymore. We lose our innocence when the realm of evil convinces us we were fools for giving the world our open heart in the first place. That if only we weren’t so carefree, we could have stopped that betrayal or abuse or…fill in the blank.
I think most of the time lost innocence looks like boredom. Nothing really moves us anymore.
How to Get It Back
Which is why Dan’s words have been so haunting to me. I want my innocence back. I want my open heart back.
So I’m practicing the presence of those deer. Every so often I get out that video and watch it. Just to enjoy it again. Just to let my heart practice wonder and awe. To let my heart remember its innocence.
Which brings us full circle. What exactly is awe?
A group of California researchers scripted this official definition for you: “Awe is an emotional response to perceptually vast stimuli that transcend current frames of reference.” Say what? Awe is that whole body experience of being in the presence of something grand, something outside our normal experience, something transcendent. Awe is the experience of wonder. Think mind blown. Basically, any time you verbally or bodily say, “Wow!” (Although you may just be rendered speechless.)
My friend John Blase calls it being “slack-jawed.” I like that best.
Seeing U2 live with 50,000 others. Watching a little baby sleep. Sex with your committed lover. Watching a groom fall apart as his bride walks down the aisle. Hearing a bull elk bugle in the middle of the woods. The sight of a sugar maple aflame in autumn red. A really good steak.
“Awesome” is the word we used to use for these moments. But awesome is a tired word these days, thrown about willy nilly to describe just about anything we like. At one point it captured only grandeur goodness. That’s what we mean here.
You should know you can also have awe for terrible things too. Awful means “awe full.” Now you see it. A lot of horrific things can take our breath away. The Paris attacks are awful. They left me speechless. I felt deep, cutting awe in seeing the burning homes during the wildfires in our town a few years back. Watching the video of those firefighters who charged back into the towers on 9/11 did the same.
Awe makes your heart alive again. Which is why you can be in awe of the beautiful and the terrible and still remain alive. Let me say it again: Innocence is not naivety.
Drop Your Jaw
These same researchers who defined awe for you above did a little study on awe. They discovered that within a few minutes of sitting in a beautiful grove of trees, people became more generous, more caring and empathic, more connected and aware of the larger world around them to which they belong.
In short, when people experience awe, they love more. Simply put, they become open hearted. And without exertion. Or, should we say, with the exertion of wonder.
Awe makes us innocent again.
So I invite you to join me in looking for moments to practice being in awe. Put yourself in front of beauty, grandeur, wonderful things. And when confronted with the truly terrible, let it leave you speechless.
Let’s get our innocence back, shall we?