We all get focused on those small important things in our lives. We become focused and attached to behaviours and things that we have decided are either important and that feel compelling, or that are in some way addictive.
We can get stuck in our thinking and beliefs, our attitudes and emotions. How easy it seems for us to start believing that the world that we see close-up around us is the only world there is. How much do we expand our view beyond the current crisis?
Why is this important to think about? What are the benefits of understanding that human beings have a tendency to do this? Why might it be good to actively seek to live lives within a bigger picture?
For children, it is important over time to learn how to scale up and down their perspective on any given present moment life experience, to see it against or within a bigger framework.
The ability to move the mind and awareness in this way develops over time and across the developmental stages. It is something that children will naturally develop from being in contact with the adults and other age groups around them who naturally do it.
When we are in Spain, we stand sometimes at the beach as a family watching the sunset across the Mediterranean Sea in the direction of Africa. Sometimes the moon is already creeping across the sky and stars are coming out. We have taken to looking up at the sky and in that moment allowing ourselves to consider the astonishingly large picture in which we, our little family, live. It’s kind of exhilarating, a little scary, overwhelmingly wondrous, and awe-inspiring all at the same time. Every time we do it, and it is quite often, we all feel a shift about our whole lives. Something comes into perspective for us.
In these ways the ability to shift perspective and to look at the larger scale develops and so connects us with our daily lives. It helps us understand challenges. It helps us see the difficult times are usually, when scaled into the bigger picture, transient and not necessarily overwhelming. This ability to look at our children’s lives as parents in a bigger picture allows us to think and plan in the present. The ability to look into possible alternative futures allows us to ask deeper and better questions of what is required in the present.
In our speeded up evolutionary journey into an ever more technological age, we are challenged to balance the timeless with the fast changing. Our children will have to do this in their adult lives. Being able to balance this against the reality of the natural world that moves in a very different way at a very different pace, is also important.
It took several hundreds of millions of years for evolution to come up with the dinosaurs which then hung around for many millions of years but it is taken humanity barely a hundred years to come up with astonishing industrial developments leading to the World Wide Web and we are now on the threshold of another astonishing change, when automation will reconfigure human societies in ways that we cannot yet quite anticipate. This incredible difference in scale invites us to realise that being able to expand our minds from focusing on the smaller details and elements of life and then being able to scale up and see the larger units within which the smaller elements exist, is a necessary tool of modern consciousness.
For us, the parents, it was when we started to really zoom in and out looking around us at how fast the world had changed and was changing that we realised so much of what was being offered educationally in fairly traditional schooling environments was struggling to adapt.
It is always the case that when systems stop serving individual parts of the system and start serving the system first, that they will struggle to adapt. In a way, large-scale educational systems, as we currently see them still in place in so-called modern societies are to be pitied. They weren’t built to be child-centred and highly adaptable and therefore they are not. They were not built for our world today. In reality technology and knowledge in our society has just simply outstripped so much of education and left it standing. Realising this was part of the awareness that we used to make the decision to try to ask the questions that are in this book about our children’s future. When we see our children’s lives in this bigger picture, we realise that what they probably will need and the way that they will need to navigate into the future would not be served by a traditional education. It is true to say there are many other reasons philosophically why we moved away from traditional education, but this was a large and compelling component.
Living in a bigger picture doesn’t just mean considering the changes in the societies and cultures within which we live and are most familiar with. It also means looking across the widest landscape of human experience, seeing that there are a wide variety of cultural contexts, lifestyle choices, philosophical points of view, religious and spiritual practices that make up a vast patchwork of human lives. The same set of mental muscles that require us to wonder at the universe also serve us to wonder at the vastness of human history, consciousness, ingenuity, idiocy, creativity, ability to adapt and astonishing resilience in the face of both natural and manmade calamities.
Finally, though the bigger picture is where much of the learning is. If we see the bigger picture, then immediately more potential life experience and information becomes possible to us. Coupled with curiosity and the willingness to embrace everything the world and our children’s lives can open up in ways that will surprise and delight them and us.
What does holding the bigger picture mean for Lehla? Like Anthony, it for me, is the moment when I look up at the sky and I realise how small I am. When I realise that I am standing on a ball that is floating in space. It is also that moment, when I hear that a friend has died and suddenly the essence of life comes flooding back to me. The huge realisation, that, this, as we know it, is it. That life is precious. It is the moment when a child is born and I think, how on earth did you get here? It is the part of me that zooms out and remembers the exquisite gift that life is. I struggle to stay in the bigger picture all the time and perhaps if I stayed in that zone, it would be hard to function, I would become a little hard to connect to, as I would be zoning out into the universe all the time! I do remember to be hugely grateful and to stay open and curious. Admittedly I have to do the mundane things of life, the bill paying, the shopping, the trying to make ends meet, the cleaning etc. But when I zoom out, it focuses me up so clearly as to why we are doing what we are doing. I can almost hear time whizzing by and that time, as I have said a lot throughout this book can never come back. I am human, (I think?) and full of contradictory emotions, things irritate me, I get grumpy, but I try my very best to remember to just live outside of my own existence if that makes sense. To be grateful for all that I have around me and to be aware that this is an important thing for the kids to remember, that life is a huge tapestry of curious choice, opportunities and dreams that can be fulfilled. This is not to say that I spend my whole day with my head in the clouds, but just to say that I want to relish this limited time that I have on earth.
I have seen friends die young, mothers with cancer that have gone before their time. I had a conversation with one friend who realized only late in life how lovely she actually was. How great a person she was and how much love she had for herself and for others. In her moment of being close to death, she was full of love and life and was surely living in the bigger picture. She had limited time to be with her daughter, whilst being in the bigger picture it conversely zoomed her into the present moment. She bought soaps, and creams and essentially girly stuff and she maxed out her time with her child. Time was all she had left. This was a huge lesson to me, as I have come to realise that time is all we have and it goes so fast and is so very precious. So when I find myself getting frustrated, or irritable or anxious that the kids don’t know something or they are winding each other up, I step back and realise that it will all unfold as it should and I have faith that they will learn exactly what they need to learn. Essentially, I step back, zoom out and whatever situation we find ourselves in I do my best to be as grateful as I can and to value my time here on earth and to live in the bigger picture.
POWERFUL QUESTIONS FOR LIVING IN THE BIGGER PICTURE
Exercise for the Bigger Picture
What you will need.
A clear table
Get up to around 100 shapes together, can be a bag of dry pasta pieces, small stones, a bag of dried beans, Chickpeas, etc.
What to do
Make a circle on the table with let’s say the pieces of pasta. This represents where you live, your house.
Choose other shapes, i.e., chickpeas mark them in a way to represent you. This could be a special colour or you could put a sticker on the chickpea. Put yourselves as parents, or as a parent inside.
Get your children to choose their chickpeas/pasta, mark them to make them their own and put them around you, always inside this circle. If you want to do this with bits of paper with drawings on you can.
Make a bigger circle around your first circle with whatever you have pasta etc. This represents the country you are living in.
Within this circle you can put places, people you know, places you like to go to etc. Bearing in mind this is not a geography lesson. It is an exercise about perspectives.
Then put yet another circle on the table around the second circle. This one marks the edge of the earth, our planet. Again put whatever you fancy and can think of in the space between the outside edge of the country circle and the planet circle: Maybe countries, seas, oceans, and continents. Use the paper to represent them. If you have friends that are important to you that live in these other countries get a stone, chickpea or piece of paper and mark it and place them in the circle too.
Last but not least what is outside our planet? Place whatever seems to be coming up for your family. Perhaps it is the moon, the sun, and the planets?
Now, you cannot get the scale right. But we are not trying to make this an exercise in the maths of scale. The value of this exercise is in getting our minds to develop the relative relationships in a physical way.
Keep this fun. Take pauses. Revisit it. If you can leave it on the table you can take a look at it the next day. Take pictures of it and put them on the wall as structures to help you all remember the idea of the bigger picture.
Feel free to adapt and change this exercise as it strikes you as necessary.
If you want to do the whole exercise as an image with pen and paper you can, whatever works for you!
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