Social distancing and other protocols that have been put into place to protect our families and particularly vulnerable populations have created a truly challenging quandary for Waldorf early childhood teachers. The young child lives in the joy of movement and discovers the world through wide-open senses, especially the sense of touch.
Touch is the primary means by which a child comes into relationship with another human being and discovers the world, as well as a dawning sense of self. Loving touch from a caring human being invites the child to come into his or her body. Through touching (and with babies and toddlers, tasting) the child establishes what is “not-I” and with each new experience, the beginning sense of who is doing the touching. Sometimes, even for adults, touch can be the surest way to find the truth of a situation.
There is, in addition to physical touch, a secondary aspect that is described by Henning Kohler. When we touch something physically, we resonate inwardly in response to its inherent characteristic quality. A colleague calls this the soul sense of touch. This process of resonating happens for the child unconsciously, but it is nonetheless a foundational experience for the child’s future capacity for fine-tuned discrimination. If we add this secondary aspect to the primary one of “not-I” and “I”, which forms the basis for awareness of self, in later life this becomes our sense for the “I of another human being”, according to Rudolf Steiner. This could be called our spiritual sense of touch.
It would seem impossible to replace the role of touch in the development of the young child and in the EC teacher’s relationship with the young child. Fortunately, children are sheltering in place with their families, and touch experiences are not restricted in the home. While we are hopeful that the current situation is temporary, teachers will have to make accommodations for a range of restrictions when school resumes in the fall.
What kinds of physical touch activities can we offer? Certainly, we will offer lots of free time in nature. Perhaps we can rework typical games to involve giving oneself a variety of movement and touch experiences. It has also occurred to me that rhythm can be very supportive of touch, because, in its essence, it is a kind of “taking hold and letting go.“ Ideally, we take hold and let go in a regular or predictable sequence. Many EC teachers have supported families during this time in understanding the importance of rhythm for their children at home.
A predictable rhythm helps a child feel more secure, but these are uncertain times for all of us. We may also have to lend to our children our own willingness to live courageously with the uncertainty of the current situation. The children can easily “touch” into our inner soul state and will sense and feel what we feel. So, a deepened understanding and consciousness of rhythm and the recognition of the importance of our own inner mood are two ways that we can support the child’s sense of touch and sense of trust.
A third way to work with touch is related to the secondary aspect of touch: resonance. How can we heighten our attunement to the children, individually and as a group? We have all experienced anxiety in the past months, perhaps even trauma. A heightened attunement might mean that we are on the watch for behaviors that indicate that the children are still feeling uncertain. Are specific therapeutic activities being called for? Do we need to adjust our expectations, simplify our schedule, or smooth out our transitions? It might mean that we need to work closely with our colleagues to review our day together and share what each of us has noticed about individual children. It might also mean intensifying our imaginative, meditative work in the evening before sleep.
A fourth possibility that has occurred to me is to support the children’s sense of touch through story. At one point in his research on the twelve senses, Rudolf Steiner indicated that there is an aspect of touch in all of the senses. We are especially aware of this with the sense of sight. We can easily feel as though we are reaching out and touching something or someone with our eyes. We can also see, feel, smell, and taste things that are described verbally.
The pictures that we bring through the telling of a story––whether it is a simple nature story, a fairy tale, or a puppet play––are actually evocative of all the senses, touch included. If we are able to really live into the pictures and sounds ourselves, they will live even more strongly for the children. The child can feel “touched” and comforted by our own relationship with the mood, the pictures, the beauty of the language, and the wonder of the story as a whole.
Understanding touch more deeply will, I think, help prepare us to welcome children as they return to our Waldorf classrooms in the fall. It may also make us better teachers, even when we are able, once again, to hug our loved ones and give free rein to the children’s natural inclination to touch and be touched by the wondrous world in which we all live.
To understand how Waldorf education can possibly live on as an exercise in remote learning, it feels important to return again to some foundational principles governing each developmental stage.
Guiding principles: will, devotion, cultivation of lower senses, imitation, goodness, the etheric of environment/adult
Human relationship is key to all stages of development, but in these youngest years it is most crucial. The children cannot imitate via a screen (nor is it necessarily desirable), they cannot develop their lower senses, and this medium is damaging to their etheric bodies. Much depends on the adults at hand: primarily, their parents. This is a difficult position, for many parents need to work to financially provide for their family, whether they have young children or not. There is little other option. Given this circumstance, the best we can do is to equip the parents to be the kind of models that our early childhood teachers strive to be at school, since in any case the early childhood kindergarten is, in many ways, an idealized version of the home environment. The teacher can help parents by guiding them into idealizing their own home environment, either by providing materials and activities, or by encouraging the parents’ own talents and interests so that their children can imitate them. Speaking personally as a parent of a kindergartener, it is much easier for me to include my daughter in my cooking, my gardening, my cleaning of house, my love of riding bikes, than to try my hand at a craft that requires instructions. The partnership between teacher and parent is key here.
Guiding principles: feeling, authority, middle senses, beauty, breathing, sleeping/waking, living concepts, sculptural and musical forces, union of spirit-soul with life-bodily
The children’s direct relationships with their teacher take on a new tenor beginning in Grade One. It is essential that children remain connected with their teacher and their classmates to continue that karmic bond. This could be done through letters, through phone calls, or through media such as Zoom (though with limitations, to be sure). Young grades school children still have such a strong imitative will that they can continue with much of the usual work through guidance by the teacher even via electronic communication. In lieu of this connection, shifting towards project-based learning helps to engage their will, something which is more difficult remotely. Certainly, when moving up in the grades, project work is helpful given the children’s burgeoning independence.
With my own Grade 7 class, I try to maintain a rhythmic connection with them by hosting a Zoom call every morning at 8:30am. Through these two months, attendance has continued to be at nearly 100% each day. They are eager to connect with me and their peers. Nevertheless, a key ingredient to the main lesson has floundered: the recapitulation. Participation is dramatically reduced, leaving the discussions cold and prone to factual, informational contributions rather than the living conceptual gestalt of a topic. Similarly, overall comprehension seems to be dipping even if the children can remember many details. On the other hand, individual artistic work––at times their writing as well––has been very strong, sometimes better than I would have expected from direct personal interactions.
These observations have led me to a pivot in my recapitulations. I started to assign work directly after giving a new lesson so that they could warm the subject with their own activity before discussing it. The following morning, I then began by sharing student work on my screen––showing illustrations, reading excerpts of writings––and only then opened the floor for questions. This led to much more fruitful discussions and also built a feeling of connection between the students as they viewed one another’s work.
Guiding principles: thinking, truth, higher senses, freedom, ideals
I leave this phase of education for other to describe.
As we continue to live in an alternative educational universe––so far from one another physically, but together striving continually to realize the ideals of Waldorf Education for the children and parents in our communities––we can draw some solace from living into the reality that the Being of our School, like the Being of each incarnated individuality, lives in its essential form beyond the world of life and death, and its spirit essence is worthy of contemplation. This meditative exploration has come alive for me in contemplating the empty campus of my school, thinking about the body of the school in relation to a full and rich experience of the Being of our School that comes alive in me in the silence of our campus.
We can become aware of the physical, life body, and spirit body of our own School. The bones of the school organism live in the physical world: the beautiful campus, lovingly cared for, sculpted and prepared to intentionally meet the needs of students at varied stages and activities of childhood; the hallways and classrooms, light-filled, warmed through by the careful attention to detail by the teacher and others. Ensouling the body are the colors, and all the warmth- imbued elements of the classroom; gardens and grounds nurturing the senses and the sense of life; play areas arranged to invite joy and support active participation in the work of the day, and details that support the life of the school –– beeswax crayons, jump ropes, bean bags, knitting needles; we can lovingly picture all of this as the body of the school, imbued with love and warmth of soul.
The soul of the school can also be experienced in the humming buzz of the activity of the teachers, singing and music, eurythmy, all subjects weaving a tapestry of life; parents, teachers, and students coming and going, imbuing the school with life. The joys and sorrows of the main lesson stories, the drama of sports, the beauty of class plays and other performances all weave a soul body to sheathe, warm, and enliven the physical school body. Likewise, the love we carry for one another––teachers, parents, and students together––weaves a refined and resilient soul body.
The spirit of our beloved Waldorf School lives in the essence of our work: the ideals we are expressing in the thoughts and deeds that underlie the school, the values, the inspiring star that guides each school. The spirit of the school, like the spirit of the human being, never fully incarnates but can be seen and heard in the ideas carried by the faculty and the realization of these ideals in the life of the school.
The Spirit or Being of a School finds its expression in the active doing of all those engaged in the life of the School and creates a unique signature and mood. The active and conscious weaving of our efforts and deeds out of the ideals of the school form the life element of the Being of our School, imbued with the spiritual essence living within the thoughts and intentions of those engaged in the work of the school. Picture the diverse and articulated deeds of our own work and of our colleagues through active imagination! It is a beehive of love created for the free human being! As we lovingly picture, tableau-like, all the activities of the school and the individuals engaged with the school (children, teachers, staff, parents, board members, etc.), in this wide gaze and picturing we can behold the weaving and breathing wholesome unity of this School Being. In beholding the active inner picture of the Being of the School, we can also create out of our own heart-warming power a sheath or mantle of protection around the life body, physical body, and spirit of the school, and hold this imagination in our hearts. Imbue this mantle with strength, color, warmth, love –– then hold this picture! Actively building up and recalling this picture of our school strengthens our connection with the Being of the School, as well as strengthening the Being of the School itself. Continuing to imagine the Being of the School and creating a strengthening mantle or sheath around our school unites us with the Being of the School and all who are striving to realize its ideals.
I Feeling Safe in an Age of Nervousness
In teaching high school students, I encounter fewer cases of truculent teenagers who say, “I won’t!” and many more cases of trepid students who say, “I can’t.” We have entered a new age of heightened mental and emotional––even to some extent physical––paralysis.
Rudolf Steiner predicted more than a century ago that we would find ourselves living in an age of evermore heightened anxiety. In a popular lecture known in English as “Overcoming Nervousness”, Steiner characterized an worldwide outbreak of fear and stress that was already taking hold during his time. “Everywhere,” he told a German audience some two years before the outbreak of World War I, “something like nervousness is present.” He went on:
All this will, in the near future, grow worse and worse for people. If people remain as they are, then a good outlook for the future cannot by any means be offered. For there are harmful influences that affect our current life in a quite extraordinary way and that carry over from one person to the other like an epidemic. Therefore, people become a bit diseased in this direction: not only the ones who have the illness, but also others, who are perhaps only weak but otherwise healthy, get it by a kind of infection.
Today, even more all-encompassing than the current pandemic attributed to a new strain of the coronavirus, we live in an atmosphere of nameless anxiety that intensifies in our students––as in ourselves––an arresting stenosis of soul.
In this same lecture, delivered fully seven years before the opening of the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart, Steiner castigates educators who induce a condition of pedagogical terror in their students by making them cram for what today we would call “high stakes testing”. However, never one to leave his audience in a state of despair or hopelessness, Steiner spends the rest of this lecture outlining no fewer than ten practical exercises on how we as adults can come to grips with what is by now a worldwide psychological affliction.
In this context, we need to ask: Given that teenagers are growing up in an age of societal anxiety––a condition exacerbated by the use of smart phones and the Internet, which have been shown to arouse stress right down to a neurological and hormonal level, even as they serve these days as a slender thread of connection to friends and the outer world––how are they to be educated? And how best to prepare their teachers to educate them?
Step for a moment into the shoes of a student and you will recognize that if you are suffering an intensified state of stress or anxiety, you will probably be unwilling, or simply unable, to learn anything new until you feel safe in your place of learning. In a condition of heightened stress, you are more likely instead to protect and defend what you know and shut out or simply ignore what you don’t know or can’t control.
Cramming for a test in high school represents an archetypal example of this condition:
- You marshal your needed material
- You attempt to gain mastery over it by organizing and committing it to memory
- You protect what you have mastered from anything that might threaten to challenge it or disturb your general knowledge base.
It would be simply too scary to admit into this ordered corpus of understanding an unfamiliar perspective or the epiphany of new insight.
More generally, if students don’t feel safe, they won’t move, which is to say that in order to move or be moved––whether outwardly in physical activity or inwardly in soul and spirit––they need to feel safe. But this relationship between safety and movement can be reversed: movement can stir confidence (and a sense of safety) as much as safety can build confidence to risk engaging in movement. We are dealing with a symbiotic condition of “when-then”.
We can say, therefore, that in educating teenagers (younger children, too) we need first to make sure they move. But here’s the rub: whatever pressure an adult exerts on a student from without will inevitably create anxiety in that student, who will feel––rightly––the alien source of this pressure. Though in younger years children need to be steered towards healthy situations and protected from harmful ones, ultimately movement needs to arise from within, not from without.
In fact, all healthy movement arises from within, even if it is initially stimulated from without. This is the secret of the free human will, easily overlooked because clouded in unconsciousness and, among younger children, still largely undeveloped. With the exception of the reflex––an autonomic (and hence entirely unfree) reaction to the stimulation of the nervous system––healthy movement originates from within the human being, even if it is in response to outer guidance. Only when the kid moves will the kid learn.
II Three Roles for the High School Teacher
By the same token, as children grow into teenagers, loving guidance administered from without must give way to inner self-direction and a sense of confidence if something is to be regarded as truly “learned”. As in honing the skill of riding a bicycle, you cannot claim to have learned how to ride if your training wheels are still attached.
Though the development of this inner self-direction is gradual, by the time of adolescence it holds the key to successful high school education. And yet no age group is more prone to paralysis born of anxiety than is puberty. For this reason, teachers need to stir their students into movement in three distinct yet related ways, assuming what I will call the “3PC’s” of the high school educator:
- Teacher as pedagogical coach
- Teacher as pedagogical counselor
- Teacher as pedagogical compass
As pedagogical coach, a teacher deals with how to develop practical skills, helping teenagers find purpose in work and confidence in conducting themselves in the world. This is why, in high school, the most trusted teachers are often the ones who can tell you how to do something yourself. Drivers ed. instructors, gym and athletic coaches, practical arts instructors, computer techies, nurses and medics: these are the faculty and staff members who most easily garner a teenager’s respect. And notice how these coaches, of whatever discipline, are generally big on “safety first”.
As pedagogical counselor (not to be confused with psychological therapist), a teacher deals with how to handle feelings, or more precisely how to sort out the confused skein of human sentiments that so easily tie teenagers up in paralyzing emotional knots. Good counselors know to use feelings as opportunities for learning; to pose questions rather than supply answers; to jointly come up with strategies rather than provide ready-made solutions. They, too, are committed to creating a safe environment for the unfolding of their students’ emotional life.
As pedagogical compass, a teacher deals with how to think, but again not by providing answers but rather by helping students develop leading questions that will help them discover uncharted terrain for themselves. A good compass indicates direction quietly and steadily, albeit vibrating slightly and adjusting constantly on an acute needle point to changes in orientation.
In all three roles, the teacher’s secret to success is to educate by stirring the student to move, whether that movement is physical or bodily, psychological or emotional, spiritual or mental. The teacher sets up the safe conditions in which the student can dare to try, to fail, to learn, and in this way to become motivated increasingly from within, free of outer prodding.
In moving, teenagers begin to educate themselves inwardly, albeit initially with the outer help of coach, counselor, and compass. And in educating themselves, they will gain the confidence needed to overcome the contemporary paralysis of anxiety.
In the last six weeks many of us have shared the experience of distance teaching in schools and teacher training institutes. We are engaged in rethinking so many aspects of our work that we normally take for granted when we are in the presence of the students we teach. Using a medium that does not easily lend itself to working directly with the soul spiritual challenges us to be more technically savvy and pedagogically inventive.
At each step we are asked to deepen our understanding of the foundational principles as we seek to teach authentically in these unusual circumstances. I am both heartened by the strength and resilience of our class, school, and institute communities and dismayed by the lack of warmth in the medium we use to engage them. Cultivating the quality of relationships, we are all nourished by calls for a deepening of our soul spiritual activity. These are some of the questions that have arisen from the work of these past weeks. There are surprising gifts and challenges both.
- Physical touch and its metamorphosis into a sense of the ego of the other, as well as the cultivation of the other senses.
- What is the implication for the young child whose being needs the foundational experience of touch in order to transform it into the future ability to perceive the living ego of the other?
- What could be the effects of this lack of touch on the social life of the future, and how do we work to support truly human capacities?
- How long can the relationship based on human presence, and the interaction of the sheaths, sustain distance learning?
- How can the meditative practice of the individual teacher support the students, as well as the colleagues?
- How do we work with our students when our schools and institutes re-open? Will it be “business as usual” or will an element of deeper healing be necessary?
- People are speaking to people on the street, from porches and balconies, and smiling. I have spoken to so many neighbors I have never ever seen before, let alone spoken to.
- There is a welling up of the human need for meeting the other face to face, more articles about the problems of being touch deprived and the importance of this special sense in human development.
- There is a welling up of appreciation for meeting the other face to face.
Slowing the Pace
- I do notice a slowing down, exposing deep levels of stress and fatigue that so many adults and children just absorb into their organism because of a fast- paced daily life.
- Art can help us digest and restore our forces, strengthening the heart/lung system and working on our senses directly. What is the place of artistic and hands-on practice in distance learning and how do we cultivate that? I have found both high school students and adults able to respond with a higher degree of originality that I did not expect and an heartened by.
- The six basic exercises and contemplative practice, placed in a universal context and language, are so relevant and easy to speak about in very practical terms.
- I’m discovering unexpected ways of engaging the students in artistic work, sometimes with assignments requiring the engagement of the rest of the family.
- Working with the seniors in their final block I decided to make their autobiography the prime focus. I’m experiencing it as an anchoring of their ability to have confidence and resilience as they face so many elements of their ‘right of passage’ being thwarted. Turning that situation to a positive is also giving them a deeper sense of how loved they are since, to complete the assignment, they are required to speak with immediate and extended family and experience their warmth.
- Families are talking to each other more, which is strengthening.
- There are also families that are not necessarily sources of refuge for the students. On the whole, as teachers at CWS we are more fortunate in the resources typically available to our students, but this is not necessarily true for all children.
- Even news commentators are beginning to look less polished and more like normal people, even having their children show up on screen.
- There is an opportunity to reconsider what is of most importance in daily life.
- Seeing world events as a battle for the human soul and asking how do I respond as an individual?
- Witnessing the national crisis in the political realm and wondering about the
opportunities afforded us by the current situation, while also being more awake to the parallel forces of opposition. I’m thinking locally and as an individual in daily life.
- What effect is the current situation going to have on Waldorf education, both in terms of schools and teacher training institutes?
- Of course, there are serious financial concerns, given the economy, about the survival of independent schools, but are there opportunities to highlight strengths of this education, even while using distance learning?
Informing all of these questions and situations is the presence of the being of the universal human in us as we try to find our way into a human future.
When picturing the school community in my mind, it is very difficult to keep it alive; it requires extra effort. When going for a walk, one can experience that we are more ready to greet and communicate across the street.
In order to meet students, parents, colleagues in my mind, I have to work much harder inwardly. I realize that it takes much stronger inner work to reach out to the spiritual world. As humans we have now created an all-embracing electrical sheath around the world that makes it yet more difficult to reach higher beings. How strong do we have to work from our side for the spiritual beings to break through to us?
Another community concern comes with the financial aspect. Many individuals are seriously struggling, and we know that many of our schools are going through extreme challenges. This calls also for an awareness of the smaller and larger community. Are we inwardly strong enough to meet the new challenges creatively?
Working on the inner strengthening of our school community, it can help to work with the Teachers’ Imagination. If one wants and needs to strengthen one’s own well being, one can work with prayer or meditation, or both. One meditation that encourages particularly the qualities that we need so much––light in our thinking, warmth of the heart towards the world, so that we can meet the tasks in life we choose to do––goes as follows:
Blue of the sky with many stars,
Devout and reverent, my soul,
Send, intuiting, into the breadths of space
Your feeling gaze.
Receive this gaze
And send into my heart’s depths
Light, love and life
From spirit worlds
(the sign of the Rose Cross)
What speaks to me
In this symbol
May the lofty spirits of worlds
Fill my soul
All the time
In all life’s situations
With light, love, light.
(a verse by Rudolf Steiner for Elisabeth Vreede)
Rudolf Steiner gave a gift to the teachers in the “Teachers’ Imagination” at the founding of the first school in 1919. Now more than ever, it is needed to strongly knit together the fabric of a school’s faculty and staff. It is a call for us to bring the spiritual reality to the fore, even when the physical circumstances are so fraught. Because there is such a strong call for social and physical distancing in reaction to the Coronavirus pandemic, we need to become even closer spiritually. As members of a school’s collegium (or whatever term it is that describes the guiding circle of the faculty), we are called on to experience the strength of what we might think of as the inspired, guiding faculty of the school. Now is a moment which calls on us to realize in each school the spiritual collegium which Rudolf Steiner described when he called together that first circle of teachers.
The Teachers’ Imagination posits the reality that each teacher in that circle already has the necessary strength from his or her Angels to meet the moment. That part of the Imagination has everything to do with fortifying myself as an individual teacher. But in this time of Covid-19, we need to particularly focus on the Beings circling above our heads: the Archangels. These Beings have everything to do with cultivating our circle of teachers, especially asking each of the human beings there present to recognize what comes from the many others in that circle. For it is through the Archangels’ gift of courage that we can face the future as a circle of the Whole. This is Michaelic courage in pure form. Knowing that the Archangels are there, giving us the courage to use our Angel-given strength, we can lend our “en-couragement” to the colleagues who contribute their insights to the vision which will lead the school into the future.
So it is that you do this inner work not for your own benefit, but rather to provide support for your colleagues. Out of our warmth of feeling and in our mind’s eyes, all our colleagues and the Archangels above our heads create the whole that is ranged around and above us. So it is that in this part of the Imagination, we are called to encourage, to inwardly carry, and to benefit from the gifts that our colleagues have to give to one another and to the whole by virtue of their unique individualities. Through this gift of love, I also give my strength to realize our faculty’s vision of what the future is calling for in this moment. So it is that the many “others” in the Circle and I become part of the greater whole which we call a Waldorf school. I give to the others so that the “Being” of this Waldorf school is manifested and can work through us and into the world.
The Teachers’ Imagination shows us how to create a vessel, a chalice, into which Inspiration can flow. We and the Archangels then have created this chalice which is meant to receive a drop of light, a drop of Michaelic wisdom needed for our time. By supporting my colleagues and they me, each of us can then know that we have allowed the school community to receive a drop of light which it surely needs to nurture and educate our children in this time.
In what follows are three quotes from Rudolf Steiner that could be relevant for the teacher who is seeking a way to regenerate the life forces that have been drained through excessive “Zooming”.
1. “One can reach a conception of the ‘I’ only if one does not think of it as being inside the bodily organization and as receiving impressions ‘from outside.’ One should conceive this ‘I’ as having its being within the general lawfulness of the things themselves, and regard the organization of the body merely as a sort of mirror through which the organic processes of the body reflect back to the ‘I’ what this ‘I’ perceives outside the physical body as it lives and weaves within the true essence of the world.” (Riddles of Philosophy: Part II, Chapter VIII)
2. “Electricity… must be recognized in its true character — in its peculiar power of leading down from Nature to Sub Nature. Only man himself must beware lest he slide downward with it. In the age of Natural Science, since about the middle of the nineteenth century, the civilized activities of mankind are gradually sliding downward, not only into the lowest regions of Nature, but even beneath Nature…. This makes it urgent for man to find in conscious experience a knowledge of the Spirit, wherein he will rise as high above Nature as in his sub-natural technical activities he sinks beneath her. He will thus create within him the inner strength not to go under.” (Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts: From Nature to Sub Nature)
If we picture the “I” when Zooming as living in this realm of sub-nature (rather than in the living forces of nature or in the soul-spiritual forces of one’s fellow humans), then the exhaustion one experiences through such technology may not be so surprising.
Is there a way to balance this? We speak constantly of the necessity for a healthy “breathing process” in Waldorf education, so how can we find the necessary “out-breath” to balance our submersion in sub-nature? In the final quote, Rudolf Steiner relates how we can bring life into our thoughts (thereby rising above our normal consciousness) through nature observation:
3. “For this discovery of the life in thoughts, however, the expenditure of conscious will is necessary. But this cannot simply be that will which appears in ordinary consciousness.…. One can particularly help oneself in pursuit of this goal by observing the life of nature with inner heart’s [Gemüt] involvement. One seeks, for example, to look at a plant in such a way that one not only takes up its form into one’s thoughts, but also, as it were, feels along with its inner life, which stretches upward in the stem, spreads out in the leaves, opens what is inside to what is outside with its blossom, and so on. In such thinking the will is also present in gentle resonance; and there, will is a will that is developed in devotion and that guides the soul; a will that does not originate from the soul, but rather directs its activity upon the soul. At first, one quite naturally believes that this will originates in the soul. In experiencing the process itself, however, one recognizes that through this reversal of the will, a spiritual element, existing outside the soul, is grasped by the soul. When will is strengthened in this direction and grasps a person’s thought-life in the way indicated, then, in actual fact, out of the circumference of his ordinary consciousness, another consciousness arises that relates to his ordinary one like this ordinary consciousness relates to a weaving in dream pictures.” (The Riddle of Man: New Perspectives, pp. 139-40)
In my lifetime, there has never been an event with such widespread global impact. Even in the isolation of our homes, we can hardly avoid the heightened emotions that surround us. Fear is especially palpable. At the same time and despite the looming fear, there are everyday acts of courage and kindness that we can celebrate. The situation has brought out both the worst and best aspects of our humanness.
Early childhood educators are used to being calm centers in stormy times, but in this situation, we are dealing with an unprecedented level of uncertainty –– for ourselves, our families, the parents of the children in our classes, our colleagues in our schools. We are in uncharted waters as a culture, as a school movement and as Waldorf educators. It is clear, however, that the strength needed to meet these uncertainty is to be found inside, not “out there.”
Already in circulation are thoughts, verses, and stories that individuals have found helpful. In difficult times, I find that it helps to remind myself that, in reality, I am not alone. I have spiritual helpers that have always been there, with guiding images and words of wisdom. What is required is that I quiet my soul enough to listen to them. As Waldorf teachers we also have guiding beings that will work with us when we consciously work together to request and attend to their guidance.
I cannot help but wonder what is REALLY happening? Why did the whole world need to push the pause button? Is there a shining opportunity under the surface of this phenomenon that will remain open only for a short period of time and then close again, like flood waters after the rainstorm? If so, what is my part? Having to adapt to distance learning is allowing us to look with fresh eyes at Waldorf education, at what is so central and difficult to maintain without face-to-face contact. What else might be happening in the larger social sphere? The pull of the longing for the familiar and the comfortable will be tempting. We will need to be awake to new possibilities and to find ways to make the good things that often arise in a crisis a part of our new normal. The likelihood of that happening without both individual and collective effort is slim. So, what is my part? That is another question I am living with during this time.
The current experiment in social distancing has become a rare opportunity to be surprised at what we are learning about our social selves. Modern culture’s love affair with technology and social media is meeting with an unexpected rival –– the longing for human touch, human interaction! This is certainly something to pay attention to. How can we document what we are learning and nurture this seed of truth about our need for one another, so that we don’t forget it again?
Likewise, we are discovering treasures with which to renew Waldorf education. We are discovering how flexible we can be and how we can adapt its core principles in ways that we never imagined. We are also discovering what lies at its heart and should not be compromised.
In early childhood we have found new and more collaborative ways to work with the parents that will probably change the nature of our relationships in the future. There will, no doubt, be other changes as well. I am imagining that the recognition of our need to collaborate with our colleagues near and far will also be strengthened. I have found new ways of working with my teacher training students that I will want to retain, even when we are able to work face-to-face again. On the other hand, a lot of what we are able to do together remotely at this time is due to the level of trust that has been built up over the past two years of working together in person.
Interestingly, it is the same advice that we are giving to the parents of young children that serves us so well in this period where we are spending a lot of time in Zoom meetings in order to be able to carry on our work. To balance our time in online activity and to replace the forces that are depleted, we need to cherish our home rhythms and find renewal and joy in cooking, cleaning, gardening, and time in nature. The paradox between spring unfolding at an increasing pace and our social life on hold is striking. My long daily walk is especially healing. Moving my limbs and breathing into nature certainly helps me feel more whole again. Paying attention to small miracles of nature are the key to enhancing the healing. Stopping often to wonder at one glorious blossom or at the mist of fresh green or a just leafing out tree, or to feel the warmth of the spring sun as I step out of the tree’s shadow, fills up the well of my soul.
I am excited about the fire of inspiration that has been lit in my colleagues around the world, fire to take up this opportunity for a timely introspection and review of our work in Waldorf education and to strengthen it as we approach its second 100 years!