We are emerging from a time in history when many of our daily life activities have been dictated by urgency and crises. As we begin to see an end to necessity driving this certain way of being, it becomes all the more important for us to slow down and engage in inner work for the children in our schools, for our colleagues, and for ourselves.
Rudolf Steiner believed inner work was an essential practice for those guiding children to reach their full potential. He stated, “You will not be good teachers if you focus only on what you do and not upon who you are.”
In the book Heart Thinking: Inspired Knowledge -- a compiled, selected, and edited work of Rudolf Steiner by Martina Maria Sam -- Steiner discusses the importance of four soul habits in the pursuit of higher knowledge.
“Spiritual science describes four qualities which a person needs to acquire on the path of probation, as we can call it, in order to rise to higher knowledge. The first of these is the ability to distinguish in thoughts what is true from what is false, truth from mere opinion. The second quality is a proper appreciation of truth and reality as opposed to appearance. The third consists in practicing the six capacities: control of thoughts, control of actions, patience and tenacity, tolerance, faith, and equanimity. The fourth is love of inner freedom.”
The third quality, relating to practicing six capacities, is done to “Control of the direction of thought; control of the impulses of will; calmness in joy and sorrow; positiveness in judging the world; impartiality in our attitude toward life, and inner harmony.”
This sounds, by modern definition, a lot like self-improvement and care. If we look at some of the hallmarks of foundational mind-body health, we can see how they establish a baseline for beginning and maintaining a mindset conducive to inner work. These include:
Developing a healthy body and soul
Finding our connection to all things
Finding balance in daily life, and
Developing a Healthy Body and Soul
Balanced eating, exercise, and deep breathing are easy starts. We cannot hold our breath through this moment in time, like one may do during a temporary pain like an ear piercing or a toe stubbing. So, breathe deeply, in the fresh air, each day.
Breathing deeply is proven to calm us. According to Esther Sternberg, researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, our breathing can trigger a switch in our nervous system. She says, “deep breathing actually stimulates the opposing parasympathetic reaction — the one that calms us down,” and this effect lasts over the long term in influencing this autonomic system’s ongoing reaction to stress.
For the soul, or the mind if one prefers, try a balance of thought and an acceptance of uncertainty. American Tibetan Buddhist, Pema Chödrön tells us: "The truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen."
It helps also to simplify expectations and to not value productivity over wellness. Many find comfort in working, and it can be easy to fall out of balance and forget to set boundaries and simplify.
Finding our Connection to All Things
Actively engaging in our school communities is an ideal source of connection. Until this possibility is back in our daily lives fully, we must find our creativity and dedicate specific time to reach out and be together in whatever ways are possible.
Time in nature is a fruitful way to feel a connection to all things. We can work outdoors, hike, and exercise, or even just sit and observe if the weather allows. As Steiner said, “You can get an idea of human nature only when you can see the relationship of the individual human being to the whole cosmos.”
Finding Balance in Daily Life
Rhythm and repetition hold sway in nature and in our own lives. Ask any Waldorf early childhood teacher how routine influences humans. Routine for young children is everything. While we build a muscle for spontaneity and disruption as we age, routine is our warm home base; our backbone of wellbeing.
Do as our early childhood teachers do. Have activities that breathe in – purposeful, productive, industrious – and then activities that breathe out – relaxing, still, and observational. In this way we can seek to bring balance and routine to our daily lives.
The benefits of gratitude are well documented, such as in this study on gratitude meditation and brain-heart coupling. Noting our gratitude, literally in a journal, can improve our mental and physical health.
If we make time to reflect on the world’s abundance, we can see what we are fortunate to have in life already. These moments not only help with appreciation of what we have, but also broaden our perspective of all that exists in the vast expanding universe.
In conclusion, here is a morning and evening meditation from Rudolf Steiner:
More radiant than the sun,
Purer than snow,
Finer than the ether
Is the Self,
The Spirit of my heart.
I am this Self.
This Self am I.
I am the Self
The Self am I
The Spirit of my Heart
Is the Self
Subtler than the Ether
Purer than Snow
More radiant than the Sun