There are three core skill sets that I believe can help us be more effective in holding space for more compassionate, just, sustainable, and enjoyable ways of living and doing business.
Until I think of better names for them, I’m calling them: Internal Self-parenting Skills, Sustainable Living Skills, and Relationship Skills. In this article I summarise each of them.
1. Internal self-parenting skills
Whether or not you’re the parent of a child, if you’re old enough to be reading this article you’re probably old enough to have developed an internal “self-parenting” style.
The question is, are you conscious and deliberate about it, or is your self-parenting just a default echo of how you were parented as you grew up – possibly something you’re not aware of or even something you work hard to avoid thinking about?
The story you grew up in
As a child, you didn’t get to choose the story you grew up in.
Was it a story of scarcity or abundance? Acceptance or judgement? Control or partnership? Seeking and seeding alternatives, or just toeing the line? Presence and connectedness, or neglect, absence, or violence? (Neglect and violence can take many forms, not just physical.)
The choices weren’t up to you.
But now that you’re a grown up, you get to choose – partly because grown-ups get more choices than kids do, and also because adults can self-examine and self-determine* in ways that children cannot.
Have you chosen to exercise and develop your capacity for self-determination? Are you consciously present to your own growth as your own guide, gate-keeper, and most dedicated fan and supporter?
How do you go about engaging in your own ongoing growth and development?
There comes a point in life when you have to take ownership of your own care-taking – to consciously choose the kind of relationship you will have with yourself.
For me, self-parenting initially had a lot to do with examining my story—the story I grew up in—and questioning if it’s the kind of story I want to continue to live. Now, it has to do with letting go of that former story and cultivating a different, more empowering and enjoyable kind of story.
Cultivating a story of acceptance
If you grew up in the dominant world culture, you grew up in a story of control. There were other things in the story too, but control was a primary theme.
When we let go of the story of control, we make space for acceptance. Acceptance and forgiveness for our imperfect selves, for the mistakes our elders made, for the differences between us and others, for the messiness and mis-takes of life.
A story of acceptance, including self-acceptance, can show you that it wasn’t your fault, whatever went wrong when you were little.
A commitment to acceptance (as opposed to judgement and control) can also make space for solutions to whatever is wrong now to emerge more easily.
If you tend to it and live into it sincerely, the best you can, a story of acceptance makes space for complementary story lines of healing, wholeness, diversity, possibilities.
Acceptance—especially self-acceptance in whatever form that needs to take for you—is a crucial part of the answer to the question of how we are to grow ourselves up to be the adults that we need each other to be, that the earth needs us to be, now.
As within, so without
When you parent yourself deliberately and compassionately, with full acceptance of yourself and full awareness of the dynamics that have made you who you are as well as those that can support your continued growth, you equip yourself to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.
Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “as within, so without.” If you’re working or hoping for more justice and peace in the world around you while internally you’re still berating and controlling your own self, you’re sending an incongruent prayer out into the world.
The starting point is in here, not out there, and trying to sidestep the starting point is like trying to build a house without a foundation. It will never get off the ground. You’ll be wasting and misspending your personal power that could have been such a force for good in the world.
2. Sustainable living skills
I know I’m probably singing to the choir here, but I’ll sing it again anyway: we’ve lost the practical skills of self-reliance that sustained us before experts, institutes, corporations, supermarkets and superstores, Amazon, and Google took over providing for our needs.
When we stepped onto the linear production line of industrialised, institutionalised, and digitalised ways of providing and caring, we stepped out of the endlessly renewing cycle of life.
That’s why it’s so crucial that we re-learn and re-claim the skills we need to care for ourselves and each other in hands-on, low-tech, community-based, earth-based ways. (I have nothing against high tech. I love my laptop. But technology should serve us, not lead us.)
It’s not only that restoring these skills will restore sovereignty and dignity to individuals, families, and communities. It’s also that living in these ways will return us to our right place and role: nested within, and caring for, the cycle of life.
To provide for ourselves and each other in earth-based ways is also to care for Earth, and for all of life, in ways that renew life rather than destroying it.
3. Relationship skills
To be alive is to be in relationship with all other life forms.
To be truly alive in a way that we might call “right living,” is to be connected and centred within the relationships, communities and ecosystems you are part of, with the understanding that you are both supported by them, and also responsible for how your actions impact them.
To exist only as an independent individual is… well, it is to be alone. It is to be outside the cycle of life – which, when you examine it closely, turns out to be a lonely and relatively impotent place to be.
Where to start?
In “How Normal Keeps Us from Being Fully Human,” I said that ideally, a human being would:
- Have grown up in a family and community where parents feel supported and children feel valued and wanted.
- Feel a strong sense of identity, belonging, and confidence in your ability to contribute to what you belong to.
- Be surrounded by family and extended family/community you know you can rely on.
- Know where your food comes from and have a relationship to the land it grows on and the hands that tend it.
- Be in contact with nature daily, even hourly, not just on the weekends or on vacation.
Can you tick all those boxes? Nope, me neither.
Do you know very many other people who can tick all those boxes? Nope, me neither. In fact, I can’t think of one single person I know who can tick all those boxes.
So, lost as we are, where in the world shall we start in the quest to re-connect, to re-build and to nurture the web of relationship?
Answering that question is possibly my biggest personal challenge. Sometimes I wonder if the whole of the rest of my lifetime will be enough time for me to get a handle on this.
And I know I’m not alone. Loneliness is systemic in our culture.
The extent of what “relationship” has come to mean in the dominant world culture
When I looked for images to illustrate the concept of “relationship” for this article, guess what the search engines gave me?
Yes, that’s right: young couples kissing or embracing, valentine’s day hearts, and the odd picture of a parent with a baby or very young child. That’s the extent of what “relationship” has come to mean to us.
What a terrible tragedy that is. The tragedy is not that we value young love or that babies still have the power to melt our hearts, but that that is all we have left.
Here is a bigger picture:
All my relations,’ means all. … Not just those people who look like you. … Everyone. [It also means] everything that relies on air, water, sunlight … for sustenance and perpetuation. It’s recognition of the fact that we are all one body moving through time and space together.
That’s why I chose a picture of a diverse garden to represent community and relationship: because I couldn’t find an image of people engaged in diverse relationships.
What I wish
In closing, I was about to write that I wish I could offer a universal ten-step formula for addressing the loneliness that touches all of us at this time on Earth.
Then I realised that even if I had a formula, I wouldn’t offer it. Formulas (at least as far as I understand them) are linear and linearity is characteristic of the energies that have brought us where we are today.
On further reflection, what I wish is this:
May you find your own ways to step off the conveyor belt and back into the circle, the cycle of life. Whether you use self-parenting practices, practical hands-on skills and strategies, relationship, or all three of them, may you find a path back into right relationship with all of life.