Eurythmy in Guatemala

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Eurythmy belongs to the world—not only to artists, children, or fervent students of Anthroposophy, but to those whose hearts yearn to find a modern spiritual movement path. Born out of the heart of Anthroposophy, Eurythmy allows the conceptual understanding of spirituality to be warmed through the heart and grounded in the body. Having taught eurythmy to thousands of people, I know this to be a powerful reality. And my commitment to share eurythmy wherever it is asked for has brought me to diverse communities around the country and around the world.

In addition to writing about eurythmy itself, this blog page offers a place for me to share with you the experiences of bringing this work to the diverse communities I visit.

This week, I am happy to describe recent experiences in Central America. My husband and I have just returned from a 4-week trip to Guatemala. The images are still vivid in me when I close my eyes: soaring volcanoes on every horizon; deep greens in vibrant forests; the brilliant colors of tropical flowers, echoed in cloths woven into clothing, hammocks, blankets and more; the noise and bustle and people-press of the market places; the sweaty jostling of bodies crushed together into the chicken-buses (public transport buses) rattling across hundreds of kilometers of pot-holed roads; fields of coffee, cacao, spices, sugar cane and bananas. And most precious of all: the serenity of Lake Atitlan, one of the so-called “planetary vortices,” a large and beautiful mountain lake rich with spiritual energy.

Guatemala is the most populous of the Central American countries, and has the largest economy, yet it is the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Its infrastructure is poorly funded, as taxation accounts for only 10% of the GDP and corruption bleeds the nation of much-needed finance. The gap between the wealthy and the poor is extreme. The public education system is woefully inadequate, while social instability and gang violence wreak havoc on the nation.

There are approximately 18 million Guatemalans, of which about 48 percent are mixed-race Ladinos and another 48 percent indigenous Mayan people,scattered throughout the highlands of this vast and rugged land. Having been isolated from one another for thousands of years, what might once have been one common language uniting the Mayans has been splintered into about two dozen distinct languages.

Even as the Egyptians were building their pyramids as burial or initiation structures in northern Africa, the highly sophisticated Mayan people were building their own pyramids in their jungles. The scale and grandeur of some Mayan cities rivaled that of their European contemporaries in the period from about 200 BC to 800 AD. It is estimated that there were over ten million people living in the area now known as Guatemala, Belize and the Yucatan by 800 AD.

Beginning with their decline through overpopulation in the ninth century, and continuing through the years of the Spanish conquest, and even unto the contemporary influx of ex-Pats and gringos (including us!) the Mayan culture shows little of its ancient sovereignty. Yet in the past few decades the indigenous people have begun to re-claim their own self-knowledge and taken steps to learn of their cultural roots.

The Spirituality of the Mayans

It is possible that the Mayans, the first people of Guatemala, traveled across the Bering straits millennia ago, bringing with them the ancient spiritual wisdom still found in the Tibetan traditions. Traces of this can be found in the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Mayans. There, the creation story begins thus:

            “This is the account of how all was in suspense, all calm,in silence; all motionless….

[…..] Then Tepeu and Gucumatz came together; then they conferred about life and light, what they would do so that there would be light and dawn, who it would be who would provide food and substance. Thus let it be done! Let the emptiness be filled! Let the water recede and make a void, let the earth appear and become solid; let it be done. Thus they spoke. ‘Let there be light, let there be dawn in the sky and on the earth! There shall be neither glory nor grandeur in our creation and formation until the human being is made, man is formed.”

In the centuries of colonization, the proselytizing missionaries soon brought their version of Christianity to the Guatemalans, teaching their doctrine and building their churches, often on top of the sacred ceremonial and burial sites of the Mayans. What has evolved out of this is a unique blend of indigenous and Catholic religiosity. One often sees statues of the Crucified one as a black man nailed to the cross. There are statues in the churches of the Madonna holding two children in her arms, symbolizing the two twin brother-heroes of the Mayan creation myth. Indigenous shaman-priests often hold ceremonies on both the interior steps and the inner aisles of the churches to sanctify their dead, swinging incense burners and offering flowers, fruits and abundant candles, to honor the souls of their departed elders.

It was deeply moving to see the fervent piety of the worshippers who visited the churches all day long. Again and again, people crawled the long length of the church on their knees until they reached to front altar. There they would pray with passionate gestures and uttered prayers, obviously experiencing a personal closeness to the divine world, invoking a mood of soul seldom encountered in much of the modern world.

Working with Waldorf Education

There are two growing Waldorf schools in Guatemala, and I was able to teach eurythmy and anthroposophy to the faculty in both of them this summer.

The younger of the two schools is “Colegio Waldorf” in Guatemala City. It was founded just three years ago, by a woman who saw clearly that the only viable path to a new future in her country was through education. As the granddaughter of an anthroposophist, she committed herself with a clear vision and dedication to the creation a Waldorf School in the capital. Unconventionally, the school opened only three years ago with grades K-6, double-tracked in each grade. Today the school has full classes through 9th grade, and will soon run through high school. Unfortunately, few of the teachers are adequately trained in Waldorf understanding and methods, so there is an urgent need to work with them intensively. I was privileged to work with three highly capable training colleagues for a week this summer, and have committed myself to building a five year curriculum for teachers with my colleagues.

The other school is smaller, yet older. Escuela Caracol, in the highlands of Lake Atitlan, was founded a decade ago to serve the largely indigenous population of the region with Waldorf education. Its social commitment is truly inspiring: 75% of the students are low-income indigenous children, and their tuition is paid largely by donors from first-world countries. (Check out their website to get involved!) The members of the faculty study anthroposophy weekly, nourishing themselves through deep work together.

Among my many impressions of the schools I worked with, there remains this thought: Waldorf education is so inherently true and flexible, that it can exist in a vast number of different forms. It can serve the most humble and modest communities and well as the wealthy and privileged. The essential question: “what does it mean to be a spiritual human being?” can be cultivated and developed in every circumstance.

Contained within the task of creating Waldorf schools is included the question of how to find right relationships to economic and social relationships. How can a strong school be built even before teachers are adequately trained? Because private Waldorf schools are tuition-based, can one ensure that the motives for forming a school are clean and not profit-driven?

In Guatemala as in China, we find the need to contextualize Waldorf education, so it can take root in its own soil and not exist merely as a European transplant. I have found it fascinating to see the parallels between the work in China and in Guatemala. Both are new territories for Waldorf education. In both countries, the need for new educational models is urgent. Waldorf offers a way to create a bridge to the future.



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