Parenting At The Future's Edge by David Spangler
In my most recent book, "Parent as Mystic, Mystic as Parent", I seek to draw parallels between the path of a spiritual seeker and that of a parent. One of the parallels lies in the relationship of each to the promise of the future.
For at least two millennia western thought has seen time as linear rather than circular, believing that the past does not just cycle around again and again but that it unfolds through the present into a future that has never been known before. Over the past two centuries especially, this idea has been wedded to the idea of evolution and progress so that time becomes a measure of growth and development as well. The western mind sees the universe as evolving, and scientific evidence in both biology and cosmology supports this perception. For example, complexity theory suggests there is a self-organizing tendency within matter that leads to ever increasing complexity and organization in the universe and thereby to the phenomenon of emergence whereby something new appears with characteristics and qualities that could not have been predicted simply by analyzing its constituent parts. It is these twin properties of emergence and self-organization that drive the unfoldment and development of the universe. To grow, to become, to develop are thereby seen as part of the essence of the universe, part of its ground of being.
To me, a mystic is someone who, among other things, seeks to attune to this fundamental essence of the universe and to serve it. This means in turn that a mystic is someone who takes a fostering attitude towards life, seeking out skillful means to assist the processes of emergence through which the potentials that are inherent in life may unfold. The mystic is the servant of that which seeks to unfold within each life, fulfilling the promise of the spirit from which that life emerges.
This approach requires a certain attitude that the future is unfolding itself around us and within us each moment in ways that are not wholly predictable or conditioned by what has gone before. With every encounter we come to the edge where past, present and future meet—the future’s edge—and what emerges from that meeting depends on our awareness, our mindfulness, our choices, our involvement, our actions—in short, on the quality and shape of our presence at that edge.
Such an attitude sees us each as perpetually and dynamically involved in the shaping of the future; we are participants in a co-creative dance at the future’s edge. Of course, we may dance there in a most superficial and unconscious way, allowing habit and inertia alone to influence the outcome of any particular encounter or moment of possibility. Or we may dance mindfully, in tune with the deeper rhythms of life and potential, love and wisdom, courage and vision, thereby drawing to ourselves a much greater creative force to form and transform the course of our tomorrows.
As mysticism may be seen as a path of attunement to the greatest of mindfulness and the deepest of alignments with the very source of life, creativity and potential, it follows that a mystic seeks to bring to the encounter with the future’s edge a full measure of awareness and attunement that can bless our passage from possibility to manifestation and open our future to a greater realization than mere habit or inertia can unfold.
Like the Jedi in George Lucas’s Star Wars saga, the mystic serves the Force of life and evolution within himself or herself and within the community of life of which he or she is a part. He or she undertakes to keep open the possibilities of the future.
It is this same attitude that defines much of what we do as parents as well. Of course, we are concerned specifically with our children’s futures, but in so doing we are also engaging with the wider possibilities of the future itself. We parent at the future’s edge all the time.
My paternal grandfather wanted my father to follow in his professional footsteps as an engineer and a scientist, and in a running battle between them, he put various kinds of pressure on my dad to bring this about, with partial success. As a result, when I was growing up, my father always made clear to me that I was my own person, and he never pressured me in any way to be like him. He wanted me to be free to forge my own future, to draw my own unique destiny from the future’s edge. To the best of my ability, I have continued this position with my own sons and daughters.
Yet it is in the nature of the past to wish to conserve and replicate itself, and it is in the nature of fathers and mothers to see in their children, if only occasionally, a continuation of their own visions, dreams and identities. My oldest son, John-Michael, has said for many years that he wishes to become a commercial airline pilot. Recently on his sixteenth birthday, on his own initiative he gave a small talk and created a ritual of thanksgiving for a small gathering of those people who have been most important in his life. It was a powerful and moving occasion for all of us, and he handled it with poise and grace. When it was over and the guests had left, he said to me, “Dad, I really enjoyed that! Who knows? Maybe I’ll become a spiritual teacher like you!”
I have to admit, my heart swelled in that moment, and if his soul’s intent is to follow a calling like my own, I will be very happy. But my heart will swell just as happily if he finds joy in being a pilot or in being a professional dancer or in become a conflict mediator, all fields for which he has talent, skills, and interest. Whatever gifts he and his brother and sisters have brought into life, they are different from my own and from their mother’s, and it will be the expression and fulfillment of that difference that will bless the future, not simply trying to replicate what we have already done.
Attuning to and supporting the deep, unfolding passions in our children’s lives—the underlying seeds of identity and purpose that gestate in the ground of their being—is an important and challenging part of a parent’s role. But doing it requires more than just being open to a child following a different career. Being at the future’s edge is a true dance that takes us back and forth between tradition and change, boundaries and permissiveness, structure and openness. The future does not divorce itself from the past; it continually fulfills it even as it extends and possibly transforms it. The future is not newness for its own sake but an enlarging and unfolding continuity.
So a parent must enable a child to discover a dynamic balance and interaction between being and becoming, between the familiar and the novel, between yesterday and tomorrow, between holding and letting go. Parenting at the future’s edge is not only being open to the child’s unique destiny but teaching the child how to dance at that edge as well.
This means giving the child tools for self-knowledge, tools for appreciating what is and how to honor and maintain it, tools of imagination and vision to see what could be, and tools of courage and skill to be able to respond to the call of that which is not yet but which could be or should be in spite of the inertia of the past.
And this, in turn, means honoring and expressing our own capabilities for transformation and growth. We teach by the example of our own dynamic relationship to an unfolding future, as well as by the skills, lessons, and tools we pass on.
We cannot escape the future. Both as people and as parents, we encounter it everyday. But we can, like mystics, welcome it as an expression of the growth of life in which we can participate and from which we can benefit. And as parents with our children we have a special opportunity to do so. The future’s edge is present for us all, but for parents it weaves through all we do and gives our tasks a special promise.
David Spangler is a philosopher, writer and educator whose work deals with the development and integration of spiritual awareness within the context of ordinary, everyday life. From 1970 to 1973, he served as a Co-Director of the Findhorn Foundation community in northern Scotland. His most recent books are “Everyday Miracles,” “A Pilgrim In Aquarius,” “The Call,” and “Parent as Mystic, Mystic as Parent.” David will teach the “Parenting At The Future’s Edge” workshop at Breitenbush Hot Springs, July 22-25. For info, call 1-503-854-3314. David lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, Julie, their four children, and a rabbit.