Thursday, November 28, 2019
The essence of being human is the activity of connecting - connecting on so many levels. In the weeks before the Winter Solstice, we can take the opportunity to reflect on how we are connected to all that is around us. This interconnectedness is so wide and deep - we rarely take the time to contemplate the web of which we are a part. At this time of year, I invite you to take stock of our relationship to the Earth and the kingdoms of nature in various ways - Intellectually, for the adults, and metaphorically/symbolically for the young children.
In our time, it is clear that in general, people are only dimly aware of the web of life, and we can recognize this in the diminishing biodiversity of our planet that is related to the activities of humans, a major factor in the Earth’s changing climate. I want to inspire people to find creative approaches in which the interweaving of the kingdoms of nature can be highlighted during these weeks leading up to the Garden of Light and Solstice in ways that the children can best digest them.
One way is to create a conscious path of four weeks leading to the Garden of Light, four weeks of connecting to the 4 elements. In the first week, we can take stock of the element of Earth. We can honor that we are made of the same substance as all life on earth, and can learn to nurture and respect our planet and the matter out of which the physical body is formed. On early childhood nature tables, we can have stoners and crystals, as well as representations of the plants and animals that live on earth, especially representations of endangered species - but without drawing the intellect of the young child to those. Simply place a wooden carved rhino or elephant or orangutan on the nature table among the stones and crystals and plants you have chosen. There is no need for explaining or describing. As adults, we can add to this, in our own silent thinking, thoughts of care and sadness for the animals who have been driven from their indigenous homes because of the perceived needs of human beings, and thoughts of gratitude and love for the animals that we eat (if we are not vegan) and recognize that in most cases these farmed animals are not treated with love, care and respect.
In the second week, we can contemplate the element of water. Water is life for human beings, and for all life forms! We can add a bowl of water that has special meaning for us to our nature tables. Maybe it is water from Mt. Shasta, from the Ganga river, or from a special stream or spring we are familiar with. The adults can remember the great oceans of our planet out of which animal life sprang millions of years ago. We can be mindful of the cleansing nature of water - from our own cleansing tears, to the rains that cleanse the lands clean by washing trash into our streams and rivers and eventually out to the oceans. We can think about the creatures of the sea, from the tiniest plankton to the massive whales, whale sharks and rays. We can stop to consider the effects of human activity on the entire food chain of the oceans, and even the effects on the waters of the oceans themselves. We can also consider that water can be representative of life energy (or qi or prana or etheric). There is reality of flowing liquid in our body - the blood and lymph, and even the most prominent ingredient of our cells - water. Humans are made up of more water than any other substance.
For the third week, we can consider our relationship with air. Air is what we breathe and joins us to the carbon/oxygen cycle with all plant life. Through the breathing process of humans and other mammals, we join with all plant life in an exchange that to each os life giving. As mammals, we utilize the oxygen present in air that is ‘exhaled’ by plants, and we in turn off carbon, a waste product for us, as an important nutrient for plant life. Additionally, there are many types of creatures that use the air as their medium of travel, from the tiniest of insects to the great birds of our world. Can we think of all those creatures of the air who are responsible for pollination and without which we would have a lack of fruits and other edible plant materials. Air is the element of relating. We must begin to recognize that all species of life on earth are dependent on each other, and find ways to share that picture in approaches that suit the developmental capacities of the children. We breathe our environment in and out. We breathe in ideas, experiences and each other. It is the realm of our sentience and of our thinking. It is the realm of that part of the human being so connected to the cosmos, the astral world - the human soul - where both thinking and feeling reside.
And for the last week, we can consider the nature of fire. We can think of the element of fire as the realm within which we share warmth and love and joy. Fire is energy. Fire lives in the core of each human being, it is the fire of the human spirit. And fire is connected to the will. Or perhaps it is even will itself! The fire in our will is initiative and the energy to do and to complete projects. The energy to take hold of the present, to take hold of oneself and make the changes that one decides are necessary. Fire is the energy for transformation of which we are in need -individually, and collectively as we face the challenges of our world. Fire is one form of light. Light carries the wisdom of the universe, if only we can begin to listen. Plants transform the light they receive into a substance needed for life - chlorophyll. Humans can transform light into vitamin D. On another level, humans can receive the light of the cosmos, the wisdom of the stars, and transform it into selfless deeds done out of love, the love that is for all that is around us. Our own inner light allows us to reflect on our deepest and truest self, and to begin to redeem our relationships with others, to redeem the deeds we have done and words we have spoken that we regret, and to offer and ask for true forgiveness.
From another angle, we can consider the warmth, the fire, of the sun. It warms the earth, warming the water that has settled onto the earth. This warming process creates evaporation - water traveling through the air. When there is sufficient mass of water, it falls to the earth as rain or snow. We can thereby witness in our imagination another beautiful cycle of life on this planet as the four elements interact in support of life. How have we as human beings interfered and even damaged this process of the water cycle?
We can also see a direct interaction of mammals and plants. Plants take in carbon and breathe out oxygen. Humans and all mammals take in the oxygen and exhale carbon. One kingdom’s waste is another kingdom’s gold!
As adults, this can be a time to take stock of our relationship with the Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Climate, Biodiversity and the Web of Life, and to resolve to do better in the coming year. And as adults, we can plant and nurture imaginative seeds that can flourish as the young children grow and become the adults of the future who will help bring the world back into balance. If we truly understand what we as early childhood educators are doing, we can recognize the immense responsibility we bear.
For those of you engaged with groups of young children, these weeks of thoughtful imagining can culminate in the ritual experience of the Garden of Light (ideally as close to December 21 as possible) that is enhanced by this preparatory work. And your Garden of Light can be a beacon of inclusive welcoming for all to participate in the process of connecting when we cognize the underlying elemental aspects of our existence, and attach it to the tangible experience of the Solstice. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, and soon after we notice the annual return of the light. The Light.
These experiences are universal, it is the same for all human beings regardless of their religious leanings and traditions. This is what brings us together.
May you be open to receiving the light and transform it into deeds of love!