Why Waldorf teachers meditate

By Claus-Peter Röh, January 2019

The question as to the different quality of the two meditations for Waldorf school and preschool teachers is inextricably associated with the question of the identity and intentionality of this profession. Both of them were created in the historical situation of the founding of the first Waldorf school. Both bear the core aspiration of this educational movement within them.

First Meditation for teachers. Facsimile of the original handscript by Rudolf Steiner

Giving the preschool and school teacher personalities in 1919 a meditation for their inner work as the foundation for their daily teaching was akin to an educational revolution in those post-war years. Rudolf Steiner gave no instructions or as to their use or other guidelines but he trusted each individual teacher to find their own individual access to these meditations. This gesture of trust expressed the aspiration of anthroposophy and Waldorf education that free access to the spirit is possible for each person.

This moment of inner freedom is crucial for undertaking the meditation and for its action. Rudolf Steiner affirmed this quality in subsequent lectures: “Meditation has to be something completely clear as we understand it today. […] Once a person starts to do meditations, they are doing the only truly free action in our human life.«

Ninety-nine years or three generations after the start of this development, we live in a completely transformed environment with regard to the subject of meditation. Thus in 2009 Arthur Zajonc wrote in his book Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry. When Knowing Becomes Love: “By now it has become clear that contemplative study works. The hundreds of scientific studies of its efficacy have shown the value of meditation in many health contexts.” In popular journals today we can find words like the following on the subject of mindfulness: “Time for the soul”, “Recognising what is really important” or “The spirit seeks its own paths”.

The tension between sensory world and I

When the first teacher meditation was given to the teachers a few days after the foundation of the school, they stood as pioneers on the threshold of virgin territory: nothing could be taken from previous knowledge or experience. This challenge corresponded at its core wholly with the methodological approach of Waldorf education: the task is always to produce the next new step from the observation of the child’s development, the class situation and the lesson subjects. The educational gesture of placing ourselves by free initiative into the developmental space of the lesson had been prepared in the first course for teachers.

The Foundations of Human Experience shows Rudolf Steiner’s central concern to represent developmental moments as polarities. These led not to an “either-or” but to the active new creation of the “both and” or the “in between”:

• On its eve, the Waldorf school is described as a living organism located between the highest human ideals and the necessary compromises with the surrounding world.

• A person develops between the polarity of spiritual and physical forces.

• Feeling as the middle part of the soul lives between the awake and conscious thinking and the active will.

• This polarity finds its physical expression in the nervous system on the one hand and the vascular system on the other.

• Human life unfolds in the rhythmical alternation of sleeping and waking.

In the light of sensory being
There lives the spirit’s will,
Giving itself as wisdom’s light
And concealing inner strength;

After looking towards to the light of the sensory world in this way, our eye in the next section turns inwards in the polar opposite direction towards the I of the meditating person. This is able to develop will forces out of itself. Guided by the I, the will in its action can also take hold of the conscious thinking.

In the I of our own being
The human will shines out
As revelation of the thinking,
Resting on its own strength;

It is crucially important for the power of this meditation whether and how we are able to build up intense tension between the first and the second verse. It is only through the real experience of the contrast between outer sensory experience and our own questioning and thinking will that a new connection between and enhancement of both becomes possible:

And our own strength powerfully united
With the light of cosmic wisdom
Into the self:

When this new stage is reached, the ordinary consciousness of the spectator or observer is transformed into a deeper connection with what has been experienced. At this level the human I or self turns seeking towards the spiritual forces which accompany the education process:

Shape me, as one who turns
Towards the exalted divine,
Seeking forces of enlightenment.

As this first meditation for teachers follows the horizontal swing of the pendulum between the world and the I like an archetypal image, it can act as what we might call a godparent in the everyday teaching situation. Where new sensory impressions, descriptions and subjects come alive in the classroom, the question as to their inner connection and the deeper meaningful context directly arises for each young person as a result of the tension which comes about. Like a kind of inner compass, dealing with this first meditation leads to a more subtle perception of the polarity between sensory impression and the thinking which develops out of it.

To quote an example from class 5: its community is currently going through phases of tension as we embark on a cycle tour to the coast in stormy weather. Soaked through, we find the longed for shelter from the wind behind a hut on the dyke with a view of the marshland. The bird warden unexpectedly appears who tells us about his observations, ending up by telling us about the breeding habits of geese: the shelduck also makes its nest in abandoned fox’s dens. During the breeding period, there is a “truce” between fox and goose. At first surprised, then thoughtful faces in the class. One pupil remarks: “That could teach us something.”

Composition and dynamic of the second meditation for teachers

Four years later, the first Waldorf school went through a crisis. Its cause was described by Steiner in the school meeting as a loss of inner “contact” – above all with the older pupils.

At the end of a further course for the teachers on 15 und 16 October 1923, he developed the image of the battle between Michael and the Dragon with a view to the developmental situation. The drama particularly in education was to overcome the culture of a dead and abstract knowledge with enthusiasm and the greatest possible vitality in the lesson. He intended to present an image of this conflict to the college of teachers next day in a formula for meditation. Corresponding with the moment of its origin, the second meditation starts by penetrating the spiritual nature of the human being:

Spiritual gaze,
Turn your eye inwards;

The first theme of this educational “symphony” is clearly set out as a challenge to turn the gaze to the individual spiritual element in the human being. Here, too, this is followed directly by the construction of a polarity in the form of a completely different second theme: now the challenge is to perceive in a sensing way out of the heart forces the soul element of the human being. In this way the two core themes of this meditation face one another without yet any connection:

Spiritual gaze,
Turn your eye inwards;
Heartfelt sensing,
Touch on delicate soul existence;

This is followed by the symphonic progression in which both themes are expanded and interwoven: our human consciousness develops between the anticipating intuition of the spiritual and the “heartfelt” perception of the soul element, between the spiritual above and the physical below:

In the anticipation of the spirit gaze,
In the heartfelt sensing of the soul
Weaves conscious existence.

Conscious existence, which from above
And below of a person’s being
Ties cosmic brightness
To earth’s darkness.

After the presentation of both these themes in their polarity, the second part of the meditation leads into a dramatic conflict. Enhancement here almost means the fusion of the two themes into the inner core of the human being. In this higher self a person bears the potential of the creative power of the will leading to something new:

Spiritual gaze,
Heartfelt sensing,
See, sense
Cosmic brightness weaving
Within the human being
In earth’s darkness holding sway:
My own
Human formative force
Strength creating
Will bearing

The vertical tension between the impact of the first lines and the transformative dynamic of the will at the end of this second meditation describes an archetypal image of the human being. If we unite ourselves with this image as educators in that we construct it within ourselves and live through the transformation of the two themes within ourselves, the effect of such activity can reveal itself in different ways: an initial quality can come to experience, sometimes as soon as during or immediately after completion of the meditation, as a feeling of being moved, touched or transformed. A deeper, more sustained effect is revealed where the touch and contemplation of this archetypal image reappears in the everyday work of the school

• in encounters with pupils which at first present us with intractable puzzles,

• in the experience of developing situations in which access to learning and to individual assistance is still being sought,

• in conversations with parents about such developing situations,

• or in the struggle with colleagues to understand a pupil, e.g. in a child observation meeting or a meeting of all the teachers teaching a class.

In its vertical movement, this second meditation for teachers forms a kind of key to an extended understanding of the human being and stimulates the daily encounter with them.

What now stands in opposition horizontally in the first and vertically in the second meditation in turn forms another polarity. How both can harmonise to lead to a further enhancement should be the subject of further research. A linking central point of both, in any event, is the image of the developing human being.

About the author: Claus-Peter Röh was a class, music and religion teacher at the Flensburg Free Waldorf School for 28 years; today he leads the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum in Dornach  together with Florian Osswald.

Note: The Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum will hold a conference on the overall shape of the first course for teachers from 6 to 14 July 2019.