Saturday, August 8, 2009

Imitation and Inner Work

Our responsibility for a true 'order' needs to extend inwards as well as outwards. Just because all that we do is imitated by children at such a deep level, we are faced with the task of being responsible for all that goes on in the childs surroundings, for our movements and gestures, for our speech but also for our inner feelings, thoughts and impulses which we may try to keep hidden. They are probably not as hidden from small children as we often believe, even if their experience of what is going on in us is not fully conscious ... Gudrun Davy
The Journey of a Mother,
Lifeways - Working with Family Questions
Mindful parenting calls on us to be better than we ever thought we could be. What we do shapes our children's worlds ... who we are shapes who they will become. This quote by Gudrun Davy really brought it home to me - if I don't like something my children are doing, I need first to look at what I am doing.

In Waldorf education, imitation is seen as the primary way that young children learn. In Steiner's own words"the little child, up to the age of seven, up to the change of teeth, is essentially imitative. He learns by doing what he sees being done around him. Fundamentally, all activities of the child's early years are imitations.

Its one thing to be aware of the example we give children with practical things - pouring milk with two hands for example, or sweeping the floor. If I am rushing, short tempered, clumsy, not concentrating ... should I be suprised when Munchkin tries to pour the milk one handed and spills it everywhere???

But the concept of imitation goes much further - we don't just teach practical skills by imitation, we teach skills of the heart. The way that I might sigh heavily as I hang up the phone, having just learned hubby is coming home late from work. The expression of frustration on my face when a shopkeeper takes too long to scan my groceries. The way I stifle a yawn when listening to a toddlers very confusing explanation of something. The way I get frazzled when the house is a mess, and rush around with gritted teeth cleaning up.

And its not enough just to put on a happy face, or to sing a song as we work, with a light voice but a heavy heart. I heard a mother say that she 'usually tries to fake a good mood' around the children, even when she doesn't feel like it. But, the problem is, children are smart. They will pick up this faking, they will learn from it, they will imitate it. As Gudrun Davy says, what is going on inside us is 'probably not as hidden from small children as we often believe'.

So where does this leave us? We are certainly not perfect, none of us are, yet this job of mothering is so impossibly hard, and critically important. Beating ourselves up isn't going to help, unless we want our children to learn that too!

In my mind, it brings me back to the importance of inner work. What do I need to do for myself to make sure I am calm, energised, focussed, happy, content?

Well, of course, Steiner had a lot of thoughts on this and gave teachers instructions on inner work. (If anyone has a specific link to this I would love to know!) Steiner stressed that meditation is absolutely the most important thing to do, but it can seem impossible when you are up late rocking a crying newborn, and up early with a fracious toddler. Even so, I find that when I discipline myself to do few minutes of focussed breathing before bed it is easier to stay calm in the chaos of the day. If I can, even just occassionally, provide an example of inner calm to imitate, that must be worth something!

I read somewhere that Steiner teachers are encouraged to be in bed by 9.00pm, sensible as we all know what a good night sleep means for both children and parents! The other exercise that Steiner teachers are encouraged to do, is as you go to sleep at night, bring each child into your minds eye and hold them in love and reverence. Give thanks for this child in your life, and see them as the spiritual beings they are. I find (and again, I wish I could say I did this every night) that this helps me to move on from the days frustrations and hurts, and to start the morning anew.


Anonymous said...

Isn't it hard work?

There's so much going on under the surface that it's hard not to feel overwhelmed by responsibility and sometimes guilt. But then I remind myself that karma works in mysterious ways, and that I believe we chose each other before we were born into our it will work out. And I remind myself to focus on improving, not on the errors of the past!

Susanne said...

This is such an informative post about Waldorf education. I recently visited a Waldorf school in Maine and was particularly interested in discovering some of the similarities to Montessori (which is what I teach). Their relationship is so curiously similar and radically different at the same time!