The battle between the head, heart and hands   

Rudolf-Steiner-Quote_highest-endeavor

 We live in an age where dominant value is placed on the intellect (or head) aspect of human beings. Most would agree that society values most those who are cleverest, have studied longest (such as doctors and attorneys) and those who have used their intellectual prowess to gain the most monetary reward (think Gates, Zuckerberg and Bezos). Conversely, society places the least value on those who do “necessary” jobs involving physicality: farmers, construction workers, domestic workers, sanitation workers, and those who primarily rely on their hands to make their living. In between are the ones who focus on the heart: teachers, health care workers, caregivers, social workers, social and environmental activists, artists and creative people. Clearly, there are millions of combinations, and the luckiest of all people are those who find ways to live in the world with all three aspects balanced. The optimum condition for health and happiness, it seems, is to strike the perfect combination of intellect, feeling and physicality in one’s daily life.

Many authors and experts have already written tens of thousands of volumes on this topic. So why do I dare to explore it in my blog tonight? Mostly because I’ve been pondering my options for what to do with my life a lot lately, and this idea of balance between the head, heart and hands has reemerged for me. The phrase brings me all the way back to when I first heard about Waldorf education, 27 years ago. The Waldorf movement uses the expression “head, heart and hands” as its motto. It captured my imagination strongly at that time, which ultimately led to a several-year journey down the Waldorf teacher path. That path was full of discoveries and knowledge of the child, the human being, and our unshakeable connection with the spiritual side of our nature, via the teachings of Rudolf Steiner about a hundred years ago. Let me be clear that I love and respect Rudolf Steiner and the essential esoteric teachings he brought forward to humanity during his era of history (For a taste of Steiner’s wisdom and philosophy, click here). However, times change and so should theories of education. As I became further involved in Waldorf education and its proponents, I found a level of rigidity and dogmatism within its ranks that I simply couldn’t abide—eventually, I had to leave it and move on.

Like any polarizing philosophy, anthroposophy (the underlying philosophy beneath Waldorf pedagogy) has a core following of believers who carry its tenants with fundamentalist fervor. There are many wonderful aspects to Waldorf education, including a reverence and respect for Nature, an acknowledgment of the human’s role as bridge between earth and heaven, an emphasis on health, play, spending time outside in natural surroundings, building trust and love between all members of the class (who stay together with their class teacher from first through eighth grade). It’s known to be a holistic form of learning, an artistic education that fosters creativity, teamwork, cooperation, and honoring of each person’s humanity. In many respects, there is a lot to love about Waldorf schools. In fact, I fell in love the first time I experienced a Waldorf kindergarten, when my youngest child and I had an exploratory visit to see if there might be a spot for her chubby, adorable three-year-old self. I remember sitting in one of the toddler-sized wooden chairs, watching the kind, pretty, young women teachers who were gently guiding the children, readying them for the freshly prepared, whole grain, organic lunch they were about to sit down to eat together. The atmosphere was so calm, so relaxing, with a beeswax candle burning brightly in the middle of the polished wooden table, bowls of hot porridge set for each young child. When everyone was seated, the lead teacher asked everyone to hold hands around the table and she sang a lovely song of thanks for the food, the sun, and for each other. Then the hungry children happily ate the wholesome meal, in between smiles and laughter all around. I sat quietly, amazed at the scene I was witnessing, wishing I could simply stay in that pink-draped, rainbow infused world forever.

But, as all too often happens in the world, the idealism and harmony I experienced that day, and throughout my subsequent teacher training program which lasted three years, did not hold up. Eventually I saw another, shadow side to the pedagogy and met teachers who were unwilling (or perhaps unable) to change, adapt, and embrace new ideas and concepts, shedding what was no longer appropriate for 21st century children. This divide, between traditional, strictly dictated ways of teaching and learning with new methods, ideologies and educational theories, is a prime example of the battle currently raging between humanity’s collective head, heart and hands. Plenty of people espouse the extreme benefits of technology in our world, extoling artificial intelligence and robotics, predicting that technological advances will surely save us from an otherwise hellish future. On the other end of the spectrum are the people who eschew the evils of technology, screens and virtual realities. Those folks preach that only by returning to a kinder, gentler time, long before modern technology was invented, will humanity be able to restore its former compassionate, natural way of living close to Mama Gaia, and eventually get back to a state of paradise and equilibrium on Earth once more.

As for my own position, I am awkwardly standing in between the two polarities. Technology is advancing exponentially, and most of us living in industrialized societies have become hyper dependent upon it (how close is your hand to your cell phone at any moment in your 24/7?). On the other side, the natural world is now at the tipping point of being irretrievably damaged, as the climate has become extraordinarily unstable and extreme weather produces ongoing catastrophic situations at any moment on the planet. We are living through precarious times, attempting to balance on a raft as it’s moving through increasingly whitewater with no end in sight.

We can’t go back to a gentler age, and we don’t want to move forward into a futuristic dystopian nightmare world. It’s obvious to anyone who takes a critical look that humanity must find the fulcrum, the place of balance on which we can stand and continually readjust as we ride out the tsunami waves of this century. We need to protect our planet, period. We must stop valuing and monetizing intellect over all else while devaluing physical labor and emotionality. We are a species at war with ourselves; it is imperative that we learn to love and respect ALL the parts of us, from our heads to hearts to hands, feet and everything in between. If one aspect of the human above all else should lead, then it must be the heart. Only though living with love as the driver will we make wise, compassionate choices that will lead to a future world we want to live in.

For a worthwhile long read on this subject from another angle, see this article on Medium. It’s written by a woman who decided to leave the master’s degree program she had enrolled in at Schumacher College in England, and why she made that difficult choice. She writes, “A core tenet of Schumacher’s approach to education is ‘learning with the head, heart and hands’.”   https://medium.com/@rhithink/leaving-schumacher-college-bcda7ee800c1

The Hidden Blessings of Liminal Space

green_sprout_flickr_jay_heyl

If you are observant, you can notice the subtle changes from week to week during this season. We have arrived at the end of January, which means that we are at the midpoint between the Winter solstice and the Spring equinox. Ancient peoples celebrated this season with festivals of Imbolc (Gaelic/Celtic), Candlemas (early Christian), and Saint Brigid’s Day (also Christian). However one chooses to think of it, including Groundhog Day, even though some are deep in Winter’s freeze and polar vortex weather patterns, we know that before too long the signs of early Spring will show themselves to us in the northern hemisphere again.

Ranchers and farmers will be busy with calving and lambing during the month of February. Farmers are also buying seed and planning their spring and summer crops. We can take a cue from them and prepare our own life’s soil, planting seeds of inspiration and desires for what we want to happen later on in the year. I’ve noticed that it is usually during February that the seeds of our dreams and desires germinate, and tiny, imperceptible roots begin to grow. By March, we can begin to see the very first green sprouts break through the cold, dark soil of our imagination. With tender care and diligence, we nurture those fragile, tiny shoots and help them to grow stronger, as their roots continue to extend down into the rich humus where creativity and inspiration live. In fact, human dreams and earthly plants have a lot in common beyond simple metaphor. We, like the plant realm, create from seemingly nothing, starting with an invisible thought of something we wish to give life to in the fertile dark. By the time the thought becomes a tangible thing that we can see and experience with our senses, it has grown from thought to fragile physicality—like the plant, a dream seedling needs nurturing and protection.

What would you like to grow and nurture in your life this spring and summer? Choose the seeds now, plant them in the fertile dark of your imagination, then abide in liminal space as you await the miracles that those seeds will eventually produce. Give your dream seeds enough water and care, but don’t fuss over them too much or you may harm them. Let them slowly unfurl from within the dark womb of Mother Earth, all the while trusting and allowing them to naturally grow in their right timing. Trust in their inherent wisdom. Do not force, or impose your will upon them. Just let them be, and abide with them in the season’s rhythm as people have done for many thousands of years.

During the coming weeks and months, work to let go of worries and anxiety concerning the daily news (nearly all negative and fear-based), the global situation (ditto), and the climate (which is going to do what it does regardless of your anxiety or anger about it). Instead, focus your energy on what it is you WANT to have happen in your world, and in the common world of all living upon Gaia. She needs your positive, joyful energy more than ever before. Alongside your own personal dream seeds, also plant and nurture the seeds for all humanity and life on our planet. May we each and all do whatever we can to add to the love, joy and peace quotient on Earth this year.

Help Wanted: Writer

black and blue plastic pen non top of black covered notebook
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I have the audacity to call myself a writer. With my confidence boosted by my recent graduation from university summa cum laude, and a freshly minted minor in professional writing and a new sense of the possible, I’m ready to begin the job search. Oh boy.

So I do what any respectable college grad would do, I go online. One hour on LinkedIn leads to several rabbit holes and job boards. Before I know it, I’m on Indeed, signing up for job alerts to be conveniently delivered to my inbox. The alert—Writer.

The next day, I receive email alerts from my new friends at Indeed. The subject line: “770 jobs for writers” naturally catches my attention. I click the bait and start scrolling. As anyone who has an English degree and desire for paid work knows, there are nearly as many descriptions of writer as stars in the heavens. I read job postings for the following positions (this is the sound-byte version):

Technical writer—underwriter for insurance company—grant writer—proposal writer—software writer/engineer—advertising copy writer—marketing department web content writer—visual storyteller for another website’s marketing department—and that was in the first ninety seconds of scrolling. Lesson learned, I realize that being a writer means a lot of things to a lot of people. Sometimes it’s tough to remember I’m living in the era of hyper-technology, where bots are the first line of defense for actual, live humans that I have faith exist, somewhere.

Being a person who thinks of writing as an avocation, career, passion and creative undertaking, it’s a bit of a disappointment to see how misconstrued and misrepresented the term has come to be in our post-post modern world. We are at the point where pretty much anyone who knows how to type (on a device of any size) can call themselves a writer and get away with it. And while they may be technically correct (no doubt some dictionary definition of writer states “a person who writes words down somewhere”), to my mind, the term writer has much deeper connotations. It’s like a person who can bang out a simple tune on a guitar calling himself a musician. Or someone who opens a can of chili beans and microwaves them with a tortilla and a slice of cheese calling herself a cook. The nuance seems to be lost.

Back to the job search. Clearly, asking the Indeed bot to search for a word as generic as writer isn’t the most effective way to look for one’s dream job. I need a better strategy. So I dive into websites that showcase people doing interesting things with their lives, in fields that sound promising. After a couple of hours, I produce a list. It looks like this:

Categories of Interest

Social innovation, social entrepreneurship, human-centered design

Mentoring, coaching, facilitation, teaching

Leadership

Advocacy

Collaboration

Design Thinking

Governance

Impact Investing

Measurement & Evaluation

Organizational Development

Philanthropy & Funding

Scaling

Technology

These words appeared from searches stemming from the term global movement of change makers. That’s in my wheelhouse: global change, systems change, creating the new world that so many of us long for, and working towards making the dream of a sustainable, compassionate world into our global reality. The tricky part is, there’s no drop down menu of options that includes those words, sadly enough. The bots are artificially intelligent and can’t possibly understand a person like me who doesn’t fit into neat categories or even sectors. People like me have it harder than those graduates who have an easy answer to the question “what’s your degree in?” They can smile and say, “Bachelor of science in Computer Information Systems” or “Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice” and just about everyone immediately gets it. Business Administration majors are numerous, and so are jobs for them right out of school.

That’s not the case for us English majors and minors, however. People seem both intrigued and confused, or worse, slightly arrogant, once you confide that you hope to get a paid job as a writer. Their lips curl ever so slightly, their eyes glassy, and they’ll suddenly need to be somewhere else five minutes ago. What is it about the English language that so intimidates people? A lot of things, as it turns out. Take the average university English department, for example. Within that one department lurk scholars of many English stripes—literature, linguistics, composition and technical writing, creative writing, film and screenwriting, poetry, children’s literature and even graphic novel experts. Within those categories one can find even narrower fields of scholarship, like experts in medieval English manuscripts, 17th century Romantic poetry, or 20th century film noir genres. Specialization is the key to success in higher education. Where does that leave us multipotentialites?

In a world full of marketers, advertisers, techies, financial managers and engineers, it can feel like those of us who are passionate about using words creatively, with heart and soul, for the purpose of inspiring people to think about the world and what we are doing to it, are traveling a singularly lonely road. However, creative writers are a tenacious bunch. When you’ve got something that you feel is important to say, you can’t give up. You can’t let technology bots and content manipulators get you down. You just keep listening, and writing stuff down. The bus patron’s casual conversation with the bus driver on the commute home might just become your next blog post.