Meditations of a Newborn
Re-living primal memories to dissolve boundaries and experience oneness
At some stage in life, any person with a slight philosophical bent would likely ponder over his/her place in the universe, which often leads to the question: What is reality? How and why did it come into being?
Spiritual traditions endorse meditation as a tool to understand the nature of reality, and hence gain insights into the nature of the self. Meditation can lead to the experience of oneness, a timeless state in which a person is blissfully one with reality. In fact, the journey to achieve oneness is a combination of meditation, contemplation, and a penchant for finding answers to existential questions.
Interestingly, a newborn baby is in a similar state of oneness. Studies of different stages of child development tell us that a newborn baby cannot distinguish between itself and its surroundings for several weeks. Spiritual masters claim that a child is closest to enlightenment. In Jesus’s own words, “Let the children come to Me, and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
Meditating in a child-like state has resulted in some powerful experiences of oneness for me. Imagining oneself as a newborn baby is all that is required to do so. The fact that a newborn baby doesn’t have any perspective is taken advantage of in this method of meditation. This is a quick way to momentarily ‘unlearn’ the concepts we have gathered over the years.
Humans recognize objects by recognizing their physical boundaries. We can distinguish glass from a table because there is a boundary where glass ends and the table begins. The recognition of that boundary is based on our definition of colors. Names of colors are labels we give to sets of electromagnetic waves in the visible range. Therefore, the way we label our perceptions determines if we recognize the boundaries. We label different smells, tastes, and textures too. Similarly, flashes of the past are labeled as memories, and sensations within ourselves are labeled as emotions.
Now imagine yourself being born at this very moment. You are new to this world. You have just started your life, so you have no memories. No language has been taught to you, so you have not been indoctrinated with definitions and haven’t learned any labeling mechanisms. Personally for me, meditating this way results in an expanded sense of self. The more I meditate, the more my self merges with the surroundings.
Let us examine the possible reasons behind why this method works the way it does. Consider the change brought in the way we perceive the world when we imagine ourselves as a newborn baby. For example, most of us would agree that the smooth surface of butter and the rough surface of sandpaper are two different sensations. But for a newborn baby, they are pure perceptions. The baby doesn’t label the perceptions and recognize any boundaries yet. This state doesn’t continue for long though. A growing sense of self, and experience, will make the baby wary of injury from the sandpaper in the future.
As time passes, the baby starts to learn how to label objects and create boundaries for its own safety. Growing up, the labeling mechanism becomes almost involuntary.
The labeling mechanism is triggered as soon as recognition takes place. Recognition happens once a strong association is formed between a sight/sound/taste etc. and a particular event. Our sense perceptions can evoke feelings of pleasure, pain, fear or love, based on a prior experience. An important role is played by language in enabling these associations.
By the time we reach adulthood, the urge to label everything becomes so strong that a little uncertainty is enough to unsettle us. We are quick to label anything as black or white and become increasingly uncomfortable with various shades of grey.
One of the important realizations I’ve had while meditating like a newborn is that unless we decide to label, this whole reality is one big nothing. We begin to shape our own world right after birth, by labeling every perception which occurs to us. Reality is always present, it is here. But it is nothing until we start labeling and creating distinctions. If we cease doing that for few moments, only then we can truly look at things “as they really are”.
It is important to realize that labels and the resulting distinctions do not have their own inherent reality. As everyone knows there are seven distinct colors in a rainbow, but nobody can pinpoint the exact location where one color ends and another begins.
If distinctions don’t have an inherent reality, what is the underlying ‘stuff’ that reality is made of? If we can switch off the habitual labeling mechanism for a few moments, distinctions dissolve. The world becomes a continuous flowing stream of undifferentiated perceptions. Everything becomes one and the sense of self merges into the infinity of consciousness.
Imagining yourself to be a newborn baby is, therefore, a profound way to get close to dissolving the boundaries and experiencing the oneness mystics talk about. A newborn baby is the wisest, it only doesn’t know about it.