Unending Personal Development

There are three things which Rudolf Steiner said were necessary prerequisites for someone to be a Waldorf teacher: 1) knowledge of anthroposophical child development; 2) knowledge of the particular children in the class; and 3) a commitment to personal development.
Working with Waldorf, the first requirement makes sense – if this is the kind of education which we think is best for our children, then we will find out as much as possible about it. We can do research, reading books and scouring the internet. We can attend conferences and workshops and over time acquire the skills and level of understanding which we need. We have our children in front of us – and although sometimes as parents we can miss the wood for the trees, basically, because we are parents, we understand the needs of our children.
But what about personal development? How does this fit in? It is not mentioned in other forms of homeschooling – why is it so important to working with Waldorf education?
One can approach this question on many different levels. One clear and powerful level is the spiritual: Waldorf education rests on the premise that human beings are spiritual beings and that education is about helping a child on his particular path of spiritual development. To do this with grace, humility and truth, a teacher needs to be clear in herself regarding her own relationship to both the spiritual worlds and to the spiritual lessons unveiled through the curriculum. Obviously one does not need to “believe” in the anthroposophical view of the cosmos, but then one should – I should think –  be clear as to what one does believe in relation to this. And to get clear about this takes, for most people, a good deal of inner work or personal development.
Another reason why the parent teacher really needs to take on personal development whilst working with Waldorf is because, since it is at essence a form of healing education, to get to the roots of illness, one has to tackle spiritual questions. Why has this manifested in this way in my child? What qualities do I need to work with in order to help my child heal from this particular challenge? So much of the therapeutic application of Waldorf education has to do with aesthetics, order, rhythm, the relationship of the adult to the child, understanding the young child’s different consciousness and so on. And all of these elements, to a varying degree, call for the strength, wisdom and determination of the parent to create a healing approach to education. And as the bulk of this will flow from the parent herself, here is another place where personal development is called for. How do I relate to rhythm and order and how do I bring it appropriately to my home? What is chaotic or unformed in me that I need to deal with before I casn address these issues inmy child? What blind spots or lacks do I have which I need to develop? A first step in personal development might be the articulation of questions which will lead an individual on a certain direction in her own healing and inner work.
Back to Steiner’s words, he was, of course, speaking to teachers at the first Waldorf school (in Stuttgart Germany) who were committed to working with anthroposophy. An important part of anthroposophy is working with questions of karma. To work with karma necessarily calls for a great deal of inner work on a teacher’s part, especially when it  comes to gaining insight into a difficult or intractable relationship with a student or colleague. One can, of course, dismiss any notion of karma – one does not need to be an anthroposophist or in any way “take on” anthroposophy to have a fruitful relationship with Waldorf education. However, it is there, as the foundation for all that is Waldorf. And many parents are interested in anthroposophy and the light it sheds on their religious or spiritual path and so will find another compelling reason for committing to their own personal development.
Lastly, there is the simple fact that as parents we necessarily find ourselves in a situation from day one where working on our own “stuff” is of the utmost importance. Just by the simple fact of being parents, we will be challenged and prodded to figure out why we react the way we do to junior’s tears or why we are fearful when our children are in certain situations. We can choose to ignore the lessons our children daily (and, of course, utterly unconsciously) provide us with. Or we can take up the gauntlet so forcefully thrown down and Do Something. And to Really Do Something, we must look inside, into that scary place where all the fears and hurts and anger and muck – all the nasty stuff which we would love to wish away but can’t – lives.
For many people the wake-up call to the need to address one’s inner work comes the first time they hear their mother’s voice coming out of their mouths, with those words and phrases that they swore, absolutely swore, they would never ever say. Others find that they have irrational fears about certain situations which they simply cannot think away (fear of tree climbing or using knives or that the baby will die in her sleep). What is going on? What’s happening inside? What is the root of this fear?
Some parents find that they have a satisfacoty practice which allows them to gain insight and to resolve many of their issues. But then they find Waldorf education and  the great emphasis on order and rhythm exceeds what they feel they can do. Or they are challenged by some of the lesson material, such as Grimm’s fairy tales or Norse myths. Their own disquiet about the perceived violence  in Grimm’s or in the Norse myths stands in the way of them gaining insight into the importance of these stories (please note that I am certainly not criticising anyone who really explores her feelings about anything in the Waldorf curriculum and then decides to not use it! I am addressing the picture of people reacting without exploring their thoughts and feelings).
And is there an end? Is there a day when one can say “Yup – did my inner work. Finished now”. I doubt it. It seems to me that the quest for self knowledge and inner healing is never ending, only constantly changing. It changes as one’s children grow and one’s family perhaps enlarges. It changes when there are crises and trauma in the family and in one’s relationship to the rest of the world. And then, when the children leave home, one needs a great deal of inner work to cope with a new stage of life!
So that it why I entitled this piece “Unending Personal Development”, in recognition of personal development not as a goal, but as a process. And what’s wonderful about it is that though there are certainly times when delving deeply into one’s inner recesses can be exceedingly painful, that the rewards which unfold are enormous and affect all aspects of life, not just “the issue” which one might be addressing. Working on one’s own stuff helps one not only become more compassionate and forgiving about one’s own shortcomings, but also about the shortcomings of one’s children and spouse and other people. Hopefully, one is able to also generalize on from this and gain insight into the darkness and fear which clouds human relationships on a much larger scale. Scared, angry people are people who make shortsighted and selfish decisions in life – we only have to look around into the political and social arena of American life to witness the damage that results.
Any readers who would like to share about their own journey into personal development are most welcome to do so here.  I can’t devote much time to answering any contributions but I do want to welcome them.

Posted on August 13, 2008 in Family Life and Parenting, Personal Growth

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