Category Archives: Anthroposophy

Right Speech, or Lack Thereof

Today I fell victim to chose to succumb to the allure of gossiping and judgmental words. What I said was unnecessary, and potentially harmful, as I discovered a moment too late that the person I was speaking about was sitting just at the next table. I was assured by my table mate that the person didn’t seem to have heard as the next table was deeping involved in their own engrossing conversation, but still, I worry that I caused pain.

Gautama Buddha developed the Eightfold Path as a way to alleviate suffering and achieve insight. Rudolf Steiner spoke similarly of this path as a way to tame our astral cravings and unconscious desires and actions. Here is how he describes the fourth principle, right speech:

[A person] must strive to give true expression to what he desires to communicate to the world, having first acquired the right view and right judgment of it; not only his words but every manifestation of his being must express his own right view — that and that alone. This is right speech.
The Gospel of St. Luke, lecture three, 17 September 1909

I certainly failed to have right judgment, in my choice to make humor out of shallow judgments and useless talk,and to have right view, in displaying such antipathy toward the person and situation. I forgot the wise words of Steiner about truth and love:

[The] lie is the direct opposite of the actual facts and those who yield themselves lovingly to the facts are incapable of lying. The lie has its roots in egoism — always and without exception. When, through love, we have found the path to wisdom, we reach wisdom through the increasing power of self-conquest, through selfless love.
–“Love and Its Meaning in the World,” 17 December 1912 (my emphasis)

Clearly, I still need to work on that “self-conquest” part.

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Trial by Water

Today was rather momentous. At one point this afternoon I realized that the entire day was like an initiation of some kind or another.

Rudolf Steiner wrote quite a bit about initiatory experiences, religious, meditative, and quotidian. The quotes I have given here are from his book, How to Know Higher Worlds: A Modern Path of Initiation, available for free online in a previous edition here.

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This morning I was baptized into the Missouri Synod Lutheran church here in Pocatello. It’s the church that runs the school my children attend. I started attending services regularly last spring and went through the adult confirmation class.

It’s not something I ever expected to do. I’ve never attended regular religious services before. But it just felt like the right thing to do, for me, right now. I found that at least once in each service, I would get teared up, even a bit wobbly-chinned. And this was at the early-morning, traditional, formal, organ-music service — not where you might expect an emotional response like that. So, I was intrigued about what that was all about, and kept going.

This trial is known as the Water-Trial, because in his activity in these higher worlds the candidate is deprived of the support derived from outward circumstances, as a swimmer is without support when swimming in water that is beyond his depth. This activity must be repeated until the candidate attains absolute poise and assurance.

Now, I’ve never been a big fan of standing up in front of large groups of people. I’ve done it before: performing in plays, leading business meetings. But it’s always been profoundly embarrassing.

I had gone through confirmation, was attending regularly, and had agreed to be a member of the congregation. So, it was time to be baptized. When I arrived at church this morning, I noticed that the sanctuary was more full than it has been recently (summer vacations, you know). I thought, great, even a bigger crowd to witness this! But I thought about how fear is really an illusion, a kind of self-centeredness blended with a certain lack of courage. I thought about what the Lutheran church teaches about grace, and what I’ve read in many places about surrendering oneself to a higher power.

I wasn’t nervous after that at all.

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Silly Billy and Napoleona spent most of the day today outside, playing.

Now, we live in an apartment complex. We’re looking for a house to buy, but for now we’re here, and so the kids don’t have a backyard. They play in the playground areas, they ride their bikes and scooters around, they climb trees. For an apartment complex, it’s not too bad.

But today they crossed a boundary; they erred in their decision making.

For even as it is difficult for those who have not learned to spell correctly in their childhood to make good this deficiency when fully grown up, so too it is difficult to develop the necessary degree of self-control at the moment of looking into the higher worlds, if this ability has not been acquired to a certain degree in ordinary life.

Anthropapa and I heard a knock at our door, and there was a woman with SillyBilly, saying something about he and Napoleona getting into people’s cars, and that Napoleona had run off. Anthropapa tracked down Napoleona, and we sat down to talk about what had happened.

They had evidently been opening unlocked car doors and getting inside the cars. Worse, they had a plastic bag with a few odds and ends they had taken from some of the cars!

They were really, really upset. SillyBilly told me that some of his friends had told him there was jail for little kids, and was that true, Mama? Napoleona just cried and cried.

We talked a bit about why opening cars is wrong and unsafe, and about how wrong it is to steal. We reassured them that there is no little-kid jail, but also made sure they knew that their actions have consequences.

Later in the evening, while I was combing and drying Napoleona’s hair after her bath, I started talking about forgiveness. I told her the story of the Prodigal Son, how the son made big mistakes (a kind of initiation we can all have in daily life) and how parents (and God) forgive us if we are sorry about and try to learn from our mistakes. The parent might be upset at the mistake, and our desire to learn from the mistake is necessary, but the forgiveness and love are always there.

Should [the candidate], in the course of his activity, introduce any of his own opinions and desires, or should he diverge for one moment from the laws which he has recognized to be right, in order to follow his own willful inclination, then the result produced would differ entirely from what was intended. He would lose sight of the goal to which his action tended, and confusion would result. Hence ample opportunity is given him in the course of this trial to develop self-control.

A day of trials, of initiations, of waters and tears.

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Photos by Vanessa Pike-Russell.

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Today’s Art History Lesson

Have you ever had the experience of seeing a piece of artwork for the first time and being completely blown away by it?

This morning I was reading my daily email of NY Times headlines, and a travel article about Roman ruins in the south of France caught my eye. I skimmed the article and then looked at the accompanying slideshow of photographs. At this one I had to stop for a long time:

An ancient carving at the Musée Départemental de lArles Antique

An ancient carving at the Musée Départemental de l'Arles Antique, Photo: Ed Alcock for The New York Time

Can you see how amazing the relief is in this Roman carving? I can see at least three levels of soldiers coming right out toward me, including the center-left soldier who is almost three dimensional at head level. And each soldier has a distinct, individual face and expression. Notice how some have facial hair, unlike typical Roman fashion — perhaps they are native Gauls? And Anthropapa noticed how the relief and level of detail increases from the bottom up. I love the composition of this piece, the beautiful forms, the expressive faces.

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One of the more fascinating things I learned in Foundation Year was Rudolf Steiner’s views of the evolution of human consciousness, particularly as revealed through art. He divided human history (we will exclude prehistory here) into seven epochs, each represented by a particular culture that exemplifies the state of consciousness of that time: Indian, Ancient Persian, Egypto-Chaldean, Greco-Roman, Western/Central European (the current epoch), Russian/Slavic, and American.

Steiner described how humanity became more and more separated from the spiritual world, culminating in the incarnation of Jesus Christ who brought a new way for humanity to access spiritual truths and who averted the impendingly complete materialism of the human being. (Far too complicated to go into more detail here!) However, Steiner also said that this “fall” into materialism and separation was necessary for the development of individual human consciousness.

Hence arose that peculiar and quite “human” civilization in the Graeco-Roman time in which man was made to rely entirely on himself. For all the distinctive characteristics of art and political life in Greek and Roman times are traceable to the fact that man had to live out his own life in his own way.

The Spiritual Guidance of Man and Humanity, lecture 3

I feel that I can see a little bit of that in this sculpture: the individuation of the faces, the high level of detail in three dimensions. We don’t see the stylized human forms of the ancient Egyptian or Persian cultures, and though those cultures did produce art with its own detail and complexity, I would argue not in such a three-dimensional way and certainly not with such individuated features. (And yes, this is a gross simplification of thousands of years of art.)

Achaemenid (Ancient Persian) archers

Achaemenid (Ancient Persian) archers

Nebsen and Nebet-Ta, ca. 1400-1352 BCE

Nebsen and Nebet-Ta, ca. 1400-1352 BCE

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Unsettled

(You will have to bear with me here. I have lots going on and came up with this cute little structure for the post that will not let me cut anything out! So read on, all 1,400 words, if you dare. If not, I won’t blame you — aren’t blog posts supposed to be no more than 250 words so that the modern human can properly digest them?)

1. not calm or tranquil; disturbed; unquiet

I have recently begun attending the church affiliated with SillyBilly’s school. I can’t recall now why I went the first time; perhaps it was simple curiosity about the services or wanting to find a new social connection. But I realized that at least once during each service I was getting choked up, disturbed, unquiet. So I decided to keep going, to see what might come out of that unquiet.

Then I decided to take the pastor’s “Christianity 101” class on Monday nights. I’ve had a Bible since I was a little girl (and now own several) and went to Lutheran school for 5 years. Religion (or spirituality) has always interested me — I also attended Hebrew school for a short time as a girl and have studied Buddhism as an adult. I am the kind of person who will read the Gideon Bible in the hotel drawer instead of watching TV! So it’s not that I need to really learn what Christianity is. Rather, I’m interested in what this pastor has to say about this particular denomination.

The class often unsettles me. Missouri Synod Lutherans are fairly conservative. I’m partly conservative too — I much prefer the traditional service (hymns) to the contemporary service (praise band). But I believe enough of what I’ve read in Steiner’s cosmology and Christology to feel uncomfortable with many of mainstream Christianity’s views on eternal life, hell and heaven,and so on.

In any case I am enjoying the class and the Sunday services. I am enjoying taking Napoleona with me. I am even enjoying getting up early on Sunday and getting dressed up. And I’m enjoying my struggles with the disturbances to my thoughts on spirituality.

2. not decided or determined; inconstant; variable

This morning, when Napoleona and I went to church, it was sprinkling. A few hours later as we were finishing up in Sunday school, we heard some thunder and when we looked out the window, it was sleeting. Throughout the day we saw snow, sleet, and rain plus a few more peals of thunder. Evening has brought beautiful cloud formations with dashes of sun.

We made jokes on several occasions today about how it was springtime — yeah RIGHT! This is winter weather! But then we talked about how spring and autumn are really transitions between the main seasons of winter and summer — and even more so here in Idaho, with the cold and snow of winter and long, hot summers broken only briefly by these transitional times.

But come on! I just changed over our nature table to be all springy, with bunnies and flowers and such. What’s up with the snow???

3. not firm or steadfast in disposition or outlook; erratic; unstable

This weekend I had a wonderful opportunity to get together with some Waldorf homeschooling moms for an afternoon of crafting and chatting about parenting and Waldorf and anthroposophy. The ladies are all new to Waldorf and have little knowledge of the anthroposophical foundations, so I offered to chat about I’ve learned over the years. I also offered to show them how to make felted Easter eggs.

Now, this turned out to be quite the humbling experience. I discovered two things: I forgot the basics of felting and didn’t prepare by practicing or reading up on it. Our eggs were rather lumpy and were only rescued by extensive needle felting. And I discovered that while I feel that in my own head I have a sufficient grasp on basic concepts of anthroposophy, I can’t necessarily explain them well to others. So perhaps that’s telling me my grasp isn’t as good as I thought it was, or that I need to go back and re-read some basics to be clear on them again.

The ladies were quite forgiving (or unaware of my disconcerting feelings) and welcomed the idea of a regular study/craft group. Which will give me a structure to plan around so that I am better prepared and clear on what I’d like to say.

4. not living or staying in one place; nomadic

We are in the thick of summer planning right now. In past years, summers haven’t meant much in the way of change — the kids continued in their home-based day care, Anthropapa and I continued with our work, and the kids went for only short times at day summer camps. This year we have BIG plans.

Immediately after the school year ends, the kids and I will jet off to Los Angeles to visit with my parents. Both sets of parents have asked about Disneyland. I’m not automatically opposed to the idea, but I am opposed to my kids becoming embroiled in the Disney Industrial Complex’s marketing schemes. I think I could manage it so that we had a fun time doing age-appropriate things without focusing on buying character-driven products, but I’m not completely sure!

Then later in the summer the kids will be going out to the Seattle area to stay with other grandparents for a few weeks. Yes — they, the kids, will be staying. We, the parents, will not. We’ll take the drive out and do some things with the grandparents for a few days, and then we’ll leave them there for the grandparents to return to us later. Now, SillyBilly has stayed with his grandparents for a short time before, but we’ve never had both kids away and not for so long a time. I’m not sure what I’ll do with myself. (Other than sleep in, of course.)

5. not inhabited or populated

Over the last year or two I’ve developed a short list of editing clients: a scholarly publisher, a publisher with a scholarly imprint and a trade imprint, an author who has self-published several books, and a few authors working with a scholarly publisher that doesn’t offer editing services in-house. This has kept me steadily working with a good variety of projects and keeps me on my toes as far as working with different types of clients.

Over the last six months I’ve not worked with any authors — the one author took a break from his writing schedule, and for various reasons I haven’t gotten any work from the others. During the winter holidays the scholarly publisher slowed down quite a bit.

But . . . the two-imprint publisher approached me during the holidays with a new agreement. They had lost an in-house editor and wanted me to help them by taking an increased workload. They agreed to pay me a regular amount every single week (based on the budgets for all the projects combined) and I agreed to a rather full three-month schedule of editing and proofreading projects.

Now, the one thing I really dislike about freelancing is the uncertainty of my cash flow. This agreement has taken that out of the mix, and I feel like in a way I’ve died and gone to freelance editor heaven: according to the IRS, I am still freelancing because the publisher does not substantially control how I do my work, I am free to take other clients, I work off-site, they do not withhold taxes, and so on. And yet I am receiving a regular paycheck.

So now the only concern I have (because there has to be something to worry about, right?) is that I am letting my other clients slack a bit. I haven’t been bugging the scholarly publisher for new work consistently. I haven’t been seeking out new clients. This is making my client list a bit uninhabited, and the danger lies in the possibility that this wonderful agreement could come to a close and my cash flow will be in danger again. (This hasn’t happened so far, and in fact they just asked me to extend another three months. Whew!) But putting all one’s eggs in one basket is not a good idea in the freelancing world. So maybe when the kids area away I’ll drum up some new business, or learn a new skill I can add to my repertoire.

(Did you make it this far in my ramblings? Bless your patient soul!)
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Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker – Part 10

Last time we looked at the relationship between the home and cultural life. Today we will see how the homemaker can set out on a path of self-development.

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In fostering the home as a locus for cultural renewal, the homemaker must work to strengthen his or her inner life in order to work toward the ideals of this renewal. It may seem like we have no time for such an undertaking, but even in very short bits of time we can do significant work.

The path described here has two parts: meditation and exercises.

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For the meditative work we can find a sentence that holds meaning for us that we can ponder. Rudolf Steiner gave us many such sentences, or one could find rich sources in the Bible or other spiritual books. Focusing on a meditative sentence each day for even a short time will strengthen one’s heart forces. To balance these forces, we also must develop our will forces.

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Rudolf Steiner described what are often called the “six supplemental exercises,” about which I have written in more detail in relation to parenting here. In brief, the exercises are:

concentration, in which we focus our attention on a common, otherwise uninteresting object for five minutes each day,

initiative, in which we do an otherwise unnecessary action each day at a predetermined time,

equanimity, in which we hold back the expression of our feelings (though not suppressing the feelings themselves) for a short time at an appropriate moment,

positivity, in which we try to find something positive in every situation or thing,

open-heartedness, in which we attempt to look at every new thing without prejudice,

and persistence, in which we create harmony by willfully repeating the previous five exercises.

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Next time: The Sacrament of the Home

Manfred Schmidt-Brabant, The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker, Temple Lodge, 1996.

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If You Give a Mama a Cold…

…She’s Not Going to Function Properly. Or will she?

For some reason, lately I haven’t had much inspiration to write blog posts. I can hardly get myself to keep up with reading my favorite blogs, either.

Maybe it’s the February blahs. But my mental energy seems at a serious low.

I noticed something interesting today, though. I seem to have come down with yet another cold — didn’t I just have one? This morning after everyone was at work and school, I decided to take care of a few odds and ends that were still rattling about in my brain, in lieu of working on my current manuscript. My brain felt too fuzzy to make sure I was doing a good editing job.

Because of that fuzzy mental feeling, I broke down each task in my head so that I wouldn’t get bogged down by running all over the place to get what I needed:

You want to pay those few last bills for the month, so you’ll need your laptop and wallet. And stamps, since at least one bill needs to go via snail mail.

Then you wanted to get those two packages ready to mail out. For the book you’ll need the scissors and packing tape and some BookMooch cards, and you need to pick a note card to put in the other one.

You’ll need a pen to write the check and the note card.

So I gathered up all these odds and ends, and arrayed them near to hand. I was able to get a lot done, even with a mush brain. I even remembered later to put gas in the car and turn in SillyBilly’s registration for the next school year on time.

Why was I able to accomplish all that while I was physically and mentally dragging? How could I remember all of those steps even when I was tired and sick? I think it was because I used the Mouse and Cookie method.

Have you seen the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie book? It’s been one of our favorites for a long time. It starts like this:

If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk.
When you give him the milk, he’ll probably ask you for a straw.
When he’s finished, he’ll ask for a napkin.
Then he’ll want to look in a mirror, to make sure he doesn’t have a milk mustache….

And so on, until the little boy is run quite ragged catering to the mouse’s needs! The thing I love about this book is that it progresses quite logically (with a few silly detours) from step to step. It’s almost like a preschooler’s version of one of Rudolf Steiner’s supplemental exercises, the one where you choose a simple manmade object, like a paper clip, and think through everything you know about its production, back to mining the raw metal from the earth.

This exercise helps you practice focusing your thinking by excluding unrelated thoughts and progressing your thoughts in an orderly way. I felt like I was doing that this morning, somewhat unconsciously and spontaneously, to help me focus on my tasks.

Just imagine what I might get done if I tried that exercise regularly and consciously!

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I Cried Today

as I watched the I Have a Dream speech with my kids.* Truly one of the greatest speeches in American history.

Then I wondered what Dr. King’s sermons must have been like, so I yet again put my trust in the Google.

I found the text of his sermon at the National Cathedral of 31 March 1968, entitled “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution.” This sermon amazed me in its similarity to much of what Rudolf Steiner said about consciousness, nationalism, and brotherhood in economics.

This struck me as profound and still a lesson we need to learn, thirty years later:

Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.

And then this from later in the sermon, which if we but change a few proper names is eerily applicable still today:

[The Vietnam War] has put us in a position of appearing to the world as an arrogant nation. And here we are ten thousand miles away from home fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese people when we have not even put our own house in order. And we force young black men and young white men to fight and kill in brutal solidarity. Yet when they come back home that can’t hardly live on the same block together.

The judgment of God is upon us today. And we could go right down the line and see that something must be done—and something must be done quickly. We have alienated ourselves from other nations so we end up morally and politically isolated in the world. There is not a single major ally of the United States of America that would dare send a troop to Vietnam, and so the only friends that we have now are a few client-nations like Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, and a few others.

obama-hope

I hope that we are approaching the day when the content of our characters matters most. I hope we are approaching the day when the United States can find some sort of moral compass. I hope that we can continue to work toward one goal King gave in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

To close, words from the National Cathedral sermon on hope:

Let me close by saying that we have difficult days ahead in the struggle for justice and peace, but I will not yield to a politic of despair. I’m going to maintain hope as we come to Washington in this campaign. The cards are stacked against us. This time we will really confront a Goliath. God grant that we will be that David of truth set out against the Goliath of injustice, the Goliath of neglect, the Goliath of refusing to deal with the problems, and go on with the determination to make America the truly great America that it is called to be.

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* Yes, the kids sat through the 17-minute speech. Mostly. We had wanted to volunteer today at the Idaho Food Bank, but the minimum age is 7 in the warehouse, so we’ll have to wait until SillyBilly’s next birthday. The kids asked to celebrate MLK Day in some way, so I thought we would go right to the source.

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