Raising children for a miraculous interconnected world

I offer videos from two of my most important teachers – Daniel Schmachtenberger and Nora Bateson.  Their lessons are about the importance of understanding – and being deeply awed and moved by – the powerful uniqueness and interconnectedness of everything in the world, including ourselves.  I understand these as dimensions of wholeness, and their realization as fundamental to healing, transforming and sustaining the regenerative powers of living systems, including humanity in the context of the more-than-human life within which we are embedded.

In a discussion with Nate Hagens, Daniel Schmachtenberger reflected on our natural desires and hungers that, when multiplied by billions of people in consumerist societies, seem to add up to the destruction of the world.  He commented on how consumer capitalism often generates hunger for more and more things in a way that never seems to be really satisfied. He noted how similar this is to the Buddhist concept of “the hungry ghost” and described a way of raising and educating children that would change that dynamic.  It’s about discovering – really GETTING – the wondrous uniqueness and interconnectedness of everything in our dynamic living world.

There are many other important insights in this interview – and I’ll explore some of them with you soon – but I found this particular story so delightful, that I want to share it with you today.

As a footnote that’s actually a highlight, I also want to share a beautiful video exploration by Nora Bateson about how her father, pioneer systems thinker Gregory Bateson, thought about and related to the world.  It offers a profound expansion of the delightful story shared by Daniel, and Daniel’s story seems to embody how Gregory raised Nora.  What an adventure!  What a way to guide children into the awesomeness of the world, well prepared to relish it, to creatively participate in it, and to heal and transform what desperately needs to be healed and transformed in it, sensitive to the magic of how it all hangs together in aliveness.




(See 2:49:35 – 2:53:40 in the video above, if you’d like to listen to it.  The text below has been slightly edited from the transcript for clarity.)

Let’s consider a little kid who’s at the phase when they say, “What is that?” “What is that?” “What is that?”  Right?  They’re trying to understand, they’re trying to learn what all the things are, the anatomy of the universe. And that phase usually happens right before the phase where they say, why?, why?, why?, why?, why? – because then they’re trying to learn the mechanics, the dynamics of the universe. 

So the kid says,“What is that?” And they point to a thing we call a tree. 

But I don’t say “That’s a tree”, or more specifically, “That’s a spruce tree” or whatever, because that’s going to teach the kid a bunch of things: It’s going to teach them to just accept the default worldview and not think for themselves. It’s going to have them confuse the ground reality with a symbol. It’s going to have them think in generalizations, to understand what are trees and what are not trees, to generalize all of them and stop perceiving uniqueness. 

So the kid says, “What is that?” And I’m like, “Let’s go closer.” And we go closer… And I’m like, “Touch it.” And “Touch the leaves” and then “Touch the flowers” and “Touch the bark” and, you know, “Touch all these parts.” And I’m like, “What does it feel like?”

And then “Smell it” and then “Notice the other little animals in it”… and, you know, just have them engage in that way. 

And then I’d say, “Do you think the tree stops there?  What about this moss that’s growing on it? Is that part of it – or is that not part of it? What about the the soil? Is that part of it or not part of it?” 

And then I’m like, “What do you think it is to that squirrel?  What do you think it is to that little bug?  What do you think it is to itself?”  

And “What do you feel when you’re with it?” 

And eventually I’ll say something like, “In English, we call this a tree. In Spanish, they call it arbole. And in this language, they call it this…” and all the different kinds of things. “But this particular one – notice that if we go look at this one, they’re different. And in fact, this one, there’s not another one in the entire universe quite like it. And it’s not even the same as it was yesterday, and it’ll be different today.”

So they’re learning that the only way to know it is to be with it fully, more presently in this moment. 

So imagine if kids grew up that way (rather than “That’s a tree. Memorize its Latin name.   Understand the botany associated with it” … blah, blah, blah…) They’re using much more of their whole self to understand reality in a much more full, rich way that understands that that same thing is different from every different perspective and in so many different contexts. And so if someone is perceiving – if they are supported to perceive – the uniqueness of everything and the interconnectivity of everything – that nothing is fungible and nothing is separable – then they get that nothing can be standardized without actually causing harm and nothing can be optimized at the expense of others without causing harm. They get that special uniqueness and interconnectivity of everything and they get “I am because we are” – the principle of Ubuntu – for a “we” that extends to the stars. 

And then the hungry ghost desire is not the main thing that emerges. What emerges from that connection are awe and fulfillment and fascination and gratitude.  And it’s actually the lack of that connection that leads to the hungry ghost place that hungers for more and more hits and progress. 

The desires that do emerge are in connection with everything else that I’m connected with.  When a desire emerges, I wonder will it be good for the tree? Is it bad for the tree? What about the squirrels in the tree? I just spent time communing with them. I love them. I wouldn’t want – and it wouldn’t be good for me – if acting on this desire hurt those squirrels. 

Now, the desires that arise for people who are clear on their inner connectivity with everything, those desires can be pursued in a way that doesn’t harm anything because their own identity is not separate from everything – because their perception is clear.

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Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440

Appreciating, evoking and engaging the wisdom and resourcefulness of the whole on behalf of the whole

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