The Infant as Reflection of Soul: The Time Before There Was Self

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From World Association for Infant Mental Health: “This article is a series of personal reflections on infancy, which I view as a period during which profoundly essential human spiritual experiences occur, albeit episodically and without reflective consciousness. These spiritual experiences lie at the core of what most traditions call the soul, but they become gradually veiled as we build the psychological structures of so-called maturity. These structures greatly increase our capacities to do and to understand, but they do so at the cost of diminishing our original state of energy, openness, and joy. We, however, gradually accept the loss as normal and inevitable, as the way things are rather than as an indication of something lacking in our perception. Our entire understanding of humanity is thus diminished, including our understanding of infancy. Infants frequently hint that they are capable of experiences we no longer commonly enjoy. But having lost touch with such experiences, we can no longer recognize them. Accordingly, we cannot nurture them in our children. Eventually our children lose touch with these experiences as well, and the cycle begins again.

If we want to change this cycle, we must look at infants with new eyes. We must acknowledge them not only as our students but as our teachers, and we must open our hearts and minds to their manner of being in the world instead of focusing entirely on training them to adopt our own ways. What might this change of viewpoint allow us to see?

What might we learn about the manner in which we have understood (or failed to understand) human development? How might we view the potential role of infant studies in bringing about this new vision?

. . . It is curious how little attention we adults pay to this loss. It is truly odd that we do not protest more than we do our failure to enjoy experiences we so regularly observe in our babies. We seem to accept this as the ‘normal’ state of affairs. The absence of joy, mirrored back to us in so many ways by our society’s underlying emptiness and depression, seems natural. By the time most of us reach adulthood, we have not only lost the capacity to regularly access states that we achieved routinely as infants, but we have also lost awareness of that loss.”

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