- By Natalia Perera
“Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility—these three forces are the very nerve of education.”
― Rudolf Steiner
Oh Warrior…it’s you. Nice to meet you again. You are looking rather frazzled. Are you here catching your breath? Take rest, take food—whatever you may need in order to regain your strength. Have you been out in the world making too much love or too much war? Because last time we met, we explored together the dharma of great souls like Che Guevara and Arjuna, innately talented and well trained to fight as warriors on battlefields.
Both had to transform themselves, make peace with making war, and from there, transform the world. Is there something you need to make peace with? What are your natural gifts? What have you been trained in? These are all key questions leading us to a pivotal point in your life: What is your unique dharma?
Sadly, we need to dig deep to find our way here. Our mainstream educational systems have not been built around encouraging our unique expression and drawing out our inherent talents for the betterment of this world. That would be outrageous. On the contrary, schools pride themselves in producing an exemplary member of this society, even if the latter is rotten at the core. We are talking about a culture in which teachers and caretakers are not valued, and are well underpaid compared to other professions. It is in this paradigm that children are fed blatant lies and are shaped by the same media that upholds the socio-political needs of the system. They are made to be consumers and their material success is then measured against other innocent children, each set up to compete with another. Not only is childhood not honoured, but it is exploited.
Waldorf education, one of the great works (amongst others such as anthroposophy, biodynamic agriculture, and anthroposophical medicine) of Austrian born great philosopher and social reformer Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), gives us a more intelligent alternative. Every detail of what goes on in the classroom and in the school grounds is deeply considered in light of the needs of the soul on its journey to inhabiting the child’s body. Hence, the pedagogy aligns itself with a profound understanding of and respect for early child development—both on a spiritual and human level. This means that in practice, the parents’ and the teacher’s roles are to observe the seven-year phases of development without hurrying the child into learning a task before their psyche or their body is ready, instead, allowing the child to express his or herself through age-appropriate free and creative play. It also means within that, the teacher needs to be able to see and assist in each individual’s unique way of growing into their potential; that is, stimulating them where they are gifted and supporting them in healing where they are weak.
Children have the same class teacher for six years ideally, which in itself is a chance to deepen the relationship and to provide the safety, comfort, and consistency that many children need to soothe any pain they may carry. Contrary to popular belief that this style of schooling is for “hippies,” the Steiner environment is strict in many other ways. For one, the rhythm of the day is of the highest priority, and all activities are planned accordingly to this “breathe in, breathe out” rhythm so that the children feel safe, held, and rested rather than being overstimulated and stressed. Only a calm and balanced system can find joy in learning and blossom from there.
Another important aspect of Steiner education is its highly nourishing focus: Children are not required to wear uniforms and are encouraged instead to wear wholesome, colourful clothing of their choice, without displaying brands or logos. The buildings and school grounds, as well the children’s toys and school necessities, are also handmade from only natural materials rather than using plastic manufactured items. Families are even asked to provide food that is organic and not pre-packaged and branded, when possible. In many ways, some subtle and some less subtle, consumerism is discouraged.
All to say that these are only some of many aspects that have been deeply considered to impact the psyche of a child growing up in and defining their relationship to this world. Everything that children are exposed to in their day needs to be consciously chosen and placed to raise their awareness of the greater rhythms of the natural world and to cultivate in them a sense of reverence for life, maintaining as much as possible transparency between their inner and outer world.
The way that the lessons are delivered, in themselves, promote values such as compassion and peace in that children are not assessed and compared either to a standard or to each other, so competition and separated-ness is not even on their radar. Instead, the approach instills a passionate and joyful love of learning; celebrations that evolve around cultural and spiritual festivals, using body affirming methods such as gymnastics, dance-movement and dramatic arts. In short, childhood is treated as highly sacred and children a part of a creation filled with natural beauty and grace. It is no wonder then that more children educated in such a nourishing and holistic way grow up to be creators rather than consumers.
And so, coming back to you and me and the context of our education and upbringing… Well, again, it is no wonder that we have to work so hard to undo the years of conditioning that have pulled us away from our true selves and convinced us we need to be a certain way. We even have to follow that up with creating a life that reflects who we have discovered within. Only then will we have deep peace. The great thinker Alejandro Jodorowsky offers as his definition of happiness: “Happiness means being ourselves in the place that is right for us.” Well, that sums it up.
Feeling overwhelmed, dear Warrior, as to where to start? There are many great teachers on this planet to help. They all tell us to begin by stopping to act out of fear. Our individual and collective fears keep us weak, needy, and malleable; hence, we need to know ourselves intimately and face each insecurity so that it falls away. With a higher perspective of who we are and what our place is in the world, we are able to be content. Alejandro Jodorowsky, in his book entitled The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky tells us:
Why not consider birth a celebration? Cannot life be happiness when we accept that this ephemeral existence is a degree in eternal existence? If the unthinkable God is in everything, then suffering is nothing more than a concept, and consciousness is a treasure accorded us for all eternity. You cannot suffer the loss of something that is not yourself. You are what you are, forever. As bodies grow old, the spirit appears little by little. Time is our friend, for it brings us wisdom. Old age teaches us not to be attached to matter. The banks of a river do not try to keep the water from flowing. Why fear illnesses? They are our allies. Bodily ills reveal problems that we dare not face and heal the illnesses of the spirit. Why be afraid to lose our identity? The summation of all identities is our identity. Why be afraid of abandonment? When we are with ourselves, we always have company. And why be afraid of not being loved? Freedom is to love without asking to be loved in return. As for the fear or being trapped, where is the trap when the universe is our body? Fear of the other? The other is our mirror. Fear of losing a battle? To lose a battle is not to lose ourselves. Fear of humiliation? If we conquer our pride, no one can humiliate us. Fear of the night? Night is inseparable from day. Fear of being sterile? The soul is our supreme daughter. (Park Street Press, 2008.)
So dear Warrior, this is where we must part today, with much food for thought as to your highest purpose. If you had collected none of your fears along the way, through childhood, through adolescence, at home or at school, where would you be? What would you be doing, simply for joy? If you dropped your angsts, what would Love do? Love would not strive any longer, Love would not wait to heal, Love would accept all your shortcomings as they are today and still believe that you are worthy of a happy and fulfilling life. For in the end, you are the beloved child of a very powerful Mother, and there is an entire creation who wants you to rise and shine.