At around 2 p.m. today I leave for Oakwood Retreat Center, where I will join with Alice and Ted, and tomorrow morning, Amy, to make final preparations for the 23-hour launch of the Baby Picture Project that we will offer to approximately a dozen willing participants, themselves to arrive at 5 p.m. tomorrow evening. Our process together will unfold in three acts, and include — besides three meals and an overnight stay — story telling, ceremony, and group play. We look forward to this launch event as a possibly transformational moment blinking into the collective unconscious during a period when anyone who is awake is highly aware that the current accelerating drumbeat of war renders this time perhaps the most dangerous period in all of human history.
Way back in 1982, I happened to be the founder and editor of a tiny, regional peace activist tabloid, called “Heartland.” This magazine aimed to network activists in the three states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana to help drum up support for stopping the entrance of Reagan’s “peacekeeper” MX missile into an Air Force base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. While our intent was idealistic, and fervent, over time the movement stalled, and even splintered, as various warring factions claimed territory. Indeed, infighting began to infect even our own small group, to the point where, one day, I woke up and suddenly realized:
I AM A VIOLENT PEACE ACTIVIST.
The contradiction between my stated goal of peace and my hostile, warlike actions felt so starting that I immediately resigned from the magazine and moved alone into a tiny yurt on the outskirts of Jackson Wyoming, where I stared into a fire (literally) for four months while reviewing memories of violence in my own life.
That was the beginning. For the next seven years, I dedicated myself to healing whatever separated me from both myself and others. I wanted to unpeel all the layers of hostility and identity, of egotism and trauma and “true” beliefs that were keeping me from experiencing the original awe and wonder that had accompanied my entrance into this world.
Whatever happened to that innocent child who had arrived “trailing clouds of glory”? That was my question, insistent, and probing. I travelled backwards through time in order to find out, writing incessantly in my journal as memory after memory surfaced.
As I said, this process of “healing my inner child” took seven years, to the point where, one day, I woke up in the yurt and actually smelled my mother’s breathe upon my face — so deeply had I penetrated to the heart and soul of my infancy.
Once I centered myself there, within my essential innocence, then I could choose to add on the “layers” again (or not!), but without taking them seriously, indeed, making them transparent to the larger self/soul that had been uncovered, and even playing with them — all the roles, identities, and so on that I had adopted through time, mostly in response to others’ and society’s expectations.
A note about the etymology of the word “innocence.” It comes from “in-nocere” and seems to have an “ambiguous origin.” On the one hand, it means “without harm,” and on the other, “without knowing.” However, perhaps we can reconcile this seeming contradiction if we recognize that what “knows” is the mind, and that this (left brain) “mind” — this ego — is what is created internally over time from birth on to give us an identity by separating us from the world. Over time, the “rules” the mind sets up get automatically projected into our behavior as “roles.” If so, then “to be without harm,” is to move “below the mind.”
What is your original self underneath the mind? Who are you there, without having to justify anything? What is your essential nature? These are the questions I asked myself.
In my case, as an astrologer, automatically I knew that my essential nature, during this incarnation, is FIERY. (I have four planets in fire, plus the Ascendant.)
Fast forward to nine years ago:
I had a dream, a big dream, that woke me up. In the dream I was told that I must begin “The Baby Picture Project.” (At the time I was visiting a friend in Taos, N.M., and I kid you not, it felt as if the holy mountain there was gifting me with this dream.)
Though I took the directive seriously, I knew it wasn’t time to begin this project.
After a couple of years, I decided upon a baby picture for myself (see above), and put its image on both a button and a coffee cup. Once I wore the button out in public, but felt embarrassed, too vulnerable. Okay. Not time.
A couple of years later, I wore the button to dinner with my sister Mary and her husband John. They were intrigued. What is that for?
I told them about the dream, the project, how it’s such a simple way to put us in touch with who we really are underneath the masks we wear for both ourselves and others. How if we could start wearing our baby pictures in public, especially, we can be very sure that this would start up conversations with family, friends and even strangers. Wearing our own vulnerability inspires others to do the same.
John and Mary decided to take this project idea to their meditation group. The next week, each person in the group brought their own carefully chosen baby picture, and the group went around the circle, each in turn telling a story. “And you know what?” he added. “Each person knew exactly which picture to bring and which story to tell.”
John told me about their group’s experience just a few weeks ago, in response to me telling him that it was finally time to launch the Baby Picture Project. Again, he said, “And you know what? That experience changed the nature of the group. And furthermore, though the group has long disbanded, to this day, whenever I see one of the people in it, I’m reminded of who they really are.”
So we begin, this simple project of relating to our own original natures, and showing that relationship to others who are doing the same. What might come of it? How fast might it travel around the world? The project lies beneath both culture and language. This relationship that each of us innately, if secretly, enjoys with our own essential innocence — might this idea, over time, help to unite the world? Is this what peace would look like — vulnerable, trusting, open to experience?