The battle between the head, heart and hands   

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 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

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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.

The fine line between self-deprecation and inflated egoism

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I have a friend who is a blogger. Since 2017 I’ve been reading her posts, and have witnessed her progressive changes on both inner and outer levels. When we met, she was a die-hard meditator working at a meditation retreat center on the west coast, trying hard to love it and fit in with the culture. But once we had a few deeper conversations, I understood on a gut level that she wasn’t happy there and didn’t truly fit the peculiar mold of human that could stay at a place like that for any length of time. Sure enough, only a couple months after I left, my friend quit her position, packed up her stuff, and headed southwards to the Bay area. There she hooked up with some people who offer year-long, esoteric apprenticeships for those who desire to meet and work with their wild shadow self through lots of time spent in nature, rituals and circle work. Throughout the year she blogged about her journey, experiences and the emotional rollercoaster she rode throughout.

My friend is a prolific and eloquent writer. She writes from the depths of her passionate soul, and isn’t afraid to be painfully honest in her posts. She’s great at self-deprecation and describing the hard edges of her lived experience, in an effort to give the reader the full expression of her deep and often sorrowful soul life. She’s also quite funny, often irreverent, and sometimes names the tender wounding within our common experience in a remarkable way. Now that she’s gone through her initiation year, she’s changing the focus of her blog to be a guide for those who also wish to venture out into the wild nature alone and unaided. This is admirable and useful information to offer readers. However, she also continues to write her honest-to-a-fault blog posts for her faithful followers. She asked me for feedback about her new direction recently, which got me pondering.

The crux of the dilemma my friend had, and which I think many bloggers also have, is finding the balance between not coming off sounding like an egotistical, arrogant know-it-all, and writing in a way that is so honest and authentic that one ends up disparaging oneself, sounding either depressed, confused, or simply the polar opposite of an expert on the subject. This is an issue in the field of blogging and of writing nonfiction generally. What can be done?

This question begs us to go back to the roots and ask, Why am I writing what I am writing? What is the purpose of this blog at its core? Am I in a position to be an “expert” on this topic? And if so, then just how honest about the whole process should I be? Where is the line between authenticity and loss of respect? Between expertise and arrogance? Between not enough information and too much? The other important thing to consider in all this is, Who is my audience? What are they interested in? Am I writing to please them and keep them coming back for more of my blog posts, or am I writing what I please and if they like it fine, and if they don’t, that’s fine too?

These are real questions that all writers who are serious about their craft (in this case, blog) need to be asking themselves. And it’s good to recognize that the answers are dynamic and will change as you change and evolve yourself as a writer over time. There are several factors to consider around having a blog, such as, is my ultimate goal to have a solid and high number of followers? Do I want to make money off the blog (monetize it), and if so, how and for what purpose? Am I mostly interested in the literary value of the work and wish to offer readers something of value and quality when they take the time to read a post? Or, is my blog mostly for entertainment, news, or a how-to type blog? Then, there’s the question of mission and vision: is my blog a way to promote my business venture, used as a marketing tool? Is my blog centered around a noble aim, like social, racial, or environmental justice? Is my blog a platform for my deeply and passionately held political views? Or do I have a particular cause I am promoting or wanting supported, such as animal rescue, human trafficking, criminal justice or educational reform?

I think it’s safe to assume that most people who take the time to build a blog, write posts, and work to get a following, do it because they feel what they have to say is important to some people. It’s far too easy to compare my blog to another’s and feel that mine is sorely lacking. If I write posts that I consider to be high-quality content, yet only twenty or fifty people read them, compared to thousands who may read a travel, food or sports blog, chances are good I will get discouraged. perhaps even giving up on writing eventually. Blogging is a numbers game, among its other dimensions.

We are living in a world that values material success above all. Our heroes are the people who have made it—they’re rich (obscenely so, usually), physically perfect, usually under 35, and mostly famous. Look online for bestselling nonfiction books, and nearly all of them will be stories of the people who made it in the world, in one form or another. Which is fine, I suppose, except that for me there’s something simply not REAL about all of that. Is the purpose of life, of living, really to get rich, stay thin, ripped, and sexy, and be able to buy your happiness and anything else you want on a whim? Or could it be that there is much more to being a human incarnated on the planet now, a larger story unfolding that we have yet to truly understand?

Back to my friend’s blogging story. She asked for my opinion, so I told her that it seems at odds to have a blog that simultaneously offers expert advice and techniques for wild nature solo adventures, and also tells her personal story of loneliness, anger, fear and sorrow, interspersed with humor and moments of joy and bliss. But I could be totally wrong about that. Readers, what do you think? When you follow someone’s blog, what are you hoping to get out of it? Do you want their expertise? Or their brutal honesty? Or something in-between? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section, if you are willing to share with us here.