EurythmyAlive in Asia Spring 2019
It has been nearly six years since I first began teaching Anthroposophy and Eurythmy in China. On my first visits, I taught in Waldorf Teacher Training Seminars and also Waldorf Community Education programs. Soon, however, a new task became evident, which I have been developing over the past few years.
Again and again, workshop participants have asked me to please move to China and open a eurythmy training. I firmly refused, for I have never had that intention. Yet it is clear that many people are eager to go much more deeply into the authentic study of eurythmy than they can go merely with semi-regular classes. I know that not everyone can, or even should, make the intense commitment to do a professional eurythmy training. But everyone can benefit through a deep immersion into eurythmy.
In eurythmy, every movement is deeply integrative, balancing body, soul and spirit. Nothing is random, nothing is unconscious, and nothing is possible without training in self-development. In eurythmy, we learn to be fully present, aware of ourselves as spiritual beings, centered in inner light and suffused with warmth of heart. We learn to transform the unconscious habits and patterns of the astral, etheric and physical bodies, and use them to move the amazing gestures of song and music in healing art.
As we immerse ourselves in these experiences, I know that we can come to the deepest experiences possible in anthroposophy.
With this in mind, I created EurythmyAlive, a series of 7 5-day courses that I teach to committed students over the course of 2 to 3 years. Every day, students have 3 eurythmy classes and one study class, to create an ever-deepening journey.
As present, I am running EurythmyAlive modules in three cities.
The first course was started in Chengdu: there we have just finished module 6. The students are all women, many of whom travel from other cities to take part. Not all are connected to the Waldorf school movement.
Next was in Taiwan, in conjunction with the CiXing Waldorf school, which could possibly be the biggest Waldorf school in the world, with nearly 1000 students in grades PreK-12. There we have just finished module 4, with 28 committed students. This past month, our theme was a deep study of Occult Science and life between death and rebirth.
The youngest module is in Shanghai, where we just finished module 3 with 18 students. This session offered a study of the planets and a beautiful tone eurythmy project learning intervals with a Celtic song played on the violin.
Experiences of the East
Six years is not a long time to become an expert on China! My language skills are still minimal, and my knowledge of social norms still developing. Yet there are many principles that I know are important for being an effective teacher there.
At every step, I remind myself of the deep and rich cultural history of these countries. I want to understand what the real gifts and the tasks of the ancient people were. This requires a rigorous commitment to humility on my part. Only in this way will I be able to rightly understand the task of anthroposophy in the East.
At the same time, I always am aware that the people who live in the East now have all lived many other lives, in places all over the globe. In the individuals I meet, I must look for their spiritual core and not for the limiting elements they have internalized from the Eastern environment they live in. This awareness makes it possible for me to meet many souls whom I can recognize as Michaelic colleagues.
One thing that often puzzles me in China and Taiwan is my research into the ancient mythologies. In contrast to the other cultures in the world, there is not a rich narrative of a World Creator.
Of course, through the teachings of Lao Tzu, many people have an impression of the TAO, the creative unity that existed in the beginning, and from which the duality of Yin and Yang were later created. But this TAO does not inherently have “being-quality.” And, interestingly, when I speak about the TAO to my students in China, they often ask me to explain to them much more deeply what I know about the TAO, because the current generations were not taught about it during the years of the cultural revolution.
There also is an interesting being in Chinese myyhology called “Panchu.” This being seems to me to be very much like “Adam Kadmon,” an immense Human-Being that existed long ago and from whom all of the life on the earth was created. I cannot find any narrative, however, of his origin.
It remains a challenge to speak of the great creative hierarchies to the Chinese students. Because these gods are absent for them, the world seems to be much more mechanical, materialistic. On the other hand, they recognize the existence of many nature-gods through Taoism, and also honor many spirits who live just beyond the threshold through popular Buddhism.
Any of us who teach in the East have the task of weaving the thoughts of anthroposophy into these cultures in an appropriate way.
Once again, I find that eurythmy is a powerful tool for doing so. A eurythmical study of anthroposophy offers the possibility of it being a genuine experience and not merely a complex of concepts and diagrams!
Impressions of Contemporary Culture
Even in the six short years of my visits to China and Taiwan, I have seen things change. Only seldom do people do double-takes now when they see me, as a foreigner. Most people have become accustomed to seeing westerners on their streets.
The citizens of Taiwan are very different from those in China. Through past historical periods, they had far more contact with other nations–European, Japanese and Polynesian—and they are culturally much more diverse. I can experience this immediately when I teach eurythmy in Taiwan, especially tone eurythmy, for they are more in sync with the evolutionary development familiar to me as a westerner.
China presents many different experiences. Increasingly, the government is investing heavily in infrastructure in the rural areas. I now see roads being built deep into the countryside, reaching places that were previously only services by muddy or dusty tracks.
The cities, on the other hand, are amazing. Many are huge, with over 10 or even 20 million people. And some of these mega-cities, like Shanghai, are truly modern, with spotless subways and an international sophistication equal to Paris, London, or Dubai. Consumerism is rampant. I know people who carry several cell phones with them, for their different businesses. Fashion is fabulous. And all of the modern trends in cultural and spiritual growth can be found there—-personal and business coaching, yoga, sex counseling, raves, ecology movements, up-cycling, and more. My life in Sacramento is really simple, in comparison.
In China, the government surveillance is an ever-constant presence, and growing ominously. In addition, the realization of the impending onslaught of Artificial Intelligence on daily life provided an ever-present background to our eurythmy classes, as I emphasized how important it is to know what it means to be truly present in a human—not mechanical—way.
There are currently several opportunities for Chinese and Taiwanese students to become trained in Eurythmy. There will soon be several dozen native Mandarin speakers available to teach there. We will soon see these new graduates trying out their eurythmy “wings” as they learn to work in Waldorf schools, in public situations and also—excitingly—in their own performing groups! These pioneers will also be at the forefront of discovering how to move the diverse sounds native to their language in eurythmy, and how to cultivate a Chinese eurythmy style appropriate for contemporary poetry and music.
I will continue my work in EurythmyAlive modules. Soon I will begin new modules in these cities I am visiting, even as I am also invited to begin offering new programs in several other places.
The EurythmyAlive Curriculum
Having taught thousands of students over the years, I have learned to develop a very supportive curriculum that focuses less on artistic precision and more on creating experiences of authenticity. I never want to give students the experience that they are doing something “wrong:” instead, I consider it to be my responsibility to speak so clearly and design the movement experiences so carefully that I pave the way for them to discover how the body can learn to speak and sing in harmony with creative forces. My job is to help them succeed!
I generally begin each module with experiences of standing straight, connected to heaven and earth. Then follows the experience of finding the heart-center between these two poles. Through contraction and expansion exercises, the soul begins to find its inner core.
Now that the students can imagine a “crown of light” on the head, and a “golden sun” in the heart, they are ready to sink their feeling all the way into their feet, and learn to talk to the earth through walking.
Once the body has been thus tuned, we continue by building social awareness—for what use is it for a person to find individual excellence if they cannot connect to others around them? With balls and weaving forms, we create a joyful experience of our group.
With this as a foundation, we are ready for all the other myriad experiences of eurythmy. We build agility skills with rods, and spatial orientation with geometric forms.
Module by module, we develop a complete understanding of the living Word as experienced and expressed in eurythmy. Because this is not a training, we are free to choose poems that coordinate with the lecture theme of the modules. We also dive into tone eurythmy, studying many of the scales and all of the intervals. The students find deep joy in working with complex forms for rich musical pieces.
Throughout all the eurythmy classes, we remind ourselves to stay present and centered in the body. It is obvious when a student is looking up, or at the floor, or when the fingers are unpenetrated, or when the sounds are formed with automatic arm gestures and without feeling without learning how to shape space and time, that the spirit is not yet awakened in the body. Developing a genuine sense of presence – without mystical sentimentality –is imperative for eurythmy movement!
As we work our way through the seven modules, the lecture themes take up different topics. The first modules are an introduction to anthroposophy, affirming with the students the meaning of life by looking at body, soul and spirit. We then turn to the four-fold nature of the human being and the natural world, and follow this with Goethean observation of the plant world, to understand the laws of life and change. Other topics include cosmic evolution, planets and constellations as formative forces, karma and reincarnation, and biography work.
It is, thus, my constant commitment to work out of the very core of eurythmy. For us, the essential goal is not in creating eurythmy as a performance art, but rather in healing the self and community by learning to live in our bodies as completely healthy, integrated human beigns.
If you would like to invite a eurythmyalive program to your community, contact me at Cynthia@eurythmyonline.com.
Follow these links to watch short videos of the EurythmyAlive student work from my recent workshops in Taiwan, Chengdu, and Shanghai:
Beethoven in Taiwan: https://youtu.be/URK5ITLt_y4
Bagatelle in Chengdu: https://youtu.be/s-UOvkhbUY4
LittleBird in Shanghai: https://youtu.be/gyT7xWHKx98
I Live my Life in Shanghai: https://youtu.be/YLOMZPdKnHA
Nine months after an enforced hiatus necessary for my recovery from a broken shoulder, I am deeply grateful to all my healers, and thrilled to be traveling again, offering my EurythmyAlive workshops in Asia.
I began with a 7-day workshop in eastern Taiwan, with a group of 28 committed students. This was their 4th EurythmyAlive module, and we worked intensively on tone eurythmy to a piece by Beethoven, as well as on several speech eurythmy pieces. Our study focused on Cosmic Evolution and the personal journey towards self-actualization.
As always, at the end of my workshop here, I took time to visit the Open Heart Temple, a a Taiwanese-Zen Buddhist temple located nearby. The Master of this temple is a 72-year old nun who, despite being nearly blind, is one of the most loving and joyful people I know. After 10 years of service in a mountain monastery she returned to the city to work in service. Teaching herself architecture, she designed and commissioned this remarkable temple. With elegant and understated forms, its concrete and wood walls stand in the open landscape, surrounded by acres of green rice fields.
One of the main practices her community has developed is their ritualistic Tea Ceremony, and it is an honor for me to take part in it every time I visit.
The small group of five participants are ushered into a quite room, and offered seats on tatami mats on the floor, around a low table made of polished wood. There we are greeted by the “hostess,” a novitiate who has spent months or years learning the art of tea ceremony. She has meticulously prepared the space by laying out cloths in beautiful patterns. She has cleaned and arranged the teapots and pouring vessels and the 6 tiny teacups in which the tea will be served. There is a quiet floral arrangement near her serving table, and behind her hangs a quite picture of Qwan Yin, the Buddhist goddess figure whose name means “She who listens.” She represents the capacity to listen beneath the surface of things, to perceive the essences of the world.
After we take our places, we close our eyes for a few moments, to still our minds and become fully present. From that point on, all is done in silence, without conversation, until the ceremony is finished 90 minutes later.
Even as we took the time to slow way down to be present in those minutes, I will painstakingly and lovingly describe at least a bit of the ceremony, so you can imagine the experience of quieting the inner chatter and entering into the condition of “Zen mind,” presence-without-absence.
The hostess has trained herself to move in complete grace and quite. She touches only one object at a time, and gives her full attention to what her hands are doing. Nothing is proscribed, yet everything is deliberate. As she begins, she lifts the lid off the tea jar on her left side, and puts it on the floor beside her. Then she lifts a shallow bamboo dish with the left hand, and passes it to her right. Her left hand then picks up the tea jar, and she pours the tea into the dish. She places the jar down again and covers it. Then, putting two hands on the dish, she raises it, first to her heart and then to her nose, and inhales the fragrance of the dried tea leaves. The dish is then passed slowly around the circle, and each participant also takes a moment to its scent deeply, before passing it on.
Continuing in graceful stillness, when the dish returns to her, she lays it down. Then she smoothly pours boiling water into the tiny waiting clay teapot with her left hand. This warms the pot, and for a few moments all is still. Then she pours the hot water away, into an empty ceramic bowl. Next, she pours the tea leaves into the warmed teapot, and the steaming heat it holds causes the tea leaves to release their next layer of fragrance.
Now she lifts the pot, again first to her heart, and then to her nose, and smells the new scent. This pot is once again passed around the circle to all the guests, slowly and patiently.
When the pot returns, she places it carefully in the middle of the space on the floor in front of her. Then all the tea cups are ritualistically warmed, one by one, with hot water. This hot water is then poured into the same large ceramic bowl.
At length, hot water is poured over the waiting tea leaves. Instantly, the leaves flavor the water, and the tea is poured off, only half a minute later, into a beautiful small serving cup. From there, the six tea cups are filled. Only now, at this point, does everyone lift their cup. Slowly and thoughtfully, we drink the tea, letting the heat and the fragrance and the smell fill our senses.
This kind of tasting-touching-feeling, to me, opens a door to a pure sensory experience. I find I am unable to name these sensations: there are no words to describe or narrate to myself what I am tasting. The automatic habit of overlaying every experience with intellectual cognitive descriptions withdraws into the background. We all take time to allow the sensory experiences to blossom within us. I feel reverent gratitude and wonder for the gifts of the natural world and of the caretakers who have planted, tended and harvested the plants, made the tea, and brought this gift to us. My senses, now stilled, drink in the beauty of the flowers, the light playing on the cups, the air we are breathing. As the hostess continues her ritual, the etheric aura of the room becomes rich and full. All of us, as participants, have brought focused our attention forces on the present moment. There is love.
After we have drunk the tea, the cups are carefully returned to the space in front of the hostess. Four more times she carefully repeats the action of pouring water over the tea, pouring the tea into the serving cup and then into the tiny tea cups, and sharing them with the participants. Her exquisitely patient movements continue to hold us in the quiet of the present moment.
At last the teacups are carefully rinsed one last time, the tea leaves are smelled one last time and emptied into the ceramic bowl. Then the hostess pours opens a second basket that sits beside her, and takes out six simple napkins and six pieces of beautiful dried fruit as a delicate desert.
After all is finished, the participants are invited to engage in quiet conversation, reflecting upon the experiences they just had.
Every season, when I return to this simple but elegant temple and partake in this healing ceremony, my experience goes a step deeper. How infinitely precious is this world we live in! And how precious are the human beings who sanctify this world by acts of loving culture.
Qwan Yin: “She who listens to the inner heart of things.”
China is a land of speed and vigor, of ancient wisdom and modern consumerism, of fabulous wealth and desperate poverty, of top-notch intellectuals, scientists and financial wizards as well as of the laborers in the urban shadow economy, the stooped rice farmers of the hilled terraces, and the millions of minority tribes, some of which still practice the ancient ways of their elders.
I have just returned from my seventh trip to China in the past four years, where I am active as a lecturer and workshop leader, specializing in Eurythmy as a Personal Practice and Anthroposophical topics. In this last trip, my husband Harald was able to join me, teaching Plant Observation and also consulting with various growers about how to grow biodynamic crops.
Through my semi-regular trips to the East, I am able to keep my finger on the rapidly evolving societal and cultural developments I have experienced, even though I know that through my insights I can only scratch the surface of this ancient and complex land.
In this last trip, my husband Harald was able to join me, teaching Plant Observation and also consulting with various growers about how to grow biodynamic crops.
First: China is vast. That which is modern is far more modern that what I know of from the US. In Shanghai, which I consider the world’s greatest mega-city, the subways are super-fast and clean. Mile after (seemingly) endless mile of skyscrapers fill the skyline, from the south of PuDong to the north of PuXi, and the super-high skyscrapers are lit each night from top to bottom with magical LED lights. Traffic is riotous, and no westerner in their right mind would dare to drive some of the roads here. Conversations are bright and intelligent, and life fast-paced and stressful. Yet even in the midst of the fabulously wealthy and well-heeled newly-rich, job-seeking immigrants from distant cities live in abject poverty.
China is, however, a large country (roughly the same size as the US), and there are great differences between the regions. Those who live in the first-world consciousness of the mega-cities lead completely different lives that do those who dwell in country villages still largely untouched by the rush and stress of the modern world.
Through my workshops and lectures on Anthroposophy and Eurythmy, I have visited many of the major cities. I have taught in Beijing in the north, Xi’an in the middle, Chengdu in the west, Guangzhou in the south, and QingDao, Shanghai and Nanjing in the East. Recently I have also begun teaching in Taiwan, (which presents a strong counter-point to mainland China, and deserves an entire blog on its own). I have vacationed in Yuunan, and, most recently, in Guilin, the land of the fables karst mountains, where thousands of single limsestone peaks rise up from the plains as fingers of God pointing heavenwards.
There are ever fewer places in rural China that are untouched by modern life. Roads have reached most of the distant villages, even those more easily accessed by foot. Horses, as beasts of burdens, carry the supplies of the modern world, but so also do diesel-spewing trucks. Tourist industries have helped fan the hunger of the villagers for an easier, more “comfortable” life. I have seen this myself, and talked to guides and hosts in distant places who have their finger on the pulse of the regions they serve. And as much as I may rue the disappearance of the old, romantic lifestyle of such figures as the rice famer with water buffaloes, I must acknowledge that the winds of change are also bringing positive benefits to these communities.
Wherever I went in China, nearly everyone I saw was technologically “plugged in.” Even in the most remote valleys that I have visited, I have been able to access 4G on my cell phone, and in the big cities 9 out of 10 people on the street are negotiating phones as they walk. In my experience, the consumer and the tech industries in China are “on steroids.” People have dozens (perhaps 6 or 7 dozen) different cell phone models to choose from, each one classier than the last. Everyone wants a bigger and better television/ stereo system/ home security system/ smart car than the one they bought last year. In these things, they are leaving the rest of the world “in the dust.”
Pollution is pervasive, and I fear that the environmental consciousness has not yet awakened. Only a few of my friends here know that GMO crops are being planted everywhere in China (and are present in the daily food of most citizens), the fisheries in the oceans are dying, trash that is being (illegally) dumped all around the cities is poisoning the soil, and schools are being built on top of toxic dumps. The skies are mostly gray, and the stars can seldom be seen. I hope we will see big changes in ecological consciousness soon!
TEACHING IN CHINA
As the rising Chinese middle class evolves out of survival mode into a bit of a leisure-society, hundreds of thousands –perhaps millions—of people have begun to examine their lives and values on deeper levels. Self-help groups, meditation groups, NVC workshops, family-constellation and yoga and tai chi lessons abound in the new China: the possibilities seem endless.
And in the midst of all this, there is a vigorous movement examining the educational systems of China. There exist quite a few alternative education models, with Waldorf education one of the most sought-after, with hundreds of school initiatives across the country. Their challenges are many: how can there be enough trained teachers? How can their teachers be helped to connect deeply with the roots of Waldorf principles? And very importantly: can they collaborate and cooperate so that the term “Waldorf” always refers to a vibrant and rigorous education and not an improvised system? How can they contextualize Waldorf education so that the richness of their own cultural heritage finds its rightful and valuable place in the curriculum? And, equally importantly, what do we, as Westerners, have to learn from the heritage of the Chinese people? What have they been given to carry into our time, what wisdom have they been guardians of? I find it fascinating to observe that, as the movement grows, there is an increasing number of schools that are including finding ways to integrate Chinese arts, history, philosophy and values into the Waldorf sol.
Much of the pioneer teacher training work in Waldorf education was begun through dedicated teachers from the English-speaking world, but I am finding an increasing number of German teachers who are carrying the teacher training work in the larger centers.
However, nearly every school that I know of aspires to run their own teacher-training program. While I am excited at the idea of seeing vibrant teacher mentoring programs as well as parent-education initiatives, I am concerned when resources for teacher training are scattered and educators are not deeply enough trained to be able to have a deep understanding of the underlying principles of anthroposophy, the philosophy that underlies the work.
My own work, meanwhile, is focusing on students who have been inspired by my workshops with Eurythmy and Anthroposophy. In addition to short courses, in various cities, I have also started a EurythmyAlive, a certificate course for serious students. In seven 5-day long consecutive eurythmy modules, we focus on deepening themes: Nature of the Human Being, Biography classes, Nature Observation, Karma and Reincarnation, Planets and Constellations, and the like. These 5-day modules are spread out over the course of 2-3 years, and committed students get together in the intervals between modules to practice together. These courses are running in Taiwan and in Chengdu, and are scheduled to begin in Shanghai in the fall.
WEST MEETS EAST MEETS WEST
I find that my greatest personal challenge when teaching in China is understanding the deep levels of the collective unconscious that lives in the foundations of Chinese culture. Eastern wisdom is ancient, resting on primal dualistic philosophies of the Yin and the Yang. These understandings still color all of daily life, reaching into habits of food and medicine and clothing and architecture. In the bedrock of the culture are also the expectations of respect and duty. For China, the most important value was always the thriving of the community, even at the expense of the individual.
Most of the ancient wisdom was, however, ruthlessly destroyed during the 20th century. Much of the ancient insights have now faded into what I experience to be tradition or even superstition. And it is upon this phenomenon that the intense modern drive for individuation arises.
My Chinese friends and colleagues are beautiful, loving people, and I hold them in high esteem. It is an honor to be invited to work with them. Anthroposophy and Eurythmy have sprung from a universal philosophy, yet were rooted in the Western world. Those of us who teach these subjects in China carry a great responsibility to discover how this modern mystery wisdom can find its right relationship to the cultural tasks of the people of the East.
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.
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.