Alternative Education - Heart head and hands
by Sharukh Vazifdar
Anthroposophy uses the three-fold nature of man to craft a holistic approach to education, arts, architecture, healing and agriculture
I first read of Waldorf Education in Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God Book 2, where it was endorsed as a comprehensive and all-round education, in sharp contrast to the regular educational systems in the world today. Shortly thereafter, I was thrilled to find that one such school existed in Mumbai, at Vile Parle, just a short distance from where I live. The school is based on the philosophy of educating not just the head, but the heart and hands as well. Here gardening, gymnastics, painting and the like are not extra-curricular but are part of the everyday curriculum. Intrigued, I dug a little further and found that Waldorf Education is actually part of a well-thought-out holistic philosophy that is gaining popularity across the world today.
Going by the rather daunting name of Anthroposophy, it was founded by Dr Rudolph Steiner in 1912. Its defining characteristic appears to be a very modern strife: to yoke together science and spirituality. Dr Steiner believed that it was possible to experience and express spiritual truths and insights as clearly as scientific truths through development of the imagination, inspiration and intuition. This convergence is in fact happening in our times, what with consciousness becoming a subject of scientific study and biologists finding the Godspot. Little wonder then, that Anthroposophy is gaining ground with centres in over 50 countries and with the existence of 10,000 institutes practising their philosophy.
Dr Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, educator, architect, social thinker, and esotericist, headed the Theosophical Society in Germany for a number of years, before splitting to form the Anthroposophical Society. Many of Steiner’s spiritual ideas, especially a perception of the holistic nature of life and belief in karma and reincarnation stem from here. This apart, Steiner was greatly influenced by the German writer, poet, philosopher and humanitarian, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The world center for the Anthroposophical Society is the Goetheanum, named after Goethe, in Dornach, Switzerland. It is built on the principles of Anthroposophical architecture.
Like all holistic philosophies, Anthroposophy conveys itself through the arts, the sciences, education, agriculture, medicine, and architecture. In all fields it seeks to express its core understanding of the three-fold nature of man: thinking, feeling and doing co-related to the head, the heart, and the limbs.
Eurythmy: body, mind and soul in motion
Aban Bana, head of Gateway, the Mumbai branch of this society, says, “Anthroposophy has you firmly grounded, with one leg in the material world and the other in the spiritual world.” She states that her entire outlook on life changed after she studied Anthroposophy. She understood her religion, Zoroastrianism, better; and it helped her better understand her own personality as well as that of those whom she interacted with.
Gateway holds meetings and workshops on various aspects of Anthroposophy and recently held a seminar called Anthroposophy Today.
Steiner developed a whole new method of education, very different from today’s conventional systems. He focused on the overall development of the child, insisting that all the senses be developed, not just the intellectual aspect. He said, “Receive the child in reverence, educate him in love, send him forth in freedom.”
Waldorf Education is designed around the idea that children have three fundamental forces within them impelling them towards physical, emotional and mental activity. These forces have to be engaged correctly otherwise they would force themselves on our attention in less appropriate ways.
Following in Tridha’s footsteps, Sadhana English School, based on Waldorf Education, has recently opened in Pune.
Padmini Seshadri, a parent and former teacher at Tridha, had her elder daughter partially brought up on the Waldorf system, and younger daughter entirely on it. The difference she finds bet ween them is the younger daughter is more expressive and open while the elder one isn’t. “But the Waldorf Education system can be applied to people of all ages and allow them to develop uniformly,” says Padmini.
The Camphill Movement, another offshoot of Anthroposophy, provides education for children who were born with development disabilities. It allows the child to balance out the special constitutional characteristics with diagnostic and remedial means.
Exploring anthroposophy at the seminar
Three-fold social order
Steiner divided the human plane of existence into three distinct spheres – cultural, rights and economic, with corresponding ideals of freedom, equality and fraternity. The cultural sphere includes thinking, creativity, arts, scientific research, education, and enterprise. The ideal of freedom allows these activities to be performed unrestricted, to be able to progress and enhance the quality of human life in this sphere.
The rights sphere embraces law-making, governance, representation of the people and political life. These areas thrive best when individual human beings are equal before law. The economic sphere encompasses manufacturing, agriculture, mining, trade
and consumption. When the ideal of brotherhood is applied here, these activities are performed
to the maximum.
The ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity cannot be interchanged between these spheres.
Eurythmy, the art of movement, creates a new health-giving rhythm in the body. Eurythmy is speech and music made visible through conscious movement of the limbs, and develops the body, mind and soul.
It is practised in three ways, as a performing art, therapeutically, and as a medium of education. It involves repeating movements, bringing full attention to what one is doing, with open eyes, breathing accordingly to your own normal rhythm. No sound is made while practising, since movement is said to be the physical manifestation
of the sound.
Says Dilnawaz Bana, a eurythmy and curative eurythmy practitioner, “Through eurythmy one becomes more sensitive, more ecologically conscious and more aware of one’s self and of the environment, forming a deep connection to whatever one is doing in everyday life. It tries to strengthen one’s inner self, the individuality, to combat and overcome difficulties and not to push them away. To sum it up, eurythmy is self-knowledge and self-purification.”
Anthroposophists attempt to understand the natural world and its phenomena, primarily from the spiritual perspective, rather than from the widely prevalent physical or materialistic views. Anthroposophical design is not limited to just buildings, but to every detail of the living or working environment. The Goetheanum, the world centre for the Anthroposophical movement in Dornach, Switzerland, is a beautiful example of this perspective.
Dr Rudolf Steiner: a holistic approach
One Anthroposophical principal of architecture is that form follows function. The form of a building or any component of a building must arise out of the nature of its activity. A simple door handle is designed in such a way as to accommodate the contours of the human hand. In one particular case, the arches below the auditorium curiously tilt toward the entry point so as to suggest entry.
Colours are considered very important in Anthroposophy. Red is an active colour and closes in on the viewer, while blue is passive and evokes a pensive relaxation. Corridors and passages are painted yellow. The Culture House in Jarna, Sweden, has made use of vegetable and mineral dyes which are transparent enough to bring out the material of the surface being painted, and which have a certain luminosity to make it appear natural.
Dr Steiner had a holistic approach to medicine. He believed each part of the human being is related to the whole and the whole is represented in each part of the organism. Dr Steiner raises medicine to a higher realm of moral responsibility as a process of purification not only of physical but of moral toxins as well, creating inner strength, which helps to restore balance. Such spiritual and practical insight is required to treat any illness so as to cleanse the entire system and prevent a relapse.
Dr Steiner speaks about the human system as a means of transforming the outer world and making it one’s own. Transforming is a process of alchemy like digestion, not just for food but for sense impressions as well. For example, a traumatic or hurtful situation, which a person is not able to work through, makes one susceptible to acute or chronic diseases.
Steiner divided the human being into four parts – the physical body, the etheric body (responsible for growth and regeneration), the astral body (bearer of consciousness), and the ego (free will and self-reflection)
Dr Steiner along with Ita Wegman studied the modern scourge, cancer. Together they developed Iscador, prepared from European mistletoe. It is being used all over the world to fight cancer, as also the side-effects of radiation and chemotherapy. Dr Ravi Doctor, an Anthroposophist and oncologist, says, “Iscador has helped improve the quality of life for cancer patients. If nothing else, they appear happier, healthier and seem to have less pain.”
Bio-dynamics refers to the agriculture science that recognises basic principles at work in nature and applies this knowledge of life forces to bring about balance and healing in the soil. Steiner showed how the health of soil, plants and animals depends on reconnecting nature with the creative forces of the cosmos. The practical methods he outlined are intended to revitalise the natural forces being depleted through modern agricultural techniques. Bio-dynamic methods produce a living soil with increased biological activity, in alignment with planetary cosmic rhythms, particularly those of the sun, moon and planets in the fixed constellations. Cosmic energies can work strongly through a living soil down into the plant.
Although Anthroposophy is just starting out in India, in other parts of the world it is flourishing. Waldorf schools are very common in Europe, bio-dynamically grown fruits and vegetables are in great demand and Iscador is used in many countries to treat cancer. Jarna in Sweden is one of the towns based on Anthroposophical principles. Being a wholesome and holistic way of life, it is spreading and integrating itself into our lives.
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