It’s awesome

January 2014

Dear Reader,

A phone call from the police: you can collect your daughter now. Why, what’s happened? In the afternoon, Maria (16) had gone to the Oktoberfest, the famous Munich beer festival, wearing her dirndl. That same evening she was discovered dead drunk behind a festival tent. The police kept her at the police station for a while longer to allow her to sober up.

Her mother and father were horrified. They reproached themselves – had they been too liberal in bringing up their daughter? They asked her why she had done it. “Well, we were sort of partying. Then I went outside and just flaked out.” But why did she have to go there? “It’s such great fun with everyone. Everyone talks about it, it’s awesome.”

In their mind’s eye they still see little Maria in kindergarten raptly walking through the Advent spiral, singing songs under the Christmas tree with wide eyes, hunting Easter eggs in the garden with glowing cheeks. On her birthdays, she still insisted even at thirteen on the flower arch around her “throne” ... The parents cannot really reproach themselves with having failed to communicate a culture of festivity to their children. Why now this?

All human beings are situated between the poles of incarnating and excarnating processes – they take hold of themselves but also in a certain sense lose themselves. In Rudolf Steiner’s understanding of the human being, “right” breathing – breathing in and breathing out in a healthy rhythm – is of central educational importance. We find similar polarities in Greek mythology; its motifs were taken up by Schelling and Nietzsche, for example, and described as the Dionysian and Apollonian qualities in human beings. These terms describe two contrasting soul characteristics: the Apollonian stands for form and order, for individual boundaries, and the Dionysian for the ecstatic dissolution of boundaries, euphoria and unrestrained creative will.

The poet Hölderlin expressed this polarity in the human being in the lines: “Exquisite swans, intoxicated with kisses, you dip your heads into the holy, sobering water.” Schiller described it as the “formal and material drive” which finds its synthesis in the “ludic drive” of the mature human being. In Meditativ erarbeitete Menschenkunde (Meditatively Acquired Knowledge of the Human Being), Rudolf Steiner describes how the art of education consists of finding the balance between the physical, earth-oriented (Dionysian) and the spiritual, non-material (Apollonian) nature of the growing person.

Was Maria’s “lack of boundaries” an expression of her longing for informal communal experiences – an act of liberation from an excess of structure as a result of the well-meant educational intentions of the school and parental home, as a result of pressure on her soul through an excessively organised education which no longer left her any room to breathe? Do we allow enough free space for Dionysian experiences? Or does the thread of a festive culture have to break in adolescence and leisure time turn into a never-ending party because we are worried about doing everything right in education – and in doing so forget to “breath out”?

Mathias Maurer


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