The Innocent in the Nest

Please read chapter 4 (on stage 1), starting on p 75, before launching into these activities.

You can access printable versions of the activities on this site by simply clicking the Stage 1 Activities Document that follows the activities.

More-than-human Nature:

Time: 1 hour or more, Materials: None

Go out on the land and let yourself be found by a place or thing in nature that feels utterly innocent (page 80). Don’t choose just any place. In fact, don’t do the choosing at all. Let yourself be found. Wander on the land until you come upon a spot that truly feels innocent to you. Take your time. If you don’t meet such a place, try again some other day and/or in some other area. If and when you do meander into a place that feels entirely innocent, then lay down. Just be there for a while. Then, let yourself sink into the experience of a completely healthy infant, a stage-one human who was born to a soulcentric family. Imagine that you are less than a year old. Let your deep memory remind you what this feels like. Just lay on your back like an infant who is not yet able to turn on her belly. You don’t have human language. Look, listen, feel, and smell everything as if for the first time. Be aware through one sense at a time or a synthesthetic blend of two or more senses. You’re not able to label anything, like “ahhhh, this smells like pine.” Loosen your grip on your verbal mind; give up naming things. You’re not even thinking that this leaf is in front of that tree trunk. They just are. There are only images, scents, sounds, feelings, and movements in and around you. Your life is all about the senses and the body. Take it all in. No judgments, but lots of deep curiosity. You might want to move your limbs or make sounds. After a while, you might imagine that you are older than 12 months, so now you might crawl or touch things. Take your time. Let this be an adventure through the endlessly fascinating, sensuous world of nature. Be innocence. You are unquestionably in relation with everything. And everything is waiting for you.

Most stage-1 children have relationships with the more-than-human world that they forget or abandon as they age. They talk to trees, hear the song of the Earth, or play with invisible (imaginal) beings. Give this a try — again, or for the first time. During this activity, allow your innate sense of longing or knowing to guide you. Start small if need be — just reach out to the objects of the natural world that are waiting for you. Over the next several weeks, explore this new dimension of fully participating in this world. Let your healthy inner child lead you. Let yourself be surprised by what happens. Don’t continue if, after several attempts, it feels inauthentic. Your goal here is a genuine relationship with the natural world.

Applying your experience to everyday life:

At the end of these adventures, spend some time feeling into the experience you just had. What is innocence for you, and what is your relationship to innocence? How does innocence live in you (or not)? For the next seven days, get up just before dawn, go outside, and face east (or sit in front of a window that faces east). Let yourself be absorbingly curious about this innocent new day emerging all around you. Look, listen, scent and taste the air, feel the morning breeze on your skin. Observe this unfolding day with all the senses of an innocent one- to two-year-old. Do this for a minimum of 15 minutes. Afterwards, allow this newness, innocence, and awe to accompany you into your day. Notice additional ways in which innocence lives in you and in others. At the end of these seven days, note your personal changes that have emerged from this practice. In what ways will you continue the cultivation of your innocence?

In addition, it would be valuable for you to explore how friends and family members understand and experience innocence in their own lives. What does it mean to them? What images does it evoke? How do their responses broaden or sharpen your own understanding and experience of innocence?


Time: 10 minutes or more, Materials: Journal or paper, and pen

Close your eyes and allow yourself to fall into the kind of experience that you imagine a one or two year-old might have. Write about your interplay with the world. Because a child of this age is pre-verbal or early-verbal, you’ll be using words solely to embrace the experience of the senses, the body, and the emotions — without any thinking about. Or perhaps all you will place on your page are scribblings with your non-dominant hand, expressing what a one- to two-year-old might experience in the here and now. Whether with simple words or scribblings, record your sensory experiences, emotions, desires, and your full presence with everything you encounter — sort of like a Zen master.

Applying your experience to everyday life:

At the end of this activity, spend some time feeling into the experience you just had. What have you discovered about your relationship with innocence? Is innocence present in your daily life? In what way(s)? For the next two or three weeks, every day invite innocence more fully into your experience. Allow yourself to be thoroughly present with individual things, people, places, and experiences. You might also offer your attention to things, people, and events that seem exceptionally innocent. Take a few notes every evening on your discoveries about innocence.


Time: 10 minutes or more, Material: your journal; optional: drawing paper, crayons or pastels, modelling clay

Go back through your dream journal and look for images of innocence. On a new page, record these images, and/or sketch them on drawing paper, or sculpt them with clay. In your dayworld, re-enact these moments of innocence from your dreams, using any helpful props. Sink into the dream images by feeling and sensing their every detail. Write about what these innocence images evoke for you: emotions, other images, and memories.

Applying your experience to everyday life:

In what ways does this exercise further flesh out your understanding and experience of innocence? Choose one new dimension of innocence to cultivate for the remainder of the day.


Time: 30 minutes or more, Materials: see below.

If you don’t already have them at your home, go to a thrift store or a friend’s house to find some stuffed animals, toys, etc. Allow yourself to play 1-2 times a week. If possible, do this outside on the grass or in the tub or someplace safe for a very small child when they first start to explore and play. Use your body as part of your play and exploration arena. Afterwards, spend some quiet time with your feelings and your body. What emotions, stories, and memories come up, if any? Do a slow body scan. What do you feel in different parts of your body? What emotional resonances do you have with these body feelings? The purpose of this activity is not to draw any conclusion but simply to bring alive the body’s and emotion’s own intelligences. As you do this, new awarenesses begin to arrive.

Applying your experience to everyday life:

How will you integrate more play into your life? Make a clear commitment that serves you.


Time: 30 minutes or more, Materials: things from nature or your home, a bed sheet

Go outside and collect different kinds of natural things that you find in your backyard, on the sidewalk, in a park, in your garden, or a nearby forest. (If you don’t feel like going outside, then collect small things of different textures from inside your house). Place them on a bedsheet in your room. Put a blindfold on. Now let yourself fall into the awareness of a stage-one human. You’re maybe one or two years old: Touch, smell, feel, taste the different things on the sheet as if for the first time in your life. Be deeply curious, with your attention fully focused upon each object, using all your senses. No judgments or naming, but simply dwelling within an innocent, wide-open, present-centeredness — being here and now fully and simply, connected and relational to all that is sensed and felt in the moment, just as it is. As Piaget writes: “The infant exhibits an unquestioned acceptance of the given.” Experience the different textures, sizes, and temperatures as deeply and fully as you can. As you move from one to the next, let your objects fall on the sheet however they fall. At the end, take your blindfolds off and appreciate the artwork you created on the sheet (or on your bodyJ).

Applying your experience to everyday life:

For the next seven days, choose a time of day to take a break in your daily routine; spend five minutes exploring an interesting object as you employ the full curiosity of an innocent child. It might be a piece of wood, a fork on your table (something you notice at the start of a meal), something you eat very slowly and consciously, a fragrance you give full attention to, or a sound you let into your very core. (Doing this cultivates your curiosity and wonder (a stage-2 process) as well as supporting you to reclaim your innocence.)

Questions to enjoy or ponder (to help you live more fully the qualities of a soulcentric Nest):

  • What was easy or hard for you in the above activities?
  • What do you like/dislike about the stage of the Nest?

Applying your experience to everyday life:

Which qualities of the Innocent do you live without restraint? Which qualities do you want to cultivate and include more in your life? How? When? Make a clear commitment to yourself that works for you.


Practices for Re-embracing Innocence after the Nest (in the Oasis or later)

See Nature and the Human Soul for descriptions of the following five activities

  1. Meditation (see NATHS, pp. 106 – 107)
  2. Solitude in nature (see NATHS, p. 107)
  3. The creative art process (see NATHS, p. 107)
  4. The practice of openness (see NATHS, p. 108)
  5. Hang out with infants! (see NATHS, p. 108)


Meditation is a time-honored and cross-cultural method for re-embracing innocence. Innocence regained is experienced as radiant presence. Present-centeredness can be cultivated through the contemplative arts from any cultural tradition, including Christian contemplative prayer, Buddhist vipassana, the silence of Quaker meetings, or more physically active forms such as tai chi, qigong, and yoga.

In meditation, we practice fully inhabiting our experience right now just as it is. We practice nonattachment or nonclinging to particular memories or desires. To be nonattached to the past and future is to be here now. The more we practice, the better we get at it, and the more natural it is. The more present we become, the more our senses come alive — and our emotions and imagination, too. We occupy our lives, our loves, and our land more fully. We can wander more deeply into the world and are more likely to consciously encounter there the astounding mysteries of our own souls.

It should not be surprising that, in addition to its other benefits, meditation offer a path to rejuvenated innocence. Meditation, after all, is more generally understood as a means to cultivate our relationship to spirit or emptiness or the nondual. The portal to spirit resides in the East on the Wheel. Both the Nest and innocence also abide in the East. “Zen mind, beginner’s mind.” Think of meditation masters you have known or read about — overflowing with a certainfreshness, an innocence, yes?

Solitude in nature:

Another proven resuscitator of innocence is solitude in nature. I mean fullbodied, multisensory, openhearted time in the wild in which you offer your attention fully and reverently to the land, the waters, and the sky and all that is alive in those kingdoms. You might wander on foot or skis or in a self-propelled boat, or sit very still for extended periods. The important thing is a joyful mindfulness to the wild world. Solitude in nature offers the opportunity “to fall in love outward,” as poet Robinson Jeffers puts it. Falling in love outward is, in essence, a contemplative art, an ecocentric one. Think of it as a nature-based variation of vipassana, the Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice in which awareness is constantly opened to what is present here and now, without attachment to past or future. Mindfulness in nature adds to vipassana the fact that you are attending to the fullness of the wild world, making it easier to be utterly here, now. You don’t need to be someplace as wild as Alaska or southern Utah to do this. A nearby forest, streamside, or thicket works wonders. A city park or your backyard might do.

The creative art process:

Immerse yourself, for an hour or two at a time, in any of the arts. Previous experience unnecessary. This is not about creating “works of art” for anyone’s approval or admiration, including your own. It’s about surrendering to what is immediately present — your art media and whatever impulses and feelings arise within you. Use familiar and unfamiliar media: drawing, painting, sculpting, collage, music, poetry, short stories, or dance. Drop each imagined goal as it arises and instead expand into being fully at home with yourself and the creative process. Apprentice yourself to your intuition. Let yourself be surprised by what color attracts you, or what sound, shape, emotion, texture, movement, image, or word. Say YES to it.

For additional help and inspiration, consider the books, tapes, and programs by Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley (Life, Paint, and Passion [New York: Tarcher, 1996]), Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity [New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1992]), Aviva Gold (Painting from the Source: Awakening the Artist’s Soul in Everyone [New York: Harper Perennial, 1998]), and Jane Seaton (Artlife: Creative Journeys for Life Healing [Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2001], audio cassette).

The practice of openness:

A fourth method for restoring innocence, one that you can use almost anytime and anywhere (but selectively), is to consciously enter social occasions as openly as you can. Drop expectations. Don’t hang on to memories. Let go of desired outcomes. This, too, is a practice. The situation might be a committee meeting, a rendezvous with a friend or lover, a solo walk in a (safe enough) neighborhood, a social gathering, a workshop, or a museum. Practice being fully present. Let your senses come alive. Allow yourself to be utterly curious about everything. Grant yourself permission to be amused, saddened, horrified, ecstatic. Trust your own unknowing. Say and do whatever comes to mind — unless you are quite sure it’ll get you into the kind of trouble you’d rather not be in. You might notice how, unintentionally, you begin to protect yourself physically, emotionally, or socially. If you can, let it go, relax. Practice innocent presence.

Yet another approach to re-embracing innocence is to get in the habit of reviewing your day to find one or two situations in which you could have been more innocent and present had you been more mindful. These are the moments that did not require the degree of vigilance and protectiveness you adopted. Imagine yourself re-entering those circumstances one at a time, this time entirely centered, open, and observant. Notice how the scene unfolds differently. Doing this review sensitizes your psyche to the possibility and blessing of innocence in your life. You rehearse the attitudes, moves, and faith implicit in full present-centeredness. The next day, you’ll be more likely to recognize the opportunities for innocence as they occur.

Similarly, begin your morning by reviewing your plans for the day, looking for opportunities to act or speak with more innocence. Sometimes we act to protect ourselves from a hurt or consequence from which we no longer need protection. Although we might still get hurt, that particular hurt might be just the catalyst needed to grow whole: it will no longer traumatize us. Consider what resources or allies might assist you in bringing more innocence into your actions today.

Hang out with infants!

Why not sit at the feet of a master? When he’s awake, let your little teacher (eighteen months or younger) lead the way in play. He’ll show you how to be, as well as what to do. Get down on the carpet with him — just you and him. (If you are alienated from your innocence, you might feel ridiculous apprenticing to a baby while other people are watching you.) Let him teach you some games. When he falls asleep, you’ll notice that he’s no less a teacher of innocence. Take some deep breaths and immerse yourself in the miracle of his existence. Practice being present with his luminous presence — and yours.