by Anthony De Mello

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The first quality that strikes one when one looks into the eyes of a child is its innocence: its lovely inability to lie or wear a mask or pretend to be anything other than what it is. A child is exactly like the rest of Nature. A dog is a dog; a rose, a rose; a star, a star; everything is quite simply what it is. Only the adult human being can be one thing and pretend to be another.

When grown-ups punish a child for telling the truth, for revealing what it thinks and feels, the child learns to dissemble and differentiate, and its innocence is destroyed. Soon it will join the ranks of the numberless people who say helplessly, “I do not know who I am,” for, having hidden the truth about themselves for so long from others, they end up by hiding it from themselves. How much of the innocence of childhood do you still retain? Is there anyone today in whose presence you can simply and totally be yourself, as nakedly open and innocent as a child?

Think sadly of the divine spark of uniqueness that lies within you, buried under layers of the fear that you will be ridiculed or rejected if you dare to be yourself and refuse to conform mechanically to society’s norms. See how you conform not only in your actions and thoughts but even in your reactions, your emotions, your attitudes, your values. You dare not break out of this and reclaim your original innocence and the price you pay is severe. It means you belong to the world of the crooked and the controlled, exiled from the kingdom of heaven that belongs to the innocence of childhood. Your life is spent not in living fully but in courting applause and admiration; not in blissfully being yourself but in neurotically comparing and aggressively competing for worldly success. This is the negativity that society programmed into you and why so many feel unfulfilled and unhappy with life.

Oh, this is hard language, but reflect on these words. Observe these negative impulses. When you’re aware of them, you’re free from them. They may raise their ugly head, but you’re not affected by it, you’re not controlled by it. You’ve have regained your natural urge to be free, your natural urge to love. That’s the difference.