Graphic designed by Anca Paraon, 2021 student
Essay by a 2021 student:
To what extent do I regard myself as a free being?
I am going to consider how free I perceive myself to be in terms of my physical being, soul being and spiritual being. Am I free in my physical form? My physical form has many needs for example I require water, oxygen, food, sleep, to be the right temperature, and to be able to excrete waste products to survive. These are all very fundamental needs and in this basic way I do not feel free of my physical body. Arguably I do have a choice to for example completely refuse say food, water, or sleep if I decided to do so; thankfully I have never been in a situation where I felt minded to do so. That said in another way I do not endlessly eat food or drink water, so I do have control of my intake of water and food and of course I do choose to get out of bed every morning and when to go to bed at night. That said, even here there are limits to my choices for example normally I’ve got to get up for work, to look after my family and so on. Again, though it’s arguably because of the choices I’ve made in the past, for example to have a child, that I now must get up and look after him. In this way I would say I have “situated freedom”, I make choices within the parameters and framework of the life I have chosen to lead but also a life which has been influenced by the choices other people have made and also from external environmental factors. From the policies of governments to natural phenomenon like storms and to the truly microscopic level for example from the impact of viruses and bacteria.
Is my soul free? This is a very complex question and one which I suspect many philosophers have grappled with through the ages, but the question is do I regard my (soul) self as a free being? Again, my feeling is to say no, that I don’t regard my soul to be completely free. All the soul choices I make are the result of my conscience, which to a great extent was shaped by my up bringing. I was brought up in a “church” family. Not piously religious of the type my mum experienced as a child in Scotland. She went to her grandmother’s every Sunday, and the children were not allowed to run around or play or even read a book not even the bible. My childhood experience of Christianity was in contrast a very positive one. We went to church every week (without fail), to the badminton club, to the youth club, to the choir, to scripture union classes. The church was our family and our social life, but a branch of Christianity, the URC or United Reformed Church which was very ecumenical and to cut a long story short, I was brought up in an environment of safety, love and fellowship which of course impacts upon my soul. It could be argued that I had the freedom to reject these values, but I am not sure that it would be so straightforward to do that, I think they are very deeply ingrained in me (not indoctrinated, that would be a very unfair way of portraying it) but ingrained to the point where I am not even aware they are there for me to reject them. So, when I consider the soul decisions I have made in the past, I think, I did have free will, but at the same time I couldn’t have made a different choice.
I think I need to give an example to explain what I mean. About 15 years ago I was walking home from work, and I saw this youngster of about 11 years old, with a drunk lady who had collapsed and wet herself on the street quite close to my house. As I walked near a youth cycled past in the other direction and made a horrible comment to the pair. I could not have walked on by, I stopped and helped. It turned out the child was the nephew of this lady, and she was an alcoholic. Together we got her back to my house, I found a clean pair of trousers for her, and whilst she was changing, I spoke to the child to check he was ok and what the situation was. When my husband got home, he felt I was wrong to have done this, that I had put myself at risk, but to this day, I know I could not have “not helped”. That simply was not an option. So back to the question in hand “is my soul free”? No. I don’t think my soul is free. This is because I think it has been shaped by my past and by the values I was brought up in. I believe that my soul being also has “situated freedom”. It is bounded in a similar way to my physical being by my past choices and by the impacts of other people choices upon my life together with all the other situations which go to collectively make up my personal psyche.
Regarding the freedom of my spiritual being. This is the hardest question of all to answer not least because I believe Steiner himself said that to a large extent the spirit is not really knowable; if I’ve correctly understood what I’ve read so far. Of all the parts of our being this should be the freest since it is not limited by either physical or emotional need. However, I’m not sure if I am an accurate judge of whether my spirit is free as I am not sure if I have full access to it, which rather neatly brings me onto the next question.
To what extent do I experience myself as a spiritual being?
I have found this is a very complicated question to answer because I am not sure that I have enough understanding of what you mean by “spiritual being”. Here our recent tutorial was very helpful, talking with other students on the course about how they interpret this question. In our group two of the members had long associations with Steiner schools, whilst two of us are very new having only really been introduced to this since September. Reflecting on this I would say that for me, it is way too early to answer this question with any great clarity. I am still in a state of moratorium and trying to assimilate what I have learnt in the last five months. If you can imagine how somebody might feel if they woke up tomorrow and they were told that a new continent had been discovered? That is how I feel at the moment, and I think it takes time to absorb all this new information.
If, as one of our group members, who went to Steiner school, explained, spirituality is like a journey; looking back there are key points in my life that this would apply to. For example, in 2017 my husband was offered a job in Leeds. That year (2017) my son was in years 5 and 6 at school and so the move would mean a brand-new start for us all at the same time as he was due to start secondary school. We spent much of the summer holidays and autumn looking for a house and planning our life up there. It seemed like a good move as I was really worried about my son starting secondary school in Cardiff. By the first week in December 2017 everything appeared to be in place, the house, the school, the job. We were to stay in Cardiff for another six months and that week we had a meeting with my son’s new violin teacher. It was a memorable meeting, and as I left, I thought, “well if for some reason we did end up staying in Cardiff, everything would be ok”, because I could see that this new teacher would been a brilliant positive role model for my son. Within three days of that meeting and thinking that thought, everything fell through, the house, the job and the move but I knew everything was going to be ok. As it turned out I was right in more ways than I could have guessed and bizarrely I think that even things like me taking this course now actually stem from that point. So, if that is what’s meant by experiencing myself as a spiritual being, then I can see that could be the case.
On the other hand, another member of our group, who had been associated with the Steiner school for 20 years, said they felt that spirituality was more to do with having a role or a drive. If that is the case, then again, I would say a lot of the choices I have made during my life would fit in that pattern. For example, the jobs I have taken have been motivated much more by a sense of having a positive impact on people’s lives rather than to make lots of money. I am not sure if that is down to my temperament or if that is that my spirit guiding me, but as I said earlier the whole concept of the spirit is very new to me, so it is difficult for me to say.
How might the two be related? I think the two are highly related. I suspect a person who feels more physically free than I do also feels more spiritual. I do not feel free and I think this is maybe why I don’t see my own spirituality. When I was a youngster, I was addicted to TV. Growing up in the 70’s my viewing was limited to two hours of children’s TV, plus a plethora of 50’s black and white films (Flash Gordon, numerous westerns and of course Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes) and of course the Open University programs that were screened at 6am in the morning. One OU program that stuck in my mind was about physics or maths. In it, the lecturer said the following “imagine you were not a 3D being but a 2D being”. There was an accompanying graphic that showed two squares bumping into each other and generally interacting. “Now imagine that a 3D object comes and pushes you out of your dimension into a 3rd dimension. You wouldn’t know what has happened simply because everything about you means you do not have any capacities to interpret it. You cannot comprehend a third dimension because nothing about your biology would allow you to do this.” Due to this I feel I cannot discount concepts, like a spirit, just because I have not previously acknowledged them in myself, but I can see that if somebody is able to perceive their spirit then it would be, by necessity, intertwined and related to their free being.
How might this be relevant to my role as a teacher of children?
I think being more aware of myself is highly relevant to being a teacher of children, because to acknowledge this dimension in myself means I have to acknowledge this in other people, including the children I will teach. I think this is important because it changes the role of the teacher from being one of purely educating (delivering knowledge) to being one of nurturing the understanding, growth and development of the whole child. Therefore, I think it will make me a better teacher to acknowledge this even though I don’t fully comprehend this at the current time.
Presentation created by Lisa Westwood, 2021 student
Essay by Monika Koncz-MacKenzie, 2021 student