We all know by now that little things have a funny way of getting under my skin, but even after a lifetime of this, I still am pretty terrible at anticipating which things they will be and when. I spent all fall in the grips of one of them, and this one really sneaked up and clubbed me good from behind.
It was parents’ night in mid-September at Pine Hill, the magical Waldorf school where my son has been going for day care and preschool practically since he was born. We got to hang out in his classroom with his teachers and the other parents. Sitting on the floor, the teachers took us through the Circle Time ritual the kids do every morning as part of the start to their day. Gentle, seasonally curated songs and chants – and describing it like that honestly doesn’t come close to conveying how truly great this is. As is usually the case when I spend any time at the Waldorf school, I find myself longing very deeply to incorporate these things into my own life. How much better off would I – perhaps all of us – be if we began our day with our families and/or colleagues sitting in a circle and welcoming the hours ahead with song and affirmation? Ridiculous hippie thoughts, I know, but if you think it’s crazy I’m willing to bet you haven’t experienced Circle Time.
The teachers also spent a fair amount of time focused on the upcoming holiday of Michaelmas and how the children would be observing it – and why. They gave us photocopied handouts that explained these concepts in further detail, and there’s a passage in one of them that hasn’t left my mind in the three months since. From the book Waldorf Education – A Family Guide, in a chapter titled “Michaelmas” authored by Karen Rivers:
“The equinox is for us a turning point, a change in the relation of light and darkness in the world around us. On September 29th the autumn festival traditionally known as Michaelmas is celebrated. This festival is named after the Archangel Michael, conquerer of the powers of darkness, the harvesters of the deeds of human souls. It is at this time that the image of Michael with the dragon appears before us as a mighty imagination, challenging us to develop strong, brave, free wills, to overcome love of ease, anxiety and fear. This demands inner activity, a renewal of the soul which is brought to consciousness in the Michaelmas festival, the festival of the will….
“These images truly symbolize the challenge we face in the autumn season. They speak to our deep need to carry an inner light of wisdom and courage at this time when the light is diminishing. Through strength of will, inner activity of selfless consciousness, we bring light to the darkening time. These are very challenging ties; the anti-social forces are emerging everywhere. May we gain insight, courage and truth at this Michaelmas time, to bring light to our inner life, our community and the world in these times of darkness.”
Hoo boy. There’s a lot to unpack there. That’s heavy.
My first thought was how wonderful it is to introduce young children to these concepts. Perhaps a four-year-old can’t grasp the total weight of all that – undoubtedly for the best! – but just imagine how much conscious courage and healthy will a 17-year-old might possess if you start talking to them about it when they’re four!
From there, in quick succession, it was, how much better off would I have been had I received this kind of foundation from the very beginning? No blame or shade towards my parents or anyone else, but how much did I miss out on by never hearing any of this?
Then finally, oh shit, I need to learn this just as much as my four-year-old does. Circle Time is one thing, but it seems what I need much more, much more urgently, is to participate myself in something like Michaelmas, to take the appropriate time in appreciation of these things as we head into the season of darkness. But am I capable? I consider myself already to possess a pretty strong, brave, and free will, but is it enough to “overcome love of ease, anxiety, and fear”? I mean, sometimes, probably, but always?
Anxiety and fear, I’ve been doing all right with those in recent years, but love of ease? Man, if we’re judging people by the level of their love of ease, I am in big trouble. Those words really kinda boxed me in the ears. I can still feel it. No lie, I’ve been trying not just to grapple with this but to write about it for three months now and I’ve been all bottled up and tangled up about it. And I’ll be damned if that second paragraph quoted above doesn’t just perfectly nail what I believe my responsibility as a person and a citizen and even a wizard really is during this life – to use strength of will and selfless consciousness to bring light to a dark-ass age. And though I may be comfortable with the robustness of my will, am I really equipped and prepared and sufficiently resolved to actually execute on that responsibility?
After three months of inner wrestling, all I can say I’ve come up with in answer to that is “Probably, I think so, I hope so.” I don’t mean that in a negative way, even if I myself find it funny that that’s as far as I got in three months. Let’s be real here – I’m not sure it ever gets much more definitive than that. Not for anyone who didn’t start learning this at four, anyway.
Did I manage to act on the prescription, to set about this fall intentionally with inner activity toward renewal of the soul? Sure I did, even if I don’t think the work is as complete as it should be, especially as we cruise into the conclusion of the year. But so it goes, and I still have the whole winter ahead of me to use as a time to cultivate that inner light, to learn what it means to renew my soul and orient toward a courage and responsibility that stands against the prevailing currents. And I have the rest of my life ahead of me to figure out what it means to stand tall in the night against the dragon we are called to destroy.