Touch the Future is more an evolution of insights than events. Perhaps it is a single insight, with different facets unfolding at different times.
The way adults Touch the Future exploded into view with the homebirth of my second son, John-Michael. Suddenly he was there, looking up. Waves of deep affection filled the room. I could see, reflected in this first glance, that his life would be deeply influenced by my strengths and by my limitations. He was watching, learning. Our relationship, more precisely, my relationship to everything, including him, would be his teaching. The focus suddenly shifted from controlling or shaping his behavior to uplifting my own. The challenge was to become or model the best I could be rather than reward or punish his behavior. I would help open and develop his unique gifts and he mine. Embarking on this most remarkable journey, I knew that trust, respect and deep affection would be our guide. That was June of 1986.
In the East they speak of a state of mind or relationship, which is awake, attentive, fully present, where complete attention is given to “what is”. In this state, perception “acts,” deeply, authentically and with great intelligence. Athletes call this state of undivided attention “the zone.” In the zone, our response is not clouded by opinions, judgments or self-defense. For my wife, childbirth was a zone or flow experience. Now, John-Michael and I shared this state. Clearly this new human being would touch my life as much as I his. Could this wakefulness, with its deep trust and respect, become the center of our relationship? Could anything be more important than the sanctity of this first and most important relationship? Years later he is still watching, still learning.
In the late 70’s, while filming a documentary on the nature of intelligence, I happened to meet David Bohm, a protégé of Einstein. I didn’t know it then, but David was one of our most visionary theoretical physicists. Quantum physics reveals that we, and the physical universe, are varying patterns or fields of energy. Bohm believed this energy was in someway conscious and intelligent. Fields are not localized like tables and chairs. The information or “meaning” implicit in these fields is everywhere, always.
Also in the 70’s I happened upon a book, Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain. The Soviets had been investigating extra sensory perception, as did the CIA, for its potential use in counter intelligence. The book described separating a litter of rabbits from their mother, who was being monitored in a laboratory. The babies were taken in a submarine to the bottom of the Black Sea and slaughtered one at a time. The moment of death for each baby was later matched with spikes in the mother’s brain and heart waves with precise colorations. This is a field affect, a subtle connection, which is not dependent on time or space. If a rabbit’s brain is sensitive enough to register such affects, imagine how sensitive our human heart/mind may be. For years, my wife and I had shared some of these non-localized affects. John-Michael was an expression of our energy; so obviously he too was participating in our experience, our fields, outwardly through his five senses and inwardly through what we might call intuition.
This intuitive force is strong in young children. They learn from it. It guides them, as much, if not more than the information gathered from their physical senses. Most adults miss this subtle resonance completely.
The state of the adult, their local and non-localized fields, have meaning and represent vital information, especially for the early child. The feeling or meaning of the adult’s changing states resonate in these subtle fields, which expresses in the child as intuition or feelings. Most importantly, this inner, non-verbal knowing, provides the context or filter which gives order to the child’s experience. When the inner state of the adult changes, so does the context for what the child learns. Simply stated, the state of the adult has a strong influence on what the child actually learns. For the early child, the quality of these first, primary relationships establishes patterns of perception and behavior which last a lifetime. The essential insight, which later became the core of Touch the Future, is that the state of the adult, in relationship, is infinity more important than the information or skills we so urgently wish to convey or “teach.” “State” or relationship is primary and impacts learning, performance and wellness.
I saw in myself and others that adults often mistakenly give all their attention to “teaching” the child how to kick the ball, read the sentence, take his or her first step, and ignoring the actual state of their relationship. The real learning, that which leaves permanent marks, is our inner state as this outer, so-called “teaching,” is taking place. By optimizing our inner experience we open the possibility of slipping naturally into Optimum Learning Relationship, a state which frees energy and attention from self-defense, and therefore dramatically improves how we learn, perform and feel.
David Bohm and later Joseph Chilton Pearce described research showing how our physical, emotional and intellectual “states” are woven into each memory, now referred to as “state specific learning”. To remember is to reconstruct images of the physical, emotional and intellectual states involved in the original experience. Adults, especially males, give greatest attention to their intellectual images and often neglect those created by the body and emotions. The early child, relying almost exclusively on somatic and emotional intelligences, learns more in the first few years than they will the rest of their lives. There is a huge gap between what is actually taking place in the child, emotionally and physically, and what most adults “think” is happening.
Basic trust, belonging and feeling safe are perhaps the simplest way to describe this inner knowing of the early child. When safe, even in a highly challenging environment, learning and growth unfolds exponentially. Betray this need for basic trust early in a child’s life, and we all pay a heavy price. In 1981 Pat, a female friend, was training for the 1984 Olympics. On Tuesday evening, at 9:30pm a stranger slipped through an unlocked window of her apartment. Wearing a mask and pressing a knife to her throat, he described stalking her for weeks. He knew when she went to the gym, who her friends were, where she shopped. For three hours he beat and threatened to rape and kill her. When the assailant placed the weapon on the nightstand, Pat grabbed the knife, pushed the rapist to the floor and chased him out of her home.
Sexual violence had never touched my life so closely. Why would a man do such a thing? I had to know. For the next two years I reached out to over fifty rape crisis centers, district attorneys, victims, assailants and forensic psychiatrists. Slowly a critical piece of human development locked into place. Pat’s assailant had been betrayed very early in his life.
Years ago Ashley Montagu, a friend to Touch the Future, published The Natural Superiority of Women. The biological superiority of females obviously implies that males are more vulnerable and are so from the moment of conception. Research shows that the male fetus is at greater risk of death and damage. By the time a baby is born boys are 4 to 6 weeks less developed than girls. Boys face more psychological problems in early childhood. They require more attention, making them more vulnerable to poor parental care. Girls outperform boys at school. The disadvantages of being male are compounded by the cultural norm of treating them as more resilient than girls. Suicides are three times as common among males than females. Rape, domestic violence, many forms of child abuse, addiction, depression often begin when a boy’s essential need to feel safe, wanted and cared for is betrayed by significant adults early in his life. The opposite of this Betrayal of Intimacy is equally true. Nurturing the early child, girls and boys, will prevent much of the violence we experience throughout the world and the research supports this very clearly. It was so simple.
Violence was epidemic in the 80’s, gangs, drive-by's, and campus slayings. Teen pregnancies were on the rise. More single parents were seeking early and extended daycare. Original play was being replaced by television and by often violent computer games. The direct, intimate contact between parents and young children, the antidote for many adult patterns of abuse and addiction, was rare. Mothers of young children were the fastest growing segment of the workplace. In so many ways we were moving in the wrong direction. The consequences were chilling. Again and again the importance of bonding and basic trust took center stage.
Building upon these insights, I proposed a five part PBS series called Touch the Future. In packaging the proposal I invited fifty leading researchers to serve as advisors. All but two responded with great enthusiasm. Later it became clear that the themes developed by the series would challenge the values and policies of every major institution, health care, education, corporate America, childcare, media, the computer industry, etc. The series was not funded. Rebounding in 1993, Touch the Future became a 501c3, nonprofit educational organization. Our first step was publishing a newsletter featuring David Bohm on Knowledge & Insight. Three copies of this first edition were sent to twenty-five colleagues and close friends with a request that they forward the two additional copies to two other friends. Our current mailing list evolved in this very personal way.
In the mid 90’s a new question arose, one as compelling as the issue of violence. Why do people with equal talent perform differently under pressure? Why do some thrive and others collapse?
In 1981 Joseph Chilton Pearce wrote about “playful insight” in his book Bond of Power where he explored the critical relationship of bonding, play, learning and insight. Also in 1981 Ashley Montagu published Growing Young, The Genius Of Childhood Recaptured. The focus of this work was also our playful nature. In 1987 David Bohm described, in Science, Order and Creativity, the role of authentic play as the foundation for true intelligence and insight. In 1990 Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi wrote Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience where he described the complete attention, a characteristic of original play, found in those performing at their best. In a rich and varied ways, their descriptions parallel that of O. Fred Donaldson, a play researcher who had spent the past twenty years playing with special needs children and wild animals. I discovered that original play was nature’s medium for real learning and development. The prerequisite for play is feeling safe - back to bonding and belonging.
Touch the Future’s goal is to reduce the resistance to learning, performance and wellness often found in adult relationships with children. Together these insights reinforced the importance of what we call bonding, belonging, nurturing, basic trust, all functions of relationship rather than content we give so much attention to. I discovered that the relationship is the content and the connection, the bond, is the channel of communication. When the state is undivided and the bond safe, there is nothing that cannot be learned or accomplished. Growth becomes defensive rather than expansive if the state, the bond, is fragmented, or in conflict.
We Touch the Future through our relationships with children. Our relationship provides the context for every learning opportunity and therefore is the content, especially for the early child. For the early child this context is often experienced as a feeling or subtle sense of safety or dis-ease. What the early child learns and remembers is the relationship, much more than the skills or concepts we wish to “teach” them.
By appreciating the primacy of “state” over content our attention shifts, and with it, the resonate field we call relationship also changes. Learning becomes relationship and our relationships become the learning. The resistance to learning, peak performance and wellness many of us feel, fades, leading naturally to Optimum Learning Relationships. Optimum becomes easy, the miraculous natural when our self-imposed resistance, or that imposed by others, is replaced by undreamed of possibilities. In this state we welcome the unexpected with joy, affection, and great respect.