Report from the National Biodynamic Conference in Louisville, Kentucky
“Spirit is never without matter: matter never without spirit.”
These words by Rudolf Steiner were never far from our minds at last week’s biannual National Biodynamic Conference in Louisville, KY, attended by 600-700 farmers, gardeners, physicians, microbiologists, pharmacists, ecologists, and economists. We were a mixed crowd of barefoot farmers, urban sophisticates and small-town families, gathered to address the urgent needs of our planet, our soils, our food systems and our bodies. Our focus was profound question of how to use the anthroposophically inspired insights of BD to teach us how to bring spirit and matter into right relationship. My husband and I were both presenters at the conference, offering eurythmy, lectures and workshops.
A “sister movement” to Eurythmy, Biodynamic agriculture is a way of farming that understands how to work with the dynamic interplay of spirit and matter to create truly healthy ecosystems. Biodynamics has techniques far beyond the ethos of “do-no-harm:” it actually heals and revitalizes impoverished soils and enables plants, animals and humans to thrive.
One of the fundamental understandings that inspires my work with eurythmy is the consideration of how spirit and matter are interrelated. Spirit is close to source, full of fire, consciousness and original creative intent. Matter is its image, its complement: matter is spirit that has evolved through time and space to become independent, cool and dense.
In our eurythmy practice, we learn to ground ourselves in spirit self-awareness, and work out of that mindfulness into our body to create health and well-being. Through the practices of Biodynamics, we find other techniques to bring spirit and matter into balance. For instance, BD practitioners understand how to use the rhythmic interplay of spirit and matter that are revealed in the rhythms of the seasons, of day and night, of the moon and planets. They work with the forces of light and darkness, of crystals and manures, to enhance the effects of sunlight and photosynthesis and of darkness and soil heath.
They also understand how to work with the forces of life, a field that is not yet accessible to conventional scientists. To be truly healthy, a plant must be filled with life forces, so it will have strong cells, build stems that can stand up in wind and rain, have long shelf lives and impart true vitality to animals and humans. This health is only created if the plant grows in healthy soil, rich in the microbial milieu created through the use of Biodynamic practices. Then the plant can perceive and absorb what is needs through the roots and transform light through the leaves. Soils treated with artificial chemicals and pesticides, on the other hand, create plants that are weak and sickly.
My husband is a specialist in the making and use of compost, understanding how to take decaying plant and animal waste and turn it into rich, loamy humus, augmented by the powerful biodynamic compost preparations that inoculate the piles with homeopathic herbal remedies. His compost piles remind me of a holy altar, and he works with them like a priest, at the threshold of life and death. Plants grown in his soil feel confident in their ability to pick up soil nutrients through their root hairs: they grow strong and green and vital.
This conference powerfully underscored the need for such an agriculture to address the needs of planetary ecosystems. Not only the airs and the oceans, but also the soils are collapsing: scientists are speaking of a “silent spring of the microbial world.” This collapse has a statistically direct correspondence with the rise in allergies in children and adults. What we are doing to our soils is immediately revealed in what happens in our stomach. Conventionally grown food no longer offers true nutrition: I heard in this conference that we now must eat 5 oranges to receive the same nutritive value that our grandparents could get from one orange!
It is not only bodily health that we get from food: Rudolf Steiner was once asked why is it so difficult for human beings to do their spiritual work? And his answer—almost 100 years ago—was that the food itself did not impart the strength people need for their consciousness.
My husband and I are so lucky to be able to share our life work in the parallel tasks of Eurythmy and Biodynamics. We are both stewards of the forces of life: I through the movement art of eurythmy and he through the tremendous art of service to the land in biodynamic agriculture.
It was hugely inspiring to be able to share conversations, workshops, and friendship with this fellowship of BD practitioners. Whether in poverty or wealth, in cities or on the land, they share a deep commitment to serve the planet, including its soils, its plants, its animals, and its humans, through their loving hard labor.
And I believe that through our consciousness of giving thanks when we eat, we sanctify the food and the spirit that has made it.
Please join me in giving thanks for the web of spirit and matter, the foundation of our human existence.