Boy, oh boy, have we been workin’ it lately! I tell you, Natalie and I are on fire… We’ve been wheeling and dealing with coalition builders and program directors and business advisors and concerned teachers and parents from all over, and even some new stores for Feeleez as well. We are currently hosting two ecourses (and loving every bit of the community interaction going on over there); last week, we went to the annual Montana convention of teachers, MEA/MFT, in Belgrade, Montana (and with Xi and Echo who charmed everyone to no end); we also visited my aunt and uncle, twin cousins, and their kids, in Bozeman; and Sunday, we gave our first new live workshop — Building an Emotionally Safe Household. Wooo!
Laid out in run-on sentence form like that, it seems like maybe way too much is going on, but every bit of it has been rich and energetic and, yes, even very fun. Even though we had to get Xi and Echo up — or, truthfully, get me up — at 5:40 and 6:00 AM on the two consecutive days we worked our little Feeleez booth at the teacher’s conference, we were still having fun, still enjoying ourselves. Even when I got totally frustrated because I misplaced the gas card and my ID at one point and snapped at Echo when she asked me what was going on — “I’m just really frustrated right now and I don’t want to have answer your questions!”… I recovered after a moment and came back around to the subject in order to “reconnect and replay”, and Echo let me know calmly and gently that if I wanted to keep working on my parenting, then I could work on not getting louder if I get frustrated about something. So even that turned out in a way that felt like it was just right for us.
You know you’re on a right path when even the “wrong” turns lead where you want to go.
We feel like the last two days are the only time we’ve had to breathe since the end of Summer. But the beautiful dance has been nothing but amazing and exciting and inspiring. And we’re keeping on keeping on as I buckle down this next week with rehearsals for a production of Spamalot I am part of at the Missoula Community Theatre, and Natalie and Echo trundle off to Boulder, Colorado to visit our dear friends and their new baby! But while I have a minute, I wanted to check in with you about what we’ve been and are up to (see above 😉 ), and share with you some of the latest tools we’ve created (featuring Natalie’s yummy graphic work!) for the new set of workshops we’re doing (the Building an Emotionally Safe Home/Classroom series). So without further adieu… adieu…
Meet the new Feeleez Emo-Charts!
First, we have “Basic Emotional Anatomy”. As you can see (I think it gets bigger if you click on it… if not, let me know), we’ve got a basic cube of existential garden plot here. At the bottom, the deep core earth of all of us, we are good people. This is an important foundation, because, assuming that our children (and other humans with whom we interact) are all basically good people and just need to be nurtured toward the ideal, commands a very different perspective and course of action(s) in raising our children, than, say, assuming that we are all devilish heathens in need of controlling and taming in order to be fit for society at all — if you get my meaning… I think it serves us all better to assume the best about our children, and wait to see them rise to that occasion. Above that bedrock foundation we have organic matter and nutrients for the garden. These are needs that have to be met, one way or another for the garden to survive. When these needs are met then good feelings result, and when they go unmet then harder feelings show up. In the layer of feelings, the layer from which our actions draw their energy and emerge, we can use empathy to soothe distress and then discover what underlying needs require addressing. If needs continue to go unaddressed, then the feelings that are a result give rise to lots of actions we’d rather weed out of our experience; and the actions we want to grow, get choked out because they aren’t fed on the same feelings. Culturally, the current parenting mythology teaches us to deal only with that top layer. All we see is weeds and we keep mowing them down and they keep cropping back up and we keep thinking, “This whole plot is weedy, maybe this garden is no good!”. If we would just start from the good solid ground up, and met the needs of our children — not just the food and shelter parts either! — and assist them with their feelings as often as they need it, then, man, everything that comes out of the garden is glorious!
Next, we have, “Empathy and the Emotional Spectrum”! This one just shows a basic list of feelings from heavier-vibration emotions at the bottom to lighter-vibration emotions at the top. The whole point of this chart is really to make clear that when our kids (and other humans with whom we interact) are in the red zone — it’s generally a full stop on co-operation, executive functioning, and compassionate choices. Children at this end of the spectrum need our help to move up smoothly into a zone where they can get back to hearing us, thinking more clearly, and being able to chose more wisely. The best way for us to do that is, you guessed it, empathetic connection.
The last chart we’ve made is this lovely “Untitled” Brain Tree. The three basic levels of the brain are pointed out. Beginning from the bottom left, we have the Reflexive System, this is our brain stem, sometimes called the “Reptilian Brain” because we share it with all other vertebrates on the planet — it governs all of our survival mechanisms and instincts. Then there is the Social System, this is the limbic system of the brain, sometimes called the “Mammalian Brain” again because of all the others with whom we share its same basic circuitry — it governs our emotions, our social connection, and our brain chemistry. The Reflective System is the entire neo-cortex, and we share it with a number of higher mammals, though the percentage of our frontal cortex (you guess where it is) is much higher than anyone else on the animal block — this area is where all of our higher thinking takes place. It’s in that front part of the neo-cortex where we develop empathy, compassionate action, creative problem-solving, and perhaps most notably for the moment, the ability to calm the limbic system during duress. As you can see from the tree overlay, there is a certain hierarchy of nurturing in the brain. In order for anything to happen, for even life to occur, we have to firmly root the tree in a good solid earth of welcoming, connection, and physical nurturance. We have to offer a certain level of survival security or the tree won’t even begin life, let alone thrive. When we do feed those roots, primarily through excellent attachment, then a good strong trunk develops, and the tree grows happily, flourishing richly into a broad neo-cortex canopy. When there is emotional upset or stress, especially in children (but also in many other humans with whom we interact…) — what I like to call “The Emotional Winter of their Discontent” — then the upper region of the tree, all those branches in the neo-cortex, are cut off. That means our kids can’t get to “good choices”, or “empathy”, or even “the limbic chill-pill” while there is emotional upset happening. All of the tree’s energy is drawn into the trunk for the emotional process. If we jump in with our kids and offer emotional assistance — that’d be empathy, again — then we can help their brains get back to sending energy up to the branches, where our kids can calm down and think clearly again. If we help them with emotional winters, and droughts, and heat-waves, regularly enough, then we not only help them get back to the branches of the Reflective System in the moment, we also help train their brains to grow fully-developed, sturdy branches that can withstand future hard weather on their own — which is why our children’s brains have us working as gardeners here in the first place, right?! The chart lists several ways to nurture the Social System (the emotional trunk) when it’s in duress — some are obviously just for babies, but as they age, it’s empathy to the rescue once again. No surprise, I guess, coming from us…
So, as you can plainly see, it hasn’t been all play here the last little while, we’ve been getting some serious good work done, wheeling and dealing and making new sparkling charts — but we’ve been having a lot of fun, too!
By the way, we’ll have these new charts available for anyone who wants ’em a.s.a.p..