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THE INFANT AS REFLECTION OF SOUL: The Time Before There Was a Self

by William M. Schafer

Abstract

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?

At a Glance
• Infants frequently give us hints that they are capable of fundamentally spiritual experiences.
• Three such experiences are presence, joy, and awareness of others’ awareness.
• When babies begin to sense disapproval or anger in their caregivers, they begin a search for love that may include the development of a False Self.
• Few adults experience the immediacy and openness of being fully drawn toward whatever experience is at hand. They accept “feeling happy” as a substitute for joy.

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