Tag Archives: Anthroposophy

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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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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Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker – Part 9

After discussing how rhythm can be a tremendous source of strength for the homemaker, we will now look at the interaction between the home and cultural life.

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Where do we find a basis for human relationships in our current culture? This clearly is the household.

Culture used to be carried by one’s city or country — being a Parisian or from Mexico clearly described one’s culture. Now societies are much more pluralistic, and large communities no longer represent a single cultural impulse. This is a new development in humanity, distinctive to the modern era — with the previous exception of the Jews in diaspora. Since the Jewish culture was no longer identified with a geographical area, the household necessarily took up the continuance and preservation of Jewish culture.

This experience of the Jews mirrors what is now true for all people: culture is no longer “ordered from above” by the state. Only individuals and small groups of people can now create and maintain culture.

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Culture can be defined as human activity in the areas of art, science, and religious-social life. (Rudolf Steiner tied closely together the concepts of religion and social life.) The elements of art and science are easily seen in families with children, where books, art activities, and explorations of matter and the laws of nature are part and parcel of the life of the child. Most homes, with or without children, have some element of culture even if only a few pictures hung on the walls or the radio playing each afternoon.

The religious-social element comes into play quite naturally with children as well, though in a truthful way only if the parents participate freely as well. Children always perceive when something is being forced on them or parents are hypocritical! And then imposing on a household an artificial sort of religious experience, one without a true foundation of self-understanding, is truly anti-social.

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We can see that truth is a critical factor in the cultural life of the home. External imposition of cultural mores does not satisfy the modern need for inner freedom and individual consciousness. So, “the important thing is that the homemaker look at the facts freely without prejudice” and decide what is best for their household. Civilization will thrive if individuals can take what is provided by society freely and from it create a life of culture.

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Culture has always had two sides. For example in religion, the external force of cultural duties was fulfilled in such things as sacred buildings, artwork, and music. Since the end of the Middle Ages, an opposite internal force arose, that of an egoistic satisfaction through entertainment. The homemaker must find a middle path between these impulses.

What is the middle way here? Friedrich Schiller gave some indication in his work On the Aesthetic Education of Man. On the one hand we have the cosmic world of ideals; on the other, the world of matter. (In anthroposophy, these would correspond to Lucifer and Ahriman, respectively.) Balance comes when human beings can “play” freely — play in terms of the free play of forces, not compelled or frozen by an imbalanced focus on either abstraction or materialism.

The homemaker will bring health and life into the home if he or she can imbue the cultural life of the home with neither compulsion or egoistic pleasure, but rather freedom.

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Next time: The Path of Development of the Homemaker

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

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Pride

At the beginning of the school year, I wrote about SillyBilly’s classroom. About how I was unhappy with certain aspects of the pedagogy and curriculum, and how I was worried about competitiveness at such an early age.

Some of those concerns have died down or disappeared. SillyBilly is now fine with D’Nealian handwriting. He still loves school, and the competitiveness is not at all directed at besting others but rather at achieving goals. I volunteer in the class twice a month, and have gotten to know and love the teacher and the children.

But I’ve noticed something. Parents are expected to read books to the kids at home and then the kids have comprehension (and now, vocabulary as well) tests in the classroom. SillyBilly has exceeded the goals (number of tests taken and passing scores) in each scoring period. This trimester his average book level was at third grade, and he has correctly defined words solidly in the third- to fourth-grade range on up to seventh grade!

I was like this as a child, too. I learned to read at age four, and was always at a much higher grade level in reading. I clearly remember in fourth grade going to reading class with the sixth graders, and being bored there, too.

Clearly verbal skills have been a strength for me, and they are for SillyBilly, too. And I’m noticing myself being very proud of him (justifiably so) and not necessarily looking at the big picture. Maybe this kind of pedagogy is fine for him, as it is playing to his strengths. But am I not really paying attention? What are his weaknesses that need to be brought into balance? Am I providing enough physical and artistic activity to offset the intellectual emphasis?

These are hard questions, as Anthropapa and I both tend to be intellectual (in anthroposophical-speak, we emphasize the nerve-sense pole) at the expense of physical activity. Art is somewhere in the middle with us.

It’s always been a question for me: Is it more important to meet the child where he or she is in terms of strengths, or to provide balancing activities? I think the key is to observe, observe, observe — is the child blossoming in areas of strength, or are deleterious effects arising from overemphasis on a certain aspect?

Have you experienced this, either with children or yourself — this need for balance and the need for playing to strengths? What was your answer?

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Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker – Part 8

After going through the fourfold nature of the home, let’s go back to the role and experience of the homemaker within that structure. (pp. 21-24)

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All human activity takes place within a certain tension. This arises between the ideal — a career ideal, a life ideal, or a religious ideal — and the impossibility of living up to it.

Animals don’t have this tension, as their pursuits of food, procreation, and other activity encapsulate their whole existence. But human beings have cognition, and the ability to form mental pictures, and thus we can formulate ideals beyond what is apparent to our senses.

This of course leads to conflict, because ideals are so often unattainable. For homemakers, the old ideals of perfection need to be changed to meet the needs of the modern person. In particular, the homemaker must be able to freely accept the ideal and choose to strive for it. No longer are these social structures given from on high.

Unlike with other efforts, where one might train or be educated in order to pursue a goal, in homemaking we must find our own way. “The homemaking career is a question of self-education. Self-education is a sign of modern humanity.” So we can look at the homemaker as a representative of the modern form of self-development.

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Rhythm

How can the homemaker form the household? One of the most obvious structures in daily life is time. We can roughly divide our time in three: work, sleep, and free time. The person who goes out of the home to work experiences this quite clearly, but the homemaker may not have such a clear division between work and free time. But the homemaker is right in the thick of this structure, as the work in the home allows the other members of the family or household to have free time.

Of primary help to the homemaker in working with the structure of time is rhythm. We find ourselves within the rhythms of nature, but we must work to find our own human rhythms.

Families naturally have daily rhythms, of work, school, and meals. Weekly rhythms are supported by society with customary times set aside for work, school, and religious observance. Over the course of the year, religious and cultural festivals mark the passage of time in a rhythmic way, and bring refreshment to everyday life.

The key for the homemaker is to emphasize these rhythms in a conscious way, so that the family is not bogged down in monotony. “It is one of the greatest secrets of life: to form the course of events so that time neither presses nor depresses but becomes a source of strength and inspiration.” It can be as simple as a quiet moment with a cup of coffee, or the security for the young child of having the same bedtime routine each evening. These consciously emphasized rhythms are a source of joy.

Working with rhythm in a conscious way becomes a source of of strength for the homemaker, both inwardly as a path of development and outwardly in structuring the home. When we know that certain things will happen at a certain time, we are freed from the effort of constant decision making, and we have built up inner strength in the ability to look over the day or week and enact a plan.

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Next time: cultural life and the household.

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

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Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker – Part 7

In this last section on the “bodies” or realms of the home, we will look into the spirituality of the home space, and how working in the home is a transformative process. (pp. 16-20)

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The most important level in the home is that of spirituality, for it completes the home organism. Every home has a certain spirituality:

A certain tone is established through one’s religion and philosophy of life. . . . How does a family live with the elements of culture? How are questions of knowledge, art, the religious life and human relationships handled?

Each member of the household has a guardian angel, who work along with deceased family members within the home, just as the elemental beings of the etheric realm do. Through working with the processes of the home, the homemaker becomes aware of these etheric and spiritual helpers, and so gains a new kind of consciousness. We can also begin to become aware of the two great powers that work in opposition to unbalance us: Lucifer and Ahriman.

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Luciferic forces lead us away from the earth and incarnate consciousness, dissolving us up into the clouds and away from daily obligations into chaos.

Ahrimanic forces seek to bind us to the earth, into materialism, dogma, and sterility.

The homemaker keeps these forces in balance by developing the ego, the individuality, the true sense of humanity. Balance must also be maintained within the home itself:

chaos –> overtaxing the etheric body (which can lead to illness)
(but abundance –> inspiration)

absolutism –> soul poverty
(but emptiness –> imagination)

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It can easily be thought that anthroposophists are some sort of modern-day Luddites, what with the emphasis on natural materials and the somewhat shunning attitude toward modern technology. However, Rudolf Steiner felt that the true human task was not to refuse the material world but rather to take hold of it with our human spirituality and transform it.

Three elements of the home have been greatly changed through modern technology:

Light: It used to be that light was precious; people were drawn to it. Now we obtain light through the flick of a switch, and a loveless relationship has developed.

Warmth: Until recently, warmth only entered the home by something being burned, and again people gathered around it. This too is now available with little effort and remotely; here too we have a lack of consciousness and feeling.

Power: Labor was once only provided through simple mechanical machines (such as windmills) or through human effort. Now with electricity we have numerous machines around us to do our work. As much as we cannot now do without electricity, we must also develop new ways to compensate for what has been lost. How may this be done?

We have already spoken of the home as the site of process and much non-sensible activity. Another way to look at the home is as an “alchemical laboratory”. Here we again look at the human task as that of grasping the material world and transforming it, which Rudolf Steiner identified as the modern Rosicrucian path. The homemaker seeks to enact this transformation in a balanced way without withdrawing from life; this is the spiritual path of the homemaker.

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Next time we will begin to see how this spiritual path is the “point of departure for the new Mysteries.”

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

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Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker – Part 6

And now, the astral realm!

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The astral realm relates to the soul life, that of emotions and basic consciousness. In a household, often the “aura” of the space reflects the activities and soul processes of the residents. Don’t some homes radiate welcome and joy, while others are clearly sheltering unhappy people?

Artistic activities are an obvious example of an astral influence, but more important is the sense of humor displayed in the home. Now, by “humor” we mean something fairly specific:

Only someone who can laugh about himself has humour. Laughing at others only is not true humour, but to have humour means to lift oneself above the dichotomies of the world.

When I read this last sentence, I was struck by the word dichotomies. In anthroposophy, the primary dichotomy is that of what we call the “adversarial forces.”

Steiner spoke of Ahriman and Lucifer: the being who wants us to rebuke the spirit and focus solely on the physical world, and the opposite being who wants us to renounce the material and focus solely on the spirit. Steiner places Jesus as the representative of the human being in balance between these forces.

Perhaps we can link these esoteric ideas to humor in this way: if we always laugh at others, we are probably avoiding some sort of realistic picture of our own selves. Perhaps these adversaries are nudging us into superiority or lack of compassion through excessive self-regard, whereas true, healthy humor brings cheerfulness.

Just as there are beings who live in the etheric processes of the household, so other beings work within the astral realm of the home. In ancient Rome, the astral beings of the home were known as penates. These beings are to the home and the family as a whole what guardian angels are to individual human beings, for anything that is formed intentionally as an organism has an angelic helper.

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Next time: the spiritual realm of the home.

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

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Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker – Part 5

From the physical realm of the household, we will now move on to the etheric realm.

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The etheric world does not consist of solid, measurable, graspable aspects, but rather of processes, movement and interpenetration. It is thus not a world of things but of living beings.

In the home, etheric processes are everywhere:

creating — cooking, sewing and crafts

changing — cleaning, decorating, mending and repairing

Long ago, people perceived the etheric world in the form of elemental beings — the helpful brownie behind the stove, the watchful tomten in the barn, and mischievous sprites tangling the hair of lazy householders as they sleep.

These elemental beings were once seen as helpers in the household, and given a nightly bowl of milk or porridge in gratitude. But human intellect came to the fore over and above the feeling realm of the soul, and the helpful beings seemed to fade from existence.

However, it is a fact, a “practical occultism,” that etheric beings still exist wherever material is handled. Only the factual, physical world has no true life. Understanding that working with etheric processes enlivens the home will help the homemaker in daily life.

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This section of the book includes one of my favorite quotes from Steiner ever:

For wherever material is handled, there are processes. Rudolf Steiner gave an often cited example: to the homemaker who complained to him that her household responsibilities gave her no time to read his lecture cycles he answered gravely, “When you clean your living room, you release elemental beings. When you read a lecture cycle, you release no elemental beings.”

So . . . elemental beings get “stuck” when dust and dirt accumulate, because there is no movement there, no processes. And thus when we clean, we “free” these beings, and the work becomes easier. Maybe that’s why if you clean things up right away, the messes don’t seem as overwhelming as when they sit and grow and stagnate!

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

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