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Ecosystems of Care

I’ve been thinking lately about our anticapitalist practices, the ways we live out our belief in alternative economic systems. One thing that comes up over and over with the people I coach is how capitalism does damage to our sense of attachment and security.

Attachment refers the ways our nervous systems are shaped by our relationships and the patterns of how others respond to our needs. Often attachment theory is used to talk about how our primary caretakers' responses to our needs influenced how we perceive the world. Do we feel safe? Do we believe our needs can be met?

It's important to remember when we talk about attachment that we live in a world that is actually not safe for many of us. When it comes to work, if we live in a society and culture where we are disposable and constantly precarious, we can feel like our only option is to stay in jobs or organizations that are actively hurting us or other people, because security comes in the form of a paycheck. And while it's true that we need resources to survive under capitalism, it is also true that there's never enough money to keep you completely secure in a system built on extraction. This sense of unsafety, or insecure attachment, is a somatic experience, and not one that can be reasoned away by looking at the numbers in a bank account. This insecure attachment can lead to endless accumulation & hoarding, if you have the resources and privilege; or lead to despair, if you don’t.

So, how do we create secure attachment in a culture and society that actually isn't safe? One practice is creating networks, collectives, or ecosystems of secure attachment that don't rely on extraction or exploitation. (I talk about ecosystems because sometimes collective can be a hard term for us to understand in our hyper-individualized culture.) Shifting our attachment to capitalism requires an alternate system of relationships that value us for who we are, outside of anything we can produce.

Ecosystems function as a series of relationships. They’re adaptive, resilient, take all kinds of shapes. Every being in an ecosystem has a unique and important role to play, but no one is at the center. I wonder what it would look like for each of us to think about the ecosystems of care and attachment we're a part of.

When we think about these ecosystems, we can ask: what are the relationships that sustain us? When I answer this question, I think about my beloveds, and the trees and birds and squirrels I can see from my window, the land on which I live, my ancestors, and my spiritual practices.

We can also remember that we play a role in the care and attachment ecosystems of the people and beings we're in relationship with. We can ask: who are we in relationship with? How do we, just being who we are, sustain the people and beings around us? These questions can remind us that we aren't at the center of an ecosystem, but we do have a vital role in the webs of relationship we participate in.

This is slow work. Developing secure attachment takes time. Sometimes when we start asking these questions we encounter grief at how lonely our lives can feel under capitalism. Any response to the questions above, from “I’ve been longing for this” to “oh hell no,” is valid. There are as many ways to build secure attachment as there are breaths in a day. We can start small, by visiting a tree in our yard, texting a beloved, feeding the birds, telling a story about our grandmother, taking a shower. Tiny practices that remind us that something else is possible instead of how capitalism makes us feel in our bodies.

And, I wonder: What if you already belong? What if that was never in question? What would be possible, then?

(If you'd like to practice looking at your own ecosystem of care, you can use this template - feel free to edit and share as you need.)

the ecosystem of care
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