Thoughts for St. John’s Tide (June 24)
To lofty summer heights,
The gleaming being of the Sun ascends;
It takes my human feeling
Along with it to space expanses.
In boding, there stirs with my being
A sensation, dimly heralding,
One day you will discern:
A godly being sensed in you.
From Rudolf Steiner’s Calendar of the Soul, June 9-15
It’s heating up here where I live, in Sacramento. Temperatures are peaking above 100 degrees, and we anticipate about 30 days of 3-digit heat this summer. The sun’s course across the sky approaches the absolute zenith, and the quality of the light is searing and relentless.
I am not a summer person, neither by inclination nor by constitution. The intense outer light and heat bore into me, and I find it hard to study and stay focused on my studying or consciousness work. I feel the sun burning into my crown chakra and I seek places of shade for respite.
At this season of the year, the marriage of the Sun with the Soul of the Earth has created the marvelous, multi-colored, multi-fragranced World of Nature. The seeds that were buried in the earth throughout the winter have left the nest of darkness, and the plants are daily drawn higher and higher, away from the earth. The Earth Soul now clothes herself in all the colors, fragrances, essential oils of the plant. These are enveloped by the frenzied dances of the birds, the dragonfies, the honeybees. The soul of the earth is ecstatic, as she celebrates a kind of sacred matrimony with the Sun. She holds nothing back, and loses herself in a divine cosmic union. It is said that the Earth is asleep in summer’s heat, and her sleep is in the arms of the sun.
How different this is from the depths of winter, when the soul of the earth chastely withdraws into herself! In the cold, dark time of the year, the Earth Soul is awake, covering herself with a blanket of snow and tending her seeds deep within in a sacred silence. In winter, it is the Sun who must go seeking, to find the soul of the earth in a different kind of marriage, deep in the hidden inner places.
In each season of the year, we humans are drawn into the recurring courtship of the sun and the earth. In winter, we draw inwards even as the Earth Soul does. We light candles for Christmas, and listen for the warmth of the heart fire.
At the summer solstice, however, we must open ourselves even as the Earth Soul does to the sources of life. Like the plants, we open ourselves to the cosmos. We are “turned inside out.”
And here, says Rudolf Steiner, is the true significance of the midsummer festival. This season is sacred to the Archangel Uriel, along with those spiritual beings close to him. This great spiritual being beholds US, in the naked openness of our inside-out souls.
In this season, our thoughts, our feelings, and, most importantly of all, THE EFFECTS OF ALL OF OUR DEEDS are “read” by the spiritual beings. It is in this season that the spiritual beings who are connected with earth clearly perceive what we are doing with our lives and with our planet. And the colors and fragrance that they perceive are the colors and fragrances of our morality.
If this is true—–what will be the response? If their dispassionate gaze sees us and our deeds clearly, what will they reflect back to us to help us evolve towards our human-earthly future?
In the Christian tradition, the festival of St. John is celebrated on June 24, three days after the solstice. John the Baptist was known as the “last prophet,” the hermit in the desert who baptized the man Jesus so that he could become the bearer of the Christ. John, they say, was a tremendous orator. Clothed in animal skins and eating only the food of the desert, he must have been a wild site to behold. He could perhaps have exalted his own personality so that people would worship and idolize himself.
But John the Baptist made himself subservient to a higher calling, and through his words we perceive the gesture of the midsummer sun. John said of Jesus, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” The midsummer sun will soon decrease so that the Inner Sun can appear in midwinter. And John, a radiant sun-like being, is willing to let his own light fade, so that he can make room for a new kind of spiritual awakening on the earth. He can foresee the mantra, “Not I, but Christ in me.”
Passing through the heart of summer, our answer to the Uriel challenge can be: “My I, my small all-too-human I, must decrease. so that the greater cosmic I-AM may live through me, aligning and guiding my personal biography and morality with the great Cosmic I-Am.
The beauty of the world
Compels me from the depth of soul
That I release to cosmic flight
The godly force of my own life:
To leave myself below
And trusting, seek myself
In cosmic light and cosmic warmth.
From Rudolf Steiner’s Calendar of the soul, June 24
China May 2016: Teaching in China
As I mentioned in my previous blog, I have just returned from my second trip to China this spring, my sixth trip in the past 3 years. In this issue, I would like to describe some of the communities I have been working with there.
There has been an enormous growth in Waldorf education in China, beginning in the early 2000’s. The Canadian-Chinese Harry Lee was one of the first inaugurators, who helped start the first school in Chengdu, in the heartland of China. Australian Ben Cherry and his wife have since stepped in to play a very important role in helping school communities around the country get started. (A parallel but independent movement has also been growing in Taiwan, with perhaps one of the largest Waldorf schools in the world: this merits a full essay on its own someday!)
Contemporary public school education in China is very tight. Students study extremely long hours each day, often continuing their studies in “cram schools” late into the evenings. The curriculum is very much oriented towards training the students to successfully pass the highly competitive college-entrance exams, and students live under a great deal of stress. Of course, this kind of education emphasizes multiple-choice tests and answers, and has the real danger of stifling original, creative thinking.
The citizens who have found Waldorf education hope it will help shift this paradigm. There are Waldorf Schools popping up all over the country, and almost all are illegal or at least “outside of the law.” (Several schools, however, are currently being supported by their district heads of education, which is a hopeful development.) At last count I had heard of over 400 Waldorf-inspired kindergartens and small schools, and one developing high school. Numbers are slippery, however, and I am fairly certain that no one knows how many initiatives there are.
Unfortunately, there is no way that there could be enough teachers to fill all these schools.
With the rapid growth of the Waldorf movement, schools are growing far faster than it is possible for teachers to be trained. Despite everyone’s best effort, trainings are, of necessity, short and fast. For this reason, I perceive a huge challenge for teachers to learn the basic philosophical underpinnings of anthroposophy. And if this foundation cannot be laid, teachers only work out of techniques, and not out of insight into how and why it works. Only if foundation studies can be developed that help really understand what they are doing will they be able to work creatively with Waldorf education. The consistent problem that I meet in China is that the enthusiasm for Waldorf Education is not supported by sufficient anthroposophically-rooted work.
In short: the schools are in grave danger of only giving the appearance of being Waldorf schools without developing the skills necessary for future autonomy or for building a contextualized currciculum. Some schools are carried by eager but inadequately trained parents, and some by financial speculators who hope to make a tidy business by funding Waldorf kindergartens.
In almost every school I visit, teachers want to organize their own local, in-house teacher training. However, this only compounds the difficulties of establishing a sufficiently deep basis for common understanding among schools.
Because I meet these challenges wherever I go, I am vigorously trying to encourage the schools that I come into contact with to consolidate their teacher training programs into several main centers, and also to develop consistent Waldorf school standards to certify that the schools have enough qualified teachers to ensure high quality schools.
Currently, the Chinese Waldorf movement is trying to focus on developing certification programs in four or five major centers.
- Beijing, in the north, is the capital city; it has a no-nonsense executive flair.
- Xi’an, in the middle, was the ancient home of the Qi dynasty, where the terra-cotta warriors were created. It feels old and culturally dense.
- Chengdu, in the west, is the home of the first (and largest) Waldorf school, and reminds me of the American heartland.
- Guangzhou, in the south, is only miles from HongKong, and one can feel a breathe of international openness there.
- The eastern coast also needs a Waldorf training center, but it isn’t clear yet, if one might be created in the fast-moving megapolis Shanghai or in the ancient capital city nearby, Nanjing.
Support for this initiative towards centralization is met in part by skepticism, because schools seem to be afraid of any possible element of “dogmatism.” I engage in many conversations trying to overcome this kind of resistance.
Building on my background as a Eurythmist and lecturer for Foundation Studies, most of my own teaching work in China focuses on the basic principles of anthroposophy, enlivened by really accessible eurythmy experiences. I have done this as part of the teacher trainings, and also as part of general community outreach work. I often work with the parents and community members as well as with teachers. I have been to all five of the major cities, but also work with some of the smaller schools as well. (On this last trip, for instance, I visited the coastal city of QingDao. which quickly became my favorite city in China, with its clean beaches, its bay ideally suited for the 2008 Olympics sailing events, and its surrounding mountains.)
I have cultivated a special offering for the communities where I teach, enlivening foundation studies through movement practices. Having taught these for over 25 years, I offer many things: Eurythmy, the Nature of the Human Being, Yin/Yang and Creation Myths in conjunction with Cosmic and Human Evolution, Life before Birth and after Death, Human Biography and Life Cycles, Developing Etheric Vision, Fundamentals of Biodynamics (with Harald), Group Processes and Coaching. Due to my background in the sciences, my experiences in the East and my studies of eastern philosophy, I understand the Eastern mind and paradigms. I am committed to helping bridge the Eastern and Western mind.
I seek above all to bring the teachings to people in a way that they feel moved in the hearts and understand what it means to “wake up.” I avoid what students tell me they often get: “cook-book anthroposophy that teaches the head but not the heart.” (This is what I teach around the world, including in many communities in the US.)
“Please help us to become more human”
Twelve months ago, I taught a two-week course in the Chengdu Community Education program. In the second week of that work, we began to speak of the eternal nature of the human spirit, and looked at the story of life before birth and after death. In time, the women dared to ask me, “What happens when we abort a child?” Knowing that many, if not most, Chinese women have had one or more abortions, I delicately found my way into this exploration of their deep wound. This work opened new levels of intimacy and candor I could not have anticipated.
This past year, these same women wrote to me with the request to begin a new work with them. They asked if I could come and offer a full training on Eurythmy, inner work and biography, saying, “We feel that we are becoming hardened, like robots. Please help us to become more human.” This request touched me deeply, and I knew that the unique gift of Eurythmy as a Personal Practice, combined with practices from self-transformation workshops and coaching would be able to answer their need.
This May we held our first five-day workshop, focusing on questions such as: What are the archetypes of man and woman? How do we meditate? What is biography work? With two lecture periods a day and two eurythmy classes, they could feel themselves getting out of their heads and into their hearts and bodiesBased on the success of this workshop, we are planning for more in the future.
My journey in China has many installments in the years to come. I also look forward to sharing more of these journeys with my husband Harald in the future. And although I am sure I will not move to China, I plan to return to offer the gifts that Rudolf Steiner offered to the world.
(PS: My husband and I are currently preparing to bring our workshops to two or three cities in Mexico next month. Life is full of surprises.)
China Blog May 2016
I have just returned from my second trip to China this spring, my fourth trip of the past 12 months. As I am fond of saying, “It is really fulfilling work, but a very LONG commute.”
When I was a young woman, fresh out of college, I boldly decided to travel to India. I began with four months in Europe, then traveled overland through the Middle East, and finally arrived in India, where I stayed for four months and—(unsuccessfully)—sought for a spiritual path I could resonate with. My trip continued to the East, taking me through Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, and culminated with a year in Japan. I ended up spending fully two years on the road, discovering how many ways there are to experience human life. The experiences in the far east changed my inner life in many ways, as I encountered levels of historical depths, cultural beauty and interpersonal sensitivity that I hadn’t met back home in Chicago.
My experiences there were so life-changing that, although my next years were more oriented towards Europe as I immersed myself in Anthroposophical studies, I always had a presentiment that I would return someday, to take up work in the east again.
I never expected, however, that I would begin in China.
In those days, China was still a closed country, and I had to circumvent it. However, for the last 25 years or so, China has opened its doors to the world, and it is currently in the midst of extraordinary change. Among other things, in the 2000’s the Waldorf school movement began to take root there, and by now there are some 400 Waldorf kindergartens and small schools there, with more being founded yearly.
Several hundred lecturers and workshop leaders from the western world—Canada, the US, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Holland (to name a few) who are helping to guide this movement. In addition to several Waldorf teacher training courses, there are also initiative for anthroposophical medical work, rhythmical massage training, business consulting services, eurythmy training initiatives, a Bothmer gymnastics training, and more, sprouting up all over the country.
And so I too have spent quite a bit of time recently in China. My first teaching trip was in 2013, and I have just returned from my 6th trip. In the past twelve months I visited four times, numbering a total of about sixty days. The work there is fascinating, intense, rich, frustrating, multi-faceted, and concerning. I have been asked time and again by my hosts there in various cities to make a permanent move to China, set up a eurythmy school, carry responsibility for a Waldorf school, create a BD farm initiative with my husband or commit to any number of other projects, but I don’t feel the call to move there. Life, however, continues to take me there and give me extremely meaningful opportunities to do some of the most creative work I am doing anywhere on the planet.
I find that the Chinese people are truly hungry for anthroposophical work—far more so than I have found in the western world since the 1980s. Yet every time I go, I am vividly aware of the urgent need for us foreign teachers to learn to contextualize the way we teach there. Anyone who teaches in China is well-advised to school themselves well in the Chinese history, lest what the westerners teach be a kind of cultural imperialism.
It would be a grave mistake to overlook the difference between the paradigms that Rudolf Steiner’s work is based on—thousands of years of Western philosophy—and the even longer history of philosophical traditions of the East, tracing back to Lao Tzu, the Yellow Emporer and others.
The path of the west is based on western philosophy, on rationalism, on phenomenological experience of the world, of developing the human ego and unfolding it in freedom.
Traditional Chinese culture, on the other hand, rests upon the tenets of Confucianism, Taosim, Buddhism. The basic world view is dualistic (yin/yang). The relationship to religion is frequently superstitious. The sense of the ego, or I-Am, as the central human consciousness, is awakening rapidly, but in an abstract way: society always asks the individual to retreat for the good of the society. Furthermore, there is no innate sense of freedom. There is no history of scholarly examination, no phenomenology. There is a tremendous drive towards consumerism. Whatever ancient sense of reverence for the elders there might have been, whatever tradition of ancient knowledge existed in the past, were systematically wiped out through the cultural revolution. What we have now is a generation of 50 and 60-year-olds who suffered more than we can imagine in the Cultural Revolution, a generation of 30- and 40-year olds who were parented by those broken people, the 20-somethings who are tremendously materialistic, but as tuned-in as their contemporaries in the west, and young people commonly referred to as “little emporers,” because their parents don’t discipline them.
The result is a modern culture largely bereft of their cultural heritage. The Chinese are an immensely proud and driven people, and their society racing at break-neck speed towards consumerism and modernity. And I only dare to make these assertions because my Chinese friends themselves have brought these concerns to me.
The Chinese people I meet are very fast and smart and need to be well respected. Yet they also have a deep hunger for substance that hasn’t been offered to them in their own world. Indeed, wherever I teach, I find people who are profoundly longing to find a spiritual orientation for their lives.
I would like to offer a snapshot of what I have experienced in China. In doing so, I confess I may have some facts wrong, because one of the difficulties of living and working there is that things change so fast that one never feels one has a complete picture.
China is approximately as large as the United States, and most of the population in located in the eastern half of the country.
The air pollution and environmental degradation are, in fact, as extreme as we have been told. Rarely can one see the moon or the stars in the east of the country, and often even the sun is only a pale ball in the sky.
Chinese traffic is amazing. Drivers weave through traffic, cutting each other off with impunity.
Pedestrian traffic runs in a similar manner. People cut into lines all the time, seemingly without offending anyone. My Chinese friends tell me that they are expected to learn and practice tolerance from a very young age.
Chinese architecture is nothing less than stunning, especially in the really large cities. Shanghai, for instance, with a population around 28 million, is the most international city I know on the planet, and its hundreds of skyscrapers are beautiful, creative, playful and breathtaking. At night most of them are lit from the top to the bottom with multi-colored LED lights, making a unique cityscape that never fails to impress me.
I have seen many of the truly great cities of the world, and Shanghai surely ranks as one of the most international places on the planet. Despite the inevitable pockets of poverty, it is fast, jazzy, blues-y, sophisticated, intelligent, and fun. The streets are crowded by day, as millions of pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders, cars and trucks jostle for position. Street-side cafes (yes, Starbucks, of course) and Chinese noodle shop line the streets. Dark alleys are still lined by Chinese traditional homes, often without indoor plumbing, but they are being replaced block-by-block by new, clean, and largely gorgeous neighborhoods. My sister and brother-in-law have lived there for 6 years, and I end each of my Chinese trips with a stay with them in their 42nd-floor apartment that looks out upon the city through the smog (a good day has an air-pollution rating of 100, and visibility on a good day is about 10 miles). Yet the city is fun, with great food, fabulous bath houses and massages, the spectacular Bund (waterfront park and promenade), and international cuisine.
I have also been to the more rustic small villages, such as are found in the southern province of Yunaan. There the traffic is still crazy, Chinese-style, but the people are somewhat more relaxed. In some of the small towns, it is impossible to walk the streets without being stared at by local people or photographed by image-hungry people.
I have also been to nature parks, to the terra-cotta warriors of Emporer Qi ( which was in concept and design uncannily similar to the Egyptian tombs), and to visit the panda bears near Chengdu. I have been so lucky to have seen more of China than many Chinese people have. I know it to be a country in rapid change, with enormous wealth in the cities and crushing rural poverty in the outlying areas. I have heard people assert
“We are so free in this country,” and others say “We only think we are free because we have no idea what freedom is. We don’t know how it could be different.”
My work there has largely been in conjunction with the Waldorf communities there. Because of that, I have had very deep and personal questions about life, meaning, and spirituality with people who are striving to wake up. I honor and respect these people, and hope to bring them a compass for their lives with the help of Anthroposophy.
In my next blog, I will describe my teaching experiences in depth.