Knots and buds

By Werner Kuhfuss, April 2015

Children develop in quite different ways: some do so with great personal and social difficulties, as if a knot were being tied and untied, others such that delicate changes over time appear like the organic opening of a bud.

Photo: © Mr Nico photocase

A difficult development, which can sometimes be painful for children and those around them, can be framed in the picture of untying a knot.  With the rather less complicated children we can talk of the unfolding of a bud.

Of course children are not plants and the unfolding of a child as a bud is always dramatic, even if concealed, is surrounded by dangers and the consequence of experiences, deeds and suffering in previous lives. It is the consequence or realisation of what this individuality in the spiritual world undertook to do in this life.

These consequences are more complicated and destiny-laden than what is the ever repeating element in the unfolding of a plant bud. We are not talking here about the content of what is revealed in the child but their peaceful, gentle or awkward development in qualitative terms. The two things can also happen consecutively in a child, the budding and knotting development.

The difficulty arises when several children in a group have chosen the dramatic path into life. Then it seems to me as if a whole group linked by destiny has come together in order to resolve with the other children, and also the adults involved, what was not clarified in past conflicts or to prepare for the difficulties which will have to be managed in the future.  

How can we help children who appear to have lost the paradise of childhood?

Seeing the whole event not “educationally” but as something we might call the life and death reality of life; in other words, life to its fullest extent and not habitual educational professional experience: that alone can do justice to what the individualities who have come to us as children demand from us.

That includes making the effort to develop intuitions, indeed certainties, which go far beyond what is conventionally possible in education. If the child displays what appears as a knot, it is advisable not to consult our educational experience immediately as to how to deal with the situation – that is, not to think schematically and develop a measure on that basis – but to search within ourselves for what we can call the artistic sense of drama. That is to say that a personal interest is waiting somewhere in the soul to be awoken which is connected with the artistic sense for dramatic events.

Educational textbooks cannot stimulate this sense but dramatic writers, painters, sculptors or musicians can. Because they express what resolves conflicts: not removing them but their artistic elevation and extension. That turns education into the art of life. A fleck of colour in a painting does not disturb but stimulates the imagination: the “problem” of the child is gratefully welcomed as a motif which gives us insight into the drama of an individual destiny.

Feeling ourselves honoured as adults to attend such a revelation of destiny and be its witness makes the life of the educator interesting. We move away from immediately seeing a change in the child’s behaviour as a deviation from the norm or, indeed, wanting to help with therapeutic interventions.

Historical perspective

Of course that appears to be more difficult to begin with than a direct intervention which seems to normalise things. But the thing which wishes to come to expression here already contains the supporting help within itself if we are willing to see it. Instead of constantly performing educationally compensatory motions we become the midwives at the birth of an individuality.

Here it is a great help if we turn our gaze away from everyday matters of education and to history and allow ourselves to recognise historical dramatic events and periods in the difficult phenomenon of the child. Here the important thing is not whether we have found the true corresponding period or, indeed, specific individuals but that we should allow ourselves to be stimulated by the drama of human history to broaden our perspective from the everyday life of the child to what shines into it unnoticed from the past and the future. Why not open the history book at a period which gives our soul capacities the images which provide the background for an initially inexplicable or awkward behaviour of a child? Be it the French Revolution, the Thirty Years’ War or, indeed, the two great wars of the last century.

How can we learn from children who show us the innocence of our origin?

Quite different is the appearance of the bud-like unfolding of children in play. We as educators know of the difference between the two forms of development. Where in the dramatic phases of development the child’s innocence tends to be concealed in the background, the children of bud-like unfolding are the revealers of innocence.

Where in the dramatic ones paradise appears to have been lost and the far from easy task consists of not depriving them of the inner picture of the paradise of childhood through our anger and excessive educational zeal, so the budding children show us the innocence of the origin of humanity when for example they appear in the Christmas play in the blue garment of Mary or as the angel. Something of them is revealed in their inner assimilation of the image of their parts which otherwise only flashes up occasionally in the hurly-burly of daily life. Here the educators, even as midwives, learn from such innocence.

A modern education which takes account of the spirit can only be one which learns as it serves; which serves what reveals itself to the senses and the soul of the educator each day anew and does not fit in with any previous experience. While the child struggling to escape their knot requires the assistance of the person with a dramatic interest, the child unfolding as a bud requires the emotionally more spherical “stroking” gesture of the educator. Nothing sentimental but rather the matter-of-fact warm care of the good gardener.

When we look at the history of human thought, we find these two types of development in Friedrich Schiller’s text On naïve and sentimental poetry. Schiller describes the contrast between his own dramatically struggling nature, which has lost paradise as it were, with Goethe’s being which he calls “naïve” and which in its creativity always includes the growth and becoming of the world. Against this background there then appears the archetypal sibling pair of Cain and Abel. Concerning ourselves deeply and over a long period with them enables us to open up a sense which can guide us through life not just as educators but as acting and suffering human beings.

Not for nothing is Schiller the great dramatist and thus gives form to the pain in his development in the face of great resistance. Goethe, in contrast, did not do anything voluntarily in life which was not, as he said himself, connected with contentment. In the ten years of their intensive connection until Schiller’s death the latter is Cain who not infrequently hurts his Abel brother Goethe through the bold way he surges ahead.

But at the same time he restores to Goethe, who at the time of their meeting was bogged down in his development, as he said himself, the impulse for new deeds through his bold attacking spirit. That is the new Cain who transforms what is murderous into the stimulating, constructive, indeed healing capacity of development. Let us allow ourselves to be stimulated in this way through children who are difficult because they have taken on not only their own but also the problems of the world. Let us allow ourselves to be delighted by the others, the budding ones, who perhaps through being together with the dramatists are gifted in a model-like way something in terms of struggle which will help them to overcome dramatic events later in life.

The buds and knots of children help us to see what appears in childlike form as what it is: the roots and seeds for future life in ever more difficult times.

At this age, the age of play, the things are prepared in the children, Rudolf Steiner says, which twenty or thirty years later enable the concrete decisions of life in their biographies.

About the author: Werner Kuhfuss is a consultant and director of “Projekt Sinnbildung im Kindesalter” at the “Bienenkorb” kindergarten in Waldkirch-Kollnau (Elztal), www.kalliasschule.de

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