In a world that in some ways can be seen to be waking up and progressing (a greater consciousness overall around human rights, civil rights, the environment, etc. than 100 years ago) how can we make sense of the forces at work that enable and encourage political power that runs so completely counter to progression? We of course can recognize that in many ways political power has worked against progressive ideals and their accomplishments throughout history, so this is certainly nothing new, and yet our current climate is quite extreme – the line between lying and telling the truth more overtly blurred than ever before. How can the wisdom of anthroposophy help us understand our current political climate?
To begin with this question around lying and telling the truth is an important one, because it is an experience for many people around the world, supporting the various political movements that are aligned with national self-interest and self-preservation, that those parties are being honest and that’s what they like about those leaders. They actually perceive them as being extremely honest because they put forward what they experience as a true voice in comparison with the common persona of political correctness that they generally see in politics, which generally acts according to ‘how we should behave’ and ‘what we should say’. I think that’s a very interesting thing because this means that a lot of people believe that speaking out of this aspect of the inner being – the un-ennobled self, the shadow self – is equivalent to being honest. And it’s quite extraordinary to see that someone that’s expressing their opinions in this way is so appealing to others, but it also gives us the insight that people are in fact looking for something that is real and true – this seeking actually lives in the human soul in our times in various ways – and although they’re not actually finding that in this leadership – we can see that they are actually looking for that on some level.
This question of honesty not only has an effect in the realm of politics but we are seeing people being so-called more honest about their feelings, about what they’re experiencing at the level of communication between two human beings. For example, when someone says “I need to be honest with you: you make me really upset!” From the perspective of inner work, the honest thing to say would be something like “there are parts of my being that I can’t control.” What’s honestly occurring in such a situation is that an interaction is bringing up parts of an individual’s untransformed self. And the reality is that these parts are for the individual in question to consciously work with and seek to transform for themselves, rather than telling the other all about it, rather than putting that on another human being to change.
So supporters of, for example, Donald Trump, speak about him as being refreshing, honest, and genuine, but that isn’t actually honesty. And I think that it is important to recognize that as a humanity we don’t even really have a collective sense for honesty. And because we don’t have a universal experience of what honesty is, there are those that are saying that he’s being dishonest, and they generally mean this with regards to the line he is blurring between facts and false information, and on the other hand you have others that are saying he is honest, and in that they are often speaking about his undeveloped self, the shadow self. This is not just a Trump problem; it lives in the collective consciousness.
Interesting. So that’s a picture of the Trump presidency – that it’s revealing something that lives in our collective atmosphere. Could you say more about that?
Every community has its own collective consciousness, and this consciousness affects the inner life of each individual in that community. And each individual in the community has an effect on the collective consciousness for that community. The weight of the balance falls with the majority; so in order to bring change to the practical life, the majority of the collective must be ready for change. The collective consciousness does not develop through the “political correctness” of what we want the other to think we believe; rather, the collective consciousness actually reveals to us the deeper beliefs of the community – even though these naturally do not equate to the deeper beliefs of every individual within that community. We are all subjected to the collective consciousness, we are influenced by it, and we each impress upon it what genuinely lives within us.
However, what we impress upon the collective consciousness is not who we are in the sense of how we like to see ourselves, but rather, how we truly are in our unconscious and subconscious thinking and feeling. If we merely suppress outwardly what actually lives in us as our thoughts and feelings, it does not change the collective atmosphere, because this atmosphere will reveal what lies hidden in the human being.
We are caught up in an external picture of the other that originates in the judgmental inclination of the personality, and that grows into very wide and deep divides that continue to inflict pain in the form of the collectivist sentiments of racism, sexism, and other prejudices based on outer appearances.
And how do we change this in ourselves, and in our work with children, in education?
Well, we can find some forward orientation in the first principle of the Anthroposophical Society which was to form a group of individuals without differentiating on the basis of sex, race, denomination etc. and that is the social attitude that we need and lack today. It’s that social attitude that we need if we are to continue to evolve as a humanity and its absence is currently reflected in a head of state in the White House whose attitude does differentiate on the basis of sex, race, religion, etc. So our task is not to focus on who stands in front of us as a mere external person embodying a certain skin color and certain sexual characteristics, a particular religion, etc. In every encounter we have to ask ourselves, do I bring my same self to a meeting, whether the person I’m meeting with is a man or a woman, for example? Or do I adapt and change what I bring or how I bring it, not because the individual circumstances call for it, but because this collective conditioning is at work. When you speak with a receptionist do you bring your same self to that meeting as you do when you speak with a doctor? Do you hold the same quality of listening, or connecting? In this age, we will need to see each other anew. In this age, we will need to begin to treat each other as individuals – to look upon the other as an individual with certain capacities, talents, and gifts that can contribute toward an ever-progressing and evolving society – a society that is not devoid of the spirit, but that is working to reveal the spirit more fully as it evolves.
The social element of education is very important, as all young people are already being educated about various aspects of life through conditioned behaviors, through social media, etc. The majority of individuals experience an upbringing that supports the development of only certain capacities in their being, or that supports the development of their capacities in an imbalanced way. This generally happens not because we want to cause disturbances, but because we ourselves are not fully awake to the new flow of consciousness now calling upon us to awaken what is individual in each child. We have no choice but to strive to meet this with an education that supports growing young people in a health-giving way, and that adds truly social pictures as a balance to the often one-sided influences of their surroundings. As an educator, we are doing our task well if we are able to elicit the individuality from the other – if we’re able to call it forth and make room for all that the individual truly is. Every generation that is entering into the world comes with creative impulses for the future. So when we stand as parents and educators and think, “I have got to teach you,” the reality is that they also have something to teach us.
When human beings are not allowed to bring their individual spiritual capacities to expression fully into the world, the results are some form of diversion of their fundamental creative force, in a distracting or even destructive manner, onto the other or themselves. All of these diversions in the thinking, feeling or will lead the individual toward becoming a persona, a caricature of itself in the personality.
So in these pictures you’re bringing of the untransformed in us and also these diversions in us, this certainly connects with trying to understand our current political situation. With these understandings it seems that it is in a way a symptom of an underlying illness.
Yes, exactly. So when we consider an issue like our political situation objectively, and in acknowledgement of the spirit, in that we should be able to look at it from different points of view with clarity. So can we look at the Trump administration and say what’s the point of this, that’s not just the shadow forces at work? What is that point of view? What is this a symptom of? What might that be? Because if we can see that, if we could truly find and acknowledge that point of view, we could educate that in the child, raise up that point when they ask us questions about the political situation, for example.
And it’s important to clarify that it’s not about condoning or affirming anything, but if this is the shadow of our collective consciousness and there’s actually a point of view for us to try and recognize in it – I think the basic point of view we’re getting is that the way we’re going is not alright!
And it’s helpful to remember that in the light of progression, the shadow gets stronger. And that’s connected to this honesty piece we spoke about at the beginning of our conversation. What we think is honesty is not actually honesty. It is actually the undeveloped part, the untransformed aspect, speaking out and being given center stage.
So there is a much deeper illness process of the soul at work and we need to figure out and work with the picture of what it is trying to free us from. And that’s a point of view that we can use as a way of talking to and educating younger people. Politics is speaking to this underlying pathology, so how can we bring healing, and keep working forward.
Many people are taking to the streets to express their objection to the current administration and its policies and seek change – protests, community organizing, petitioning elected officials – existing forms of activism have obviously spiked since/because of the possibility and eventual election of our current president. There is a powerful quote from Rudolf Steiner in your newest book (Sex Education and the Spirit: Understanding Our Communal Responsibility for the Healthy Development of Gender and Sexuality within Society) that comes to mind: “Every external revolution today, no matter how agreeable to whichever party or class, will only lead us into the worst of blind alleys and inflict the most terrible misery on humanity, unless it is illumined by an inner revolution of the soul. This involves abandoning one’s absorption in purely materialistic views and actively preparing to receive the spiritual wave that wants to pour down into human evolution as a new revelation (Rudolf Steiner, How to Listen to the Spirit). Can you say something in this direction?
We can go around and advocate and even succeed in securing certain changes with these so-called social laws for example, along the lines of what we see as progressive. Even in schools, we can start calling the children “students” instead of “boys and girls” in order not to impress gender bias upon them, but it only makes a difference to the freedom of the child if the teacher inwardly knows that this external bodily representation cannot be thought of as the totality of the individual being in front of them. The outer chatter does not change the collective consciousness, we have seen that; nor does it transform imbalances within the collective society. Only those revelations inwardly lived by the teacher of the spiritual reality of equality have a healing effect. It can matter what words are spoken but what matters more is the deeper being of who speaks the words.
This makes complete sense when we consider a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King, Jr. It wasn’t just the words they spoke, that anyone else could have spoken, that had such a tremendous effect on the world. I understand that nearly all of the Right Livelihood Winners over the years (the ‘alternative’ Nobel Peace Prize) who work in different fields like peace, conflict resolution, human rights, environment, culture, science, economy, etc. have an active spiritual life.
Right. But humanity is blocked from accessing revelations through the inner hindrances that we individually bear. Thankfully however, we are not merely left to our inner hindrances without the capacity to do something about them. We can adjust what lives in us. Just as Steiner’s six subsidiary exercises work upon external hindrances, serving to block the negative effects of the collective consciousness on our own inner world, so do meditative and contemplative exercises work upon our internal hindrances, lessening their effect on our clear experience of the spiritual world and its guidance.
Many meditative exercises serve to align us with the spiritual realities we have lost touch with through material life, as well as preparing us for a relationship with the living spiritual world and the experiences that we may receive through that relationship. In order to do this, the soul life needs to be reeducated in that direction, through which we may commune with spiritual life and become aware of the dimensions of our relationship with the living spiritual world. We become aware of just how much is still being bestowed upon the human race. We begin to see that we are still evolving, despite the great veil of materialism. We see how the next generation is coming with a new consciousness that brings with it continued hope in the progress of humanity. We begin to grow into the awareness of how assisted we are in our striving, and how we can connect directly with those guiding forces through our deeper soul activity.
The path of transformation is actually not so much a path of personal transformation, as it is a path of world transformation – a path toward re-enlivening the world. We can work to understand these qualities and activities in ourselves in a new way by engaging with meditative and inner development exercises but it is communities that will bring about political change. Each spiritual epoch of human evolution has its unique task in supporting our communal progression in the direction of developing love and freedom. In and through us, the world is taking shape. In and through us, humanity has the potential to become a greater and fuller participant of the living spiritual life.
LISA ROMERO is the author of several books (‘The Inner Work Path’ focusing on anthroposophic meditation practice, ‘Developing the Self’ written after years of working with Waldorf teachers to support their inner work and pedagogical understanding of child development, ‘Living Inner Development’ offering an understanding of the inner experiences and results of various inner development exercises, and ‘Sex Education and The Spirit’ to help awaken an understanding of our communal responsibility for the healthy development of gender and sexuality within society). She is also a complementary health practitioner, and an adult educator who has offered healthcare and education out of anthroposophy since 1993. Since 2006, the primary focus of her work has been on teaching inner development and anthroposophical meditation. Through The Inner Work Path, Lisa offers lectures, courses, and retreats for personal and professional development, in communities and schools worldwide. For meditation courses and talks, visit www.innerworkpath.com
Sarah Hearn is a complementary health practitioner working out of anthroposophy, and with Developing the Self (www.developingtheself.org). Sarah has a background and interest in initiatives working for social health; she co-founded Think OutWord, a peer-led training in social threefolding for young people, and has taught in high school, adult education, and community settings. With Gary Lamb, Sarah edited Steinerian Economics, a resource guide, and she contributes to Great Song Farm (www.greatsongfarm.com), a biodynamic CSA farm in upstate New York, where she and her partner live and work.