The first time I learned about building and a "pattern language" was when I heard about a new community being built in Charlottesville, VA (the city where I live) called Belvedere. The designers of the mixed use, green, community that would eventually become my home told me that they had decided to design the urban landscape using a book by Christopher Alexander by the name A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. I was ignited by this community design: It was perfect for me. The small energy efficient houses built in craftsman style with porches and small yards near nature, shared green space and eventually an organic farm. It had a town center and athletic facilities. The land around it was filled with hardwood forests, a river, streams and mountains, and connection to trails and pathways so people could enjoy nature. Plus it was close in to town. The book, A Pattern Language talked about how to design homes and communities to communicate with the people who lived there, how patterns were live things that could enhance life. Patterns are "languages," and can articulate and communicate in a variety of designs within a system that gives them coherence (see amazon's description of the book.) The design of this community spoke to me so much that I bought the book and I read every page, over 1000 of them. I ordered Alexander's other books thinking would be similar, but it was not so. Somehow, it was just the idea of patterns being a language that one could recognize, and it could be spoken in so many ways to enhance life captivated me. (You can read about how we were the first family in Belvedere in 2008 in our blog from that time here.)
Our brains are meant to seek patterns. One reason why I thought this book and the community design spoke so much to me was because I am trained animal tracker. My husband and I spent years studying wilderness education, eventually becoming members of the Vermont Wilderness School community. I ran a nature-based preschool and kindergarten there when my children were small called Makin' Tracks. Essentially, we lived outside, and I built a relationship with the sky, wind, forest, and well, the patterns of nature. Our teachers there supported a patterned way to study approaches to nature, combining it with indigenous knowledge and story telling (an original way to teach). They felt their job was to bring a systematic way to recognizing the patterns of nature and human behavior. Jon Young, the charismatic leader of the wilderness educational platform, worked very hard for many years to create a language out of this approach that supports the whole human. Learning was about recognizing how our brain can work in so many ways to recognize the patterns around us and within us. I feel that everyone is speaking about the same thing. We are creatures of habit and can get stuck in ruts. We are in relationship with our environment within and without. Nature is alive and has so many patterns that one can see if one has the training to be able to see, and feel. It is about building relationship and connection with the natural world, with each other and with ourselves. All the senses come into play. Jon Young and his teams of mentors had ways of helping young people (and sometimes old) come into relationship with what they called "original instructions" (Haudenosaunee cultural perspective) on who we are meant to be as a species. Jon Young now runs the 8 Shields institute and offering online courses, events and mentoring.
Now, many years later, I am teaching about recognizing earliest patterns in our babies and families for support and healing. There is gap in our culture around babies. While many people (and our culture) see them as not having the capacity to understand and take in our adult world, I see them as exquisitely sensitive and intelligent, and that they have the capacity to communicate. I am not alone in this regard (see for example, John and Anna Chitty, Ray Castellino, Myrna Martin, Suzanne Zeekyk, Lise Eliot, Michael Trout, and see birthpsychology.com). We also know that babies are very sensitive to their mothers, fathers and their early family life. Yet, somehow, we miss what babies are saying. It is a profoundly nonverbal, right brained language. Babies will tell you if you are willing to listen, and you need to listen with all of you: Ears, eyes, their nonverbal gesture, and your feeling tones in your body. Overwhelming states from a baby's perspective are often connected to survival. As practitioner, you have the capacity to be with survival states (fight, flight, freeze). This is what you learn when you come to study. Babies communicate with movement, crying, gesture, and gaze. Practitioner Matthew Appleton calls this Baby Body Language and babies will tell you about birth from their perspective.
First steps are always to see the health of the person you are with (see the link, a talk by Biodynamic craniosacral instructor Margaret Rosenau). With babies, we teach to see their spiritual essence and how they are connected to their families. We listen deeply to the mother, partner/father and feel into the space in between them. It is an art form of listening, wondering, following, holding, teaching. It employs practitioner skills as taught by the Chittys: Presence, Relationship, Listening, Recognition and Conversation.
It is harder with adults because they have built up layers of adaption and experience. Whatever was started before conception, during pregnancy and birth, and after birth lies in the body and therefore is somatic and implicit. It is not hidden really; it is a pattern language often spoken quite loudly especially during stressful times or when conditions that were present at the original wounding are ongoing. There are many times in an adult's life when these early patterns make themselves known; they come up for healing in other words. One of them is when the we become a parent; the baby within speaks louder. Another time is during transitions, like going to bed, going out the door, going to college, ending a job/relationship, moving house, and so much more. The baby within the adult speaks in a somatic pattern language. Here are some more examples:
Latest research from the Fetal Brain Institute really shows how we need to support girls and women to feel good in their bodies as a template for healthy human neurodevelopment during pregnancy for the fetus. The first environment for the baby is the mother. The researchers' reports of the epigenetic impact of stress on the developing brain were dire: Autism, ADHD, schizophrenia, and other major nervous system and mental disorders can stem from this early time. We can also recognize patterns of resilience and adaptation sequences that may not really serve us now but certainly did at one time. In therapy, Anna Chitty calls this "being in two time zones," that is, the present and the history that wants to be seen, held, shifted and integrated. Stan Grof called this Condensed Experiences or CO-EX. This CO-EX is commonly taught when one studies prenatal and psychology. In Integrated Prenatal and Perinatal Dynamics, we teach how to recognize earliest patterns and help families and adults.
We can develop a somatic "pattern language" for helping families, babies, and adults, and for practitioners to learn. As said above, recognizing patterns as "languages," we can articulate and communicate in a variety of designs within a system that bring coherence. We need this now more than ever before. Data show that countries that are highest premature births are also highest for addiction and depression (China, India and the United States). At the Center for Prenatal and Perinatal Programs, we have a plan to help train practitioners to recognize earliest patterns, and also help families. Research and patterns already exist that show interventions and support during this time change birth and health outcomes.
For more information on our training and information programs, see ppncenter.com.