The Recovery of Innocence: A Book. A Journey.
To carry on the feelings of childhood into the powers of manhood — this is the character and privilege of genius…
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘The Privilege of Genius’
In my years of studying the inner world of men, I have observed that, when it comes to feeling fulfilled, energised and motivated to live, work, and make the world around them a better place, most men tend to settle for far less in life than what they can have. And this seems to be a result of a long process that begins to take place early in life; a process of loss.
This is a loss all people suffer, at least to a degree; and it is a loss that plagues the souls of all men.
For most of my adult life, I did not think that I was affected by this loss, and frankly, wasn’t even aware of having been affected by anything! Yet, looking at myself from where I am standing now, I can clearly see how it had been robbing me of the joy and the experiences that could have been mine. Let me name a few of the more obvious ways in which that manifested in my life:
From very early on, I always found it very uncomfortable to be around people who were crying or simply got emotional. Every time when that happened, I would ‘freeze’ and find myself wishing I wasn’t there.
Another thing that had been a part of my personality for most of my life was an inability to connect to children. Every time I visited an older friend or a family member who had young children, I would find myself annoyed at the children’s chaotic behaviour and what I saw as lack of discipline. And every time an adult would draw a child to my attention for too long, engaging with them instead of staying in the conversation with me, I would again feel that irritation surface, or I would simply get bored. Simply put, I had no interest in children whatsoever.
To go a level beneath the surface, I would like to point out something which, though I didn’t know it at the time, was a clear symptom of that loss I had suffered growing up: my loss of interest in the natural world. From about the age of fifteen, after events and experiences that caused me to ‘grow up’, I stopped feeling any desire or connectedness to my old world and the places where I had spent the happiest moments of my childhood. It is important to note that I am only able to see this now; at the time I was not aware of what I could no longer feel. If you had asked my teenage self about it, he would not have been able to tell you why he was no longer going fishing: he would only have said, perhaps, that he no longer wanted to do it (I have been attempting to put this into words ever since I started my first blog, purely as means of a writing exercise; you can find more such stories here).
Another level beyond this would be the feelings of irritation with certain types of people. I would often find myself feeling embarrassed by an old friend because of the way he looked or behaved in front of people whose opinion I cared about. This also manifested in a tendency to completely avoid certain personalities or ‘types’ of people — even if they happened to be my own relatives! The truth about those people and why I had projected so much of my inner ‘shadow’ upon them (we will look more closely at this complex subject in the future), was that, in a nutshell, they all represented something in me that had been repressed; but such repression does not just come out of nowhere: in this case, it was largely a result of, and a reaction to, the loss I am addressing here.
Taking a broader view of that loss again, I have observed that for most of us, the energy that fuels the dreams and the desires of the boy — any boy — who grows up to be a man, is all but gone by the time we reach adulthood.
I have also noticed that those happy few who have had at least a small spark of it preserved and carried over into their adult life, live lives that are radically different from the rest: they tend to be generally happier regardless of their personal circumstances, and far more energetic than most men their age. such men are often more positive — indeed, in my experience, they seem to possess a certain contagious joy; their very presence feels somehow ‘lighter’. And, last but not least, they have the ability to have fun, and be ready to partake in it at any moment with childlike eagerness.
If we look closely, we might find that most of the heroes we once admired have one thing in common: they are not only leaders, innovators, warriors and freedom-fighters, but also lovers of that which they fight for.
In the case of most men from history who inspire us today because they have changed the world for the better, it is easy to see that they all had dreams and desires for a world that is far better than the world they had once found themselves living in. And what made those men stand out from the rest was the fact that they stayed true to those childlike dreams and desires; and it was those desires that propelled them to live the lives of bravery, courage and sacrifice.
A boy’s attraction to the stories that describe the incorruptible character of those idealised men (whether they are historical or fictional matters little; the attraction is the key here), reveals something profound about the soul of every man. It shows us who we truly are inside; it makes the boy aware, at a subconscious level, of what he is meant to be when he grows up.
I know I am making a bold statement; but I implore you to at least consider what I say: every man has within himself the capacity to be something extraordinarily beautiful.
Every man has within himself the capacity to fight bravely.
Every man has within himself the capacity to love deeply.
There is a reason most boys are drawn to stories about men who are mature and strong but apart from the abilities that make them powerful, possess a childlike heart full of love and innocence. That reason is the presence of those things within the masculine heart; and the good news is that, no matter how old externally a man might be, it is never too late to begin the journey of uncovering, reclaiming, and redeeming those beautiful qualities that are for the most parts, laying dormant within the masculine soul.
I write this not because I have spent a decade in contemplating this and developing it as a purely intellectual concept; I write this because I have witnessed the powerful truth behind that concept, and have seen it change lives — initially my own, and also the lives of those men whom I have had the honour and privilege to serve in the more recent years.
This short book is an attempt to help the reader identify, engage, and begin to recover anything in his inner self that has been diminished, abandoned, undeveloped or taken away during the often merciless process that is known as ‘growing up’ in the modern world.
May you have the courage to reclaim those lost and forgotten ‘feelings of childhood’, and take them into the ‘powers of manhood’.
Eastbourne, East Sussex,