Many spiritual masters have advised that awakening is to become as a child.
But why? What does it mean, and how is it accomplished?
Perhaps the best explanation was given by the legendary Lao Tzu who said: “When I was young, everyday, I gathered unto myself something new. When I became old, every day, I let something go.”
Lao Tzu is referring to unlearning.
Unlearning is to remove the mental garbage that we’ve accumulated over a lifetime. To be free from all the programming and brainwashing that obscures our true nature.
Watch a newborn. A baby simply reflects life as it unfolds in front of her. There are no cookbooks, no mental wrinkles. She is fresh, innocent, unencumbered by concepts.
The first time a young child sees a huge Fir tree swaying in the breeze—wind swishing through the boughs, the fragrance of the resin—there are no reference points to judge or compare it. There are no words. The tree is an absolute magnificence, a wonder. Perhaps she sees a squirrel or bird in the tree––another awesome happening. The tree, ecosystem, and all of nature is a profound and wonderful mystery.
Creating Mental Wrinkles
When she gets older her parents teach her about the tree. She learns the name, and how it grows. When she has knowledge of the tree the concept replaces the awe. Now when she sees a tree she understands the science, how it functions, how it reproduces.
The parents and teachers test her knowledge. They point to the tree and ask: “What kind of tree is that dear?”
Like a parrot she repeats:
“It is an Oak tree. It produces seeds called acorns, which the squirrels gather in the fall. Oak is a hardwood that is used to make furniture such as desks. Oak makes beautiful hardwood floors, and is a great wood to burn in a wood stove.”
From that point on, when she sees the tree, a voice starts speaking in her head. The same record is played: “This is an Oak tree… it produces seeds called acorns…Busy in the mind, she is no longer present to receive the unpolluted mystery and wonder of life. Now the tree is no longer a mystery, it is simply an object called a tree.
Knowledge is useful in the world, however, when we become full of concepts, we get stuck and encumbered in them like glue. Concepts are obstructions to reflecting life as it is. We are too busy in the mind to receive from life.
It is a medical mystery why, as we age, colors get less bright, flavors, and scents, are less interesting.
Loss of wonder is how and why we age.
The more concepts, theories, and knowledge we possess the more impediments there are to freshness. When the mystery is gone, the innocent child leaves, and with it goes the wonder of life. The river of our life force hardens and crystalizes. We stop flowing––like that toddler in the picture. We become stale, crotchety, and set in our ways.
Imprisoned by knowing
Beware of those who believe they know all of life and death. The Native Americans called life The Great Mystery. Life should be a mystery, a wonder. The real sage doesn’t know. She has let go of knowing and so she really sees and knows.
Hence the saying of LaoTzu:
“When young I gathered onto me something new every day.”
Every day he picked up more knowledge.
‘When old I let something go every day.”
He dropped the mountain of concepts he had learned over a lifetime and became a child again, fresh and innocent.