Monday, July 25, 2011

body, soul, and spirit

summer teacher training at steiner college

In my third summer at Steiner College in Fair Oaks, California, I had expected the dry heat, the afternoon snack of popcorn, the last minute switcheroos of classroom assignments, and the very heady foundational studies in anthroposophy. I expected to see friends and classmates from the previous summers. I expected to feel a sense of urgency in the five week program to return to Davis to complete end of year reports, plan for my seventh grade curriculum, and spend time with my family. What I did not truly expect was that just one weekend after it was all over, I would feel a sense of longing for the moments that punctuated the training program - moments that touched my soul and spirit in different ways. I can't describe what made those moments special, so I'll just list them as they come to me.

Two members of my cohort, Loren and Ashley, are expecting their first child. Ashley is pregnant, due in September, and she looked radiant, her soft voice beaming with gladness. Loren will be a second grade teacher this coming school year, and the two of them had a nervous, giddy energy of a young couple diving into familyhood and work and a new place.

Chelsey is not enrolled in training this summer, but I saw her briefly before she flew back to Hawaii to get married. Chelsey just glows, her golden hair tumbling over her tanned shoulders, and there was so much pride and joy in her voice as she shared her experience with her first graders last year. She showed me a memory book of their year, which contained pictures that showed her beautiful students: the girls must admire their teacher as they sported their hair in the same style! I could tell that the children loved her.

Mikko Bojarsky was my instructor in upper grades chemistry and physics. He has an unassuming quality and speaks with a tone that is both direct and sensitive. Quite skillfully, he showed us how to apply the Waldorf method of scientific experimentation and observation. He advises we demonstrate the experiments with a phlegmatic approach - steady, careful, anticipatory, with a shared sense of wonder as the phenomena unfolds. He models this phlegmatic approach in speech, in mannerism, but his brilliant knowledge of the physical sciences clearly demonstrate a choleric person's academic striving. On our first meeting, he paraphrased a passage from my blog - I liked him immediately! Then he generously gives me his physics handbook for the seventh grade. He had me at the blog mention.

Ina Jaehnig and I spent more time with each other than she even remembers ever having with any other student during summer training. Balance in Teaching, Goethe's Faust I and II, Adolescence, Child Study, Minerology, and Geography! In Balance in Teaching in particular, I was her only student, and our discussions were priceless. She kept giving me treasures for my professional growth. In her other classes, it was small groups as well, and she shared personal stories of her childhood. She reminisced about her father who was an architect, and she and her siblings had accompanied him on projects. One project took them to an island in Greece, and her father created a lean-to overlooking the ocean. Ina went for a night swim and she recalled bioluminescent plankton floating all about her and on her arms.

In Carol Diven's music class, I wrote a short song as an exercise in the style of an African spiritual. It had a part for recorder, a soprano part, alto, an ostinato, and piano accompaniment. We sang it on the last Friday class together. They loved it! Carol decided she would make a copy of it to put in her music packets for the other teachers. My classmates decided to use it as a recessional song for their graduation.

Eva Cranstoun sings as lovely as an angel, as always. In her class, you just close your eyes and sing what she instructs you to do. Somehow, the room gets filled with voices that you know have so much personal energy in every note. I always feel like my singing in her class is received by loved ones in the spirit world.

Jo landed a job as a handwork teacher at a local Waldorf school. Her energy is unwavering and contagious! The children will create amazing fiber crafts in her stead.

Kelsy is a professional dance instructor. She has a presence about her, integrity, humility, love. She had taught an impromtu West Coast swing class for a friend. I would like to take a class from her.

Trisha has a vast amount of energy. We did the levers demonstration together in physics - she rocks.

Patrick Wakeford-Evans is ever the poet. His words as we study Steiner's Study of Man always find their mark in exacting Steiner's concepts. His imagery paints mental pictures that hover within my head, and inspire me to create images of my own.

Mary, Rebecca, Noelle, Stefanie, Rosa, Sadna, Michelle (sorry for misspellings), the early childhood crew, became eating buddies occasionally as I often invaded their territory in the Commons. I had a pleasant surprise when I entered the Commons to eat and they had set up the room for a show with a story and marionettes they had created. The show was sweet and their marionetting was fantastic!

Ted Mahle allowed me to join his wet on wet painting class halfway through their two week course. It was my third year with the technique, and I appreciated that he gave me much freedom in experimenting with it. He is a wonderful teacher.

Barbara always took the time to say hello and ask how I was doing as we pass each other from class to class.

Enrique was one of few of us dudes who attended the College, so we stood out among the ladies. He has a Spanish accent and is a high school history teacher. In our class together with Eva Cranstoun, we were to present a recorder piece. Enrique was sitting in a bench in the College's biodynamic garden and I could hear peeps and squeeks as he practiced his recorder. I came over to help him out a bit. Enrique, the next day, when it was his turn to perform, did the best he could, and mentioned I helped. We clapped for his striving and bravery.

Cynthia Hoven is a long-time eurythmy practitioner and teacher. She took a small group of us through some eurythmy exercises that had us weaving in and out, and pulling energy from the air, and characterizing letters with movement, and making us feel like points of a cosmic star.

Body, soul and spirit. This threefoldness was the arcing principle of Study of Man. As I plan for my upcoming year, I have a renewed sense of purpose that places this threefoldness at the foundation of my work as a teacher.

Thanks to the people I had the pleasure of knowing at Steiner College.

Friday, July 22, 2011

wet on wet painting

summer training at steiner college

Water moves about the earth and in the clouds and in us. It is elegant in its simplicity. It is awesome in its power. It is miraculous in its phasic fluidity. It is fickle in its use with wet on wet painting!

In my third summer of teacher training at Steiner College, I learned to further refine this traditional Waldorf artistic medium. When I was first introduced to it two years ago, I was irked by the water's stubborn refusal to yield to my desired brush strokes. Each time a dabbed my Filbert brush into a jar of pigment, I would utter a short prayer of mercy. I would gently apply the brush to paper, and immediately, the water would coax the pigment to form tiny hairs that would grow this way and that, moving to places I did not intend. I was baffled as to why it would not remain loyal!

Then I figured it out: water is not an extension of my will force, a tool like a chisel or a pair of knitting needles. I must regard it as an elemental being, not just an element. Water is alive. I must form the right relationship with it. I should not demand of it to bend to my will. I must understand its strengths and its limitations, its properties and its nature. Water's fluidity and sensitivity must be given space to be mischievous and impetuous, then water's elegance and lawfulness can be received as a gift. The artist forms a partnership with water.

While wet and wild, water invites the layering of a cloudy sky. As it begins to evaporate from the paper, foliage of trees and the contours of hills and mountains take form. Traveling less on the paper, the water then allows the more definitive forms of humans and castles to take shape. Playful and generous, water allows me to apply my favorite technique of lifting off the pigment. Counter to one's intuition, it is the removal of edges and planes by lifting away the pigment that reveals the three dimensional shape of faces, bodies, structures, and surfaces.

Every artist - and we are all - must find the right relationship with water. And like any other dynamic partnership, you must be forgiving when things don't always go as intended, be joyful in the triumphs, and be open to the possibilities.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

spirit of nature

divine grace of muir woods

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." - John Muir

There was once over two million acres of redwood forests along the coasts of California and Oregon. Now, only three percent of it remains. It is not hard to imagine where the redwoods have gone. Human habitation and economic forces had driven these mighty sentinels from their tranquil domains. Perhaps with divine intervention, preservationists of the early 20th century had the foresight to embrace the glory of a small cluster of woods in the northern portion of San Francisco Bay.

Protected as a national forest, the Muir Woods National Monument is home to redwood trees averaging 600 to 800 years old. These coast redwoods tower over 250 feet tall. Their trunks rise from the forest floor like columns, and their branches reach like buttresses holding an arching roof of leaves and needles. As rays of sunlight penetrate through the canopy and touch the dense understory, one enters this divine space as if it were a cathedral, where the spirit of nature itself is present and celebrated.

Over the weekend, my family and I joined a congregation of people who had come from far and wide to make their pilgrimmage. We found respite in the coolness of this wooded sanctuary while most of northern California was bathed in summer's heat. The feeling of reverence was immediate. It was like when I was in Catholic grade school entering through our heavy church doors: I would dip a finger into the Holy Water and make the sign of the cross on my forehead. My mood shifted instantly to solemnity.

There was no Holy Water at the entrance to the Muir Woods park, but there was moisture in the air that annointed the congregation. A raised boardwalk and decomposed granite paths guided us through the park. Redwood Creek meandered quietly through the horsetails and clover. Decayed, fallen branches lay peacefully along the paths. Flying bugs danced about high in the trees, visible only as light reflected off their delicate wings. Sonoma chipmunks confidently munched on crumbs dropped by young children. We processed through the park. We breathed in Nature's breath, an earthy, primal, green smell.

We pointed to this and that, and made scientific and artistic observations. One thing was evident to me, using an anthroposophical lens: antipathy was helpful in seeing all the percepts around me. They came into my I and concepts formed and sensations developed. But the concepts and sensations drew me into the spirit of what lay behind the percepts. I saw the clover, the equisitum, the rocks, leaves, tree bark; I felt the coolness of the air; smelled the decomposition of earth material; and I heard the birds and the trickling of water. First antipathy, then sympathy. We ourselves were present in the trees and the water and the rocks. It was a relational cycle that helps us humans appreciate the elements and also realize we are of the elements. John Muir's quote is right on: life is interconnected, and we are "hitched" to it as well.

We made a communion with the spirit of Nature. The word communion suggests completeness through togetherness (unity from community). I must believe that Nature herself was made even more beautiful by our very own presence.

Jennifer and our kids