A Goethean ‘Sense-Walk’

Our new self-study course is all about looking at the world from new perspectives; nurturing one’s senses and observations; delving into one’s ‘stuckness’ so one can become the homeschooling parent one wants to be. Through self development exercises, artistic work and journaling, we strive to help parents on this path. In this way, our talks and videos can speak to parents on new levels so they can have that ‘a-ha’ moment and make the curriculum their own, tailoring it to their families own needs.

One of the most important aspects of Waldorf pedagogy which we explore in the Course is Goetheanism—a holistic, contextual approach to science. One of its gifts is to help people quiet the tendency to jump to conclusions, to ‘capture’ phenomena by means of logical thought. While disciplined logical thinking is extremely important and is something taught through the rigor of the Waldorf high school curriculum, it is not the only way of thinking available to human beings. And it can often get in the way when we are attempting to experience the natural world.

Nourishing the twelve senses is one of the wonderful foundations of the depths of the healing basis of Waldorf education. We work with those senses in the Course. Included are a talk, a short explanatory pdf and our own study guide to Will Aeppli’s book on this subject. During this walk, I tried to be aware of my twelve senses as best I could.

Here is my attempt at taking a Goethean ‘sense-walk’ around a lake in Wisconsin, delighting in my sense impressions and trying to be open to what was around me.

I stand on top of the dam and breathe deeply, filling my unobstructed lungs full of the fresh, healing air. I am aware of my life sense, of being here, of being alive, of being filled with the beauty and energy that streams from the air, from the land, from the lake, from the trees.

As I walk, I am aware of my sense of self movement—I do not have to tell my feet how to step, but trust their wisdom to find the path. I feel the roots and stones, the dips and rises of the path and try to still my mind which wants to direct my walk, wants to tell me to be careful or to step here or there.

Crunching leaves. Wind through the oaks…no—try to not name them ‘oaks’ or even to name the other sound ‘leaves crushed underfoot.’ Can I still my naming mind, my desire to categorize and order and simply be with what I experience? Can I bring my sense impressions to the fore and just accept what they accept, without my mind butting in?

So I banish the words ‘oak’ and ‘leaves’ and instead hear rustling and crunching and whispering. I hear birdsong. I stop myself from identifying ‘junco’ or ‘chickadee’. Being a bird-geek, I find it hard to not immediately go through my inner bird files when I spot a bird and note its crest, the shape of its bill, its size, its position over the lake. I simply look at it and appreciate it. As a birder, I want to add that bird to my list (it was a kingfisher which is pretty exciting!) but for today’s walk, I decline. I just appreciate its form, its beauty, the miracle of it being there. I do not add it to my list.

When I sit on the floating dock I am aware of the hardness under my rear and the gentle movement of the dock on the water. I sway slightly, aware of my sense of balance and of self movement as my body shifts slightly, adjusting to the movement below me.

The trees are covered in glorious color—bright, rich, deep, subtle. I look at the textures and forms of leaves and grasses and flowers. I just accept those forms, those colors, and simply enjoy my sense experience of them. I take off my glasses and feel the warmth on my eyelids. I feel warm sun pouring down on my arms and face. When the trail takes me into the trees, my arms and face feel the coolness.

I fill my lungs with good smells—can I find words to describe and not name? I think ‘pine needles’–and then try ‘exhilarating.’ Sun-toasted grass becomes ‘bread-like’ and certain plants become ‘tangy’ or ‘sweet.’ The passing animal smell is sharp, musky. Parts of the lake smell musty and stale. I am happy with my adjectives!

When my walk is finished I sit quietly on a bench enjoying the silence. Yet it is not silence—animal noises, noises of the wind and plants and the creek running into the lake, are around me. I hear children laughing at a distance, a dog barking. But I close my eyes and feel the restful nourishment of the quite, of the beauty, of my quiet breathing.

During a walk like this one can come close to the experience of small children. They do not have names for things—they are simply open to the thing itself. Adults are perhaps often too keen to supply names—the effect is a checklist kind of mentality–’seen that, done that.’ If instead one stays with the phenomena (a key practice of a Goethean approach to science) then one trusts that the phenomena will reveal itself. One practices keen observation but brings no expectations, no a priori knowledge to what is observed. One just is with the phenomena. Unless little children have been taught to seek names, they too are like this with what surrounds them. Becoming like little children is indeed one of the secrets of heaven.

Find out more about our self-study course here.

Posted on October 9, 2020 in Waldorf Education

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