Creating an Alive Environment for Growth
Categories: Excerpt Food & Nutrition Health & Healing Psychology & Personal Growth
Excerpt from Conscious Parenting by Gabriel Cousens, MD, and Leah Lynn
Tags: Children's Health Family & Parenting Gabriel Cousens Leah Lynn
Creating an Alive Environment
The little child unconsciously imitates everything that streams toward him from his environment, and the impressions thus received work back upon his body functioning: breath, digestion, circulation, and the body building process itself…. A harsh, discordant, loveless, or even skeptical environment produces a slight freezing and congestion, prelude to physical or moral weakness in later life; a warm, gentle, loving and harmonious environment releases forces and quickens courage for life in years to come.
— Francis Edmunds, in Rudolf Steiner’s
Gift of Education: The Waldorf Schools
You cannot teach a child any more than you can grow a plant.
— Swami Vivekananda, in his treatise on education
Just as the remarkable divine plan tucked within a tiny seed can be helped along with the right proportions of water, sunlight, soil pH, compost, etc., we can see that the luminous potential within each child is nourished with love, nutrient-dense food, opportunities for creative expression, and self-esteem-building parent-child interactions. And, as we all know yet often find challenging in practice, it is the environment surrounding the child that teaches the most, rather than what we say—no matter how loudly it is said.
A popular beginning-reader book for children called Frog and Toad Together, by Arnold Lobel, illustrates this point lightheartedly. It begins with the character Toad, who is planting his first garden. Shortly after the seeds are in the ground, Toad sees that the seedlings haven’t yet come up, so he instructs the seeds, “Start growing.” As this does not produce results, he tries raising his voice, commanding, “Now, seeds, start growing!”
Toad continues to yell at the seeds until his good friend Frog comes along and tells him, “You are shouting too much. These poor seeds are afraid to grow. Leave them alone for a few days, and let the sun shine on them. Soon your seeds will start to grow.” So Toad alters his approach. He sings songs, reads poetry, and plays music to his seeds to help them stop being afraid to grow. In the end, the seedlings do grow according to their own timing, and Toad is pleased with the fruits of his rigorous labors of love (a.k.a. learning how to get out of the way).
Historically, we can see this same story played out in the evolution of education. Maria Montessori (1870–1952), for example, the first female Italian medical doctor, who also became a childhood-development scientist, is credited with making a profound discovery that turned the schooling system of her time on its head. Dr. Montessori reported that this discovery, which created a worldwide stir, took her too by surprise. What Montessori accidentally discovered was the normal characteristics of childhood, in contrast to deviant characteristics that the adults of her day mistook to be the inherent nature of the child.
Under optimal environmental conditions designed to support the holistic development of the child into a healthy human being—children exhibit healthy evolutionary characteristics such as deep concentration, self-discipline, spontaneous joy, social cohesion, a sense of dignity, and a love for order, silence, and work. In Montessori’s day, describing schoolchildren with these attributes was completely unheard-of, and word spread quickly of the miraculous appearance of the “new child.”
By carefully observing children and thus seeing their healthy unfolding, Montessori sought to match the children’s environment to the specific and general needs of human development, and saw that deviations from healthy childhood such as restlessness, inability to concentrate, aggression, and depression, as well as physical symptoms, began to naturally disappear.
Today we are seeing an alarming number of physical, mental, and behavioral childhood disorders. The spirituality of the child cannot help but be affected by this. We are now witnessing the ramifications of a society whose primary goal is to be industrially productive. This, at its worst, creates a culture of death, a culture that puts money, wealth, power, and materialism at the center of one’s life rather than the Divine, spiritual evolution, and creative living as a full human being. If we are blessed with the discrimination to see this for what it is, we can choose to embrace an alternative experience, a culture of life and liberation strengthened by an alive environment for ourselves and our children.
What is an alive environment? It is a cultural atmosphere that supports the divine journey of human development—the unfoldment of our full potential for knowing and being the divine experience we are uniquely meant to be.
What does an alive environment look like? The specific form may vary from one family or education support team to another, because the culture of life and liberation is not limited to one specific religion, pedagogy, parenting approach, or educational method. At the same time, these tools or metaphors can lead us to our own aliveness; these are therefore likely to be a part of our supportive environment.
In this book we will be presenting Six Foundations for Spiritual Life (which are also foundations for an alive environment) and the Sevenfold Peace, all of which are universal to the human experience. We will present these foundations as optimal lifestyle support for the parent’s unfolding aliveness, and the rest of the book will be devoted to the support of the alive child by using these same universal foundations to provide alive environmental conditions for our time.
Excerpted from Conscious Parenting by Gabriel Cousens, MD, and Leah Lynn. © 2015, North Atlantic Books.