By: Rev Bowen
There is a verse that was composed by Rudolf Steiner and offered to teachers. Within this verse there is a line that I have chosen as the inspiration for this article. The verse was composed as an imperative, urging the educator to do what is needed in order to be what the children need.
"Imbue thyself with the power of Imagination..."
On the surface, we might take a moment to feel a vague appreciation for this directive. "Imbue" is a good word, we might reflect. Then there's imagination--that seems like a good thing, right? Yes, I will try to use my imagination a bit more. That sounds nice, we might conclude. With this momentary resolution, we move on.
We live in a busy world, and often I find myself becoming very busy within it. I suspect you might relate to that as well. We are inundated with messages, and so many of them aim to sell us something. Everyone from Coca-Cola to Chevrolet looks for ways to appeal to our senses, often drawing us into their messaging with stories and images that barely relate to the actual uses of their products. It is not only a typical reaction, but I believe it to be necessary to develop the skill of filtering, lest we become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data and appeals we are faced with processing. We must create healthy barriers that do not allow everything to work all the way into us. Yet, do we consider what kind of barriers we are creating for this "filtration" process? Is it possible that such a filter, while serving a beneficial function in one regard, might come at a cost in another regard?
I could go down the path here of talking about other choices we might make in order to filter our exposure, such as the simple act of not exposing ourselves to so much so often, but that is a different article. That basic idea is not to become a modern day hermit, but to create healthy balance in our lives. For now, however, let us stay on course with this idea that we create a sort of habitual, subconscious numbness or blind-spot.
Unfortunately, when these kinds of barriers are actually developed, when we become fairly adept at filtering out the non-essential, the same barriers and filtering abilities can also prevent us from taking in things that might be more than worthy of our deeper contemplations. We tend to move over things quickly without always recognizing the essential. When things come by on an endless conveyor belt of experiences, we are going to miss some treasures. I believe that this particular message from the founder of Waldorf Education, this instruction for us to imbue ourselves with the power of imagination, is one of those exceptional messages that is more than worthy. It is a treasure we need to take up.
While we certainly benefit from the experience ourselves, the most redeeming aspect of Imagination's power is how it inspires and enriches the lives of others.
If we 'imbue' ourselves, according to the dictionary, then we permeate ourselves with a feeling or quality, we fill ourselves with it. That part is easy enough to grasp. It is the last part, this bit about "the power of imagination" that seems to contain layers of rich meaning for us to discover.
What is imagination? What is involved in the use of imaginative forces? What is its "power" when we engage in imagination? What would one's experience become if one were imbued with imagination? If we strive to find answers to these questions, will it help us to become more of what the children and students need us as educators to be?
I will not claim to find the holy grail of final answers to these questions. However, in the great spirit of exploration, I am willing to delve into these questions with you. As wise ones before us have said, we must not become too fixated on finding the final answers; instead we must embrace the questions and take up the quest of searching for them.
I want to start with one of the last questions, at least in part of it. I am focusing on "...will it help us to become more of what the children and students need us as educators to be?" During my Waldorf teacher training, my teacher training director would remind me that there is a being toward which I am striving. One way to imagine it is a "future me". She said that the educator, "Mr. Bowen", exists as a potentiality and I can continually strive to become that being.
Let it be known that, at that point, I had absolutely no intention to ever be addressed as "Mr. Bowen". I was twenty-eight years old and oh-so-full of revolutionary ideas, believing that such stilted address created a barrier between myself and the children. Thus, with the self-righteousness that often comes with youth and just a bit of education, I let my director know that. She calmly smiled and said that this was an excellent place to start because the more foreign such an address seemed to me, the more easily I could realize how far I had to go toward becoming the fully realized version of myself as a teacher. I did not admit it in the moment, either to her or to myself, but it was yet another of many philosophical moments in which my dear director had me in check-mate. I did use the "Mr. Bowen" address throughout my teaching career. Along the way I strove to remember that the students and I were united in a hope that this teacher, this Mr Bowen, would be ever more realized.
I must take a brief moment to confess my abiding love for my training director. Few have been the human beings in my life who could so powerfully and, at the same time, so patiently speak the truth, with equal parts conviction and compassion. Rudolf Steiner said that it is one of the greatest gifts a child can receive to live in the presence of someone for whom they experience deep reverence, for whom they feel a profound sense of awe. When we think again of our busy modern world, we can understand how rare this experience might be for a child. Indeed it is tempting to wonder if there are not many children for whom this never occurs. I was fortunate to have a few of these at different stages of my childhood. Moreover, I believe I was still quite a youth during my teacher training--even at twenty-eight years old--and this allowed me to have this sense of reverence and awe for several of the people involved in my teacher training years. Let us take the bold step and consider that perhaps reverence and awe are always available to us, if we are willing to strive to find and embody that child-like openness and wonder at any age! There are wonderful beings in the world, if we take the time and interest to see them. Of course, this is a different prospect for us as adults than it is for children. I will not deny it.
At the same time, we must realize that the children with whom we find ourselves living these lives need to have this experience as well. How tempting it is, once we recognize that need for their sakes, to subconsciously wonder where those beings are for whom our children and students can experience such awe and reverence. So often we deny the simple truth that we can look into this noble person's eyes each morning in the mirror, we can look into this wonderful person's soul each time we meditate. Yes, it can feel a bit intimidating at first, but this does not need to be the case, for there is one more aspect to this that we should always remember: we will never fully realize that master teacher potential. At the very least, perfect realization does not need to be our focus. We only need to become skilled at striving.
I can never realize my perfect potential?! Isn't this sad? Glass half full, folks! Rather than see this as a tragic, even Sisyphean fate, we need to accept it as a relief of pressure. If I can never fully realize as the potential master teacher that is Mr Bowen, it is actually a great relief! I do not need to focus on that at all. All that is left for me to do is strive in each moment. That is literally all that I can do. I cannot change the past, even though I might remember it. I can not live in the future, though I might have a sense for it. I live today, right now, and I can only strive. That's manageable! In fact, that is wonderful!
Children need to see us strive.
It is wonderful because this is what the children need to see. Children need to see us strive. We cannot hope to embody perfection. We will make mistakes. We will be inconsistent at times. We will allow our emotions to get the better of us sometimes. We are humans. These things happen and the children see them quite clearly. Any parent knows the amazing ability children have to imitate the very things we hoped they either never noticed about us or the things we prayed they would forget. Thus, we must make the effort of daily striving a character trait, a fundamental aspect of our being. We must commit to this as a lifelong pursuit and enjoy it! When we do this we become truly "awesome". We become worthy of awe and they will feel this awe for us.
We must commit to this as a lifelong pursuit and enjoy it! When we do this we become truly "awesome". We become worthy of awe and they will feel this awe for us.
Now that my children are in their twenties, I can also share this: the awe will not be so obvious most of the time. As parents, we are so close to them that we are like the fish's water. But in time, as they individuate, as they get past the natural rebellions and reactions of teenage youth, as life humbles them a bit, then a dim appreciation begins to dawn. I would like to claim that as a parent I gave myself in complete selflessness to the process of parenting and that I never needed or desired that kind of appreciation. But that would be disingenuous posturing. When my young-adult children do share little appreciations for what they experienced as younger children, how they appreciate different parts of me and/or how I raised them, it is remarkably gratifying for me. At the same time, I can feel grateful that they have had positive experiences for their own lives. It's win-win!
To go another step further, I also hope that my own experience as a parent in this way can be further ennobled by putting it into service. I hope it can serve other parents of young children--or maybe parents of teenagers need to hear it most!--by reassuring them that the day really does come when children look back with fondness and appreciation. I say all of this to assure you that, even when it does not seem like it, you can be that being who inspires deep reverence and awe in the children and students around you! This is what the children need us to be. This leads us back to the original thread: how is this way of being enhanced by striving to imbue ourselves with the power of imagination?
Rudolf Steiner spoke and wrote a great deal about those things that make us uniquely human. As human beings we sit uniquely apart form the animals, for instance. We also sit apart from the spiritual beings, such as angels. One aspect of this uniqueness is the ability to think in freedom. We have the ability to guide our thinking freely.
Of course! That is an easy concept to understand. It seems self-evident, does it not? Yet, this is not quite that easy to embody. If you have ever attempted to meditate, to focus your thinking, then you can quickly understand the difficulty of truly free thinking.
To further obviate the difficulty, let us compare it to the will. I can give myself the following task: Hold a tennis ball in hand for five minutes, once a day, for six weeks. Do not let go of the ball. Do not pick up anything else. It may not be the most exciting five minutes of each day, but it is quite doable. I would be glad when the time expired, certainly, but there is absolutely no doubt of the successful accomplishment of this task. I daresay the most difficult aspect would be the remembering to do it.
If we attempt this holding of the tennis ball with our thinking, however, we will find that it is a much more difficult proposition. In other words, we would strive to keep our thinking focused upon a tennis ball for five minutes, once a day, for six weeks. We cannot let go of the tennis ball from our focus. We cannot pick up anything else with our thinking. If this sounds easy, then please try it. If you are able to truly accomplish this task of thought focus, then you really do not need to be reading this article, because you have achieved a level of mastery far, far beyond what I can grasp.
For those of you left reading, this is the challenge we face. We have the ability to freely think, but we do not yet possess the skill to engage in this ability for more than a few seconds at a time. The mind wants to wander, and there is no end to the distractions and temptations in life for the mind to wander widely. What we want is to wonder, certainly, to harness the power of imagination. This becomes more possible when we have real skill in taking the reins of our thoughts.
So we face the age-old challenge. We recognize the desire for freedom--in this case the true freedom of our thinking powers, but do we accept the rigors of discipline needed to realize true freedom? As the acclaimed Russian-born ballet dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov said, "No one is born a dancer. You have to want it more than anything."
In and of itself, the wandering is not a bad thing. As it is in all of life, though, too much of anything can have a detrimental effect on us. We need the ability to focus. We need the strength of determined attention on certain tasks. We need to be able to engage our thinking when necessary in order to fully consider things, to approach them from various points of view, to innovate, to anticipate, to foresee, and to complete.
This is not all. In addition to the ability to engage in the actual freedom of thinking, we need to develop the ability to see images inwardly. This is how thinking can transcend from mere intellectual activity into imagination. Are these related? As long as we are not equating imagination with mere whimsy or fancy, then yes. The idea of thinking being elevated into powerful imagination is a goal to be sought.
"The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination."
-- Albert Einstein
Many people report that their thinking is characterized by an internal monologue/ dialogue with the self. Basically, they characterize their thinking as words, as language. They do not think in images most of the time. Again, there is nothing bad about hearing a voice in one's thoughts. It is natural. The only problem is one of imbalance.
Here in the physical world, our sensory processing is dominated by visual stimuli. The great majority of our sensory intake is devoted to processing the visual stimuli we experience. Try to imagine this kind of experience in thought. If you have ever had a vivid, or even a lucid dream, then you can begin to grasp the power of imagination--image-thinking, or picture- thinking. In the dream, unless we are completely lucid, we are more passive observers. Yet, the experience of such a vivid dream can be far more powerful than seeing a wonderful movie. I have been fully convinced that I was actually flying in dreams, that I was an orca in the sea, that I had truly fallen off of a building and hit the earth (no, I did not die in the real world, that is a myth). In the dream experience, I have been far more convinced of living in a different reality than any movie has ever come close to replicating. And dreams do not even fully realize the power of imagination.
Naturally, I acknowledge the great temptation of the movie and other digital media. It is so much easier than creating the images ourselves. We can just sit back and relax, sort of, and be passive. We can be entertained. I very much enjoy a good movie from time to time. So, this is not a tee-totaler decry of digital media. I shall say it once again, it is not an inherently bad thing; it is simply a question of imbalance.
When we engage too much in these passive, image-based activities, such as movies and similar entertainments, we choose a weak substitute for what could be a powerful experience of our human potential: free, image- based thinking--imagination. When we engage too much in the passive, we weaken what could be active. Rather than strengthen that aspect of ourselves that could be free, we strengthen the habitual choice of passivity, which is not free. We choose instead to have images given to us. When a human being has a strong habit of seeking out sources for the passive receipt of images, the potential for being manipulated and influenced by those with other agendas becomes much greater. Besides the "gullibility factor" let's call it, we have weakened our ability to think in our own images, to be free in this ability.
So even though our day-waking experience of life is dominated by image- based processing, most people report their thinking process as one of language. Instead of generating their own images, they allow outside sources to generate artificial images for them. The passive consumption of images given to us is a refined sugar diet and we become just as unhealthy in our thinking while we over-consume in such a way.
The passive consumption of images given to us is a refined sugar diet and we become just as unhealthy in our thinking while we over-consume in such a way.
Just contemplate having the ability to create strong images inwardly, images that engage us wholly, images with the power of convincing reality like those of a vivid dream. With such an ability, we have the power to choose our influences. Not only do we strengthen our ability to focus, contemplate, foresee, innovate, etc, we take a much more active role in creating our worlds.
What could be more important for children to see in the adults around them? Such an adult does not feel overwhelmed by the problems of the world, because they are focused on striving today, in the moment. They are not passive victims to realities, they are actively engaged in realizing solutions and in foreseeing and preventing further problems from arising. They have the power to make that over-simplified and yet remarkably important choice of seeing the glass half-full. Positivity and optimism, in their truest senses, are powerful choices for a person to actively see good. This is not the mere practice of whistling in the dark--which is a way of ignoring the challenges one faces. Instead, positivity is a conviction to strive, always strive toward the light, even when it is dark. It is a deep resolution to meet challenge with courage. Is this choice of courageous deed not at the heart of every great story ever told in the history of humanity?
I must tell you quite clearly that I do not present myself as a master of free thinking. I do not claim to be a master of the power of imagination. No, indeed! Rather, I find myself confronted: Do I have the courage to go inward each day, to strengthen my own power of imagination through a meditative practice? Do I truly resolve myself to this courageous deed in the day- waking world as well? Can I determinedly resist the tendency to become discouraged when I encounter the endless times my mind wanders, to once more refocus myself? Can I laugh when I stumble and rise again with hope renewed? Can I hold onto the truth that my striving is not for myself alone but a gift to those who look to me? Do I have the courage to recognize that there are people in this world who need me to strive in these ways because I am an important component of their lives?
We can easily understand that a picture is worth a thousand words. This is true in our thinking, in our imagination, as well. If we take up the challenge of developing our picture thinking, our imagination, we engage our truest human potential. Striving to realize a true imagination requires a strong will, dynamic balance of feelings, and warmly focused thinking. It engages all three of these fundamental human forces at once. Then we give ourselves and those around us--primarily the children--an experience of life far beyond what a good movie or even a good dream can provide. This is one more reason I believe in the awesome power of storytelling--as just one application of the power of imagination.
Unlike the passive experience of a movie, the power of imagination does not end in a couple of hours. Unlike a vivid dream, the power of imagination does not just occasionally occur some nights during sleep. When we strive to develop it, we live it throughout our days. And in so doing, we inspire future generations. As parents, educators, family members, and elders, the ability to live and engage in the world with a powerful imagination is an aspect of that greatest gift of all: love. While we certainly benefit from the experience ourselves, the most redeeming aspect of Imagination's power is how it inspires and enriches the lives of others.
If we recognize the benefits of Imagination's Power...if we can feel enthused to imbue ourselves in it...then we can take a future article--or articles--to explore some practices that will help us develop the power of imagination.
"Third Grade Stories" has been published for purchase.
The rest of the Third Grade Core Curriculum Bundle ("Third Grade Language Arts" and "Third Grade Math") are in the works as well, with a release date of ASAP. I am working as quickly as I can to have these completed for families to use this Fall.
25% off of all courses.
This sale will extend from August 15 - August 31, 2023.
Use the code: AUG2023 at simplywaldorf.com.
When the Third Grade Core Bundle is ready, it will be released with a 25% off discount price for a brief period of time as well. So, don't worry. If you are waiting for that bundle and hoping for this sale price to apply...It will!