As I write about deepening my practice of Montessori philosophy, this blog often winds up focusing on presence, attention, and mindfulness — and that’s where I land on Earth Day, too.
How do we parent in these times? How do we show up for our children? How do we show up for the earth?
We are, of course, of this Earth and in relationship with the community of natural things, whether we know it, acknowledge it, feel it — or not.
The reality of the current and ongoing ecological crisis is dire. As adults, that’s something we need to be present with, and take immediate action on. It’s our role to make choices about how we’re going to participate in capitalism, how we’re going to live, how we’re going to vote, how we’re going to show up in governmental process and how we’re going to invest in localized community.
As adults, it’s our role to be present with how all of this affects us, to notice how winters and summers are different than they used to be, to name our grief, to imagine abundant futures and ways of getting there.
For young children, who don’t yet have the connecting experience of a childhood’s worth of winters and summers and who don’t have the power to control outcomes, the facts of climate change can be overwhelming, frightening, and ultimately, lead to disconnection in order to numb the pain of loss. As one of the great teachers of our time, Joanna Macy, says “The refusal to feel takes a heavy toll…The energy expended in pushing down despair is diverted from more creative uses, depleting the resilience and imagination needed for fresh visions and strategies.”
Young childhood is the time to be present with knowledge of oneself as part of the family of wild things, connecting to the tiny, enormous beauty of this earth. It’s also a time when adults can mindfully model ways of being present in right and healthy relationship (with other people, species, money) — or not.
Grief is an inevitable part of presence in this time. As children mature into capacity to carry the knowledge of what’s happening on the planet right now, it won’t be easy or light or without pain. But ideally, it will come at a time of life when the young adult feels deeply connected to the earth, at a time when they are feeling powerful in their ability to contribute and capable of collaborating with others to develop solutions (in Montessori philosophy, this is likely to be the third plane of development, age 12 to 18 – maybe you’ve heard of Greta Thunberg?).
With younger children, we don’t pretend to live in a perfect world. We talk about aloud about consumption and weigh purchasing choices aloud. We talk about having enough. We talk about upholding Indigenous sovereignty and land-based practices. We talk in terms of “caring for the earth.”
But mostly, it’s not about what we say. Children, with their brilliantly absorbent minds, are picking up our habits, our purchasing choices, our core beliefs and motivations all the time. They see how we care for ourselves, and for others, how we navigate conflict. They are learning what it means to be an adult, to be a human, to be present, through watching us.
Dr. Montessori observed of young children: “The things she sees are not just remembered, they form part of her soul.”
My husband David has a practice of picking up cans anytime he goes for a walk, something he always saw his Dad do. Once he even did it as a Father’s Day gift; picking up cans along an old road in Toronto, where his dad had picked mushrooms during his own childhood. It’s a way of saying “I noticed this was out of place, did not belong, was not in right relationship. I can help to move this to a better place.” It’s a small thing, but not too small to be worth doing.
When I bring my presence to the natural world — when I go outside, when I walk to do errands, when I track the birds at the feeder or visit my sit spot or sing around a campfire with friends — my body, mind, and spirit are reminded of my place in the family of wild things. And I model for my children that falling in love with this world is a gift, come what may.
“The biggest gift you can give is to be absolutely present, and when you’re worrying about whether you’re hopeful or hopeless or pessimistic or optimistic, who cares? The main thing is that you’re showing up, that you’re here and that you’re finding ever more capacity to love this world because it will not be healed without that. That is what is going to unleash our intelligence and our ingenuity and our solidarity for the healing of our world.” – Joanna Macy
How do we parent in these times? With curiousity. With hope. With presence.
Resources for navigating climate grief with presence:
Coming Back to Life: The Work that Reconnects – Joanna Macy
Emergent Strategy – adrienne maree brown
The Right to be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier
These Wilds Beyond our Fences: Letters to My Daughter on Humanity’s Search for Home – Bayo Akomolafe
Dancing on our Turtle’s Back – Leanne Simpson
How to Survive the End of the World
This is by no means comprehensive, so send me your recommendations, and I’ll add them to this list!