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.
In beautiful language, Rudolf Steiner writes that if there had existed a person who could have watched the earth from the vantage point of outer space through long ages of time, that person would have perceived one moment when the aura of the earth suddenly, and dramatically changed. That, he writes, was the moment of the crucifixion of the Jesus on Good Friday, when the blood of the Sun Being, who lived in Jesus as a man, fell upon the earth and entered it as a new medicine. At that moment, the earth was imbued with limitless vitality, with the Life, Light and Love of the Creator. Though the drops were but few, the aura of the earth began to glow, and this radiance has grown—and continues to grow– more powerful, more beautiful and more radiant with every cycle of the seasons.
When the Creator entered the earth as a human being, he placed himself directly into this material world. Here, he allowed himself to be crucified. Then, by continually affirming His spiritual nature, He was able to overcome Death, embracing it with the love of the spiritual world. The seed-force of the spirit now lives as spiritual potentiality right in the heart of the material world. As this seed-force continues to grow, it touches and changes all the substance of the earth.
Yet before His crucifixion, Christ told his disciples that still one more blessing would come to them after His death. He told them that he would send to them the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. Something more was to be given to the human race than what was given to the material world.
Fifty days after Easter, the 12 disciples and Mother Mary were gathered together in the Upper Room, to mark the Jewish festival of Pentecost. They were filled with longing and sadness because they could no longer feel the Christ, who had been with them physically for three years. Although they had experienced the Resurrection, they could not directly perceive him in their midst.
It is said that as they shared their urgent longing for Him, the atmosphere of prayer in the room became charged. Suddenly the room was filled with flames of fire, as if a thunderstorm had broken into the room. Each individual vividly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit “descending upon him” and then working inside his own mind, comforting him and clarifying for him the entire meaning of the Christian mystery. Each person had an individual experience, within his or her own consciousness, and yet each could understand the other person with perfect clarity. The mood of transformation and en-lightenment was palpable, for each person was changed profoundly.
Later, when they left the room and walked the streets, they were able to speak about their experiences in such a way that everyone else could understand them. In fact, the story speaks of how the disciples eventually journeyed to other lands, and it was as if they each had become multi-lingual, able to describe in any and all languages what they had experienced. Through the activity engendered by the Holy Spirit, they were able to inspire others to understand the working of the Christ within themselves, with all persons, and on the earth.
What is significant about this story is that the experience created the possibility for each person to know in his or her own self the truth about the spiritual world. This represents a next step in the evolution of humanity. Until this point, human beings had experienced how the Spirit worked upon them from the outside. Humans felt that the spiritual world was “up there,” “beyond them,” in another sphere. As our human consciousness evolved, we needed to be taught about this divine spiritual world by the great teachers who walked with us and led us in prayer and ritual. We were taught to be obedient and mindful of the right ways of living to honor and respect our Creator, even when we could feel our own perception of the spiritual world fading. Spiritual experience became rules, became dogma.
This was the human condition until the event of Whitsun. For the Easter event was not complete until one more step was taken: to become completely self-aware spiritual beings, each person needed to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in their own core.
It is said that the Holy Spirit has worked upon humanity in different ways through the ages. In ancient times, it was revealed through outer thunder and miracles, through the voices of the prophets and kings. In our age, however, the age of the Consciousness Soul, the Holy Spirit now sparks human beings from within. We are each tasked with finding in ourselves the voice of the Spirit. This voice speaks in a different way to each person, and yet unites us all. It is a voice that can and will bring all of humanity together, in which we all become conscious of how the Creator Spirit lives in and on the earth and unites all persons, totally irrespective of the names of religions that seemingly separate us. And however difficult our lives are in these turbulent years of the 21st century, those who seek will be able to find the reality of the seed-forces of Life and Light and Love that have been laid in the earth.
We human beings have only just begun to understand what it will mean to truly be a human being. If we can imagine the immensity of the spiritual world, the limitless consciousness and power of the Creator, we can realize that the possibilities of our future evolution are unlimited. We, too, can become like gods, for we were made in His image.
Through the gift of Easter, we have been vouchsafed a promise that we need not be bound by the chains of death. We will find a way forwards, back to the Creator.
Through the gift of Whitsun, we will not only be carried towards this future: we will become individually conscious in it. Through this, the Creator being evolves towards his perfection. For through this, those beings whom S/He created will themselves be able to evolve limitless consciousness, and perfectly mirror the Creator’s infinite nature.
“The dove descending breaks the air With flame of incandescent terror Of which the tongues declare The one discharge from sin and error. The only hope, or else despair Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre- To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love. Love is the unfamiliar Name Behind the hands that wove The intolerable shirt of flame Which human power cannot remove. We only live, only suspire Consumed by either fire or fire.”
It is late February where I live, here in California, and the triumphant forces of springtime are everywhere. After the welcome rains of winter, the dandelions now festoon my yard with their brilliant yellow cups. The early fruit trees —plums, almonds, apricots, wild pears—are crowned with delicate pink and white blossoms, and the air is so rich with their fragrance it is nearly intoxicating. The earliest seedlings are beginning to emerge, and the yellow calendulas and blue forget-me-nots will soon cover the garden beds. My husband’s beautiful biodynamic vegetable garden is now putting forth its bounty of spring lettuces and other greens, providing delicious and nurturing meals for the dozens of shareholders he feeds. On the fields, the new-born lambs are gaining their wobbly legs and will soon be racing about the fields.
Early spring is a beautiful season in California. The air is sweet, the temperatures are mild, and the senses are filled to overflowing. My heart is glad.
These are the pictures that the exquisite poet Gerard Manley Hopkins frames in loving words in my favorite poem, “Spring.” This wonderful sonnet open with a joyful celebration of budding growth, blue skies and racing lambs. The poet then declares that this power of spring gives us a moment to live each year as if in the paradise garden of earth’s beginning, when we were given the delights of the sense world to taste and to savor. “Have, get!” he declares, receive the gift of creation!
Yet paradise did not continue forever. In the Christian calendar, this season is called Lent. This is a season of conscious repentance and sobriety. We are reminded that spiritual traditions around the world have considered fasting and self-discipline to be important steps on the journey towards self-realization.
If we choose to live through this season as a spiritual quest, we are asked to hold in mind the counter-picture of joyful spring. We must not only rejoice in spring’s fecundity: we must also face its shadow-side, the dilemma of too much “astrality,” too much greed and too little kindness.
We as a humanity have eagerly tasted the fruits of the earth and harvested the gifts of nature, but in such excess that we ourselves have brought about the end of paradise. This is all too evident in the sad and evil news that we read and hear every day. Global warming, homelessness and refugees, politics and enmity: all these are created out of our own misdeeds. And even if I myself bear goodwill towards the downtrodden and miserable, I am complicit in the web of destructive deeds that have marred the Garden of Eden. I cannot escape this awareness at any time, for even as I walk through these spectacular spring days, my thoughts are not consistently kind and loving. I must work the complexity of my humanness every day.
This is the mystery of the season of Lent.
All of us were created in the springtime of the world, in the spirit of Love and Life and Abundance.
Each of us bears within us the sting of death, evil and illness.
And each one of us, vouchsafed the gift of Free Will, has the possibility of overcoming these negative attributes at any moment of time. We can do this, if we are willing to relinquish our self-seeking drives and activate the divine forces within us, through conscious thinking, feeling and willing.
The vision of Easter speaks of the power of resurrection. Here we are presented with a mystery so great that it takes a whole lifetime to solve. How could the Creator Spirit that brought this whole universe into being, touch into this realm of darkness and retrieve it without violating humanity’s free will? How could the Spirit of Love extend a hand to us without forcing us to take it?
Many traditions speak of the childlike nature, the inncoence of an enlightened person. They speak of “the eyes of a child,” or “beginner’s mind.” Can we become such beginners that we evolve beyond our self-serving desires and once again see the world with the eyes of a child and gladly grasp the outstretched hand of love?
At the end of his poem “Spring,” Hopkins pens an elegant tribute to Easter. This beauty of Spring, he writes, is
“Most, oh maid’s child, Thy choice,
and worthy the winning.”
This, the earth, the passion and power and life and abundance of spring, is what the Christmas child chose to be born into. This is where the Creator Spirit chose to be become human. Becoming human was death for His unlimited nature. Yet in death, He found a way to reach into our own dark places. If we can return His love for us, we can find the forces of resurrection. We can choose to be in conscious and loving relationship with the Earth and with all beings who live upon it. We can extend this love to all beings of the universe, who have participated in our becoming.
This is “worthy the winning.”
Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing:
The glassy pear tree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; the blue is all in a rush
With richness: the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning,
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning.
In this season, the contraction/expansion exercise is especially beautiful. Use the discount code January2016 for a 50% discount.
The Hidden Gifts of Winter
In these dark evening hours, the rain is pouring over my roof, making its welcome music as it splatters through the trees and onto the ground. I love our California winters. Their cold and dark are enough to drive me indoors, but not as bitter as my childhood winters in Chicago were, when my tiny fingers became number with cold and the wind cut through my clothes, no matter how many layers I wore.
Our California winters echo these extremes more gently, but still invite me to draw near to our wood stove and take advantage of the long, quiet evenings to study and read. In winter, I like to go deep and turn my thoughts to winter things. My mind becomes more quiet, as my inner life becomes more rich.
My human experience is thus aligned with the experience of the natural world. As the animals become quiet, or even draw into their caves to hibernate, the movements of the natural world become hushed. The trees become bare, the annual plants wither away, and the earth pulls a blanket of darkness around her. As the sun and the earth turn their backs upon each other for a season, the earth is breathes her life into herself.
Rudolf Steiner tells us that the movements of the planets around the sun are more than mere mechanical phenomena: they are the expression of the movements of spiritual beings. These may at times affect one another closely, and at other times move apart and become relatively independent. The changing relationships of the spiritual beings of the sun and the earth in specific are the archetypes of the seasons.
In a beautiful meditative verse, Dr. Steiner speaks of how we can experience the dynamic life of the soul of the earth through the changing faces of the seasons. He says the earth-soul is awake in deep winter. When she is furthest away from the direct forces of the sun, she harbors within herself the wisdom of the plant world, entrusted to her through the untold billions of seeds that rest in her. All the seeds carry in themselves the archetypal forces of the planets and constellations, and we can imagine them scattered as stars buried in the soil. Her consciousness is quieted, and she enters into quiet communion with these star forces.
We are also invited to imagine that, buried under the protective mantel of fallen leaves and drifting snow, the rocks and crystals are re-enlivened in deep winter. They, too, are quickened through the star forces in the earth. And we can imagine how it might be that the metals in the earth are energetically freed in deep winter, so their forces seem to flow as rivers through the veins of ore deep beneath the surface.
As the season begins to turn towards spring, however, the forces of potentiality hidden beneath the surface begin to become physical realities. The promise of the seeds will give way to material form. The soul of the earth becomes the bride of the sun, and allows herself to be clothed in the beautiful garments of the plant world. From the greening of the leaves to the rainbow colors of the flowers, and on to the dizzying flights of the insects as they dance through the heady fragrances of the blossoms, the earth-soul manifests herself in the life of nature. And perhaps we are surprised to consider that the soul of the earth is asleep when she has poured all of her thoughts into material expression in the forms of nature.
Asleep is the soul of the earth in summer’s heat, While far are spread the shining rays of sun in space. Awake is the soul of the earth winter’s sleep, While deep within brightens in spirit the real sun. Summer’s day of joy For earth is sleep. Winter’s holy night For earth is day.
(verse by Rudolf Steiner)
For us as human beings, these two dynamic seasons offer us the opportunity to experience two faces of the World Creator. In summer, we can open ourselves in praise and gratitude to the magnificence of the created world. It is a season for outer adventure, for celebration of the life of the senses, for looking for God’s signature in all the colors and fragrances and shapes and sounds of the natural world.
In winter, however, we can turn our attention inwards. We can use this time to listen to how the creator lives inside of us. In winter, our thoughts can become cleaner and clearer, and if we polish them with our attention they shine with crystal clarity. We will find that the star forces of the universe live as seed forces inside of us, and through our exercises in consciousness we can bring them to life.
Deepen your experience with Eurythmy!
Winter is a great time to deepen your eurythmy experience. You can use these long winter evenings to extend your practice to 15-30 minutes a day. The exercise “Contraction/Expansion” is an especially fruitful movement for this season. Use the coupon code January2016 to receive a 50% discount on this lesson, from now through Jan. 31.https://eurythmyonline.com/product/contraction-and-expansion
During the Holy Nights of the 12 Days of Christmas, we can cultivate an especially close relationship to the spiritual world.
Each night when we sleep, our higher bodies—the ego and the astral body—slip out of the sleeping physical and etheric bodies and expand into the spiritual realms, which are their true home. From there, our higher selves can reflect on what we have experienced on the earth, and from this higher perspective we can align ourselves with intentions for how to live the day to come. And from these starry realms, we draw strength and healing for the physical and etheric bodies with which we re-unite upon awakening.
In these twelve holy days and nights, the heavenly worlds are especially open to us. Our sleep is deeper, and our dreams more profound. This is the time to go “fishing” in the spiritual world for inspiration and insights into the new year.
There are many living traditions associated with these holy nights. As the twelve nights correspond to the twelve signs of the zodiac, so, it is said, the weather on the twelve days give a pre-vision of the weather to be had in the twelve months to come.
On an more personal and more intimate level, the dreams that we have in these nights may give us an indication of the events of life we will meet in the year to come. Many people choose to work vigorously on their dream journals in these days, to be in touch with the guidance that they may be given at night.
The New Year’s celebration marks the half-way point in the 12 Days of Christmas. Now we can discern a very palpable shift in the energy of the season. The quiet intimacy of Christmas Eve begins to fade, as we prepare to step into the new year and what it will bring.
In these days we can invite our dreams to turn towards our intentions for the year to come.
This is the time to give birth to our intentions for what is to come. Over the course of the next 6 days, from now until January 5th, you can work meditatively with the question of how you want to shape your life in the year to come.
Perhaps you can choose to focus on one higher value, one special purpose.
What might it be? Integrity? Commitment? Focus? Joy? Abundance? Presence?
As I consider the needs of our planet, I am acutely aware of how much we need human beings who are conscious, committed and awake. Let us, as individuals and together, cultivate love, seek for clarity of thought, and work vigorously for the betterment of our world.
On Christmas Eve, the festival of the Nativity, time seems to stand still. For as long as I can remember, the elements grow calm on Christmas Eve. Even storms that have been forecast seem to hold back on that evening, as a mantel of stillness spreads around the globe. For on that night, the earth remembers the birth of the one called the Prince of Peace.
The sacred hour of Christmas happens at midnight, the darkest time of the night. At midnight, when the earth is wrapped in sleep, it remembers the birth of light that happened long ago, at the turning point of time. At that hour, a child was born who would prepare himself to become the earthly bearer of the World Creator, the Christ. It is said that this birth had been prepared over long ages of time. For earth evolution to take its next step, it was necessary that a human being would be born who would be able to sustain the purity of soul, the strength and health of the body, and the clarity of consciousness necessary to receive into himself the divine I-AM. The constitution of this child was so harmonious that body, soul and spirit would be able to be in perfect harmony. This person, the first Son of Man, would embody the prototype that all human beings can evolve towards.
On that cold and dark night in the Middle East, the earthly journey of this human child began in great humility. The Gospel of St. Luke tells us that Jesus was born in the most simple of circumstances. His mother gave birth to her son in a stable, possibly in a cave. Nestled into a manger, he was received into the earth even as a seed is laid into the ground. Around he stood were the goodly animals of the stable, kind creatures who embody the pure elements of the soul.
An old legend tells that those animals in the stall that witnessed the birth of the child who would embody the World Creator, the Cosmic Word, were able to understand human speech on that night. Even as the rocks and the plants, even as the simple shepherds who came to offer their gifts and the angels in the skies, the beasts of the stable were present to welcome his coming. And for that, on that one night, they were released from their mute language and become our soul-kin. And even today, it is said, the animals draw nearer to us at Christmas than at any other time in the year, to hear and understand our speech.
On Christmas Eve, my family and I turn off all of our electric devices. We light a fire in our wood stove and use candles for illumination. We eat a simple meal, and speak in quiet voices, attentive to the blessing spirit of the night.
Late in the evening, some of our dear friends come to our home to be gather around our tree and sing songs. We then take our candles and leave the house. We walk to the farm that is my husband’s creation, directly behind our home. We visit first the cows in the stable and sing to them. Then we trudge across the fields in the darkness to the bees in their hives and the chickens in their coops, the sheep in the stall and the ducks pen. We sing and speak to the animals, and thank them for their gifts.
If time permits, we walk further, down to the river where we may hear the salmon jumping and the beaver slipping into the water.
In the silence of that night, I can feel a wave of world-peace spreading around the world. It has already been midnight in many, many time zones on earth, and people are already sleeping their mid-winter dreams. And as they sleep, they are blest by the spirit of Christmas.
The blessing of Christmas Eve continues for twelve nights, the so-called “Twelve Days of Christmas.” During these twelve nights, the World Creator Spirit draws near to the earth. Even as the earth herself receives life forces for her sustenance and growth in the dark of winter, so too do we receive the deepest blessings of the spiritual world at Christmas. It is possible to become conscious of these deep processes, if we learn to pay attention, especially at night.
My wish and hope for all humanity is that we will be able to open ourselves in this Christmas season to receive the living good-will, love and wisdom of the Creative World as they shine down to the earth, and take root not only all around us but deep within our own hearts.
Winter Solstice marks the turning point of the year.
The earth has reached its deepest angle of inclination, and will begin to turn itself again.
Or, in other words, the sun is now at its deepest point in the sky (for us in the northern latitudes). The night has reached its climax: the earth is dark and cold, and seemingly cut off from the sun.
If we lived in the furthest northern regions, perhaps without even the comforts of electricity and indoor heating, we would know the fear of the winter months. Without the certainty that the sun will ever return, we would know the challenge of living in the dark, with only our faith to assure us that we have food, fuel and warmth enough to last through the winter months.
The spiritual teachers of ancient cultures, priests and priestesses alike, acted as guardians of the wisdom of the seasons. They were responsible for marking the two solstices and two equinoxes through ceremonies and monuments. It was who erected the massive stone monuments in alignment with the declination of the sun to mark these four turning points.
The ceremonies that were held at each season were appropriate to the lesson that each had to offer.
The mystery of midwinter was called “learning to behold the Sun at the Midnight Hour.”
We know from the Celtic mysteries that on the long night of the solstice, the teachers and their students entered into caves or hollows. Through their spiritual understanding, they confronted their fear of darkness and abandonment. They knew that when the earth is at its darkness, we have a unique opportunity to turn our attention away from the sense world. They knew that the solstice is the best time to perceive the Creative Forces that lie behind all sense phenomena. They used the experience of the solstice shadows to seek and find the sources of world creation as a spiritual light that shines in the darkness. This is called “Finding the Sun at the midnight hour.”
All spiritual realities have multiple levels of meanings. The solstice shows us one aspect of the Midnight Hour, but we can find this on myriad other levels as well. And all of them point ultimately to the Midnight Hour when the Christmas Child was born in the manger in the darkest hours of world evolution.
The midnight hour happens each night when we go to sleep. At the deepest point of each night, we are moving through the highest spiritual realties. Those who have attained the ability to perceive the source of their own I-Am as the Cosmic I-Am will be awake even at night. There they behold the Sun at the Midnight Hour.
On an ever grander scale, the midnight hour also happens for us between each of our lifetimes. As we journey away from the earth after each life, we move back into spiritual realms. At last we reach draw near to the loftiest spiritual beings, to the Creative Word. Before the majesty of these beings, our personal consciousness is dimmed, almost to the point of unconsciousness. Those who can sustain awareness of self even in the field of universal spirit mind will find that they are able to do so only when they can awaken in themselves the awareness of the Cosmic I-Am spirit. This spirit is the spirit that shines as the Sun at the Midnight Hour. This is the same Sun that the initiates seek at the midwinter solstice.
All these mysteries point to the grandest mystery of all, the birth of the Cosmic I-Am on Earth, at the Turning Point of Time.
Our human nature was originally one with the earth spirit, born out of the Creative Worlds. As we grew in perfection, the Creator Gods set us free, and the earth became material. As far as we know, ours is the most advanced, the most complex, and also the most bereft condition in the universe.
Only a few millennia ago, our Earth condition reached a point of deepest darkness.
From the perspective of the spiritual world, the earth had slipped into a condition of pure darkness.
The earth existed in a condition of permanent midnight.
At this Cosmic Midnight Hour, the World Creator freely chose to enter into this world of matter. S/He became a Sun on Earth, became light within the darkness.
Herein lies the real meaning of learning to behold the Sun at the Midnight Hour. If we seek and find the World Creator on the earth, we can experience that S/He shines on the earth as divine consciousness even as S/He shines in our consciousness as the essential I-Am that we are.
In times past, we could find our Creator in the Heavens above.
Now we find the Creator even here, in the world of the senses, and here in the core of our own heart and mind.
The yearly festival of the solstice marks the point when the darkness again turns towards the light.
What better season to celebrate the birth of the child, who would grow to be the bearer of the Spirit Light of the World, here on the earth?
This is the true meaning of the Turning Point of Time.
Advent Blessings Now the twilight of the year Comes, and Christmas draweth near. See, across the Advent sky How the clouds move slowly by. Earth is waiting, wrapped in sleep, Waiting in a slumber deep. Waiting for the Christmas birth, The birth that blesses Heaven and Earth.
In this beautiful dark season of the year, the seeds of new life are being laid into the earth. All the kingdoms of nature take part in the dying and the birth, as the earth inhales her life forces and wraps herself in blankets of leaves and drifts of snow. And even as the outer world marks the season with the madness of pre-holiday shopping and feasting, another sacred festival is being prepared. The mid-winter festival is a festival of communion for the universe and the earth. The sacrament of birth is celebrated every year anew, in the humble place of the manger, in the listening human heart, in the deep center of the earth . The four weeks preceding Christmas are called Advent, meaning “Coming towards.” The great Sun-Spirit of the Macrocosm “comes towards” the earth every Christmas, to be born in the Microcosm of the earth, in the microcosmic heart of the human being. And just as a mother must wait through a pregnancy until she gives gift to her child, so we must wait through the season of Advent as a kind of world-pregnancy. This is a season of waiting and envisioning, a season to prepare ourselves to connect with the spirit who wills to In the four weeks of Advent, the four kingdoms of Nature are each blessed, one by one, as the earth inhales, the seeds are laid beneath the ground, and the Spirit draws near, approaching from the heights of heaven to the depths of earth. Many people choose to create a quiet ritual for Advent season, by preparing a table with four candles to notate the four weeks of Advent. In the first week, one single candle is lit daily to signify the mineral kingdom. In the second week, a second candle is also lit, for the plant kingdom; in the third week, a third is lit for the animal kingdom; and in the fourth week, a fourth is lit for the human kingdom. This simple ritual prepares us then for the darkness of the midnight hour, Christmas Eve, when those who understand the esoteric nature of Christmas listen at the midnight hour for the sacred marriage of heaven and earth. At Christmas, the cosmic spirit of the heights enters into the non-physical space of the human heart. In the deep darkness of a winter night, in the dark of the cave where the child is born, the mystery of birth will be celebrated. Christmas is the season to celebrate the birth of light in the darkness, the birth of spirit being in the darkness of matter.
In this winter season, meditate on the sound “B,” the sound of Birth, Boundaries and Blessings. Picture the heavenly Madonna, the Mother-Soul of the Universe, pulling a cloak of stars around herself. So is the earth held in the love of the world: so does our Guardian Angel hold us near: so do we humans hold our infants in joyful protection. Picture yourself clothed in radiant yellow, wearing a star-cloak of midnight blue with a deep red lining. Reach back, and pull this cloak around yourself, as Madonna, as angel, and parent. Inside your cloak or protection, your sun-yellow soul shines bright, and your red lining protects you and gives you the strength you need. You may hold this meditation as a pure mental imagination, if you like. Far more beautiful is it to move it in eurythmy as a short daily practice, grounding your spiritual quest into a body practice.
As the days grow short and the nights grow long, I feel drawn to write about the mysteries of death and dying. Halloween, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are three autumnal festivals marking the time when the veils between the living and the “so-called dead” grow thin. In these days, we can draw nearer to those who live in other dimensions. We can offer them our thoughts and our prayers. We can also, most significantly, offer them our eurythmy, for eurythmy is more than a physical practice. Eurythmy is a practice that lives in the light-filled etheric realms. Those who live in these body-free states can perceive the meaning-filled movements of eurythmy, and receive them as nourishment and love. Rudolf Steiner, through his profound insights into the reality of the spiritual world, has given detailed descriptions of how the earth was not always as dense at is now. In a far distant earth age, when the world was still young, matter was not as hard as it is now. Human beings could clothe themselves in the ethereal “substance” of the air at will, entering in body forms as light as flower petals, and slipping out of them again into pure spirit realms. This ether substance responded to our innocent will and allowed us a dream-like experience of existence on an as-yet unformed earth. Gradually, and in exact symmetry with our desire to experience the world we lived in with awakened senses, the earth began to harden. This hardened matter was no longer malleable and responsive to spirit-will, and the process of incarnation was no longer so easy. Human beings needed more strength and focus to be able to clothe themselves in bodies of flesh and bones instead of flower forms. In those distant ages, the condition of being in a body was more akin to “death” than the “living” state of being in a body-free state. Yet as time progressed, our experiences in the world of the senses, the hardened, tangible world, became so powerful that memories of our divine home faded. Now when we are embodied, we all too easily turn our backs on the spirit world. What then happens when we step out of our bodies, to sleep at night, or to die at the end of our decades? Are our minds too intoxicated with sense impressions for us to be able to find our bearings? At the time of death will we be so lost in a realm of seeming darkness that we are unable to perceive the subtle realms in which we live? It is a powerful experience for both the living and the so-called dead to realize that we are all part of one great family of humanity. Those who pass on into the spiritual world have not ceased to exist: they merely live in another state of mind. If they have not cultivated spiritual questions on earth, the so-called dead may feel an unspeakable pain of emptiness, darkness and loneliness, for they may not be able to perceive the world they live in. And here Rudolf Steiner has given a great gift of hope to humanity. He described how we who still live on the earth can do a great service to friends, family and even unknown persons who have passed by not forgetting them. We can send prayers and memories to them, reminding them that they still are held in our hearts. We can read sacred texts to them, every day or once a week, lighting a candle and sitting with them in our hearts for an hour, inviting them to be with us in spiritual contemplation. We may do eurythmy for them, or make music for them. They may not be able to perceive angels around them, but they can find their way to friends who have understood them as they walked on earth. Whatever dimension we live in, the lives of those who live on earth and those who have died continue to be entwined. As those who have died continue their journey through the planetary spheres and constellations, all the way to the midnight hour and back again to a next embodiment on earth, we remain one family of humanity.
Create an All Souls’ Festivals in your community In our present time, we can celebrate a three-day festival known as All-Hallow’s Tide from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2. These three days are a time set aside to remember the friends, family, martyrs and saints who have died and live in another consciousness. Each year, many communities connected with Anthroposophical studies host a very special evening on All Souls’ Day to commemorate this festival. In our community, people come together between 7:00 and 7:30 pm, enter in silence, light a candle in memory of one or more friends, and place it at the front of the room, and take a seat. At 7:30 the doors are locked, to preserve the silence in the room. In the next hour, artists will play or sing music, recite poems or do eurythmy. This art and these thoughts are intended to be given as spiritual food to those who have died. This intensely beautiful and peaceful experience brings nourishment to whole communities.
The World I Love This autumn I find myself once again in Alaska, where I teach Eurythmy to the children in the Waldorf School in Anchorage. This is a stunning country, with high mountains, an abundance of wildlife, and more open land than any other place in our country. Alaska calls to the bold, the adventurous, the pioneers who want to live in an unspoiled place and meet nature, undiluted. Here in Anchorage, the winter is rapidly approaching. We are currently losing nearly six minutes of daylight each day in this season. When I arrived, the trees were still green and fully clad: now, the aspens stand golden on the surrounding hillsides. The bears roam the hills in Denali, stripping the bushes of their blueberries. The rutting bull moose are beating their antlers against trees, simultaneously stripping off the velvet that covers them and evoking a mighty trumpeting sound that proclaims to the other moose that they are there, they are in heat, they are looking for moose cows! Summer this year was sweet in Anchorage. There were far more sunny days than usual, and the lack of rain made for far fewer mosquitoes. The temperature however in the upper 70’s or into the 80’s, and people could wear clothes normally worn in the “lower 48.” There is, however, something eerily amiss with all of this. In this heat, wildfires are raging throughout Alaska (as in the lower 48), and they are even burning on the permafrost. The glaciers are melting and receding at a rate that is visible to the naked eye–yes, even to mine, an occasional visitor to the state. The rising sea levels are making dozens of small native villages along the coastline uninhabitable, with the result that they must be moved back several miles from the present short. And because of the ice melt, the Arctic Passage is now beginning to be opened up to shipping, for the first time in long ages of geological history. Nations are already poised to battle each other over “ownership” of the region, and the one-trillion-dollars worth of natural resources to be found at the pole. I was here when President Obama visited this beautiful state last week, and am jubilant at his powerful call that we move to share this earth, this earth that we love, with the introduction of ecologically minded solutions. Some say we have already reached the tipping point: others still say there is time to act. In any case, inaction would be inexcusable. What can you do? Get an energy audit for your home, and act on the results you see? Collaborate with your neighborhood to save resources? Today, for the first time, I am using the eurythmyonline platform to send out an urgent ecological message to our communities. Climate change is real: it’s very real. We cannot close our eyes to it. Join in, and do what you can!
In Homer, I knelt to the ground, and kissed the earth. “Thank you” I whispered, “for holding us as we walk upon you. Thank you, for your beauty, your nourishment, your steadfast support. “And tell us, please: how can we help you?”
I have just returned from my third teaching trip to mainland China in as many years, and am full of vivid memories and impressions.
Interest in Waldorf education (and, by extension, Eurythmy) is keen in China, as evidenced by the fact that there are some 500 Waldorf kindergartens and grade school initiatives there.
My travels have taken my to four of the larger centers for Waldorf education: Chengdu, Beijing, Xi’an and Guangzhou. There I teach Foundations of Anthroposophy and Eurythmy, two themes that enliven and enrich each other richly.
This year I concentrated my work on Chengdu, which is home to the only government-recognized Waldorf school. The school there has classes from Kindergarten through 9th grade, and is striving to create the first Waldorf high school in mainland China as soon as possible. (Taiwan has had large, fully-enrolled Waldorf schools for many years already.) I taught for 9 days straight, four sessions a day. We began with considering the comparative mythologies of the East and the West through history, to prepare the foundation for the core question: what does this mean to be a human being? From there we covered the threefold and the fourfold human being, life before birth and after death, reincarnation and karma, inner work practices, angels and abortions. Every step way carefully crafted, to be certain that the students could follow the steps with me and not merely accept them as some dogmatic assertion.
There is a keen need for quality teachers from the West to bring topics in Anthroposophy, and there seem to be several hundred teachers such as myself visiting the different centers throughout the year, offering workshops and courses. We hail from the US and Canada, Germany, England, Australia and New Zealand, and probably from other countries as well. There are teachers in Waldorf education, Eurythmy, Biodynamics, drawing, painting, music, rhythmical massage, anthroposophical medicine, biography work, threefolding and administration models, drama, puppetry, and much, much more.
My experiences in China are profound. Each time I embark on a trip there, I bring with me deep questions, questions which I hope are shared by the other teachers who travel there. I wrestle with the question of how to appreciate and honor the deep wisdom traditions that live in that great culture, and how to avoid being a “cultural imperialist.” How can I be sensitive to their history, their points of view, their needs? Can I dare to speak of the “great modern spiritual path of anthroposophy” there, where the roots of Taoism are still alive, where the choice of every food and every drink, the placement of furniture in a home, are all guided by the teachings of the polarities of yin and yang?
One of the deepest tenets of anthroposophical thinking is that the each human being is striving towards spiritual awakening, a turning of individual consciousness wherein there lies the root of human freedom. In our evolution towards this freedom in the West, we struggle mightily with the sting of egotism. What does this mean for the person of the East, whose cultural imperative is so different? What does this mean for those who live in a society in which the community norms are more highly valued than individual accomplishments?
And thus my first lectures are always tentative and careful, as I perceive what kind of questions are living in the public who have come to learn from me. This time, however, we were able to go amazingly deeply into some of the deepest issues of life. In the course of nine days, we moved from studying the evolution of consciousness through mythology and ancient wisdom traditions, through considerations of life before birth and after death, karma and reincarnation, and even angels and abortions. Through it all, we focused on the question most fundamental to anthroposophy and Waldorf education –indeed most fundamental to life itself: “What is a human being? And what is our right relationship to the earth and the cosmos?”
I found that these conversations cut through all cultural differences, and we were able to communicate on very deep and profound levels. The modern language of anthroposophy and eurythmy, when taught well and with sensitivity, can cut across all cultural differences and help us all participate in the great turning taking place on our planet at this time.
Back in the 1970s, I traveled around the world for two years on a shoestring budget, immersing myself in the various cultures of East and West. At that time, however, it wasn’t possibly to enter mainland China. The new China is bold, bright and vigorous. Many of the cities are huge (6 cities have more than 10 million inhabitants), and the architecture is inspiring and futuristic. In contrast, the old China can still be experienced in the remote cities of the countryside, where rice is still planted by hand in a primitive agriculture. The students I teach are mostly in their 20s and 30s, the first and second generations following the Cultural Revolution. To me it seems that many of the old cultural norms for which China used to be known have been lost: the emerging middle class is tech-savvy, entrepreneurial, and motivated to make large purchased and get ahead in the material world. Yet at the same time, there is an enormous movement towards spiritual investigations, as long as they are not “religious” and are not perceived as such by the government censors. Many of the quasi-occult movements of the contemporary western world can be found in the larger cities as the emerging frontier of the next generation.
I am, therefore, constantly puzzled and intrigued by the students I work with. What paradigms are they basing their world views on? What are their innate questions? In many cases I perceive that the people I am talking to are really “world citizens,” or perhaps human beings who have not necessarily been embodied in China in a previous lifetime.
As a new China arises in these decades. I am grateful to be able to take part in the journey. I am glad to make my contributions towards laying a deep foundation for an understanding of Anthroposophy in China, and hope to help assure that the Waldorf movement and other endeavors that arise there will be able to be grounded in a sound epistemology and not spring up as purely financially lucrative business opportunities.
Easter Contemplation and Eurythmy: the Dance of the Living Word Take time to lovingly picture the living imaginations of this Easter story.
In the Beginning, was the Creative World-Word. The Word spoke all of existence into being, and the world was born. In speaking the Word, God turned himself “inside-out.” In the beginning, the Word was movement, was song, was meaning. The Word was dance. Or, as Rudolf Steiner says, the “God did eurythmy and the world came into being.” Humanity was born into the “dancing world.” In the early ages of the, when all was life and movement, we were swept up into the dance of the universe. Our movements were in harmony with the movements of the Word. The temple of our body was shaped by the Word, and revealed an etheric living picture of the universe that it lived in. Our minds did not think analytically, but responded to the world around it with a consciousness of living pictures. And in this mind, we were dreaming the great dream of existence.
When the human being chose to “fall into matter,” beginning our journey towards cosmic independence and freedom, the Word “fell into matter” with us. Time slowed down. The matrix of space crystallized. We became able to see everything in great detail. Like children who had left their parents’ home, we set out to find ourselves. But we lost the view of the Creator. And so it was that the Creator chose to enter right into the heart of the matrix of time and space that we live in. Becoming small, Creator turned himself “outside-in.”
The Word became Human, and dwelt among us. And the Word was able to keep speaking, keep creating, even in the imprisonment of the body. Even in the imprisonment of Death.
On Easter morning, the tomb of the Word was empty. Those soldiers guarding the tomb asked “Why do you seek the Living among the Dead?” And Mary, the archetypal soul who came to the tomb in the early morning hours, “turned herself around,” shifting her awareness from the earth level to spirit perception. She saw the Risen Word there in the guise of a gardener, one who tends to the life forces of the earth.
“He is made one with Nature: there is heard His voice in all her music, from the moan Of thunder, to the song of night’s sweet bird.”
The Risen Word is with us everywhere. Wherever we practice living thinking, we can see the etheric world around us. We can see the Word speaking through the etheric forms of all of nature. We can dis-enchant the enchanted World-Word with our gaze. And through eurythmy we can dance once again with the World-Word. For eurythmy gives us a direct experience of the living forms and forces that stem from the Word, the living shapes that created us in our etheric form. These have been re-enlivened, rescued in the etheric world by the deed of resurrection Eurythmy is the dance of the risen, living World-Word. I am forever grateful for this living etheric art, which brings health and healing to so many human beings.