Holding four-day old Isabelle, our first grandchild, on my lap and gazing at her features, I could not help but think about how this new world looks and feels to her. Isabelle’s world is a non-conceptual one unfettered by distinctions, discrimination or structured thinking, a completely unified and totalistic experience of feeling and sensation.
Unlike adults who cannot but judge and formulate a rationale for each feeling, Isabelle simply is and does. Having been born into the human realm of desire, she already has needs, namely for food and close physical contact. She undeniably experiences pleasure and pain and responds accordingly; these experiences are not yet imprinted with intellectual or conceptual meaning of any kind, since rational thought itself is a construction of language and language is well beyond the ken of any four-day-old. Thus for Isabelle, life’s meaning is a tapestry of simple needs, textures, tastes, sensations, colors, sounds, smells and temperatures. Soon enough she will associate a sound with a sensation and a smell with pleasure, but it will be a while before she contemplates these things. For her, all that arises is fresh, each moment rich with sensory information, and all of it wordless.
At some point soon, a name will become a thing for Isabelle and her world will begin to change. A specific sound will predictably invoke an outcome, and resonant anticipation and response will develop within her. We are hard-wired to accomplish this remarkable feat, making words into things, and our brains, evolved as they are for social interaction, build such connections quickly. Yet there is also an element of separation that accompanies this process of emerging consciousness, a substitution of otherness for oneness, the duality of this and that. Our mental representations of the world merge with the world itself, our simple desires change to passion, and direct experience submerges into a rich and ever deepening matrix of associations and thoughts. Our individual identity, built upon this foundation of dualistic substitution, eventually results in a conceptual ego/self that spends a lifetime proving and justifying its own existence until finally, along with our aged material selves, it too dissolves and disappears. But I digress.
Newborn Isabelle expresses the perfect purity and unblemished nature of life itself. Harboring no artifice, no falsity, no blemish of contempt, she is like a tiny golden bell that rings true. Her contact with others is unconditionally honest, Isabelle holds nothing back; like spring sunshine bathing all without discrimination, she is a force of nature.
Like all grandparents, we feel Isabelle is the cutest and most adorable baby ever born. Every grandparent says this, but in this case, of course, it’s entirely true. Admittedly, I’m hopelessly smitten. Time will pass quickly, though, and soon she will be a walking, talking little girl filled with endless questions and opinions. We will read books to her, and push her on the swings. We will show her how to use a fork and talk to her about eating vegetables, school, boys and love. Perhaps, if we are lucky, we will hold and get to know her children as well.
But today, to cradle her in my arms while she grasps my pinky in her tiny hand is to experience the pure and wondrous grace of human goodness with which we all are born.