“I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing beauty of your own Light.”Hafiz
The four weeks preceding the sacred mdi-winter festival of Christmas are called the season of “Advent,” of “The Coming.” In the season, we can prepare ourselves for the deepest mystery of Earth evolution by turning our thoughts to the four kingdoms of nature, one by one, week by week. We cultivate an ever-deeper relationship to the Created World as we extend our gratitude, first to the mineral kingdom, then to the plants, and next to the animals. In the fourth week, we turn our thoughts to ourselves, to the Human Being. In the fifth step, on the night of holiness, we contemplate our anticipated Angelic-selves: we take a moment to acknowledge where we are now, in our present stage of evolutions, with our hopes and dreams and frailties, and all that we can become in the fullness of time. It is in that spirit that I offer this blog:
Growing up as the middle daughter in a middle-class family in the middle of America (Chicago), I might have led a fairly predictable life. Yet already throughout my childhood I was asking deep questions: Can we be conscious of the spirit? Is reincarnation real? What does it really mean to be a human being?
After graduating from college, I embarked on what ended up being a two-year journey around the globe, traveling through Europe, across the Near East, through the Indian sub-continent, Southeast Asia, and then landing in Japan for a year. Initially, when I left the States, I told myself I was looking for a “guru” in India, but I can recognize now that I was looking for spiritual certainty, a perspective that would illuminate what this experience of existence is.
In the end, I never found a teaching in the East that satisfied me, but soon after returning to the US, I was able to formulate a new question: how can I learn to be a healer using deep wisdom about how spirit relates to matter? This question led me directly to my studies of Eurythmy, Therapeutic Eurythmy, and Anthroposophy.
Now, many decades later, I am once again traveling around the world, teaching, mentoring, advising and witnessing. I am trying to understand what is going on in the world in these years. We live in an age of technological wonders, hand-held computers and implant-able computer chips, rushing towards an intended future of artificial intelligence and robots. Simultaneously, we are also finding ourselves embroiled in a world of anger, disparagement, even cruelty. Yet in so many places and so many circumstances, people of all ages are waking up to the reality of spirit. Those who discover how to ask living questions are finding that spirit is everywhere present, waiting to be perceived.
Traveling around the world those many years ago, what was probably my most significant experience was seeing “how many ways there are to be human being.” There are those of us trained through science in the west, those of us privileged to have money and comfort, and others who live instead in bustling communities close to the land and shop in colorful bazaars filled with spices and music, such as those I saw in the Middle East and in Latin America. There are those who live in the vast sandstone expanses of Afghanistan, while others dwell in the majestic highlands of the Himalayas, and untold millions lead their lives of abject poverty on the streets of the mega-cities of the world. I have mingled with those who can walk daily through the golden temples of Thailand; I have spent time with Vietnamese war refugees in camps on the Mekong River in Laos: I spent a year living in the austere aesthetics of Japan. My eyes were opened to the marvels of life: there are so many different ways to be human.
And when I ask myself: where did I experience the most love, the most kindness? Surely not in the war zones I passed through, for I often met danger and darkness there. But there, where people lived in truly modest, even humble situations, I found a beautiful image of how humans can live out of love and kindness. I learned that luxury isolates, but shared need unites. There was so much more joy and community visible in the cardboard communities of the streets of Calcutta than in many other places I visited.
Now, once again, life is giving me the opportunity to travel widely. I watch the world deeply, observing our shared struggle to evolve towards a future that will really be worthy of the gift of life that we have been given.Shadows are deep, now, but if we are attentive, we can sense how the healing spirit is ever-present in the realms of life that we move through. These are the realms we touch in eurythmy: these are the dimensions that we can access with our meditations and our spiritual movement practices.
The dozens of Chinese and Taiwanese students and contacts with whom I regularly work are fast, super-modern, terrifically engaged, and also really thirsting for our studies of Eurythmy and Anthroposophy. And I know that, although there are countless differences between my fellow westerners and those millions in the east, yet I am always searching to tap into the core essence of human-ness.
And now, returned to my homeland, my heart feels the pain of dramas I never dreamed we would be living through. Is this— bigotry and social Darwinism–what it means to be human?
Christmas: The Light in the Darkness
At the dark time of the year, we gain an intimation of the inner dimensions of the soul. I make a practice in this season of turning inwards, withdrawing from the outer drama and from everything that is driving me and drawing me through outer circumstances. This is a time to light candles, to meditate, to do daily eurythmy, to cultivate moments of stillness.
This is a time to ask again, “What does it truly mean to be human? Am I merely a product of my society? Merely a consumer? Am I only a robot, a thinking machine? What untold faculties lie inside me, waiting to be awakened through my own diligent practice? How can I move the center of my being away from my own self-ish self-hood and cultivate a real fountainhead of love in my core? And I can I live in integrity with these core values so that my teaching, with children and adults, is genuine, giving them seed experiences so that they, too can strengthen their own core?”
Vignette: I teach eurythmy three days a week to children in a public Waldorf school. Following the government mandate that we may not teach religion in a public school, I take care not to speak of the Christmas mysteries. Yet earlier this month, I brought four candles to the classroom, and lit them, one by one. With the first, I spoke of the light in the heart of crystals: with the second, of the light in the growth of the plant; with the third, with the light in the animals. Then, as I was ready to light the fourth, several children exclaimed—“the fourth is for people! But that doesn’t count, because we are just animals!” Ah, I thought, even the tender children have internalized the contemporary perspective that we are only beasts: so they will also assert that they are only machines.
“Of course,” I explained, “we all have an animal nature in us. But we also have the amazing ability to learn to think creatively, and to understand everything things in a way that no computer-facts will reveal to us. Yes, the animals manifest a beautiful harmony with nature, but we humans don’t have that assignment. We have something else to learn.
“To be truly humans,” I continued, “we must grow the tiny spark of love within us into an endless sun that shines through our world.”
And as I looked at them, I felt deep reverence for the mystery of being a human. I pondered how in the core of every single one of them, there flames is a spark of spirit light that they alone must find and tend for.
Each one of them will play a part in taking our planet into the future. How can they find the truly human in themselves, that is stronger than their animal self, more original than the machine?
In Search of Love
And I continue in my life-long search for humanity. What does it really mean to be a human being?
As I approach Christmas this year, my heart is troubled for the well-being of our planet. The next passage we must pass through will not be easy.
And yet I know, deeply, that in this dark time of the year, the experience of inner light will grow increasingly close to us. I know that God (whatever name you may use) loves us. We can rise above our shadow sides. We can each become a stable, a manger, a sacred space in which an unlimitable shining, loving God-presence is born.
We can be protectors and worshippers of the truly divine that lives in each of us.
We can, we must, we will—in time—evolve to be true carriers of love and wisdom, worthy of the gift of creation that we live in, and able to serve and heal the wounds of the world, and offer it all back to the Creator, in a form that honors the great generosity with which it was given to us.
“From their heights, the Gods reach down into the ozone of humanity
and feel the warmth of love.
We know that the Gods lack something when man does not live in love.
The more human love there is on earth
the more food for the Gods there is in heaven
the less love there is,
the more the Gods hunger.”
Rudolf Steiner – Universe, Earth and Man – Lecture XI