Friday, July 31, 2009

the enchanted knoll

reflections on the college experience

Every morning these past five weeks, I would walk to Steiner College. Through a curved path lined with rosemary, day lilies, pittosporum, Japanese maples, and river rock, I entered into a magical realm atop a wooded knoll in Fair Oaks, California. There, the transformative process of becoming a Waldorf teacher took place. And the five week program ended today, but we take with us somthing we will carry for the rest of our lives.

We came together from far away, from diverse backgrounds, connected by the strong feeling that we would find at Steiner College whatever it was that would strengthen our work-lives. In the above picture, a few of us stand with Laura Embrey-Stine (in yellow polo top), co-author with Ernst Schuberth on the book Form Drawing, Grades One through Four.

Our classes introduced us to the teachings of Steiner and the concepts of Waldorf education. One integral component of the experience is inner work, that to be good educators, one must really be attuned to one's own inner life and to the souls of the children. Above, we were walking the paths of our form drawings. It will be for the children, but for us, it was just one exercise of many that allowed us to cultivate the holistic spirit.
In Waldorf education, it is all about the balance of the feeling, thinking, and willing - or heart, head, and hands. The woodshop is one room where the balance can be achieved. The act of working the wood combines all three aspects of one's life. Bodo Langen, seated in the above picture with his foot in a tub of iced water, was our instructor. He sprained his left foot early in our program. Intuitively, I came over to examine his foot, and with some stretching and pressing and holding his foot over the two weeks I was in his class, Bodo really believed I helped in his recovery! As a gesture of gratitude, he gave me an excellent book entitled Educating through Arts and Crafts, edited by Michael Martin. He says I am a "true healer," and a new friend.

Patrick Wakeford-Evans, the Academic Dean, and our instructor for inner work and theosophy, guided us in the richly complex world of the soul, and the cultivation of meditative practices. Our discussions with him had been fruitful, as he always had insights that are poignant and practical.
Our classes were held mostly at the heart of the campus. This room above is of the Barn. With unusual clerestory windows, and painted in a wash of pinks and blues, it was a backdrop for framed prints of eurythmy poses, and for many sessions sharing our biographies, and inner work, and learning about the art of the main lesson.

One of my classmates is Jo Rabbetts. She has a wonderful spirit and personality, clearly expressed in this photo I took of her while at our inner work class. Like with all of my other classmates, my friends and colleagues, the five week program showed us that there is something living within us, the living artist, according to Antje Staub, and the outward expression is like that seen in Jo's face: I am here for you, genuinely joyful, nurturing, gentle, creative, strong in my will to do good in the world, learn from me, and I will learn from you, I reveal to you my spirit, my heart, my hands, take from me what you need to become a person who also will do good in the world.

verse for joey

a poem for my daughter

A Waldorf tradition, the individual verse is written by the teacher for the student near the beginning of the year (starting in 2nd grade to the 6th grade, thereafter a verse is chosen from classical literature). The words reflect the teacher's wish for the child's development, or to praise the strengths of the child, or to give encouragement and lift a struggling child. The individual verse can be written by anybody, for anybody, wishing to convey in a poetic and artisitic way the thoughts and feelings you want to share. I wrote the following verse for my daughter Joey, who is going to a Girl Scout camp for a few days. See you in a couple of days, Joey!

She crafts with the hands
Of a learned soul
Brilliant fibers
With colors so bold.

She strums the guitar
While her heart sings
Musical verse
On Calliope’s wings.

Her gifts are many
Blessed are we
A family full of joy
And happiness a plenty.

She is my daughter
My wonderful girl
Bringing truth and love
To this great world.

Though you may be
Far from my sight
My spirit walks with you
And tucks you in at night.

Go and discover
Mountains to climb
Good, brave child
Daughter of mine.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

graduation 2009

a four-year metamorphosis

In support of my colleagues who are graduating from their four year summer teacher education program, I attended their evening ceremony. Pictures from the night would have been nice to see, but as I am finding out with many of our events, we are all so in the moment of the experience of a song, or verse, or dance, enthralled by the swirling energy, consumed by the force of a collective spirit, it is often hard to step away from that and snap a picture! No wonder so many Waldorf teachers become poets - it is a way to translate and express those moments later on.

So, with that said, I must say, to express the evening in a blog will not do it justice. With a sense of awe and pride, I watched as the twenty-eight graduates entered the main hall of the college as they sang Pachelbell's Allelulia. The song swelled when their processional reached the stage. Applause and reverence.

Patrick Wakeford-Evans and Irene Francois welcomed the graduates. Irene greeted us in French, as some of the graduates were a group from Montreal. Bodo Langen, my woodcarving instructor, was honored as the opening faculty speaker, and he spoke of metamorphosis. Truly, the path is one of change, of birth, and awakening. Much in the same way as rough, natural wood is transformed into a vessel or lyre or something else functional and beautiful, so do we undergo a metamorphosis, one of a spiritual nature.

Student speaker, Marisol Thellier, addressed the faculty, graduates, and guests. With her French accent, she spoke about their shared journey. Along that journey, she spoke of painting, and in the word painting, is pain. She used the process of art as a metaphor for the act of working the will, of the intensity needed to create something beautiful. Surely, the work on our own selves is a task that can be painful, perhaps in a sense that conscious effort can be emotionally and physically taxing, or the act of releasing preconceived notions can be difficult, or the act of opening up to receive new thoughts can be a challenge. To learn new skills, new paradigms, to trust change - yes, all come with the initial pain.

But, if I may add, in the word pain is in. So to take the thought thread further, after the pain, is the blossoming of one's in, the inner life. And another step further from that, in the word in, is the i - or I. The singular aspect of who you are.

Songs were sung beautifully, Indianalieder, The Veil of Destiny, from the Magic Flute, and Siyahamba, an African freedom song. And eurythmic pieces were performed, Gibraltar, Der Wolkendurchleuchter, and Autrefois.

Closing faculty speaker, Antje Staub, delivered an eloquent blessing for the graduates and all in attendance. She sent us forth into the world as living artists. It is what we all should strive to be in our work and play as Waldorf educators, as citizens of the world. To express the beauty of the universe and the individuality of the inner soul, this is being a living artist. To share it generously and joyfully, this is being a living artist. To respect the processes of creative transformation, this is being a living artist.

The graduates were honored with a short verse from Patrick Wakeford-Evans, and sent across the stage, and under a rainbow veil, to complete their metamorphosis. Changed individuals, the pain behind them, enlightened and enlivened, educators who will love their children, living artists.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

nestling visitor

the joys of nature

We had a reprieve in the yardwork this Saturday morning. Amidst the raking, and pick-axeing, pruning, and planting, a baby bird just hopped into Rabbie and Navy's home. We knew there were many birds in the trees and shrubs all around, but it was a welcome surprise to see a nestling visit us from some mysterious roost nearby! My first thought was that its parents must be worried, as it was so small and awkward, with downy feathers, and clearly unable yet to fly.

We had even created a box full of soft foliage for it to lay in, but it hopped right out. I held it in my hand, felt its steady heartbeat, felt its chest move when it chirped, looked into its big, inky eyes. It almost fell asleep in the warmness of my hand.

Adult birds would chirp around us and the nestling would respond. Perhaps it did not need us after all. I set it down near where we had first encountered it, into the ivy and lemon balm. Soon thereafter, I caught a glimpse of the adult bird hop over to it, then it began to hop away, with the baby bird following along right behind the adult bird!

I will miss baby bird, I think it liked our family, but its spirit would soar higher with its fellow birds, and I am happy for that.

hopi prophecy

courage to create a new world

You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered. . . .

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?

Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for your leader.

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, "This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold onto the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.

The time of the one wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word 'struggle' from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we've been waiting for.

Friday, July 24, 2009

wood wisdom

the emergence of will through woodworking

A sturdy gentleman of German descent, Bodo Langen, guided our small class of five students through a memorable journey into woodworking that lead ultimately into the shaping of our creative souls. A dedicated Waldorf educator, he gave us insights into the pedagogy of this ancient art while facilitating our hands on experience in cutting, gouging, and carving wood. Often, over the sound of mallets tap-tap-tapping on gouges, he would speak in his resonant voice and say things like, "The inner part of the vessel is your soul life, as you shape the wood, you shape your Self."

In the two week course, in a workshop dedicated to woodworking and metalworking, with heavy wooden work tables set firmly in the middle of the room, shelves lined with gouges, planers, mallets, and cabinet scrapers, and several pieces of wood that would become bowls and lyres stacked on shelves against the walls, my project took shape, and I deepened an understanding of my own will force.

I was no stranger to the species of wood I worked with: poplar. A wonderful, tight grain with sweeping lines of beige and gray green, soft enough to carve, hard enough to retain its strength and form. Interestingly, I had originally picked out a board of alder, as I had not used it before. Perhaps intuitively, Bodo suggested I try the poplar. He did not know I use poplar in the wood puzzles and sprites I create through Syrendell. Somehow, I must be connected to the poplar so I gladly accepted Bodo's recommendation. Woodworking is all about the process. The end product, while satisfying to reach, is secondary to the woodworker's meditative and highly focused process of bringing the beauty out of the wood.

The journey began with a stroll through the olive orchard at Rudolf Steiner College, searching for the felled branches with the right amount of moisture to use: too wet and green, and the wood will shift in its form over time, too dry, and the wood is brittle and cracked. We returned to the wood shop, and one of the class used an olive branch for her project, the rest of us used wood of different species, some already cut into lumber. After cutting the wood to an approximate desired size, gouging begins.

The gouge is a sharp-tipped, curved metal blade with a wood handle. It can be struck with a mallet to remove larger pieces from the project. For more precise work, the handle is held in one hand, palm up, providing the forward motion, and the other hand is positioned on the metal blade to guide the sharp tip. Using the gouge represents the will force. The active pushing of the gouge, an extension of one's arm and physical being, symbolizes the force exerted to meet the need for the human being to shape the physical world. Concurrently, the other hand, as it guides the tip, acts as the will's thinking partner. The will is balanced in this elegant metaphor. Power and strength, tempered by conscious restraint and judgment.

The interior aspect of my bowl symbolizes my inner soul. The exterior aspect of the bowl symbolizes the outer world. The outer surface can also be regarded as the interface of the human with the environment. We had started working on our projects by first removing wood to shape the interior space, then moving on to work on the outside surface. Perhaps this represents the way the human should meet the world: consciously working on the inner life will reflect outwards to shape the outer life.

Translating all this wood wisdom to the Waldorf classroom, the young student at 12 to 14 years old has entered a developmental phase where he or she, in awakening to the separation of self and environment, must be active in the world to remain connected to it and to make a difference in it. Woodworking clearly is a way to experience the process of shaping the world. The exertion of the child's feeling, thinking, and willing Self, through the wood, has a lasting impression on the soul life of the child.

For those of you interested in incorporting the arts into your classroom or homeschool experience, check out Educating through Arts and Crafts, edited by Michael Martin. It is a compilation by craft artists and teachers of the pedagogy and techniques of working with wood through the middle school and high school years.

king quercus

a nature story

Once there was a beautiful kingdom ruled by a mighty and wise king named King Quercus. King Quercus wore a golden green crown, and was loved throughout the land, for he ruled with goodness in his heart. His kingdom had magnificent rolling hills with wildflowers, camellia shrubs, and many streams, but there were no trees.

The people of the kingdom had no shade in hot summers, no place for children to climb and play, and no place for birds to build nests.

This made King Quercus sad, so one evening he decided to ask the royal wizard to cast a spell on him.

In the morning, when the kingdom had awaken, King Quercus was nowhere to be found. But in the castle courtyard, there stood a mighty tree. The people gathered around the tree and began to sing and dance. The children laughed and played. The birds built their nests among its branches, and even squirrels started to collect the acorns.

A child pointed to the highest branch of the mighty tree, and there, glistening in the sun, was the golden green crown of King Quercus.

Monday, July 20, 2009

laphh often

mindfulness of our blessings



Sunday, July 19, 2009

sunday rhythm

maintaining equilibrium

Everyday, we try to maintain a dynamic equilibrium. We follow the natural law of earth's ecosystems. Life moves forward, it evolves, we change, and along the way, we strive for balance in our daily living.

My studies with Waldorf education and anthroposophy, now entering the fourth week, has been about transformation, about learning new processes and ways of thinking, movement into higher planes of awareness - the dynamic forces currently in my life.

So to balance that, for me to maintain equilibrium, a centering of my own spirit, the grounding force, is my children.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

first grade math

an overview

The first grader is introduced to arithmetic in a multisensory approach, bringing math to life, or life to math! A Waldorf teacher or inspired homeschooling parent will show the child that math is everywhere around us. Why should introduction to counting happen on a piece of paper, why not through observing caterpillars on a bush? One can tell stories of knights and golden apples, or Little Red Riding Hood delivering chocolate chip cookies to grandma and the animals of the forest! How many eggs did the three hens lay? Sing and stomp and clap on every other foot for even or odd numbers. Use math gnomes to show the operations (the ones pictured above were a family project as a gift for Wilson, our youngest).

I thought of using the scenario of pizza delivery math gnomes to teach the operations:

1. Have a mini pizza box for each child.
2. You or the child can make 12 slices of pizza, any toppings!
3. Then wait for someone to call your pizza delivery store.

Brrrng, brrrng!

(Singing with your hand like a phone to your ear):
Thank you for calling the math pizza gnomes,
We will bring pizza right to your home,
So tell me please, what kind would you like to buy,
Plus, minus, divide, or multiply?

Plus pizza, please.

One plus pizza, coming right up!

All right children, let's bake five slices of pizza. Now put those slices in the box. Now let's bake three more, and put those in the box. Close your box, and let's deliver the pizza!

(The kids then skip or walk around the room and stop - at the person's house who ordered the pizza.)

All right, pizza gnomes, open your box and tell me, how many slices of pizza do you have?


You have so much creative freedom to really make math fun for the first grader. Here is a list of general math objectives for the first grader (this list is followed at Sacramento Waldorf, other schools may vary to some degree):

1. Concept of whole numbers, 1-12.
2. Counting forwards and backwards in a variety of ways.
3. The writing and reading of Roman and Arabic numerals.
4. The four mathematical operations.
5. Understanding of numerical magnitude.
6. Rhythmic counting by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 10.
7. Mental and written math with the four operations.
8. Concept of whole which can be divided.
9. Odd and even numbers.
10. Number rhymes and patterns.

And if someone asks what is the most important number? You say one. One world. One body. One sun. And in the oneness, exists the many parts.

Happy counting!

Friday, July 17, 2009

really knowing you

inner work leads to outward consciousness

An integral component of the teacher training program at Steiner College is inner work. To be an excellent teacher, one must cultivate the sense-ability to really know the student. As is true of all aspects of one's life, developing the heightened awareness of another individual's true self creates immensely positive results.

Our course on inner work, lead by the Academic Dean of Steiner College, Patrick Wakeford-Evans, is valuable in the process of becoming Waldorf educators. The required text for the class is called "How to Know Higher Worlds," by Rudolf Steiner. It contains insights and practical exercises in developing heightened sensitivity.

Today, a fine way to end the week, Patrick gave us a juicy morsel of wisdom. (While the book is a good resource, it does not compare to the vitality of the spoken word, especially through Patrick, who is good at clarifying many of Steiner's concepts.) In my own words:

How can you really know another individual?

See the physical being. Now peel away that layer.

See the person's abilities and talents. Peel away that layer.

See the person's desires and motivations. Peel away that layer.

What is left do you see?

The striving of the individual. The striving...

Deeper than your genetic material, the skills you may possess, or the desires that move you, the authentic you is on a lifelong path of transformation. To recognize it in oneself is part of inner work. To be able to see it in others, to be attuned to the vibe of another individual's soul, then you have raised your conscious awareness to make a difference in the lives of others.

writing verses

creativity from the heart

In the Waldorf classroom, verses are an important part of the rhythms of the day. During circle time for the lower grades, the teacher directs the students through verses that are accompanied by movements. In this way, the children are involved in a multisensory experience that speaks to their hearts and souls. The verses may be poems, songs, ballads, or reflective prose. Steiner himself had written many verses used in the Waldorf classroom and in anthroposophical circles. Often, the words from these verses give thanks to the wonders of the world around us.

The Waldorf teacher can pull from a vast resource of poems, nursery rhymes, and songs to use in his or her classroom, or the teacher may even compose one. Thoughtfully designed with movements, the verse adds a practical, yet spiritual, touch to the Waldorf classroom. Here is one I wrote for the first grade circle time (you can create your own movements):

Good day to you and you my friends,
Together we stand as one,
A circle formed in loving light,
Sparkly sprinkles of morning sun.

Good day, big blue sky.
Good day, turquoise sea.
Good day, great green earth.
Good day, mighty tall tree.

And look
Into our circle a caterpillar crawls,
She says,
"Good day my friends, one and all."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

journey unfolds

curriculum for the first grader

First grade is an exciting time for the young child, and for the teacher as well! The child is transitioning out of the first seven year cycle (toddler and kindergarten years), and is at the threshhold of developing his or her awareness of the Self and of the World.

In this blog post, I wanted to outline the curriculum of the first grader, and briefly touch on the reasoning behind it. For the formal classroom teacher or the homeschooling parent of a 7 to 8 year old child, this is information that will align you to current Waldorf pedagogy. Please remember to treat the information as guidelines - each Waldorf school has their own culture and requirements, and each homeschooling parent has the benefit of the parent-child relationship to know what is truly right for the child.

This post is organized as follows:

Key Developmental Features of the First Grader

Beginning the Day

The Block Rotations: A Year's Curriculum

A Weekly Schedule

Art of the Main Lesson

Key Developmental Features of the First Grader

The first grade child is about 7 years of age. He is transitioning out of the otherworldly plane of early chidlhood where the Spirit Self has not yet completely touched down onto the earthly plane of their own physical body. (Picture our toddlers as angels sent down from heaven, and as they turn about seven years of age, their senses come into more focus that they are a physical entity with the wonders of the world about to unfold before their eyes!) As a first grader, the child has the sense of connectedness to the world around them. Oneness with their peers and their environment is a major part of their being. They think in terms of "we" instead of "I." The imagination is strong, their physical development is crucial.

Beginning the Day

In the classroom or the homeschool, create a setting, a mood, that exudes welcome and warmth. Because the child's spirit is so connected to the environment, the spaces where the learning is happening needs to be positive and welcoming. The teacher can make a physical connection with the students through a firm handshake, and emotionally create the caring bond through genuine eyes and a joyful smile. Receive the child, and become attuned to his or her vibe. Harmonize the entire class through a routine morning program of a simple song, or a verse, and always with body movement, preparing the teacher and the class for the lessons and adventures of the day.

The Block Rotations: A Year's Curriculum

In the Waldorf classroom, the subjects are blocked together. These blocks comprise what is called the Main Lesson (more on that later). Here is the first grade curriculum:

Month and
September: Form Drawing
October: Introduction to Vowels
Oct/Nov: Numbers (Times Tables)
Nov/Dec: Intro to Consonants and Crafts
December: Winter break
January: Form Drawing
Jan/Feb: Numbers (Add and Subtract)
February: Consonants
Mar/Apr: Numbers (Division)
May: Letters/Phonics/Reading
June: Numbers (Multiply)

A Weekly Schedule

The first grade schedule is not a full day, as it recognizes that the child's stamina for the structured learning environment, no matter how loving and wonderful, needs time to develop. The day appears to be less than four hours total.

Typically, from 8:30 t0 10:30, MTWRF, the main lesson is given. From about 10:40 to 11:15, the foreign languages are taught, alternating between Spanish and German, MTWR. On Friday, this same time may be occupied by handwork. The last period of the day may go something like this: Monday, handwork; Tuesday, games and beeswax; Wednesday, eurythmy; Thursday, music; and Friday, painting.

Art of the Main Lesson

The main lesson is the bread and butter of Waldorf education. Here, the teacher is also a performance artist, a visual artist, musician, and storyteller all rolled into one joyful, clever, and impossibly creative educator!

The two hour block is comprised of four half hour segments. The first half hour is circle time, designed to bring the students into a collective spirit with movements and singing. This first hald hour focuses on the students' feeling life, and brings the heart's rhythms into synchronicity with the environment, invigorating their imaginations and their bodies.

The second half hour focuses on their thinking life, as this is the time for recall and review of previous material, plus the introduction of new material. Their intellectual selves are challenged, their brains are exercised, and their minds become expanded.

The third half hour is work in the main lesson book (this needs its own space to describe). Briefly, the MLB is this da Vincian-like journal that mixes art and the intellect to show off the progression of their daily learning. Here, their willing lives are practiced, as the learning is translated to their hands.

And finally, in the final half hour, a story is told, often drawn from the Grimm's fairy tales, and the child's experience combines the feeling, thinking, and willing self.

Through the entire main lesson, the teacher weaves the learning material into all the aspects of the lesson. In this way, learning is experiential and multisensory, anchoring the material, whether it be math, or the langauge arts, or science, into the being of the child.

Monday, July 13, 2009

philosophy of freedom

a study group's thirst for knowledge

As if it wasn't enough that I am in the middle of my foundation studies in the intense five week Summer Teacher Education program at Rudolf Steiner College, I am also in a study group discussing the fundamental points of Philosophy of Freedom. My thirst for knowledge clearly outweighs my desire for sleep!

In the second chapter titled The Fundamental Desire for Knowledge, Rudolf Steiner poses that we "seem born to be dissatisfied." He quotes from Goethe's Faust:

Two souls reside, alas, within my breast,
And each one from the other would be parted.
The one holds fast, in sturdy lust for love,
With clutching organs clinging to the world;
The other strongly rises from the gloom
To lofty fields of ancient heritage.

Steiner agrees that within man resides a natural human characteristic: our thirst for knowledge. From this universal quest arises the distinction of I and World. (In a previous blog, Clash of Spirits, I posed that the thirst for knowledge does not necessarily have the same quality among cultures, resulting in the fall of the native american culture.)

Our awareness that we are separate from the World, yet are united with the World, creates the "spiritual striving of mankind." (Steiner, POF) We continually seek to understand our place in the universe. During Steiner's time, two prevailing theories existed, of which both were inadequate to fully elucidate the relationship of the I and the World.

The two theories are dualism and monism. Monism is further subdivided into materialism, spiritualism, and - this is just my term for it - atomism.

Dualism acknowledges that the I and the World exist as two entities, but does not reconcile the connection between the two. For dualists, the I exists purely in the spiritual realm, and the human body and the world are of the physical realm, of matter, of the senses.

Monism is concerned only with the unity of the I and the World. Materialistic monism swings heavily towards physical processes as explaining the origin of thoughts, that the phenomenon of thinking really is the result only of the brain, rooted firmly in matter. Spiritual monism is on the other side of the coin, that we are a product only of the spirit world. The third version takes the atom and within it resides the unity of the physical and the spiritual worlds. According to Steiner, all are inadequate in giving us a more accurate working framework with which we can study our Selves and our place in the World.

In this second chapter of Philosophy of Freedom, Steiner does not reveal the answers, he merely presents us with the positions of his contemporaries, and examines the inadequacies.

Through my first two weeks of studying Steiner and theosophy, I believe Steiner reconciles the duality of the human condition through his delineation of the soul aspects of the human being. Basically, at the intersection of the physical world and the spiritual world, the human being's I, or Ego, resides, taking on the qualities of both the physical realm - the senses, and the spiritual realm - the origin of thoughts and intuition. The sentient soul, the intellectual soul, and the consciousness soul work in concert to maintain the separation of the I from the World, yet allows for the transformative processes of the human will in striving for unity with the World.

In another previous blog post, Thought Exercise, I gave a reflective exercise drawn from my theosophy class that takes one through the process of honing the soul's spiritual striving. The sentient soul receives the image as feelings, the intellectual soul as thinking, and the consciousness soul as meaning and willing.

The thirst for knowledge, ultimately, is quenched with meaningful action.

spiral keeper

the way of the snail

The world is a Vortex
Every inward spiral must become an outward spiral
Life must be a lesson.
The human being must become a Vortex.
Everything performed as a vortex is magic.

from "Meditations from an Esoteric School" in Start Now, A Book of Soul and Spiritual Exercises

Sunday, July 12, 2009

the crow and the pitcher

bringing aesop's fables to life

With Ina Jaehnig's class on Fairytales, Fables, and Legends, we discussed the pedagogy of stories in the lower grades (Kindergarten to 2nd grade). The second grade curriculum includes fables such as Aesop's short stories of morality. In the Waldorf classroom, the fables are told without the moral of the story being orally revealed. Developmentally, the second grader discovers for him or herself through the stories the lessons that the fables teach. The life lessons are revealed slowly in their own souls, on their own time, allowing for the blossoming of the Self.

Our assignment was to choose a fable and tell it, as if it was a classroom of young children. I chose The Crow and the Pitcher. The fable is short and simple: It's a hot day, and the crow was very thirsty. He saw a pitcher, but there was only a little bit of water and he could not reach it at the bottom of the jug. He had an idea. He dropped pebbles into it, which made the water rise, and he was then able to quench his thirst. The moral is: little by little, try and try, you succeed. A good life lesson.

It is in how the story is told that the fable comes to life. For the assignment, I gave each of my classmates, and our instructor, a pebble. I then took a black silk handkerchief and with a bit of folding, and a single knot, I transformed it into a crow. As I told the story, I asked each of my classmates to drop his or her pebble into the cup, each time making a clink as it hit the bottom of the cup. Then my puppet crow slurped up pretend water in the end.

materials: pebbles, a cup, a handkerchief

a crow fashioned from a black handkerchief

the crow peering into the water jug

With a song I had written for the assignment, I involved the class some more by having them sing a portion of the song with a major C scale (do, re, mi...), saying "plop, plop, plop" with each note. The song goes like this, alternating the C chord and G chord (I'll have to figure out how to post audio files):

A crow he saw
A water jug
But the water
Was too low

He could not reach
The water mark
So his thirst
Began to grow

He did not fret
For wise was he
An idea
He did know

Dropping stones
One by one
And the water
Did it flow

Plop, plop, plop, plop,
Plop, plop, plop, plop!

The water
Did it flow!

As the teacher, you can certainly build a week's worth of curriculum around the fable. Tell the story, do some math counting pebbles, go on a nature walk looking for birds and finding pebbles, learn how to sing a major scale, do a short play, write words, make rhyming words with crow.

It is the Waldorf way: integrated arts, music, and nature, with the child's spirit at the core of what you do.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

thought exercise

for the three soul members

Rudolf Steiner takes us on a journey through the understanding of the human soul. A mix of spirituality, science, and philosophy, it truly is a complex system he presents. He guides us in seeking the truths for ourselves. Ultimately, he offers a practical way of living where our feeling, thinking, and willing selves live freely with a heightened awareness of each other and the world.

Like exercising the muscles of your arms and legs, or your heart, or your brain, you can also exercise your soul!

The three members of your soul life that we will focus on are (there are more, but the following three, for me, have a clear thread that can be followed by new students of Steiner):

the sentient soul
the intellectual soul
the consciousness soul

Visualize that these souls are envelopes of light, fluid, and energy, constantly churning, expanding, receeding, and changing colors, surrounding and penetrating your physical body. They occupy the same space as each other, but each one functions differently from each other. Think of them as conduits that capture particular elements from the physical and the spirit world, and then transport these thought elements to your inner self, sometimes referred to as the Spirit Self. The Spirit Self then takes the information from all three soul aspects and you express these thoughts as your feelings, your intellectual musings, your striving for meaning.

In fact, that is how we can delineate each of the soul aspects, by the quality of the thought. Your sentient soul will process the stimuli as your feelings, your sensations, your descriptive adjectives for the thing you are experiencing. Your intellectual soul takes the experience to another level and gives a more scientific edge to the thoughts - the resoning, the logic, the interrelationships of the stimuli. And finally, the consciousness soul processes the experience and your thoughts become intuitions, your deeper search for meaning in the stimuli, your call to action.

Through daily meditations and reflections on nature, your family, and your environment, and by categorizing the thoughts through the three soul aspects, you are exercising your ability to sharpen your awareness and your intuitiveness about your self and your world.

So, the exercise begins!

1. Look at the picture above for a minute or two
2. Now close your eyes
3. Organize your thoughts accordingly:
how would your sentient soul receive the image
how would your intellectual soul receive the image
how would your consciousness soul receive the image
4. Now write down your thoughts
5. You may share your thoughts by leaving them as comments on this blog post.

In a later blog post, I will offer you my thoughts on the same image, and we can compare notes!

Good luck with the exercise. And little by little, through this type of exercise, you will build your soul's capacity for intuitive thought and propel your physical body towards mindful action.

clash of spirits

fall of the native american

The Native American culture succumed to European influences. Instead of giving you a historian's or an anthropologist's position - neither of which I am, I am offering an intuitive explanation of what may have been the cause, based on my understanding of the soul forces of cultures and individuals.

In Philosophy of Freedom, Steiner presents us with the concept of human freedom - our ability to discern the eternal truths, and have the awareness to know what motivates us to action. When we are not bound purely by desire, by external pressures, by automatic, reflexive responses, then we are closer to acting on true free will, and thus be truly free.

Steiner also poses that humans have an inherent thirst for knowledge, which is what ultimately drives us to seek these truths in the first place, to seek freedom and transformation, to seek higher worlds. Unfortunately, this thirst for knowledge, wherever it sits or originates, can take the dark, negative form, which is greed.

So stay with me here. The human soul has within it this thirst for knowledge. I agree. But I want to pose that this thirst for knowledge has varying degrees of strength, and varying concepts of what knowledge is. And to take it further, I think this thirst for knowledge has a collective pulse.

In European minds, such as with Steiner, and his philosopher-contemporaries, and broader still, with explorers from the Mediterranean, such as Columbus and Magellan, there exist a major thirst for knowledge. Religion and spirituality is based on acknowledging that the high forces of the spirits are in the ethereal world somewhere in the universe. The ancient cultures such as Greece demonstrates for us that this collective pulse of knowledge, of progress, leads to the distillation of philosophy, the technology of architecture and medicine, and of modernization - all great stuff that enriches our world.

Now take the Native American mind. Intuitively, my sense is that their thirst for knowledge has an entirely different flavor. Picture their homes, shelters of earth and mud, timbers and hides. Picture their crafts - pine needle baskets, carved branches, berry-dyed animal skins. Picture their lifestyle - sustainable, hunter-gatherer villages. Picture their ceremonies - dancing and chanting to thank the spirits of the trees, the eagle, the sun and moon, the river, fishes, otters, bear. What picture does it paint for you? The Native American individual lives in the present, firmly grounded to the earth, accepts the mysteries around them, and the spiritual world is the physical world. Mother Earth and Father Soul are one in the same.

The most important difference then is how the two cultures' spiritual drives affect their actions, their will, their consciousness soul. The best image I can create for you is this, a Native American man and a European man are sitting together in a house structure. Their thoughts are different, the native American is thinking, "I exist in the present, this is shelter, it is all I need, today." The European man is thinking, "I exist in the present, and look towards tomorrow, this is shelter and needs improvement, how do I make it my own, tomorrow I will strive for more, work harder."

So what happened when the explorers showed up on native american soil? The Native American people, without the concept of land ownership (Mother Earth simply lets us partake of the bounty), without the need for expansion (use only what is needed), and without the drive for higher spiritual order (there is nothing beyond oneness with the earth spirits), it was very easy for foreign influences to overtake the Native American cultures, as easy as an explorer simply stepping foot at the edge of a lake and saying, "What I can see I will claim on behalf of my country." There was hardly any opposition from the native peoples. An unfortunate chapter of American history.

Modern cultures all share the European way of thinking, we all have that drive in us now - Asians, African Americans, today's Native Americans. The USA is a testament to the greatness of the previous generations' drive, so I am thankful for that. And like all other moments in history that lead to achievements and milestones of humankind, there were sacrifices by individuals, class systems, and entire cultures - the Jewish people, Armenians, Japanese, African slaves, the Quakers.

In truly reaching higher levels of consciousness, we must look within ourselves and question every action. How can I contribute to the goodness of our world, today, tomorrow? When our thinking, feeling, and willing life is perfectly synchronized with the universe, then we will be free, then we will know eternal truths, then we will be attuned to our world - no more clash of spirits - only a family of spirits.

weaving earth and heaven

fabrics around the world

I gained a new perspective on fabric patterns from the Handwork Around the World class with Gerda Kramer. I am not a textile artist, yet I was intrigued with the explanation Gerda gave on how geography and the spirit world determined the fabric patterns of cultures around the world.

In looking at fabrics, there is an interweaving of yarns that must happen for the cloth to be created, and the patterns to emerge. If you have woven on a loom before, or did some card weaving, or other weaving craft, that was bonehead info for you - sorry! Anyway, so there is a warp (the up and down fibers) and the weft (the left and right fibers).

Correlating the vertical fibers as forces from the spirit world and the horizontal fibers as forces from the earthen plane, you get this intersection, this weaving of both worlds. Cool, eh? So because the earth is round, those spirit forces touch the continents with varying degrees of presence and consciousness.

How does that translate to textiles?

Well, for example, the cultures near the North Pole, say the Eskimos or Inuits, with strong spirit forces emanating from above, have clothing that are predominantly light or dark with minimal adornments and woven vertical elements. In fact, the fabric is not woven at all, but are largely animal hides.

The tartans of Scotland, coming from a geographical region that is about equidistant from the equator and the pole, have equal doses of vertical spirit fibers and horizontal earth fibers.

Asian countries, such as Japan, with strong earth forces, yet ties to the spiritual world, has fabrics that depict natural objects such as flowers and landscapes, and at the same time shows a refinement of technique and a striving for a spiritual, meditative quality.

In Africa, lying below the equatorial plane, fabrics have very organic patterns, colored with natural earth dyes, demostrating very strong earth forces and weaker spirit forces at work.

Here in North America, Gerda said the forces are balanced. This balance, before modernization, was evident in the cultures of the Native Americans. In their clothing, reverence for nature was clear, and to me, the spiritual world, for the Native Americans, resided in the the earth, the earth spirit. (Through another blog post, I want to address the question that was raised in class: why were they conquered so easily? I have my own thoughts, and I will share it with you shortly. )

Friday, July 10, 2009

college faculty

the teachers who teach teachers

The following people are the dedicated instructors who have been eagerly, patiently, and expertly sharing their knowledge and insights with the students at Steiner College here in lovely Fair Oaks, CA. Their bios are from the Steiner College website, and are full-time faculty. Adjunct faculty are listed below. All are wonderful teachers who really care about their work and their students. A big thank you to all of them!

Patrick Wakeford-Evans
Academic Dean, Program Director
Rick: Patrick can illustrate the complex concepts of anthroposophy with clear words, humor, and a lively spirit.
After 17 years as a class teacher, Patrick joined Rudolf Steiner College as an adult educator in 1999. He has given lectures and mentored teachers in Mexico, Japan, England, and the United States. He has worked as a musician, actor, and playwright. His special interest is in science education and inner development. He has developed new programs at Rudolf Steiner College and is currently the Academic Dean.

Astrid Schmitt-Stegman, MA
Teacher Education
Rick: Astrid's love of Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf education is evident in her passionate lectures.
Astrid taught for many years in Waldorf schools in the United States and Germany. She served as a mentor for new teachers and began training teachers in the 1980s. In addition to heading the Waldorf Teacher Education Program at Rudolf Steiner College, she has taught in teacher training centers, lectured, and mentored Waldorf schools in the United States, Germany, Russia, Thailand and the Philippines. She is currently assisting Dr. Michaela Glöckler, Head of the Medical Section of the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, with international support for the worldwide Waldorf movement. Astrid also teaches in Rudolf Steiner College programs, particularly in the summer and in our Community Learning Centers.

Theodore Mahle, MFA
Arts Faculty
Rick: Ted deftly combines being an artist and an instructor - not an easy task!
Ted has been teaching drawing, painting and art history in various Rudolf Steiner College programs for many years. He received a BS in Art Education from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. For seven years he worked as a graphic designer in New York City, and took evening art courses at the School of Visual Arts. After taking the Foundation Year in Anthroposophical Studies at Emerson College, England, he completed a three year painting training, according to Rudolf Steiner's methods, from Beppe Assenza at the Goetheanum Painting School, Dornach, Switzerland, in 1976 (ERES MFA Equivalent). He was a teaching assistant in the school from 1975 to 1978. Then he was employed as a painting therapist at Sonnhalde Schulheim Curative Home, Gempen, Switzerland. Returning to the U.S. he directed the Arts Program, a year-long morning course in drawing and painting at Rudolf Steiner College from 1982 to 2003. He taught art in the Davis Waldorf School from 2003 to 2005 and continues teaching at the Steiner College and around the country.

Eva Cranstoun
Music Instructor
Rick: Eva has an angelic voice, making a simple voice exercise a spiritual experience.
A native of Vienna, Austria, Eva has been singing since her youngest years. She has trained both with the Werbeck and the classical methods of singing, and has been a performer, vocal coach, and singing therapist. Private music and vocal studies in Vienna, Austria. Waldorf Teacher training (grades) diploma at RSC, 1998. Uncovering the Voice Vocal training with Christiaan Boele; Singing therapy diploma 2008. Music director at Stonebridge School (Waldorf Methods Charter) in Napa since 2004. Private vocal coach since 1999, performer.

Lauren Hickman
Head of the Early Childhood Program
Rick: Lauren showed us handwork crafts and told us a story with puppets - I felt like a little kid again!
A graduate of the University of California at Davis, Lauren has worked as a kindergarten teacher and has directed Pre-K and Tots and Parent programs. A Waldorf graduate herself, Lauren comes from a pioneering family in Waldorf Education and is knowledgeable about all facets of early childhood education.

Ina Jaehnig

Summer Teacher Education
Rick: Ina has been tremedously helpful in teaching the delivery of fairy tales, fables, and the legend of the saints.
(no picture)

Ina is a co-founder and long time teacher of the Denver Waldorf School, bringing decades of experience to her teaching in both elementary grades and high school. She earned her teaching Diploma from the Stuttgart. Academy of Arts. Her training in Waldorf teaching is from the Munich Waldorf School. In addition to serving as a core faculty member in the Summer Teacher Education Program at Rudolf Steiner College for many years, she has also been a guest teacher at the Teacher Training Program in Eugene, Oregon.

Adjuct Faculty:
Gerda Kramer (Handwork Around the World), Ruth Bucklin (Eurythmy), Antje Staub (Art of Main Lesson), Patricia Dickson (Clay Modeling), Laura Embrey-Stine (Form Drawing Grades 1-3), Brian Gray (Parzival), Bodo Langden (Wood Carving), Rosemary Glover (Biography)

painting stories

more wet method paintings

The following paintings represent the final three days of my experience with the wet-method technique as taught by Ted Mahle. I thank him for his expertise, and in just two weeks, I felt confident in the way of the wet! In the Waldorf classroom, stories, fables, legends, and Old Testament stories told to the students are often supplemented with art lessons. Depending on grade level, the wet method can be taught to the kids with simple strokes and subject matter or with a more complex and detailed style, and subject.


assorted fables

a bible story: genesis

motive force

family and love of teaching

My wife and youngest visited me at Rudolf Steiner College for a picnic during lunch. They were about ten minutes early and I happened to be outside near a tree with an assignment I needed to complete for class. The instructor had asked us to reflect on theosophy and what we had gathered in the past week. I was closing my eyes, forming my thoughts, when a voice called out across the lawn, "Hi, Daddy!"

I opened my eyes and Wilson was running towards me. I bent down and we hugged and I gave him a kiss. Jennifer followed behind him with a picnic basket, and I told them that I still had ten minutes of class time left, and I needed to finish my assignment. So, Wilson and Jennifer strolled over to a nearby table where the handwork students were displaying dolls and felted shoes they had made.

I returned to my assignment, and I realized how synchronous it was that my son had called me just when I was reflecting on what I was learning about myself and the soul. It became evident to me what I needed to put down on paper. In theosophy I was learning that the human being is powered by both the elements of our physical world and the spirit world. Through conscious intention, by raising our sense awareness, by being open to the intuitive forces coming down from the spirit world, we become transformed and elevated as individuals. A higher consciousness leads to action that is meaningful for the self and for the world. But an important element is the motivating force that calls one to action. For me, it was my love of teaching and my family.

I wrote down that my consciousness was clearly aware that my family is at the heart of me, dwelling within me, inspiring my Spirit Self. I believe I can exist as Rick the human form, but I would not exist as Rick the soul force without the love of my family.

lolo victor

heart's adoration and inspiration

In our Summer Teacher Education program, courses in theosophy and anthroposophy give me a view about the core values and ideals of Waldorf education. The handwork class demonstrated the connection between textiles, geography, and the spirit forces. Wet-method painting and singing taught me practical techniques to share with the students. Eurythmy offered a new dimension of movement that will add health, balance, and a collective spirit to the Waldorf classroom.

One class called Inner Work has me looking inward to discover how I could become an amazing teacher outward. It makes perfectly good sense to me to spend some time focusing on oneself in order to devote one's day nurturing many children. Essential to the Waldorf teacher is to have someone in your consciousness soul to venerate, to adore, hold in high regard, respect, and admire. It is this person whom you will call upon when you need strength to push forward with your earthly tasks.

For me, that person is Lolo Victor. He is my maternal grandfather. Lolo is grandfather in Tagalog. My memory of him goes back to the Philippines when I was about 5 years old, and I had two younger brothers who were then 4 and 2. I picture Lolo Victor in a white T-shirt, slim and sinewy arms, tanned from the sun, with short-cropped graying hair. When we were in our family home in the provinces of Binangonan, he would spend time with us, a lot of time outside among the fruit trees in our yard, and the thick underbrush of the countryside. I see him with a machete in hand, chopping away bushes and bamboo, to carve a path for our many adventures. I see him plopping a chili pepper straight from a bush into his mouth and maintain a smiling face. He told stories. He helped my dad dig a well in the yard, and mechanize a hand pump to bring water to the surface. As children, I remember taking baths under that hand pump in a steel basin palced at ground level. We would splash around and the chickens would cluck, cluck, cluck and visit. He was also the one who gave me the confidence in my artistic and creative drawings, encouraging me to draw things I see in nature.

Mostly, the memories exist as feelings, as a spiritual connection to something more, which is why I hold him in veneration.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

verse transformed

using soul-speak to interpret the verse

Without changing every word and line, I inserted the language of theosophy to perhaps get a new picture of the verse. It goes like this:

Surrendering to the senses’ revelation
My sentient soul washes me of my human desire
My intellectual soul vaporizes reason
Mystifies me, emptying my I of my spirit self
Now, cosmic intuition, through heightened awareness
Streams forth to fill my consciousness soul

Essentially, through the three embodiments of the soul: the sentient soul (the feeling), the intellectual soul (the thinking), and the consciousness soul (the intuitive), we get a progression of how higher thought processes - intuitiveness - comes to us by modulating our sense perceptions and our logical thinking. In this way, we become more receptive to the intuitions as given from the spiritual world.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

spiritual exercises

for your transformation

From Rudolf Steiner's Start Now! A Book of Soul and Spiritual Exercises, in the chapter called Living the Year Spiritually, Steiner offers passages for you to reflect on as a means of transforming your self to higher levels of consciousness. He has passages for each day of the week, for every week of the year, by zodiac sign, and by festivals.

This is the verse for the fourteenth week after Easter (July 7-13):

Surrendered to the senses' revelation,
I lost my own being's drive.
My thoughts became a dream.
Numbing me, they seemed to rob me of my self.
But cosmic thinking in the senses' glory
already approaches to awaken me.

Our theosophy class instructor asked us to ponder on it, and on Friday, we are to present some kind of image or a poem or reflective writing. I will sleep on it tonight and tomorrow, I will work on the passage, giving it some thought. As you read the short verse, develop your own thoughts, interpretations, and insights. If you find it meaningful in some way to your life, then I am glad to have shared it with you!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

colour experience

expressing the spirit and soul through color

In my fifth painting, we continue to learn more about the wet method painting technique. I am becoming more confident in achieving the look I want as I am starting to understand the nature of the watercolors. In this painting, only four colors are modulated: green, peach-blossom, white, and black. These four colors create a cyclical interplay that has a deeper, soulful meaning.

They express themsleves in the following way:

Green represents the lifeless image of the living,

Peach-blossom represents the living image of the soul,

White or light represents the soul's image of the spirit,

Black represents the spiritual image of the lifeless.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

friends forever

Rabbie and Navy in their new home

I thought I would share this adorable picture that I took this afternoon. We recently moved to a magical home in Fair Oaks - with tall oaks, camellias, Japanese maples, vines, wild grapes, a creek, and a bio-dynamic garden. For our friends Rabbie (the rabbit) and Navy (the tortoise), we created an enclosure nestled near a jasmine vine. The two have been living together for about five years now and are the best of friends.