Monday, February 20, 2012

spirit being being free

human striving for divine connection

Over 600 years ago, an Incan stronghold of dry-laid fieldstone buildings, pastures, and terraced gardens stood perched atop the Andes near the Urubamba River of modern-day Peru: Machu Picchu. A community of about 1200 Incan religious leaders, teachers, farmers, and their families lived there for about 100 years until it was mysteriously abandoned. Remaining relatively intact, one of its remarkable features is Intiwatana, the Hitching Post of the Sun. It is a rock positioned perfectly to meet the noonday sun of the southern hemisphere Winter Solstice. It was designed to honor the Incan Sun-god, Inti. The people had known intuitively that celebrating divine grace gave them a sense of belonging to the vast, miraculous spirit realm.

Over 30 years ago, an anthroposophical stronghold of stuccoed geometrical buildings, lawns, and biodynamic gardens was founded, and remain perched along a bend in the American River in lovely Fair Oaks, CA: Rudolf Steiner College. A community of spiritual beings, teachers, farmers, and their friends connect and learn and dance and sing in wild abandon. One of its remarkable features is the Flowform, a water sculpture employing vortex technology. It is a cascading series of symmetrical catch basins where water often flows with a lemniscate movement. It was designed to honor the spiritual nature of mankind. Flowforms were designed by English sculptor John Wilkes, who was inspired by the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Rudolf Steiner had known intuitively that celebrating divine grace gives us humans a sense of connection to the vast, miraculous spirit realm.

Steiner also knew intuitively that human freedom is what connects us to the spirit realm. Human freedom allows us to be connected with each other as well, in thought, in feelings, in deed.

Recently, I was informed that some folks out there were uncomfortable with my blog. I will not elaborate on what reasons they may have for feeling this way. I was saddened to think that these individuals who have spent more years than I learning about Steiner, and who at this point have reached a truly enlightened state, would find offense with my blog. It is, after all, only my striving to practice a literary medium, to share in my creative endeavors, to share the pride I have with the work of my students, and to further my learning about Waldorf. And if truly they believed that we all have the freedom and capacity to think for ourselves, as Steiner believes we do, then it would follow that I have the freedom to write about my personal experiences, and that my readers also have the freedom to read my blog posts and decide for themselves what gems they may find in my blog, if any. I would have to add that for those who dislike my work, you also have the freedom to not read my blog. I did a stat check on Blogger, and it appears that I have had over 55,000 visitors to my blog since I started it three summers ago. Hopefully, most of them enjoyed the pictures, drawings, and writings of my blog.

It was at the Teacher Conference at Steiner College this morning that I was informed about the negative feedback. Interestingly enough, just a few minutes later, as a large group of us were gathering to hear the keynote speaker, Aonghus Gordon of Ruskin Mills, I was stopped by a nice gentleman who extended his hand out to me. He said, "Dr. Tan! I recogninze you from your picture on your blog. I wanted to thank you for your ideas on the Roman history project. It is wonderful to see how teachers are so creative in their own ways." (For the blog post on the Roman aqueduct, click here.) That was a welcomed comment! And it is for that very reason I write my blog.

My objectives have not changed: 1. to share my teaching journey in the Waldorf classroom 2. to serve as a companion in my studies of anthroposophy, Steiner, and waldorf education 3. to share inspired crafts, stories, verses, and other jewels of our life's striving, and 4. to catalyze spiritual, creative paths for those who happen to chance upon my blog.

We all strive for some kind of spiritual connection to the divine, and to each other. The Waldorf Way is just one medium of my personal striving. I am a family man first, and my spiritual connection is to my wife and children. I am a teacher, and my spiritual connection to my students is through the curriculum and to my being present in the classroom. I am also an artist, musician, and occasionally, I like to think I am a writer.

Am I an anthroposophist? No.

Do I claim to be an anthroposophy scholar? Never have.

Am I spiritual? Yes.

Am I free? Absolutely.

Do I want to visit Machu Picchu? That would be super cool!

Friday, February 3, 2012

cultural geography

a week in the Philippines

The seventh grade curriculum at Davis Waldorf includes a visit to exotic places such as South America, Africa, and the South Pacific islands. As part of our studies in Renaissance history, we will be taking a look at the impact of global explorations by European explorers to the New World. But before the conquistadors set foot on these distant lands, the seventh grade is introduced to the geography of these places and how it defines the culture of their inhabitants.
Being Filipino, I decided to take the children to the Philippines for a week. Well, perhaps, more accurately, I took the vibe of the islands to them. The Philippines Islands is an archipelago of 7000 islands on the rim of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Its tropical climate, rugged shorelines, and active volcanoes is home to a mix of people of aboriginal origin, Malaysian descent, and Spanish blood. It is also home to forests of bamboo, a natural resource that is widely and creatively utlilized by the Filipinos.

The seventh grade built models of "bangka paraw," a trimaran that is effective as a fishing boat in shallow, choppy waters. We also did the "tinikling" dance, the national dance of the Philippines. And what better way for the seventh graders to experience life in the Philippines than to hear it from people who had lived there in their childhood. I invited my parents to share their experiences with the seventh grade. My dad described games he played as a child and the blooming courtship between him and the love of his life, my then would-be mom. Their courtship was a classic Romeo and Juliet story, and it piqued the interest of my 12 and 13 year old students! We ended the morning lesson with a few Tagalog words that my mom wrote on the board, such as "mahal kita," meaning I love you.

Then we sampled a dessert called "halo-halo," or literally, mix-mix, that I prepared for the students. It is an assemblage of tropical flavors of coconut, sweet beans, jackfruit, purple yam ice cream, and other assorted toppings, mixed together with sweet milk and ice.