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The Dad Diary:

9. Baby Buddha
(Or: How Little Ones Enhance Your Own Perspective)

By Luke Edwards

Having a child has taught Luke to look at things in new ways. Is he sleep deprived or has he achieved the state of Zen through parenting?

If you’ve ever heard a baby laugh then you’ll know that these little creatures are the happiest beings on the planet. So what’s their secret?

  To a baby, everything is awesome – teething aside. But even pain is forgotten as if it never existed the second a suitably colourful and noisy distraction intercedes. This is the Buddha idea I’m getting at, not just the bald head, rotund belly and flexible hipped seating position they share in common. Babies live in the moment and cling to nothing.

Learning to Let Go

Buddhism says the source of all pain and suffering is the inability to let go. Clinging to things we think we need or ideas we’re sure are certain can cause pain. Finding happiness is allegedly as easy as letting it all go or, in other words, not giving a damn.

Easier said than done for us, but for a baby that’s their nature. Until they get older and we can see the pain as they cry when toys are taken away because they don’t want to let go. But at a young age even sitting in a dirty nappy is fine for a while as they don’t cling to the knowledge that there is another state of being that is better, they just accept where they are and carry on.

Christmas is a great example of this perspective in action. You head out to battle the shopping masses to get the latest bit of colourful plastic, wrap it up and ceremoniously place it under the tree. Come the big day and baby couldn't care less what’s inside the wrapping. That crumpled up paper, rife with colour and sound stimulation is the star of the show.

It’s this ability to take pleasure in everything that makes babies a great guide on how to live.

"By allowing myself to laugh along I’ve remoulded my perspective to see the world in a better way."

Laughing at the Dog

My daughter, for example, laughs every time the dog walks in the room. I never got it but that laugh is infectious and I found myself joining in. After a while I started to see the silly waddle of the dog and understood her perspective a little more. Now I see the dog and it tickles me too. By allowing myself to laugh along I’ve remoulded my perspective to see the world in a better way. This isn’t just a baby buddha moment, emptying yourself of your ideas and letting others flow in, it’s scientifically known too.

The human brain has a level of plasticity which allows it to form connections anew. The more an action is repeated, the easier the pathway is formed in the brain so it can fire again. That means that by trying a new perspective, and repeating it, a person can reprogram their brains to more easily respond to joy, for example. By laughing at the dog I eventually responded to the pup with a happy reaction automatically.

This lesson carries on into psychology too. Douglas Kenrick in his book The Rational Animal, suggests the mind is modular. This idea explains that certain areas of life are dealt with by particular sections of the mind. So in each situation that part of the brain takes over, be it sex, fighting, reading, eating, socialising, whatever. But since the way the situation is seen is then filtered differently – through that part of the mind – the situation will be interpreted from that perspective. What might be a calm social situation could be taken as hostile if the fight part of the mind is activated by a certain comment from someone that’s interpreted as hostile, even if it wasn’t intended that way. By remaining calm, detached and positive, that social interaction could be dealt with by the loving part of the brain and go well, but let the defensive department take over and it will be experienced in a completely different way.

So a baby, which hasn’t yet decided what is the appropriate response to situations, goes into everything wide eyed and excited, happy to learn and simply be there interacting with the world. That baby can take as much pleasure in pulling a cable as it can playing with a new toy. It’s an example to learn from.

  In traffic recently I caught myself getting annoyed. Then I thought about the fact that I wasn’t working, there was no rush, I wasn’t uncomfortable, I had the radio for entertainment and was just there chugging along. Suddenly it wasn’t so bad.

Was that me learning from the baby’s perspective or simply appreciating silence more because of her? Either way it’s baby I have to thank. So now I see these years as not only developmental for her, but for me too.
Now that Luke's life is a state of calm contemplation, who knows what he'll have to write about. Until the next one, check out Luke's previous post, The Dad Diary: Babies and Pets about the difference between bringing up an animal and raising a littler of his own.

Luke Edwards

Luke Edwards is a writer who specialises in technology,
he’s looking forward to buying his new daughter lots of gadgets.

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