The 8-month-old baby I tend occasionally is a constant wonder. Her agile new mind goes about its business of figuring stuff out. Everything she can reach is carefully tasted, smelled and shaken. Inside her head, filaments are exchanging chemical and electrical signals, storing her discoveries and the decisions she makes about them in a basic reference library of templates for future encounters.
To an infant the world should be daunting. In the comfortable safety of the womb everything is provided, but outside here, nurturing arrives entirely at the whims of larger people. The barriers you face as you struggle to control your arms and legs and try to open communication with those large people, could be overwhelming.
Fortunately (or not), at first you can’t realize the enormity of what you’re up against, being still immersed in the sensations of completeness and oneness with your mother, in a watery, sensory experience of the intimately inclusive exchange of certain cells as you two cocreate your body.
This is the spirituality and sense of transcendent oneness that dominate a child’s early consciousness, as described in Dr. Lisa Miller’s book, “The Spiritual Child” (2015, St. Martin’s Press, at your local library). It must be the innate inheritance of anyone ever born. In the bustle of life, though, we’ve abandoned it.
To transcend is to go beyond the limitations of time and space, independent of them. Our tendency to be driven by thoughts that reflect our confused emotions bounces us between yesterday and tomorrow, and we don’t see the beauty and wonder that exists in the world. Transcendence can only exist ‘now,’ the space we actually inhabit. It’s possible transcendent oneness, if adults could share it, would be a telepathic connection with the mind of the baby, a complete understanding of their needs and concerns. Without it, from the infant’s point of view, we’re deaf.
The infant realizes no past or future, only those template circuits that are created through direct, immediate experience. To them, there’s no other time, just now, a powerful present in which everything happens, including transcendence. That could be a terrifying experience, turning everything we know on end, making life unpredictable, random, without familiar reference points.
But newborns navigate that scary reality gleefully, and they’re prepared to share that oneness with us. Their powerful energy and exalted consciousness, inspire people to tenderness. With charisma and lack of preconceived judgments, they draw passersby, almost anywhere, to stop and share a little joy for a few moments. Infants are willing to engage happily with people whom they judge, by some unknowable standard, to be safe and approachable.
As you grow into your body and learn to control it, you find the intensity of your feeling is seldom matched by adults, who may see you as a “terrible two.” a rug rat, or a brat. While your adventure into life is still paramount and your passions are compelling, the absence of transcendental communication means the big ones don’t read your mind and can’t know what you urgently crave. You’re tender in a world that’s loud, busy, predictable and abrasive, and you begin to harden yourself against it.
Infants’ continuous decisions about things, people, and experiences determine the framework of their future. Surrounded with anger, distress, anxiety, they grow into that reality. With acceptance, support, and acknowledgement as a genuine being, a child can become a person of substance, who takes him or herself seriously. Caregivers who recognize babies as cogent individuals, understanding events and having opinions, give the fledgling person a jump-start in life.
Susan Stornetta is a retired archaeologist and a long-time Comstock resident.