scenes from the eye of the heart

a meditation on:

- Dan Dugan, PLANS, Waldorf Education,

and the battle for the future of the soul -

by Joel A. Wendt

Morning (or night), the alarm clock goes off (or the cock crows, or the cell doors unlatch) and the peace and rest of sleep depart. Another day (or nighttime period of wakefullness) is born.

With morning, each person (or self, or I, or human being) confronts again the individual pattern and texture of their life. No two of these lives are alike in the meaning of their wholeness, although they often bear superficial similarities.

For example, many women bear children. All human beings are born and then die. More men die in war as combatants, than do women. All human beings have thoughts and feelings, an invisible inner life known intimately, as to its specific content, only to each individual.


Two people watch, while a third person opens the hood of a car. Only the third person is an experienced mechanic, the two observers being a parent (owner of the car) and a child (happily late for school, because the car broke down).

All three look under the hood. Only the mechanic understands (sees with his mind) what is seen visually, even though all three have a common sense experience - see the same external materiality.

The parent sees (understands) a terrifying mystery, which has left him/her feeling helpless, late for school and for work. The child sees a wondrous mystery; and, if left to her/his own instincts, might well drown the mechanic in a thousand questions. The mechanic sees work, income, a puzzle to be solved. If the parent is poor, or a late payer, there is an additional unspoken context.


There is a name, famous, if you will: Jesus Christ. To some he is a myth, to others a personal god, to others still a prophet, and to not a few, an irrelevancy.


What is the point of the above capsule meditations?

It is this: While to be human involves much shared and common experience, each individual life is unique, both inwardly and outwardly, in its ideal content, its emotional texture, and its moral purposes.


One characteristic that is shared by human beings is to over generalize. Whites do this. Blacks do that. Science knows this. Christians don't know that. Anthroposophists believe this. Waldorf critics think that.

Whenever a noun is made plural and a general class created (tree becomes trees becomes forest), the individual and the specific is lost sight of. What is true about a forest, may not be true of pine trees. What is true about an oak, may not be true of the woodland ecology. I, as an individual, who is also a member of the class - anthroposophist, may share many characteristics of others who would give themselves the same name. At the same time, I share characteristics with those who are not anthroposophists and many characteristics with Waldorf critics.


As an individual moves through physical space, they each carry with them attitudes, ways of understanding, emotional habits, behavior patterns and points of view, whose total mixture is unique to them. It is as if each person were surrounded by a individually created living crystal egg through which they experience the world.

When two people meet, social conventions of time and place (work, home, school, saloon etc.) allow for interaction; that is: conversation, verbal and non-verbal (gesture, touch, eye contact and so forth). This interaction occurs in spite of enormous differences in nature, background and experience. It is almost a miracle, that we can communicate (although very frequently we do not, and instead misunderstand, confuse, and misread).

Depending upon the degree of familiarity, the more complex inner truths of each individual often do not meet. Even long time friends, or partners, will come upon unexpected matters, and much is often secret and private (and this accepted as needing to be this way).


Members of the same family, community, culture, language group, nationality, race, religion, philosophy, or discipline will share some specifics of inner life in common.. This common experience can become a source of emotional bonding across other barriers of difference.

Two anthroposophists, who both love the same book (for example, Steiner's Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception) will have much to share; as will two Waldorf critics, whose act of questioning their school's unusual philosophy was met with rejection and denial.


The totality of our individual ideal context, emotional texture and moral purposes will be shared with no one; but often great parts will be shared with a few, and small segments with many.

Associations of common content and purpose arise from encounters between individuals with similar experiences.


Sometimes interactions between individuals and/or groups of dissonant interests arises. These easily become acrimonious, and historically often end in violence.

Wars are fought over ideas, emotional slights, pieces of property and often simply the desire to dominate, one individual or group over the other.


In these wars, whether they are merely emotionally violent, or physcally as well, human beings often justify their self interest by claiming a higher moral ground. One or the other claims to know "the truth", or be "right", or to be correcting a "wrong". In contrast, the other is declared deceitful, wrong, incorrect, manipulative, or otherwise dehumanized.

Both sides pretend there is some factual place to stand, which permits the egotistical statement: "I know better than you.". Even history, which seems to decide, after the fact, the right side of some disputes, is often revised and a view once held is later changed.

This dissonant encounter between individuals and groups can lead one to wonder whether there actually always exists an objective place from which to say: "This one is right, and this one is wrong.". Or, is there something else involved altogether?


As someone who has spent most of my life living with the above riddle, I would like now to share how I view this situation of individual and group point of view, both common and dissonant. I am not making an argument, but simply unfolding the conceptual frame of reference in which I view this general fact (a fact mirrored in the particular instance of the Waldorf critics list, PLANS, and the Waldorf School movement).


At a certain point in my life I began to realize that these clashes of points of view existed within the general context of history, and that certain elements of them were in movement. This fact can be thought, if this general condition was inwardly beheld - thought about pictorialy - over time).

Ideas have historical development - birth, life and death - to be brief. This "history of ideas" allows for a maturation of the ideas themselves. The clashing (dissonant interactions of individual believers and groups) serves often as a refinement process - a fact most notable in modern science, but which also occures in other spheres. Of course, some ideas are refined at such a slow rate of change (particularly religions ideas), that they can seem constant over several centuries.

Beneath the surface of these changes in the "history of ideas", was another element of the clashing, which was not fixed, but also in movement.

Human nature changes over time, and individual human beings grow inwardly within their own lifetime. That field which studies the former, the evolution of consciousness, understands this as a general trend (see O. Barfield, Saving the Appearances: a study in Idolatry; and, G. Richter, Art and Human Consciousness).

Thus, we have two elements in movement: ideas and human consciousness. This last (human consciousness), in ways both general and individual.


Clashing (human interactive dissonance) refines ideas and changes the people who clash.

From this point of view, the interaction between Waldorf (as a community) and its critics and skeptics, is a valid organic and moral social process. This is how traditions and schools of thought arise, become a dominant paradigm and then are succeeded by another complex of beliefs and knowledge. For example, in an individual life, this process manifests in ways like the below:

If Dan Dugan contributes by being true to himself, even if he falls into zealotry or veneality or succumbs to prejudice, these flaws are personal to him and for which correction will naturally arise from the wider aspects of the social and moral system within which he acts;

If Joel Wendt contributes by being true to himself, even if he falls into dogmatism, emotional prejudging, or misrepresentation of facts, the same dynamics provides a corrective.


These correctives of the self are personal and individual, and do not apply to any general class. How Dan or Joel (to continue the example) relate to the way the world responds, to what they put out into it, is basically their own business. There are no outside absolute standards beyond what each, in his or her own freedom, chooses to measure themselves by. It is through such self chosen processes that individual human growth occures.

Over time, such individual changes as these become merged into streams of alterations within the wider social and historical courses of development. Gross historical change, such as the coming into being of the New World, following the rediscovery of the Americas, carries along the individuals who act upon such a stream and are likewise acted upon by it.


A question could be asked: What ideas are being refined through the clash involving Waldorf and its critics?

This again is individual. Whether skepics and critics learn something from anthroposophists, or vice versa, depends upon individual choices.

I would hope, revealing here a personal bias, that dogmatic anthroposophy would retreat and that certain institutions which promote it would reform themselves.

In an effort to make a contribution to such a process (the correction of matters within the anthroposophical movement) I will close this with a brief meditation on:

active cognition as an organ of perception

(Those of the critics and skeptics persuasion should realize that were I to attempt to write the following for their community - an unlikely act, by the way - I would not do it in the fashion below, which assumes certain common points of understanding as already tends to exist within the anthroposophical community.)

In America, it is my view, that something, much easier to come to and understand as a practical inner art, has been misrepresented and made to appear farther out of reach then it is in fact. This confusion has arisen because the principle teachers (European anthroposophists) lacked both the capacity to understand the folk character of those they presumed to teach, and how the content they wished to teach should be placed before that folk.

This more general confusion then has strongly infected, in particular, Waldorf teacher training and, as a result, has engendered the response of the critics and skeptics in America, who, upon meeting Waldorf, should have encountered something familiar and inviting and instead met something dogmatic and sectarian.


The core teaching of anthroposophy is the art of conscious refinement and evolution of individual insight. Its basics are the central soul development of this epoch (the age of the consciousness soul).

It is not necessary to approach this abstractly, as an ideal to be striven for (the method of the central European folk), because in America this soul condition is a natural birthright. It is, in the main, already present, and really only needs to be looked at and given its true name. The American already does it, albeit instinctively.

What is called for is simply to point a finger and say: "See what you are doing naturally. Now do it on purpose."

Moreover, this instinctive consciousness soul act is so present, one can easily point again and again to its product within American culture (for example: Amory Lovins, Theodore Rozsak, the television writer David Kelly). It involves the degree of self awareness of congitive processes, and the moral character that informs them. Just as the presence of a magnetic field organizes a undifferentiated mass of iron filings, so also do soul qualities reveal themselves in the product produced by that soul.

The problem has arisen because anthroposophy is taught as if it were a given point of view (set of concepts) and not as an already existing semi-conscious activity (way of thinking), needing an awakening

Those who are heavily influenced by the former then look within their own soul at memory (Rudolf Steiner says) for answers to questions, rather than to their own insight (active cognition)..

This not only makes one a dogmatist and sectarian, but it also lames the individual insight by making it perceive itself as lower (less enlightened) than the teacher - the great initiate.

Conscious active cognition (insight) has to be used (exercised) in order to develop. It is first a skill, then a craft, and finally an art.

It can be described this way: The spirit (ego) beholds the world as a mixed sea of experiences, in which the meanings of the experiences are given by the act of the ordering of the concepts. Using the will (limb) power of the soul, the spirit draws forth the light of its own insight as the concepts which it then shines on the mixed sea of experience, in giving them their meaning. (The mixed sea of experience includes what is experienced through the senses and what is perceived inwardly, within the soul, by the active cognizing of the spirit.)

If the spirit draws a concept from memory, it will not cast this light, but instead a shadow, which takes the mixed sea of experience and places in front of it an obscuring cloud.

Experience is then seen in terms of the cloud's shadow and not in the light which arises when the spirit forms concepts from its own insight directly.


This is true as regards all knowledge mediated through an external source (from something other than one's own insight, whether from a scientist, a spiritual researcher, priests, parents, spouses, etc.) Only primary knowledge (from one's own insight) casts light. Secondary knowledge (imagined interpretations of another's meanings) only casts shadows.

In regard to the title of this paper, especially the term battle: It is my view that, unless the words soul and spirit are returned to common social vocabulary, as specific references to (concepts for) the relevant part of our ordinary experience (which is inward, as against the outwardly given objects of the sense world), we will lose contact with our own essential nature, as a social community.

Soul is not an imagined entity, but an aspect of our immediate experience (See, for example: The Soul's Code, James Hillman; and, The Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore). Without a social finger again pointing (the words soul and spirit), we (humanity) may cease to look inward and come to terms with all that manifests only there (such as concept formation, emotional texture - self created mood, and moral purpose).

Imagine raising children in a world where their naturally rich and vivid imaginations are repressed as subjective illusions, and the only real things stated to exist are what is described on computer screens, with all primary experience mediated and conceptualized by secondary centralized authorities.

Waldorf communites and the PLANS community share the desire to avoid any such dark future, from whatever authority. Dan Dugan refused to let dogmatic anthroposophy (a secondary authority) tell him what is true. I believe Rudolf Steiner would see this act as heroic.

[Addendum: since this was written I have returned twice to the Waldorf Critics discussion list.  During my last visit it was clear that a certain amount of degeneration in the quality of interaction has occured, with a number of personalities having left the discussion, while the few remaining become more and more outrageous in the degree of their rigidity of mind and forms of personal attack.  It appears that what was originally a healthy impulse has fallen into difficulties.  For a good examination of various related issues visit the website of Sune Nordwall.]

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