A "new 3 Rs" for our time

P1060587 (1)

My grandfather traveled to his school for many miles through the snow-covered prairie of a “new” continent.  To a one-room schoolhouse overseen by a strict and perennially unsatisfied teacher wielding a stick with which to correct her students if they made a mistake…. In his time the “3 Rs” were paramount: Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic.  And that was that, though the traumas that he endured live on through our bloodline, within the settler culture of which that line of my family played some part, and, more widely, in all parts of the world where this (Prussian) system of education has been put in place.  My grandfather became an engineer and was as skilled in building a house as he was unskilled at relating with his children…

Four generations later on the side of the ocean from which my immigrant ancestors came, my son rides a yellow schoolbus the 3 kilometres to our neighbouring village to a school with many classrooms overseen with loving strictness by a number of teachers, administrators and director who, in turn, is overseen by the governments of both Hungary and Romania (since the school is ethnic Hungarian and situated in Transylvania - what was Hungary and now for 100 years belongs to Romania).  (And yes, there is tension in this disputed region that lives on in both cultures…) And also here, they are still applying what appears to me to be a worn-out and irrelevant “3Rs” curriculum, which is hardly a remedy for these children or the times that they are born into.  And, again, in my opinion, little else is offered them to ease the stress, brokenness and traumas on many levels that these children are inheriting both in their bodies through family bloodlines and through their cultures.  (And yes, traumas and habits of dealing with them are known to be inherited and passed through generation after generation after generation - it is called epigenetics…).

I am not going to argue that we need to throw away the “old 3Rs.”  I am not certain that there is anything inherently wrong with them (though I have received many hints that reducing the living world to the symbolism of written language on a page and to numeric symbols may have ill effects on our way of thinking, speaking and doing) but that is not my focus right now.  What I will say is that I feel quite certain that these particular 3Rs are not enough.  They represent, at best, only half of the equation in just the way that the way that the left hemisphere of our brains represents only…half.

Some of us, including those working within Provision Association, are wanting to (re)introduce an additional three “Rs” that may begin to help us rebalance our selves and our human systems.  That may help to rebalance our own brain functioning by welcoming the wisdom that our right hemispheres are born to carry.  Wisdom traditions the world over seem to agree on one thing; that the keys to all that is wonderful are within us - closer than close.  And that is exactly where our right hemisphere, and, even more importantly, the networks that keep the two hemispheres working well together and connected are nestled - deep within our nature and our qualities of being nurtured, at the very essence of our experience of selfhood.  But how do we get there?  How do we access this great treasure?  An additional 3 “Rs” may be instrumental in helping these qualities to bloom in us, in our families, in our communities, our cultures and in our world.  They may be represented in the following “equation:”

Restorative + Regenerative = Resilient

It seems clear to me that these are the three Rs that are calling us to them now - if we want to stay alive.  They represent possibilities that may point us toward remediating the exponential traumas of our time.  They are all slightly different and yet they point towards something that has been and continues to be sorely missing in our left hemispheres (the part that can take things apart to look at them separately) and that something is Relationality: the ability to feel the whole forest and not just to see the trees …

And I will begin at the “end.”  Because that is something that the right hemisphere of our skull-brains would be comfortable with since it is timeless!  We mammals carry a right hemisphere as well as a left one.  However, it seems that our cultures keep teaching us to favour the skills of one (the left) over the other…. The skills of the right hemisphere may be less visible and less easy to quantify or symbolize and this keeps us disconnected from them, given that our systems are set up to favour only what is understood by the left hemisphere.…  Yet it is in beginning to reconnect with the relationally of all things that will lead us to greater Resilience.

If Resilience were purple then I imagine that flexibility and choice would be red and blue.  To have resilience, there will need to be both flexibility and choice.  Let me offer a real-life example from my own life situation.   In the last half year there has been almost no rain in the place where I live.  And in the last 2 months the company which has taken over and privatised the water coming toward our village from the mountains has been turning the water off in our village every evening between 17:30 and 20:00 until the following morning between 7:00 and sometimes as late as 9:00.  For months it has been this way.  And this presents a challenge.  I use flexibility in my thinking to create a new system in which I collect the water that I think we will need sometime before the water may go off in the evening.  And I also have some choice about this: we also have a well, so I know that if I forget to collect water from the faucet, then I will have another option of where to get water that may be used for washing.  So my flexibility lies in the fact that I am willing to change my habit to accommodate this water scarcity, and my choice lies in the fact that there will be other strategies that I can use to find water.  And in my situation this is not so terribly difficult as getting clean drinking water has become for MANY if not most of the beings living on Earth right now.   

In terms of our relations with one another, resilience means having the flexibility to allow for others’ perspectives.  It also means allowing space to listen deeply.  It means a willingness to admit the possibility of being shifted or transformed by what someone else is saying or doing.  It means having more than one strategy to meet needs.  In this particular case, it could mean the rich countries listening to the concerns of the majority countries and helping to fix the problem of water scarcity before it is a reality for everyone.

And this brings me to another “new R” for our time: Regenerative.

We need systems that are regenerative.  What does this mean?  To me it means that it can keep going without accumulation nor depletion.  That there is a steady state that is powerfully dynamic.  Like animals who reproduce and die off keeping their populations in harmony with their environment.  Like our immune systems which are, when healthy, alerted for pathogens and increase their activity when needed and then fall back to baseline activity when the danger has passed.  

Regenerative is all about balance, but not at all a balance that is static; whatever is regenerative will be more like our emotions and the clouds in the sky, ever shifting, always flowing.  There are inputs and there are outputs and those are in balance so that the “wheel” keeps turning…Rivers that are allowed to flow are self-maintaining systems that continue to produce clean water.  What happens upstream affects what happens downstream AND what happens downstream affects what occurs upstream.  Forests are also a system that host enormous amounts of life and death; as old trees die they literally feed the new generation.  This is regenerative; it can go on forever if allowed to do so.  And it is life-enriching.

On the other hand, when, as we build a human system that takes clean drinking water and use this precious resource and inoculate it with toxic material; when we defacate in it or otherwise invest it with life-destroying chemicals such as antibiotics or other substances that accumulate over time, we are contributing to something that is not life-enriching but life-alienating.  In fact, we are compromising all of life; the life of our waters, our soils and ultimately of our own bodies.  Therefore, the proper use of compost toilets is one example of regenerative culture: that we take a “waste” product and create conditions for it to be FOOD for someone else.  The fungi, bacterias and, ultimately, the worms LOVE to eat their way through the carbon sources and raw materials we feed them!  And they, in turn, create more soil that we can feed to the trees in our orchard who in turn feed us…. This is a system that can keep going forever if we stay connected to it, in “communication” with it, when we do what is needed to keep it going.

Regenerative communication has a lot to do with gratitude and appreciation.  But not only that - it has to do with all layers of feedback and also being willing to enter with care into areas of conflict which can be seen as blockages in the flow of relationship.  And, more specifically, it has to do with the way that we treat conflicts.  Do we do it in a way that makes somebody or something “bad” or “wrong?” Are we going to reject, delete or deplete them from our systems (as the US continues to try to do with its prison culture)?  Or do we look deeply into the situation and all that is in it to find feelings, needs, empathic understanding, the layers of past trauma.  Do we bring a powerful love also to the table and find a way to feed trust?

And this brings us to our 3rd of 3 "Rs” for a new culture:

Restoration.  We need new systems for everything we humans are doing and not doing…  Restorative Agriculture, Restorative Justice, Restorative Education, Restorative … everything.  We need to be healed of these traumas that we are carrying and bring trust back into our connections - into ALL our relationships.  We need to heal the earth: to stop ripping her apart and burying toxins in her body, to stop attacking her lungs, the forests, to stop blocking her veins, the waters.  We need to fix the systems that are allowing (even encouraging!) this to happen.  Or, at the very least, to stop the accumulation of more harm, pain, hatred, violence, fear of scarcity, and of separation.  And we need to add bountiful doses of care, the ability to hold many perspectives and great respect for all through undoing all kinds of systems of oppression.  

And this is where the tricky part comes: because everyone has a different strategy that they feel is important for this.  And so, perhaps, the most important ingredient that goes into restoration is autonomy - that every heart can decide what to do -

With one caveat:

That we do no harm.

As long as you can show that it is not hurting anyone else, then please, go ahead.  Let you heart sing.  And if every option looks painful then let us enter into dialogue and look at all perspectives.  And let us do what is needed to heal.  Let us heal ourselves while we heals all that is around us.  

This is what I wish children could not only learn about in school, but also practice.  Because we all need a lot of practice to learn to do this.  We are only now at the point of realising that we may want to need to do this, and we are still not very adept at it…  Why should we be?  We have learned how to cut ourselves off from ourselves, beginning with half of our very own brains!  Not to even mention our hearts, whose ability to lead the whole tri-partitite brain complex (which includes skull-brain, gut-brain and heart-brain) is only beginning to come into scientific focus, though, once again, wisdom traditions the world over have known it for millenia…

And we are still, in my opinion, teaching children to cut themselves off from themselves when we are not teaching emotional intelligence and when we are unable to be with children’s emotional energies which would help them also be with themselves as-they-are.  We are still using forms of education that are designed to separate ourselves and our children from the more-than-human world and other life forms: the life in our bodies, the life in the relational half of our brains and the life in our hearts…. I wish that empathy were a central teaching in all schools.  I would like to think that if we added a "new 3 R" curriculum that we would create a global population, or even, a global community, that is has more ability to know what our needs are, to recognise these needs, and to find multiple strategies to meet them….  If we did this, that we would all have more probability to find strategies and also to meet around the needs of "others.  Ultimately, with all of these pieces in place, we would be able to respond more resiliently as a whole.   

This is the movement in which Provision wants to play a part, that we may become humans with many choiceful ways of being and not just humans doing and reacting without as deep and respectful a consideration as possible... These are the relational lessons embedded within many wisdom traditions as well as in our chosen fields of study: nonviolence, NVC consciousnessagroecology, and permaculture.  These are the lessons that we are practicing and doing our utmost, with deep humility, to integrate these last 10 years in Romania, as we have walked the path of stewardship of our bodies, our relationships, and all that lives upon and in the lands and places of which we are a part. 

- Robyn M. Bors Veraart

P1060587 (1) 2