Listen to …

By Henning Kullak-Ublick, July 2020

Three years after his death, the album Thanks for the Dance by the Canadian poet, painter and musician Leonard Cohen was released in 2019.

It ends with the poem:

Listen to the hummingbird / Whose wings you cannot see / Listen to the hummingbird / Don't listen to me
Listen to the butterfly / Whose days but number three / Listen to the butterfly / Donʼt listen to me
Listen to the mind of God / Which doesnʼt need to be / Listen to the mind of God / Donʼt listen to me
Listen to the hummingbird / Whose wings you cannot see / Listen to the hummingbird / Donʼt listen to me

In the midst of the hurricane of opinions which has been buffeting us for months, listen to a small hummingbird, a butterfly, the mind of God (which doesn’t need to be, yet is)? And again to the hummingbird?

Cohen’s words express in a wonderfully poetic way what our profession as Waldorf teachers is all about. Furthermore... yet, more of that shortly. We cannot do anything other than speak to our pupils. But only when our speech is elevated – and thus elevates them, the listeners – to a level from which they hear not just us, the speakers, but can listen to how the world speaks to them, does it turn into encounter – encounter with the immeasurable diversity of our earth and encounter between us human beings.

Real learning is always an experience of resonance in which much more goes back and forth than merely bare information. We can currently experience this at many different levels of our existence. As a result of the protective measures which apply throughout the world, we are gathering a wealth of experience with teachers’ meetings by way of microphones, monitors and speakers. And, lo and behold: we often reach decisions much more quickly which, for us meeting-hardened Waldorf teachers, is a discovery that is both remarkable and worthwhile. But something is lost along the way the longer these things continue: we inspire one another much less than is possible in “physical” encounters when we speak with and listen to one another not just with our head but our whole being.

In the happiest moments of such exchanges between colleagues we even succeed occasionally in hearing, as we speak, what often very softly awaits to become reality through us. Without this real presence of what is waiting to develop it is only ever the past that speaks.

The same applies to digital learning. It is a good thing that we have this instrument but it nevertheless addresses mainly the heads of the children. But to discover the world in all its multiplicity they need the presence of reality. It is the same when we try to understand what a child, a class, a school, a whole era really needs. We have to hear what penetrates through to us beyond the clatter.

In the midst of all the facts, opinions, political rancour and inevitable conspiracy theories which all shout “listen to me!”, Cohen’s words act like the gentle touch of a much, much larger world which even at its tiniest reveals itself to be a force, a potency, a possibility. Stay well!

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