Drugs and Teens

On the radio last week I was asked about teens and drugs. It is a question I have heard many times in my 30 years of work.

As always, the answer lies in understanding the consciousness of the teen and then engaging relationship to being about optimal well-being.

First, the relationship. Start by reaffirming your love for the teen. Ask the child how they see you. Do they trust you? Do they see you as on the same side? If not, find out why. The best response to the situation will emerge as a co-creation.

Second, the teen’s consciousness. Teens organize their world for autonomy, for self government. Over the years from 13 to 18 they will develop a core identity. Critical to that development are continual attempts to self govern. It is the way they learn.

Now, true autonomy is a new capacity. They haven’t done it before. They therefore assert ideals. They then try on the behaviors attendant to those ideals in order to see how they fit with their sense of self, their forming identity. It is a tender, challenging exploration. To fuel the actualization of their developmental imperative of autonomy and identity formation they hold freedom and power as essential.

And this is the crucial point. Freedom always comes with responsibility. Always. Freedom to drive; responsibility is not to drink at the same time. Freedom of democracy; responsibility is to engage civic matters. Freedom to enjoy sex; responsibility is to care for the person deeply and to take all necessary precautions. There is more to be said about each of these, but the point is made.

Drugs? Somehow they speak to the teen’s investigation of freedom. Therefore, the first connection has to respect that investigation. How is this drug choice an expression of their sense of self? The second connection is to link that freedom with responsibility. It is up to the teen to take the first attempt at making that connection. And up to the parent to respect the teen’s attempt but to challenge it, by asking questions, if the responsibility is not accurately seen.

That is a lively inquiry and can only benefit both parents and teens. It should be done with sensitive respect as the teen is learning about her or his identity.

However, there is one bit of responsibility that must be included. Teen brains are still developing and drugs inhibit that development. Therefore, drugs are out of bounds.

Why didn’t I just write that and make this a one sentence blog post? Because the process of mutually exploring freedom and responsibility leads to optimal well-being for everyone. And, because the teen’s development of autonomy depends upon careful examination of their choices.

Don’t dramatize the event just because drugs are involved. Go slowly. You may have to talk about your own experiences and what you have learned from them. You may have to work through naïve ideals about the freedom the teen feels when imbibing. You may have to go deeply into the way that you communicate with one another.

Go for it. The prize is worth the price.

History is Bullshit!

History is walking through life looking backwards. The Mental/Mythic structures of consciousness extol history. Looking backward to plot the future enslaves us to what has happened. Thinking we can think ourselves into well-being results in trying to strategize how to be based on what has happened. What a filter! However can we grow? 

Those who venerate history rarely ask how memory forms. Yet, we know emotion is a principal regulator of memory. History makes believe that emotions are not part of the record. Take a moment to reflect on your own memories. Can you extract emotions? The old saw that history is written by the victors contains some accuracy. Where is the value in that? What changes for you in considering the history of America if you always include the Trail of Tears? Andrew Jackson, anyone?

I taught Game Theory to graduate students and members of the US military during the Vietnam War. We ran many simulations and the outcome was always the same: devastation and loss. Moreover, every simulation predicted rogue states would have disproportionate influence in the future unless there were radical changes made in both military expenditure (down) and strategy (more alliances predicated on mutual economic benefit). Also, as has been obvious forever (or at least since the Romans, French in Morocco, or the US in Korea), wars fought on foreign soil at great distances cannot subdue the indigenous people. Then came the Afghanistan-Iraq-Iran conflicts. The Viet Nam people and approach was (is) used! You are living the result. Similarly, the headlines about Israel and its relations with its neighbors are the same as they were 50 years ago.

This is not about politics. This is about enslavement to history. The constitutions validity does not derive from its historical value. The only question is: how do its principles live in our consciousness? History enslaves to the document, the flag, allegiance, and by the subtle threat of loss of security. If we don’t keep going as we have been, how do we know we’ll be OK?

The same holds true for personal history. It isn’t a question of whether you were wounded (or treated well) but how those experiences live in you now. Then there is responsibility; then there is freedom. What is the glue that holds them?

Those who revere history are doomed to repeat it.

Don’t think for a minute that economic wealth depends on military spending. That is history running the show, blinding you to the moment. Don’t think for a minute that defending the constitution means oppressing others. Don’t think for a minute that decision makers employ historical narratives for anything but their own greed

Self Reflection with Children

Development of the capacity to self-reflect is critical to well-being in children. Children able to self reflect develop an internal locus of control. They gain confidence in their ability to assess and to make decisions. Less likely to be swayed by external rewards, punishments, and threats, self reflecting children gain mastery of themselves and so express their strengths and have the courage to meet challenges.

Reflection has two relevant meanings: to shine brightly by casting a light and to consider deeply. When we self reflect we are shining light on who we are—our feelings, thoughts, expectations and motivations. We come to know ourselves and so become comfortable in our skin.

Clearly, children of different ages have different capacities. Can a 6 year old self reflect? A 10 year old? A 13 year old? Our answer: emphatically yes—within the limitations of the child’s age and stage of development.

Here’s a situation that happened with a 7 year old boy. He was crossing a street without looking.  It was a moment of high tension. His father shouted and he stopped. His father pulled him back to safety. Intelligently, he kneeled and spoke with force but not too much drama about the danger and how important it was to be careful. The boy, downcast, averted his eyes. His parents crossed the street and continued to the restaurant.

I was with them at the time and know the child well. At dinner I asked the boy to recount the incident. He demurred by just shaking his head. A bit later, in a natural way, the parents related their experience. The boy listened carefully, and then spoke of his confusion. His dad asked him what he was doing when he wandered into the street. He brightened and told us a story that was “writing in my head.” His dad’s shout was like “waking from a dream.” And then he added this capper: “I felt like I was bad because I made my dad mad.”

I won’t go into the revelatory, albeit, short dialogue that then occurred about the difference between making a mistake and perceiving oneself as bad except to say that it was not a top-down discussion but a participatory one involving all of us.

And then there is 11 year old Jennifer, who came home from school grumbling about teacher favoritism and the way the others in her (ostensibly) cooperative learning group were treating her. After allowing her to tell the story about the misbehavior of others, her mother asked if she contributed to the problem. At first she intensely denied that as even a possibility. Later, after snack, her dad asked her to tell the story again. This time she included her feelings towards the others. Her mother overheard and occasionally interjected comments such as: It must have been difficult to feel slighted; or, that would really bother me. In other words, she just made contact with her daughter’s feelings without pressing or asking for answers. Later, Jennifer told her mother that she “really didn’t like” one of the girls for a long time. With little prompting Jennifer told of the privileges both in class and in life that Jennifer believed the other girl had. Again, her mother made comments similar to the ones she made earlier. In a few minutes, Jennifer curled up in her mother’s lap. “I guess I’m jealous of her,” she said. They then had an interesting conversation about jealousy.

Self reflection is impossible without relationship for relationship provides the foundation of trust. Without trust children become wary and perhaps defensive. Then all they can do is respond to the external stimulus. This is a serious wound.

Recall the maxim: capacities are innate; development depends upon relationship. Without trust, without relationship, there is no development of the natural capacity to self reflect. Instead children become dependent of others to tell them what is ethical, what is worth doing, and how they should live. Their voice and power diminishes. This wound exudes loss in every aspect of the child’s being—physical, emotional, social, and of great importance, spiritual.

Three Meaningful Responses to Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is not natural. We are not born with preprogrammed circuitry that says “Thou shall be rivals with your sibling.” It is neither inevitable nor something that we have to live with. Unfortunately sibling rivalry arises in many families. How does this happen and what can we do about it?

Rivalry occurs when there is perceived scarcity of a desirable object. A zero sum moment follows: I win only if you lose; you win only if I lose.

Children will vie for objects. The objects change as the children grow but the perception of scarcity perseveres: I want it, there is not enough for everyone, I must assert control and ownership.

As parents we have limited resources, especially time. Don’t lose hope. We can take significant actions to prevent rivalry and to dissolve it if it occurs. Here are three: 

Celebrate differences—Children whose unique strengths are recognized and supported grow in self-esteem and fulfillment. Perceived scarcity falls away. There is no motivation for rivalry for children are seen and nourished for who they are. Celebrating differences implies flexibility in family values. We cannot compare children against a rigid standard. “Why aren’t you more like your brother” is a recipe for rivalry. 

Proper boundaries—Boundaries become places of learning and growth when they emphasize relationship and not objects. They must match the child’s age-specific capacities. And they must be framed so that the child knows our love is not compromised by the sibling rivalry. “I love you.  I know it is difficult to give up the object, but we always have one another.” This doesn’t mean the child will melt in your arms (though that does happen). In the long run, however, they will get it that the most important “thing” is who we are together.

Make sure your children know that their love counts—Seek their opinion. Listen when they speak. Show them great respect. Laugh at their jokes; ask questions about their stories. And give whatever time you can without reservation. When they know their love counts they are contributing to the abundance of relationship and thus much less likely to obsess about scarcity.

Family Love

Love through a Child’s Eyes

I have the great good fortune to live next door to my grandchildren. We play, travel, learn, and are often together. Recently 5-year-old Naomi and I were in the midst of an exciting game of her design. Abruptly she changed the rules. While I knew that rules and 5-year-old children don’t always mix, I was momentarily confused and said so.

Naomi: You supposed to be by the couch, not in the kitchen!!

Ba: How come? You just told me to be in the kitchen. Cut me some slack here.

Naomi: Just go to the kitchen.

We played for a bit and then she wanted a snack. I offered fruit, she wanted a sweet.

Naomi: I’m not sure I got the right grandfather.

A bit later I had to go. Naomi covered me with kisses and clung to my leg to prevent me from leaving.

And then there is 10-year-old Aaron. I shared care and respect with his parents and elder sister before I met him. I could feel his affection from the moment that we met. I have been with him only a handful of times and simply engaged him with FeelingBeing nourishments. Every time he sees me he hugs me tightly and tells me he loves me.

I was alone with 15 year old John after his parents had made it clear that responsibility and freedom always come together and that they wouldn’t increase his gaming time unless he paid more attention to math and writing. His despondency could have sunk a sailboat.

I lost, he said. They always win and get their way.

Are you more upset by the loss of the gaming time or losing the battle with your parents?


You know they love you, right?

I know they think so.

Do you love them?

Yes, John said, then deliberated. Well, sometimes.

Love through a Parent’s Eyes

Jennifer, a single mom, was butting heads with 14-year-old Daniel. As you might expect he want more time to play video games and explore the Internet. Jennifer didn’t trust that they were healthy for her son. She wanted Daniel to spend more time with her and his 11-year-old sister.

Soon, rancor threatened. Rather than blame her son, or the culture, Jennifer reflected on her values. Why did she hold those beliefs? Her contemplations soon revealed that she did not understand why these activities were so important to her son. She had been assuming they were distractions. She decided to take her son to dinner and inquire about the meaning the activists held for him.

Surprise! He had been teaching himself programming, going “behind the scenes” to modify games, and researching school projects. And he used the time to relax. At the end of the meal she asked him to teach her what he knew about programming. His smile lit up the room and her heart.

The last I heard she was the scorekeeper in midnight bowling for him and his friends.

George and Alexandra made the tough choice to send their 7 year old daughter, Margaret, to an independent school even though it meant forfeiting restaurant visits and staying home for vacations. George came into Martha’s life when she was three. Now, he and Alexandra were pregnant with their new child who was due in two months. When asked why he did it George’s eyes turned into lasers and sarcasm saturated every word. “Did you really just ask that question?”

11-year-old twins Henry and Marshall were bickering and bad times threatened. June had asked them to stop several times. As an executive of a mid size company she had much to do and, at that moment, was on an important call. Annoyance escalated in her, in Henry, and in Marshall. The shout started deep in her belly and she turned to deliver it face to face with her children. Oh, those faces! The shout died just before eruption.

What do you boys need? She asked with genuine empathy. What do you really need?

Inspiration, Consciousness, and the Paradigm Shift

A paradigm shift changes everything. That can be challenging. A paradigm shift literally means we must change our belief as to what knowledge is and the way that we attain it.

In the paradigm shift that is occurring right now, we are surpassing old paradigm notions of knowledge which prescribed that we know something when we can prove it. Measurement, behavior, and comparison of data are the stuff of proof. Cognition has been king and intelligence has primarily referred to thinking.

In the new paradigm knowledge is emergent and comes forward in relationship. Knowledge emerges in context and evolves over time. It is not a fixed entity to be gained but a field in which we are a factor of its essence. Knowledge doesn’t exist outside of us and who we are. We are part and participant. Knowledge, therefore, includes many immeasurables, not the least of which is who we are. And who are we? We embed meaning, aesthetics, love, community, and many more qualities that cannot be measured. Cognition is but a part of who we are and not the whole picture. Only our wholeness embodies knowledge.

Consider the simple cell and consider that what is true for the cell does not constitute but a small part of what is true for humans. Cells cannot be known by the data of their nucleus, or mitochondria, or their chemical make-up. To know a cell we must appreciate its relationship to other cells. A kidney cell, for example, is continually communicating with other kidney cells and, to a lesser but significant degree, with all the other cells in our body. Keep the kidney healthy and we support the whole body. if we poison the kidney it is at our own peril. It is in relationship, in context, that we know the cell and only in that wholeness can its well-being be assessed.

Relationship and emergence; emergence and relationship. That is the new paradigm. Knowledge is open-ended, a field of participation in which optimal well-being resides.

Real change requires inspired people as champions. In my life, the essentials of Natural Learning Relationships appeared in an inspired weekend. My life changed forever. I knew that I was being blessed with an insight that could change the lives of children, families, communities, society, and perhaps the course of human history. I knew this all at once; though bringing it forward implied a lifetime of service and devotion. I am still growing into that.

Yes, I know that I have used terms usually reserved for spirituality. But please do not believe for one second that Natural Learning Relationships (NLR) is religious, or that I promote any particular faith. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, an inspirational quality of NLR is that any family can use it. Moreover, NLR shows many ways that each of us can contact inspiration within our families, schools, and communities. It is a tenet of NLR that our everyday lives include inspirational opportunities.

But inspiration does mean that we have contacted a deeper part of ourselves that is not part of ordinary consciousness. When we are inspired we are not merely thinking, or feeling. Something different is occurring. Consider the source of the word inspiration. To be inspired literally means to be breathed into.  It was originally believed to be one of the gods or God talking to you, (inspire and spirit come from the same Greek root meaning “breath”). Removed from a religious context, inspiration refers to that unique moment when a new way of ordering life appears that is obviously superior to what came before.

Everyone has moments of inspiration. Most often, they change things locally. Years of concentrated effort lead to the famous “A-HA” moment. Business practices change, a mystery is solved, family relationships are reconstructed. Inspiration leads to change.

When the inspiration is far reaching and cuts across many disciplines it signals a shift in consciousness, a more comprehensive and incisive way of perceiving ourselves and the world we live in. A paradigm—the set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices by which we order our world—is undermined and a new one appears.

This has happened before.  Contrast the Middle Ages, also known as the Dark Ages, with the Renaissance period of history. The former is characterized by feudalism, faith above reason, the absence of scholarly inquiry, an Earth that is flat and the center of the world, etc. The Renaissance features science, new perspectives in art, and a more accurate view of Earth and human’s place in the world, etc.

The speed of a paradigm shift is a function of the technology of the times. Printing presses and sailboats suggested a long timeline at one point in history. Airplanes and the Internet has suggested another timeframe entirely.

The new paradigm includes and transcends the previous one. It solves previously unsolvable problems. It awakens dormant insights into ourselves and the world around us. It promises greater well-being. In short, new paradigms inspire. Birthed in inspiration, they in turn inspire those who participate in them.

Consciousness shifts bring forth power, energy, and curiosity. As with the Renaissance period and its child the Reformation, those inspired by new paradigms reorganize society and culture.

There is a paradigm shift occurring right now, here, in our lifetimes and culture. It is a shift so sweeping that it reorganizes every aspect of relationship with children. Every discipline now must account for relationship and wholeness.

The shift is from logical positivism, reductionism, and modern/post modern culture, to one of Complexity, relationship, Wholeness, systems and meta-systems.

Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson shifted anthropological research.

Wittgenstein sounded the death knell of logical positivism so loudly that his mentor, Bertrand Russell, had to distance himself from Wittgenstein’s work.  Along with the (then) newfound discipline of General Semantics and the work of Korzybski communication patterns changed forever.

With the investigation of family dynamics and the work spearheaded by Satir no longer could any family member be considered in isolation.

Of course, Relativity and Quantum Mechanics ended the search for the building blocks of matter and any absolute notion of space and time. Chaos Theory ended the ridiculous idea that entropy applied to living organisms. Prigogine and colleagues showed that all life forms are open, dynamic systems self-organizing to greater complexity. They won the Nobel Prize for this work. Maturana and Varela showed this to be true throughout biology. Even cells can only be understood when seen in relationship to other cells in the organism with which they co-exist.

Husserl’s intense study of phenomenology revealed that the identity of entities can only be found in their relationship with others. Existentialism undermined reliance on myth and through the sagely efforts of Viktor Frankl brought us face to face with meaning as the primary factor in a person’s well-being. Of course, meaning cannot be measured or quantified.  Frankl’s great contemporary, Martin Buber, demonstrated that authentic spirituality and relationship are hand-in-glove.

Alfred Adler, Carl Rogers and their Humanistic cohorts brought the importance of relationship to therapy and revealed to us all the psychological dimensions of education.  The influential philosopher and educator Krishnamurti tied self-knowledge to relationship with others.  Carl Jung and the transpersonal psychologists made the leap to deeper realms of human awareness. They bridged the way back home to spiritual philosophy free from religion and cultural constraints—an approach known as the Perennial Philosophy that stretches all the way back to the 9th century and is embraced by sages East and West.

The great work in the evolution of consciousness started by Gebser and gaining momentum in the works of Wilber and Jantsch indicates that knowledge itself is not fixed, but emergent.

And now brain science, specifically in the well established field  of interpersonal neurobiology, insists on the shift . Brain growth (actually neural nets of interlocking dendrites) depends upon the relationships in a person’s life. As the brain is in so many ways the governor of the way we live this point must be emphasized again and again. Genetics sets the table; relationship provides the nourishment that determines brain well-being.

So here we are. We live in a paradigm shift. Philosophy, science, and progressive education insist that we can no longer equate intelligence and knowledge with data collection and regurgitation. Science goes further—we can no longer be sure that a given set of facts will lead to a predictable result. What does this mean to parenting and education? How shall we prepare our children and families for this new world?

There is no way to stop a new paradigm. Within this context of this new paradigm, Natural Learning Relationships emerges.  Natural Learning Relationships is of the new paradigm and the new paradigm is of Natural Learning Relationships.


Self-knowledge challenges us in many ways. Most fundamentally, self-knowledge means the end of the belief in separation. Interconnectedness with self, others, life, and Universe becomes the way we organize ourselves and our relationships. As we have been conditioned to believe in separation since infancy it is extremely hard for us to know ourselves as whole and a unity, actualizing the depths of our human potential and connected with all life.

With separation comes objectification.  As absurd as it sounds, we judge ourselves from outside ourselves. I have a “huh” of disbelief as I write this, yet most parental, religious, and educational feedback for children centers on learning social norms, on developing cultural competence and only rarely on self-knowledge. This causes unnecessary suffering as we repress critical aspects of self in order to be normal. Check out the forthcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, that bible of psychiatric diagnoses, to see how far reaching this suffering spreads. And these are only the ones called sick. The pernicious consequences of objectification stretch to include pollution, social injustice such as gender and racial bias, sexual practices, consumer habits—in short, most of the decisions we make each day.

Participation, not objectification, is the hallmark of self-knowledge. Accepting responsibility for the way we see the world reveals the intimate connection between mind and nature and is the essence of spiritual insight. Gregory Bateson, brilliant anthropologist and master of cybernetics whose work has profoundly influenced fields of inquiry ranging from psychology to computer science to philosophy, put it this way: Consciousness is the bridge between the cybernetic networks of individual, society and ecology and that the mismatch between the systems due to improper understanding will be result in the degradation of the entire supreme cybernetic system or Mind [in other places he links Mind with God.]

In simple terms, it is the way we view ourselves and the world that must be changed. This is beyond any particular program; it is the work in consciousness, in undermining the belief that we are separate and therefore can autocratically control the environment and one another. Seeing ourselves as whole, as interconnected, supplants objectification with participation.

We enter the space between when we participate. Each person’s inherent value informs the space between—the place where vulnerability, openness, and transparency allows us to see and hear one another, to be together with empathy and insight. Relationships enhance each person’s self discovery. Our mutuality is a cornucopia of growth and insight.

What does this have to do with paradox? Simply this: many “truths” that we hold to be dear are rooted in the belief in separation. Seen from self knowledge they appear paradoxical. Yet given some contemplation, their validity takes hold and the dreaded grasp of objectification lessens.

Here are a couple of examples.

  • Effortlessness equals perpetual motion.

  • Freedom has nothing to do with social justice; those living freedom live social justice.

  • Know origins and destiny only when all concern and consideration of them is obliterated.

  • Greatest freedom is surrender.

  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder because the beholder is beautiful.

  • Pure awareness cares nothing about the contents of awareness.

  • The response to any problem, dilemma, or challenge is the problem, dilemma or challenge.

  • The wink of an eye (I) is eternity.

  • The eye of the needle is boundless.

  • A center of the Universe is the center of the Universe.

  • Attachment to wealth impoverishes.

  • The first and last paradox is that we know we do not know. Only then is the intimacy that is essential to knowledge known.

And my favorite:  Everything I say is a lie.

May this blog remind us to engage meaning beyond seeming logic.

On Relationship with Middle School Students

I recently taught a course at PSU entitled Creating Success: Relationship with Middle School Students. The course included a presentation by Josette on the interpersonal neurobiology of brain development. Relationship is the basis of all successful learning and many of the seemingly obstinate problems associated with middle school students are dissolved when relationships with one another and with school personnel meet their developmental needs. This promotes trust.  Trust is the medium for well-being. People living in well-being want to learn and so learn well.

We wondered if neurobiology combined with work in Natural Learning Relationships would have the strength to move education professionals from an achievement-only approach to a relationship approach.

Students had to write a paper or create a project as part of the class. Here are some quotes from their work:

From a guidance counselor who now sees the importance of including families:

Middle Schoolers have a growing need for understanding their relationship to their world through family, mentors, trusted friends and self.  Caring adults staying connected with their 9 to 12 year old in a meaningful way through this exciting developmental stage is vital to the child’s development and to the child’s … well-being.

From a guidance counselor who found what so many who understand Natural Learning Relationships discover—her knowledge base was confirmed and deepened and new options appeared in dealing with students:

It goes without saying that after five years of working as a middle school counselor, I have learned a thing or two about 11 to 13 year olds.  I always knew that students at this stage in their life were unique and challenging, and those working in the field needed a sense of humor and sense of adventure for the … emotional roller coaster middle schoolers take us on.  Consequently, my understanding for this age group is not a result of any graduate counseling program. … this … has offered me the scientific language that explains the complex developmental nature of middle school students along with a kid centered perspective to their growth and development.  I have walked away with a deeper understanding and renewed excitement to begin applying the fundamentals… with the students and families I work with.

By a teacher for use in the classroom:

The language and research behind Natural Learning Relationships help educators put into words what many observant teachers, counselors, and administrators have thought for years: A child’s capacities are innate, and development depends on relationship. For classroom teachers, NLR gives the discussion of middle school development a familiar language, as well as provides age-appropriate ideas for relationship-based, community building activities to use in the middle school classroom. As I plan my school year as a 7th grade Language Arts and Social Studies teacher, I come to the table armed with research-based knowledge of the “FeelingBeing” child, ages 8 ½ - 12 ½.

From a teacher/guidance counselor at a small private school on aligning the faculty with the relationship approach:

[After reading some NLR material]… We talked about the range of relationships students experience with their teachers from strong educator to mentor to friend, as they age. … One dynamic we keep a close eye on is the students who struggle to find connection to both their classmates and teachers.

 From a teacher of early teens:

Most of the students I work with are either transitioning into the IdealBeing Stage or are in the IdealBeing Stage.  One of the points that stood out to me… was the importance of connecting with students at their level of development.  For example, each stage has organizing principles.  …Understanding the principles and supporting students in their quest for self-actualization would lead to more meaning, supportive, and loyal relationships.  The organizing principles for IdealBeing are freedom, responsibility, and self-governance. One strategy that is helpful with this age group is involving them in the decision-making process or solution.

The Difference between Change and Emergence in Human Development

What does emergence have to do with the education of children, families, and professionals? The current paradigm of learning is logical positivism—something is real, is knowable, if it can be measured, counted and replicated by following a stated methodology. There is a fixed reality and it can be found by using the scientific method.

Emergence is a (relatively) new paradigm. Here is a brief encapsulation of the dynamics of Emergence (capitalized now as it is the proper name of a well-respected paradigm):

Healthy initial conditions + open communication within the environment lead to greater complexity. Greater complexity leads to new healthy initial conditions.

Initial conditions refer to the moment of engagement. Consider your moment as read this. Scanning it at work? In the midst of a rock concert? Quietly concentrating while considering whether Summa is right for your family? Obviously, the conditions in which you engage this blog influence the value of your experience.

Open communication with the environment means the ability to interact with your world in safety and trust. It is a term coined by Noble Laureate Ilya Prigogine for his work with molecules. Prigogine found that molecules in a nurturing environment (initial conditions) select that which allows them to self-organize to greater complexity. Now, more complex forms of molecules emerged. We create open communication at Summa in the space between. Greater complexity means the ability to inhabit a greater variety of niches while bringing forth greater relevance, meaning, and growth—which, of course, is a new healthy initial condition.

Important points to note about Emergence:

  • There is no fixed, final body of knowledge. Paraphrasing renowned physicist/philosopher David Bohm, knowledge itself is emergent. This reveals logical positivism as severely limited which positivism did not predict.

  • Humans are open, dynamic systems continually emerging. (And so we wave goodbye to those who believe that early childhood is everything.)

  • Emergence is non-linear. The results of a given event become the initial conditions for the next event. As entropy only refers to closed linear systems, it is fair to say that the concept of entropy is, well, entropic.

  • Children are emergent beings with the ability to self organize to greater complexity. Dysfunctional behavior rises when initial conditions and open communication are thwarted. Certainly, they are not little vessels waiting to be filled with data.

  • Fixed notions of who the child should be, such as competitor in the global marketplace, undermine learning. Academic excellence thrives in Emergence.

Change that occurs accidentally, or as the result of restricted initial conditions and lack of open communication, leads to less complexity, to dullness, to flat-line.

The Space Between

Music lives in the space between the notes. If we don’t listen into that space we never hear the harmony, the subtle melding in which the richness emerges as our own inner knowing.

I have done this exercise with many: Standing in a field I point in a direction and ask what is seen. Most people name a specific object such as a tree, or a cloud, or a plant. Few, if any, see the space. Yet the space is the ground from which all objects take form.

Self-observation is central to self-knowledge. Conditioning in childhood demands that we see only part of reality—the part which corresponds to dominant cultural agenda whether dictated by family, school, religion, or media, and usually in combination of all or most of these. Self-observation allows us to see clearly who we are in any given moment and thus dissolves conditioning, dissolves the major impediment to self-knowledge. 

Self-observation occurs in the moment. Memory is not always reliable. Nevertheless, self-reflection, as the useful practice of journaling exemplifies, can provide insight into what has occurred and motivation to be more diligent in self-observing. And so before this writing can go any further I must ask you to recall interactions of the past 48 hours. Was there participation in the space between? How do you know? What allowed for it? When it wasn’t there what blocked it?

Let’s eliminate some mistaken notions about the space between. It has nothing to do with compromise or the trivial attempt to “agree to disagree.” Nor can the space between be lived when confusions and insecurities and incompatibilities are supposedly resolved by emphasizing differences and the letting each person go their own way.

Comments such as “we are wired differently” or “men are from Mars and women are from Venus” only create artificial boundaries. They invite isolation rather than connection.

Sometimes it is difficult to enter the space between with the people with whom we are closest. How do we invite as child who does not want to do homework in into the space between? Can we engage our lovers in meaningful dialogue about physical intimacy? Only if we self-observe can we know if are entering the space between.

Here are some blocks to the space between as known to me through self-observation and the feedback: 

What does happen in the space between? Inquiry, inquiry, inquiry. Self-observation—transparency and honesty. Appreciating and participating in differences as a way to understand one another and the wholeness of humanity. Never compromising to make peace but ever committed to remain engaged—to take the bet that wisdom emerges. This wisdom opens to self-knowledge, allows the notes each person sounds to be heard, and if you stay there, if you keep inquiring and listening and observing and participating in the emotions, no matter how challenging, these emotions may create the optimal opportunity, the environment, for self-knowledge.

Love lives in the space between. I am not referring to love, but to Love. I am not referring to affection, to kindness, to caring, to empathy but to Love—Love that arises in emptiness, Love that destroys conceptions, Love for which surrender is required and then takes more than you ever thought you had to give and yet would gladly give again and again.

May this writing serve to spark an interest to awaken the space between in all relationships.

Love and Wisdom

It is the responsibility of every educator to bring their understanding of love and wisdom to their practice. With that responsibility comes freedom; freedom to participate in wisdom-based relationships, freedom to create meaningful curricula and perhaps most importantly, freedom to nurture, deepen and expand their own love and their own wisdom.

If you need to ask why should you engage the responsibility/freedom of knowing and expressing love and wisdom than you are a teacher, not an educator. An educator “draws forth”; a teacher “trains, assigns, directs, warns and persuades.”

I am not going to tell you, or anyone, what wisdom and love is. That’s for each of us to uncover. I can, however, tell you some of what it is not for an educator. And I will.

Blocks to Wisdom and Love in Education

Block #1—Belief in Programs and Research 

Wisdom and Love never reside in a program. Wisdom and love are not guaranteed by inquiry, Project Based Learning, experiential learning, service based learning, wilderness programs, technology or whatever the next wave brings. Nor does the end of standardized testing, information about brain research, smaller class sizes, eliminating bullying, eating healthier foods, or caring for the environment bring forth love and wisdom.

More catastrophic, belief by the instructor programs and research destroys whatever opportunity there might have been for wisdom and love to emerge. Few circumstances objectify a student more than their teacher shifting responsibility for their development to a program, or to the results of a research study.

Block #2—Belief in Agendas

Belief in the educational agenda of the district, city, state, and nation reinforces the catastrophe. If an educator accepts Common Core, if they accept that the aim of education is to turn children into competitors in the global marketplace then they live as teachers. Wisdom, love, and relationship do not manifest.

Belief in agenda combined with belief in programs adds up to exalting students who “succeed” in these proscribed arenas. Others are left behind. The cultural priorities are reinforced. The blindness to racial and gender prejudice is reinforced. Emotional intelligence ignored, interpersonal dynamics suffocated. There is an agenda, a program to support that agenda, and those who fit the parameters are the bright ones. Repeating a judgment of overseers in American education dating back to the Revolutionary War, educate the bright ones, that is, the ones who exemplify the dominant cultural paradigm. The rest are only going to be tradespeople anyway. 

Block #3—Glorifying Skills and Talents

Every child has a gift, a unique combination of skills and talents that can bring success and happiness. Finding that gift and creating opportunities for its expression allow student and educator to thrive. Prowess at athletics, or computers, or chess, or violin, or any other skill or talent should be engaged.

Glorifying skills, however, teaches the child that their identity is the skill. Yet each of us is much more than any skill, no matter how abundant the reward for that skill. Consider the difference between introducing a student and then attaching their skill set to that introduction (I’d like you to meet Mary, our star female basketball player) and simply introducing the student (I’d like you to meet Mary.) 

The Big Block—Objectification

Believing in a program, buying into an agenda, and glorifying the skills and talents of students share in the most egregious impediment to wisdom and love in education: objectification of the student. No one is an “it”. No one can be known when they are viewed as competitors in the global marketplace, examples of a program, or superior because of their talent and skill..

We are NOT what we do. We are. What we do is secondary and the result of a complex array of factors that include natural skills, socio-economic background, cultural preferences (and biases), and family dynamics. Even if we could parse and organize these factors there yet lies a mystery as to the nature of existence and the conditions in which wisdom and love emerge. Objectification denies the mystery and ignores the socio-economic factors while pretending that we should be known and educated by what we do. And in so doing misses who we are.

The Importance of Educators

Natural Learning Relationships includes this maxim: Capacities are innate; development depends upon relationship. Without educators, without those willing to live wisdom and love in their learning world then the capacities for wisdom and love do not flourish.

A Final Note

And, as a final note, a quote from Goethe:


We only learn from those we love.

Spirituality and Holistic Education

Spirituality is integral to Holistic Education. For most, spirituality is either consigned to religion or ignored as essential to education. The question naturally arises: Is it possible to include a secular, non-sectarian, spirituality in education? And, as spirituality defies specific definition, is there agreement about what it is, and how to incorporate it.

Meetings with Remarkable Educators tackles these questions directly. Here is a brief sampling of insights that emerged during recording.

Tobin Hart, professor of psychology at West Georgia University, focuses on the challenges of bringing spirituality to education. His interview is a treasure chest of understanding. A brief excerpt:

It is so tricky, isn’t it [to bring spiritual and education together]. I mean, in a largely secular world to be able to talk about that. I think the thing though that is really common, and that folks can pretty easily get is that we have both moments, and feelings, and also values that are deeply meaningful…. And particularly when there's a spirituality that's really about things like authenticity, and individuality, and creative expression, and then there's a part of a spirituality that's also about interconnection, and receiving, and surrender and that kind of thing.

Tobin goes on to talk about “embodied spirituality”, and how that can be actualized in classrooms for all ages.

Josette and I have had the honor to facilitate Rites of Passage for children, adults, and whole families. We have always wished that they become incorporated in schools. Thankfully, Rachel Kessler led the way with the Mysteries program. She has passed away so you can imagine our delight in finding Shauna Sorce and her work with middle school children and Rites of Passage. She sees this a way to bring spirituality to education. The interview specifies how she does it. Here’s why:

I'm doing it because I didn't have a Rite of Passage as a teenager. I had this deep, heartfelt longing for a mentor or a guide…somebody that I could trust, and put my faith in, and believe in and go to 100%. And I didn't have that… I longed for some kind of an initiation…and a wise elder to guide me. And for lack of having that soul in me nurtured through school, or through home, I sought it out on my own, and it wasn't always in the safest or positive, nurturing ways.

Marni Binder, professor and educator of young children, spent 23 years teaching before she “realized something was missing.” I was surprised as she had already included profound commitment to social justice. Loved by her students, secure in her profession, she experienced an extraordinary transformation. Here’s a brief anecdote from her interview describing a moment of realization:

I remember being in a meeting with my primary teachers and our Ministry of Education in Ontario in Canada stated that we have to teach the whole child. I thought,, "Wait a minute." When I asked people if they could tell me, what they thought that meant? Really what they were talking about was integrating. They were talking about some of the domains, but the spirit of the child was missing. And so that to me, that piece of identity and soul, and who that child is, which is so wrapped up in the spirituality of that child, that was the missing piece.

She goes on to describe how she changed her practice based on this insight.

I could on and on. There’s Jack Miller specifying holistic pedagogy that has influenced literally thousands of teachers. And Paul Freedman speaking of spirituality as naturally emerging in children when the school creates the proper nurturing environment. In short, every interview contains insights, practical suggestions, real life stories, and appreciation for integrating spirituality and education.

We look forward to sharing these with you, and for your feedback. Meetings with Remarkable Educators is about connection and community. We wish you our very best.

The Secret of Their Happiness

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As you might expect, Holistic Educators face many challenges. So where did all the joy and laughter come from during these interviews? I didn’t encounter folks stressed or pessimistic about their efforts, their schools, or their future. Even though we explored many of the challenges, I walked away feeling from each recording feeling light, alive, and unreasonably happy.

So as I listened to the recordings while editing I selected comments that might reveal the secret to joy that they shared. In the end I believe I discovered the secret.

Debbie Millon and Marni Binder told of knowing that something was missing and that something needed to be found. They went back to school, sought Holistic Education colleagues, risked money and job status and seniority. I find it compellingly interesting that their fields of engagement are so different. Debbie is Head of School at Wingra; Marnie is both a professor at Ryerson University and teaches art through holistic practices.

That diversity of interest and expression can be seen everywhere in Holistic Education. Most see the importance of parents and parenting. Our very own Josette has taken this as her vocation. Like Debbie and Marni, knew she had to reshape the understanding of the possibilities in parenting.  Amazingly, parents who engage holistic child development can access greater cognitive and emotional understanding. The surprise: beyond that they can access wisdom. Wisdom-based relationship in families—amazing.

Then there’s Jack Miller telling us of his 12 years working with students and administrators in the frozen north of Canada as a laboratory in which the need and possibility of Holistic Education appeared. Phil Gang credits the inspiration and much of the material for his film Educating Eco-Sapiens, with creative revelations as he grieved the passing of his adored wife.

As for me, it’s been in my bones for the whole of my life. Circumstances eroded the buffers; expression instantly followed.  

This is a taste of some of the educators you will meet when listening to Meetings with Remarkable Educators.

And the secret? I guess my italics have given away it away. There is great joy in connecting to deeper meaning and purpose. That joy somehow includes a willingness to engage challenges as opportunities and the courage to fully live life.

Five Sad Sights

The Five Saddest Sights for an Aware Educator

  1. Overwhelmed teachers unable to develop relationships with each student

  2. Students ashamed of their grades and lying

  3. Teachers and parents colluding to spur student’s academic interest by rewards and punishments

  4. Fear and loathing as standardized tests loom

  5. Teacher initiative stymied

The Five Saddest Sights for an Aware Parent

  1. Physically threatened children

  2. Teachers heartfelt lament that they cannot organize curriculum to meet the child’s needs

  3. Students cliques on the playground

  4. Pedophiles ubiquitous presence in society

  5. Children craving junk (fast) food

The Five Saddest Sights for an Aware Independent School Administrator

  1. Parents clamoring motivated by fear

  2. Boredom during Board of Directors meeting

  3. Educator justifying non-relational behavior with student or parent

  4. The Fire Marshall frowning

  5. Students arriving unkempt, unfed, and unhappy

What Turns a Teacher into an Educator?

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Etymologically, a teacher is one who “points out”, who “says.” An educator is one who draws forth—a galactic difference. How does a person gain the escape velocity to leave the culturally sanctioned teacher and attain orbit as the freer Holistic Educator?

What happens? In most of the recordings for the coming podcasts I asked that question of the Holistic Educators. Their answers surprised me.

Several had been teachers for years in mainstream schools. They had tenure, decent incomes, pensions, and success in delivering the curriculum to students. In a word, they were set. And yet, they left that security, and incurring significant expense, went back to school to get advanced degrees in Holistic Education. They reengaged students as educators, often working in Independent Schools or Charter Schools. Why?

One educator said: “Something was missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then I read that Holistic Education includes the spiritual nature of the child. Whoa! Can that be done without organized religion? And then I knew that I had been trying to do exactly that my whole career but was stymied again and again by the rules, regs, and tests I had to live by. That was it. I was done. I went home and told my partner. He just smiled and we took out the budget to reorganize our finances.”

Another said: “Intense spiritual practice removed the blocks. I looked around. There are many possibilities for adults but few for children. And yet all agree that wounding in childhood leads to problems for adults. I went where the need is greatest.”

There are other perspectives; you can find one in just about every podcast. But I cannot resist one more:

“I don’t know how, why, or when. But now I don’t know how I could have seen it any other way.”

On Imagination, Inspiration, and Transcendence

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Richard Lewis is a brilliant educator who has spent more than 50 years awakening, deepening, and using experiential learning to nurture the child’s natural capacity of Imagination. Listen to his podcast, #25, on Meetings with Remarkable Educators. It’s guaranteed to stimulate your imagination as well.

Natural Learning Relationships, the holistic appreciation of child development championed by Josette and me, holds imagination in high regard. Imagination is operative and creative throughout life; yet it is its moment of dominance during 8 to 12 years of age. We call that stage FeelingBeing and in FeelingBeing Imagination, Inspiration, and Transcendence from a trinity of optimal well-being and spiritual growth for the child.

FeelingBeing is the least understood of all the life stages. Perhaps the least understood aspect of FeelingBeing is its capacity to be inspired, and once truly inspired, to feel transcendence. Imagination is the natural capacity to form new ideas, images, or actions not present to the sense. Inspiration refers to creativity and appreciation of the sacred. Transcendence means lying beyond the ordinary range of perception. FeelingBeing children, then, have the capacity feel beyond themselves, beyond typical material perceptions, and into the subtle connections that all life shares.

To illustrate, here is a story of the great, great philosopher, humanist, and spiritual sage Martin Buber. This story shows the feeling basis of his profound insight into the sacred nature of relationship. Those familiar with Optimal Parenting know that I used Buber’s I-Thou philosophy to describe the spiritual development of children.

When I was 11 years of age, spending the summer on my grandparent’s estate, I used, as often as I could do it unobserved, to steal into the stable and gently stroke the neck of my darling, a board dapple-grey horse. . . . What I experienced in touch with the animal was the Other, the immense otherness of the Other, which, however, did not remain strange like the otherness of the ox and the ram, but rather let me draw near and touch it. . . something that was not I, was certainly not akin to me . . . and yet it let me approach, confided itself to me , , , placed itself. . . in the relation of Thou and Thou with me . . . The horse, even when I had not begun by pouring oats for him into the manger, very gently raised his massive head . . . But one . . . it struck me about the stroking, what fun it gave me, and suddenly I became conscious of my hand. . . . It was no longer the same thing.

Growing our Imagination is Powerful

by: Josette Luvmour with excerpts from the Richard Lewis interview 11/27/18

The man who has no imagination, has no wings.

~ Muhammad Ali

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The innate ability to imagine influences everything we do, think, dream, and create. Richard Lewis has worked in public schools for over 50 years to bring forth the incredible natural ability of imagination in children and adults. Moreover, he attracts a multi-talented group of artists to help him in this important work. Working with children from the youngest (in kindergarten) to the oldest (even adults), he said,

…the imagination is a natural act of being. It's not a segment of thought, but it might be the very nature of thought itself. And if that's the case, then it opens up a whole level of thinking by the child to see that they have a sense of control, a sense of empathy with their imaginative life.

A hidden gem in Richard’s interview is when he talks about teacher workshops in which he uses the same process that he uses with children to re-activate their adult imaginations. In his interview, Richard showed us how adults develop and grow beyond their fears. He said,

In the same way that the child is afraid, the adult is often afraid.

…sometimes they [teachers] get so excited. … that we can't stop them. It's almost as if they've rediscovered their own marvelous sense of childhood and it’s a way of perceiving.

I always comment on that and I say, "Well in a way it's that the link to childhood doesn't end. It's a continuous process." So that even though you were perhaps put in a position where you were being asked a question that I asked of children, that your ability to visualize and to imagine is still there, and it's still as powerful as ever as it was in childhood.

In my life, I have held many positions from mother, to teacher, program director, teacher-trainer, professor, and board member (to name a few). The job was always more interesting and fulling the more I allowed myself freedom to express my imagination.  Engagements that invigorate my imagination these days include my hobbies of seamstress, garden-maven, and caring for my two creative and robust granddaughters. I’ll grant there are many mistakes but with imagination, turning mistakes into new creations is satisfying.

Our ability to be imaginative doesn’t have to diminish as we grow older. From the fields of academia, to business, to parenting or teaching, and to the arts, imagination is essential to the emergence of great ideas. Rediscovering our imagination can happen in our relationships with the children and grandchildren we play with, and that may help each new generation change the world. What about you guys? What do you do with your imagination?