Planting the Seeds of Neohumanist Education and the Evolution of Spirituality
By Didi Ananda Uttama
All the processes of change, imagination, and learning ultimately depend on love. It isn’t just that without mothering humans would lack nurturance, warmth, and emotional security. They would also lack culture, history, morality, science and literature.1
Alison Gopnick, Philosophical Baby
The opening of science’s probing eyes and expanding heart into the previously taboo areas of love and spirituality is bringing out of the shadows the impact mother-infant love has on evolutionary consciousness. As spiritual aspirants, our current challenge is to become active and conscious participants in the extraordinary task of transforming human love into universal love. We are beginning to acknowledge that human love depends to an unparalleled degree on our individual and collective mother-infant relationship, the primal bond which sets the foundation for our ‘capacity to love’.2 Allowing that relationship to open doors to the greatest of all relationships, that of the unit self with the Cosmic Self, may be one of human love’s deepest functions, one that the convergence of science and ancient spiritual wisdom is helping us to explore.
Let’s begin at the beginning and take a look at human love. The budding of mammalian mother love millions of years ago, together with the emergence of language and its newfound communication skills, heralded a massive jump in consciousness – the desire and ability to care about another’s well-being as much or more than caring for oneself. In comparison to our reptilian ancestors’ lay-the-eggs-and-run behavior, a subtle yet powerful magnetism evolved between mother and infant, creating perhaps the strongest biologically grounded love story in our unfolding evolutionary drama. Over time, the primitive mother-infant attachment deepened into interpersonal love. “The conclusion (from the empirical data) is that human love evolved on the basis of the mother-infant relation.”3
The perceptions of love that shape our lives lie deep in the pockets of implicit, pre-verbal memories, beginning in the primal period ─ before birth, during birth and the formative year after birth ─ arguably combined with past life, extracerebral memories. If that love is strong, secure, cooperative, open-ended and mutually respectful, it creates neural wiring in what is called the brain’s ‘care and nurturance’ 4 or ‘calm and connection’ system.5 Continuous reinforcement of this system wires it to be a dominant lens for viewing the world, triggering more easily and more often than the stressful ‘fight or flight’ system. But beyond that, and particularly if the mother’s spiritual awareness is clear and consistent, it also sets the stage for trust and love within a deeply spiritual relationship with divine presence, however that presence may be perceived.
The earliest faith is the basic trust and hope in the care of others. A caregiver’s nurturance, protection, and availability provide the basis for the earliest grasp of divine care.6
Thompson & Randall, Children’s Spiritual Development
Mechanisms that mediate trust between individuals are the same mechanisms needed for trust in God.7
Paul Zak, author of the Moral Molecule
It is intriguing to think of mother-infant love as a possible prototype for human-Divine love, a critical link in the emergence of the spiritualization, or perhaps universalization, of love. We cannot help but be astounded and deeply wonder about the magnitude of attraction, resilience, joy and mutual dependency built into this most rudimentary of all human relationships. Within a Tantric context, awareness of the Infinite is also a relationship, a personal relational experience based on intense mutual attraction and reciprocal feelings of bliss. Evolutionarily, perhaps one feeds the othe -human love wires us for transcendent love and transcendent love broadens our perception and expression of what love is… and in the process, our physiological structures become more refined, more inherently capable of understanding life at ever deeper levels.
It is striking that the physiological and emotional resilience associated with spirituality is the same kind of resilience associated with positive parental nurture. In short, the two kinds of connectedness analyzed here- connection to others and connection to the transcendent- seem to influence the same biological systems in quite similar ways.8
Report from the Commission of Children at Risk
Mothers may be in a unique position of being primed for universality because of the enormity of love which has overtaken their lives. When talking about the birth of her daughter, Caroline confides that she was totally unprepared for the magnitude of love she felt for and from her newborn. Though she loved many people in her life, mother’s love was of an intensity unknown to her before. And when her daughter became a mother and gave birth, Caroline reported that she was equally astonished at the depth of love that spontaneously rushed through her for her granddaughter. “That powerful love again just swept me off my feet!”
This story is not unique to Caroline but can be heard from mothers around the world. We are, by nature, in love with and very focused on our children. It is compelling to think that, as we consciously cultivate spirituality, we may be moving towards an ability to hold all created beings as dear to us as our own children. Really dear to us, not just as a lovely concept but as a reality in our gut and heart and soul.
I realize now that this is how I’d like to love everybody. How I feel about my daughters is how I want to feel about everyone. This love is teaching me that.
Themis, mother of two girls
It is equally as compelling to ponder on the influence of the infant in this metamorphosing love story. Well-accepted data on the influence of a mother’s thoughts and feelings on her child abound, but what about the other way around? From the moment of conception, mother and baby are in a partnership, deeply intertwined in all levels of being. There is little reason to think that the infant’s influence is not equally as strong, albeit in different ways.
Research suggests the undisturbed state of the prenatal and infant mind as being spacious and blissful, somehow transcending boundaries of time and space. Newborns are situated in “a certain type of bliss”9, in which the subconscious mind remains calm and tranquil while waves from the causal mind easily surface in the subconscious.10 A long-time NHE teacher recognizes prenatal awareness as being “I am one with everything” and argues that mother or parents may feel some of this, imbibing something of a sense of wholeness within themselves and oneness with all things.11 In other words, the prenate and infant live in a fleeting state of being that few adults will have full access to in their lifetime but which infants may help us remember simply by their existence.
Conclusion: The mother-infant dyad, particularly in the primal period from conception to the first year of life, is the closest example of a ‘two-in-one’ phenomenon in our current framework of existence. This reciprocal nurturing exchange prompted a huge evolutionary shift in awareness and intelligence in times past and may be just as significant in our present stage of spiritual evolution. We know that the neurological circuitry formed in the infant during this time has an enormously long-lasting impact on the capacity to love. We also now know that massive brain changes, with corresponding shifts in consciousness, occur simultaneously in the mother, significantly expanding her understanding and experience of love. On top of that, mother love and divine love are being shown to enhance us in remarkably similar ways. It is possible that mother love, when permeated with spiritual ideation, may imprint an expansive experience of life and love in the fetus in utero and the infant after birth. What is needed is a greater acknowledgement of the powerful feedback loop of love between mother and child and its long term ramifications; a radical restructuring of our social systems around pregnancy, birth and early infancy to reflect the sacredness of this love; more research into the prenate/infant/child’s consciousness and its effect on mothers; and perhaps most importantly, the widespread commitment of mothers to make sustained, conscious efforts to direct this love to its Source.
A note to fathers: Father love is, of course, just as crucial and profound as mother love but has garnered far less research and data. That said, some of the points mentioned in this article could have said ‘parent’ rather than ‘mother’ due to the historically recent trend of pro-active fathering. In fact, the emerging phenomenon of direct-care fathership raises many fascinating questions about spirituality and evolution and needs further exploration in light of the overall picture of an evolving global consciousness.
- Alison Gopnick, Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love and the Meaning of Life (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York 2009) p15
- Michel Odent, The Scientification of Love (Free Association Press, London 2001) p2
- Robin Allot, ‘Evolutionary Aspects of Love and Empathy’, Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems, Vol 15 Number 4, 1992, 353-370
- Jaak Panskepp, “The Core Emotional Systems of the Mammalian Brain: The Fundamental Substrates of Human Emotions”, from About a Body: Working with the Embodied Mind in Psychotherapy, edited by Jenny Corrigall and Helen Payne (Routeledge, NY 2006) p 14-30
- Kerstin Uvnas Moberg, 2003 quoted in Kuchinskas, Susan, The Chemistry of Connection, (New Harbinger Publications, CA 2009), p 6
- Ross A. Thompson and Brandy Randall, Children’s Spiritual Development from “Implementing the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, A Standard of Living for Development”, edited by Arlene Andrews and Natalie Kaufman http://www.desmos.info/en/doc/Childrens_Spiritual_Development.pdf
- Paul Zak, Love, Belief and Neurobiology of Attachment, Loma Linda University Center for Christian Bioethics video, www.researchchannel.org
- Commission on Children at Risk, “Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities” sponsored by the Institute for American Values, YMCA of the USA, and Dartmouth Medical School
- Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, “The Means to Save Oneself from Sorrow”, Ananda Vacanamrtam part 9
- Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, “Cerebral and Extracerebral Memory”, Ananda Marga Philosophy in a Nutshell, part 4
- Donald Moore, Developmental Stages of I Feeling