Baby’s Defining Moment

The first actively conscious memory of my life occurred when I was nine months old. It was a highly charged experience, filled with insight, anger, pain and pleasure

Me, at age one


by Roger A. “Pete” Peterson

The secrets of the universe are hidden in the details of our experience. – Pete

The first actively conscious memory of my life occurred when I was nine months old. It was a highly charged experience, filled with insight, anger, pain and pleasure. How accurate are the details of this memory? I can’t be sure but what I do know, after much thought, is that my recollection feels right. One of the reasons I still remember this experience is because my mother retold this story in amazement many times for several years after it happened. What makes it worth sharing is how well it illustrates what a defining moment is in our lives. This account also shows how awareness, emotion, and belief interact to form our experience.

My skin was on fire from my bottom to my chest as I woke up. While sleeping, I had peed at least once and both my diaper and front of my T-shirt were soaked with urine, my skin burning from the acid. My gums hurt from teething and, adding further to my distress, loud voices and outbursts of laughter were coming from the next room. To express my misery, I cried at the top of my lungs. My mother soon arrived to find that I was soaked from head to toe with urine. She removed my wet clothes and washed my skin with a cloth. After rubbing soothing, pleasant smelling baby powder on my skin she dressed me in a clean diaper and T-shirt. What relief! Carrying me to the kitchen, she sat me on the far side of the kitchen table with my back against the wall for safety and support. Telling the adults sitting at the table to keep an eye on me, she went to the stove to prepare my cereal and milk.

Excited by the people sitting around me at the table and anxious for my food, I sat with my arms folded up, hands waving in the air and saliva drooling from my mouth . Before I knew what happened, my father had stuffed one of my mother’s sweet hot peppers into my mouth. While everyone at the table looked at my father in surprise, I started moving the hot pepper around in my mouth. It felt cool at first, but when I bit into it, I could feel a mushy resistance. At the same time, a burst of heat exploded in my mouth. Until that moment I had never eaten solid food. It was always milk, baby cereal or pureed fruit and vegetables. Not only did I enjoy experiencing the feeling of resistance as I chewed the pepper’s flesh, I loved its texture and pickled flavor. And the heat, it miraculously counteracted the irritation in my gums!

I was in heaven! In delight I imagined myself floating in the air above the table with each one of my arms and legs wrapped around the neck of a different person sitting at the table. As I created this imagined reality, I vaguely remembered us as spiritual beings on the other side of life, where nothing we do can actually harm anyone else. I laughed inwardly at the humor and irony of the situation. My father’s outer self, while childishly attempting to punish me for disturbing his party, had unwittingly provided me with a great new taste and texture sensation, as well as a marvelous remedy for soothing my irritated gums. I could almost hear his inner self laughing at the irony of it all.

Then another voice spoke up in my mind and I stopped to listen. It was the loud, angry voice of my outer self. It was thinking: How dare you put a hot pepper in my mouth? You’re my father and I’m just a baby! You’re supposed to take care of me, not hurt me! What’s wrong with you? Wow, so many judgments and so much anger! In that moment I fully embraced my life as a human being, forgetting all conscious knowledge of inner reality and our connection to it.

At this time, my father was forty five years old. He was fifteen years older than my mother and we were his second family. When I was four he died  from congestive heart failure brought on by high blood pressure. As I learned later, he was not a happy man. He worked as a grocery store manager for his father and from what my mother and oldest brother, Rudy, said, he felt unfulfilled and emasculated. In his unhappiness he drank and gambled, which made matters worse. In the four years I knew him all I remember is how gruff and aloof he was with my brothers and me. He would come home for lunch, nap in his rocking chair for five minutes after eating then head back to work. He had Bright’s disease, a name that serves as an umbrella for several different forms of kidney disease. Nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys) is one and kidney failure is the other. Kidney failure can be brought on by either high blood pressure or fluid retention. In addition to high blood pressure and the threat of kidney failure, my father suffered from sleep apnea. Even though he slept upstairs, I remember many nights when his loud snoring would stop and I’d be on pins and needles, willing him to start breathing again. What I remember most about him are his thin, white, well-manicured mustache, his bushy white eyebrows and the profusion of hair growing out of his ears and nostrils.

Back to my story: While I chewed on the hot pepper and reveled in my new food experience, something kept me from reflecting my inner thoughts and feelings outward. Even though I was beside myself with joy inwardly, as I imaginatively floated in the air with my legs and arms wrapped around the neck of each person at the table, I maintained a blank, noncommittal look on my face. For some reason, I didn’t want to show my cards just yet.

Even though she stood at the stove, my mother knew what my father had done and, like everyone else, watched with concern to see how I’d react. It was then my outer self took control. I felt contempt for my father for betraying the trust that’s supposed to exist between parent and child. And I was angry at the people around the table for just sitting there and letting it happen. I assumed they knew it would burn my mouth. It had become a big joke at my expense. Well, I wasn’t going to let them get away with it. Still chewing the pepper, I turned and blankly stared into my father’s eyes, until he looked down in shame. I continued to do this with every adult sitting at the table, until every last one lowered their eyes in shame.

I wasn’t angry with my mother because I knew she hadn’t become aware of what my father had done until it was too late to stop him. Swallowing the last bit of pepper, I looked over at her to see how she was coming with my food. After testing the temperature of the milk on her wrist, she returned to the table and cast an angry look at my father, before she sat down to feed me.

Getting angry at behavior I considered unfair, unjust or irresponsible became the hallmark of my life after this experience and lasted for many years. I didn’t let anyone get away with meanness, hypocrisy or irresponsibility, including myself. If I, or anyone else, did something mean or unjust to another person as a parent, teacher, friend, employee, business owner, priest or driver, I remembered it and gave them the silent treatment or some other form of grief. I became judge, jury, and executioner in my own mind for every behavior I considered mean, unfair or destructive. I had become lost in a world of external values and fear, trapped in a world of dependence, uncertainty and vulnerability. Fear is a great inhibitor and I started to armor myself against what I perceived as a hostile world.

It took me years to consciously remember myself as a spiritual being having a human experience. What would the world be like if we all remembered ourselves as spiritual beings having a human experience? Fear not only saves lives, it destroys them. When we only see this one life as all there is, it becomes everything to us. We fear for ourselves and in seeking to protect ourselves, we lose ourselves in life, forgetting our spiritual origins. Fear feeds on fear and, if not dealt with, it can destroy us. Until we understand, or remember, that We Create Our Own Reality from what we choose to believe, we’ll be more the victims of reality than the creators of it.

Source of All Creation

Final Note:

How easy it is for us to forget how good we are, how much we do, and how well we do it. And how easy it is for us to belittle or dehumanize ourselves and others when we live in fear. In writing this account of my experience, and others like it, it is becoming abundantly clear to me how sophisticated we are at all stages of our lives and across all cultures. When we forget this, we open the door to fear, misunderstanding, condemnation, exploitation, conflict and violence.

We need to remember our oneness as well as our individuality. We need to be able to shift from inner awareness to outer awareness easily to maintain our balance in life. In other words, we need to keep one foot in inner reality and one foot in outer realityat the same time to maintain a healthy perspective. Biological existence demands our attention to detail but there’s no need to completely forget who we are to survive in this reality. When we take time to study our dreams and imaginatively look at the world through other people’s eyes, including our own at other times in our life, we can maintain a healthy balance between inner reality and outer reality. With practice, we will remember that our essential self is just a point of view, and the body we find ourselves in, while unique our own, is simply a vehicle to provide our inner selves, our soul, with the means to express itself in biological terms. Whether the body we’re in is male or female, black or white, old or young doesn’t matter. We are still spiritual beings having a human experience. As such, we all want to be treated with respect for who and what we are. (see The Ball of Light – A Dream About the Nature of Consciousness and Being).

Copyright 2008, Roger A. “Pete” Peterson

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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