|Ernest Thompson Seton, 1927 Birch Bark Roll|
The drawing above shows the Fourfold path, or Lifecraft Way. Seton’s directional graph was inspired by the worldview of American Indians and First Nations Peoples with whom he studied and from whom he learned the outdoors skills, natural history, and ethics that comprise the core values of Lifecraft.
This is its directional organization: Service Way (north), Spirit Way (east), Body Way (south), Mind Way (west). At its core are the words, “Symbol of Great Spirit,” although not the symbol itself. From the four Ways issue the twelve “Laws.” In my view, the graph represents a non-linear complex system, one open to receiving, processing, and expending energy. There is no one entry or any one place of exit; all of the direction-ways are equally important.
The Fourfold Path calls for an integration of body, mind, spirit, and service: A fully lived life is holistic and ecological, in connection with nature, society, and other individuals. Lifecraft considers the individual (child or adult) part of a larger system of male and female, of family, of community (to which service is owed), of spirituality, and of the natural world. It stands against rigid standardization. Each of us should be inspired and enabled to follow our chosen life path. The competition that pits us against each other is morally wrong; the competition that matches us to a high, but achievable standard should be encouraged. The beauty we find in nature, or in our own creations (artistic or hand-crafted of whatever kind) is the highest good. Seton felt that the values he espoused were essential to the survival of our country and our civilization.
For each direction, I will begin with a short description of my understanding of the Lifecraft path. Although developed separately, Seton’s views parallel those of the Learning Model of the Academy for the Love of Learning.
North. Service of Love: Kind. Helpful. Glad Alive.
The heartfelt intention of kindness begins with those with whom we may be in closest contact and extends to all other persons and all other living beings. Helpfulness grows from the work we do, from freely sharing what we know, to making what we have available for the benefit of others. A sense of joy comes from the mere fact of being alive, at least if we remain conscious of it. We should develop the underlying intention to wake up to a greater degree of consciousness.
East. Sprit of Fortitude: Brave. Silent. Obey.
Bravery and valor is the great measurement of who we are in the world, the fountain of empathy, and the counterweight to fear, the font of hate. Our embrace of silence serves the purpose of allowing time for inward thought and outward listening. Obedience has nothing to do with blind, unthinking subservience, but is an inward following of personal principle. Be conscious of presence and spaciousness in listening. One should develop the capacity for self-reflection and the ability to enter into periods of disorientation.
South. Body of Beauty: Clean. Strong. Wildlife.
Cleanliness of person may seem self-evident, but this too is a continuum encompassing the space immediately around us, and continuing outward into the world so that we may all walk in beauty. Physical well-being grows from choice of sustenance, attitudes towards exercise, body image, sex, and a commitment to being as strong as our life circumstances may allow. Appreciating, celebrating, observing, and preserving the beauty of nature is essential to the preservation of our own bodies in this life, and also a practice critical to the survival and prosperity of all life.
West. Mind of Truth: Speak True. Reverent. Play Fair.
Honesty is the foundation on which all else rests, beginning with taking awareness and responsibility for all our actions. Reverence is being centered within to find a personal definition of the sacred, and an outward private or public expression of belief. The way we behave, our degree of reasonableness, governs our extension of fairness to others. An ability to speak the truth is another aspect of being able to hear the truth, and to be able to sit with each other in difficult conversation. This requires a willingness to be changed by the experience. But also coming to an awareness that what one learns benefits the other as well as oneself.
It is important to understand that the system described by Seton is without boundaries; we perceive each of these attributes as coming, firstly, from within, then extending outward past our own physicality, through our place of living and work, then into the community, and into the world. We must be open to acting as receiver as well as giver of insights. These concepts are neither static in direction nor in definition, but work in concert, shifting, blending, changing.