Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ruminations From a non-Orthodox Anthroposophist

- by Niels von Meyenfeldt

Is it possible to be an anthroposophist and yet not be comfortable with the institutional practices of Anthroposophy?  I mean the members’ meetings, prescriptive meditative practices, one’s position in the hierarchy, the social rituals, the presence of an elite of speakers and lecture-givers who tend to be self-perpetuating?  And, most importantly, the pre-eminence of Rudolf Steiner, who shows us the way, and what a complex, demanding way it is! 

Frances Edmunds once said, “anthroposophy is ‘he next person I meet.”  (See Mark McAlister’s article in the October issue.)  But does that suffice?  Are all our practices, taken in a deeper, more spiritual sense, really only a kind of stage play for the important business of encountering one another as spiritual beings?

I have struggled greatly over the years, both as a simple member listening and observing (rather passively) and also as a purveyor or carrier of anthroposophy in different roles, to achieve a sense of being at one with the people I’m with. A sense of profound connectedness in the pursuit of spiritual understanding and growth is not what I’m finding.  I share this impression with others who happen to be personal friends. Maybe we are a rebel clique! But in fact, these friends have worked devotedly out of anthroposophy as teachers and therapists most of their adult lives. Objectively speaking, it is I who seek a connectedness with others in my spiritual striving.  I even suspect that for me this connectedness is a precondition for group work - that must be won through an intense effort of communication and empathy that is interpersonal. If that effort is not willingly and jointly made, not much will come of the work.

This is a discussion about form and roles and even about gratitude. I am grateful for having the opportunity to unburden myself about anthoposophy; so much of what we do is about upholding the edifice and somehow that means putting on a good show, being confident and knowing - doubt, vulnerability and openness take a lesser seat, but are they less important in the scheme of things?  The edifice of anthroposophy is how I used to feel about my parents as a young person - they provided the form and support I needed that but ultimately I had to develop my own forms, my ways of being, so that later I could become friends with them and know them more fully. 

I think there is too much form in what we do and not enough process.  In upholding form,
even out of love, we play into assuming roles and playing roles makes it hard to meet others. We think roles are essential, that if we abandon them, the edifice will fall or that we will lose our sense of belonging.  However, if we consider the teachings of anthroposophy, we must know that we need not lose anything in the eternal unless we freely chose to do so.

The action of meeting the other is a process and a very delicate one at that.  How do we
prepare and practice for this?  How can we affirm our connectedness, not only through spiritual knowledge, but also through deeply humanistic processes?  This is where we need to be creative. Anthroposophy offers help in the practice of Goethean conversation, insights on the nature of our astral bodies and wonderful meditative poems by Steiner. Contemporary humanistic psychology is also a rich source of helpful practices.  But I would go further and propose crossing a line that exists in our work - between the personal and the impersonal - to share our experiences more openly, even our uncertainties and failures.  If we truly uphold the legacy of Rudolf Steiner, then it is
entirely forgivable to fall short of our goals, for soon enough we’ll be in the spiritual world where new possibilities await us.  Any real relationship will have its ups and downs but the relationship cannot be denied. And so it is with my relationship with anthroposophy. It is a process, informed by form, but not dominated by form.  I have to care a lot about the form if it is to part of my process. 

Here in the Comox Valley, a few dedicated friends continue to explore new ways of making anthroposophy come alive for us. We are mostly First Class members who are completely truthful with each other about the efficacy of the class lessons (for us) and about our thoughts and feelings in general. We are interested in the arts and supporting fledgling initiatives in our area and currently hoping to build our work on what interests us and where we already have experience - where education, art and therapy overlap.


Unknown said...

Hi Niels... lovely to find you here!
I found your comments intriguing, esp the thoughts about form and process. This imbroglio is an ongoing and provocative consideration in my own current work, as a Life Cycle Celebrant. In a way, Im always walking a line between my inner practice and serving others in the way in which THEY are comfortable. You write... I have to care a lot about the form if it is to part of my process. The form always only points the way, as we know, but without it, what lives? As we both well know, it's like doing the inner work of preparing the lesson, and then letting it go when you walk into the room.
O well, just a few ragged thoughts from the top of my head. Maybe we can continue the conversation sometime in the long winter's night.

Unknown said...

Dear Niels,

Ah, well, it seems you are a perfect fit for the Youth Section then! It is just this focus on process and becoming which you spoke so eloquently to that is at the heart of our work together in the Youth Section. I would love to speak with you further and meet your group who share these impulses. Thank you for sharing these experiences.