Fall is coming, the season of dying leaves and of the ancestors. Everything is winding down and moving inward. As we shift into this contraction of the seasons, there is also a move inside. We start moving inside the classroom, inside the house, inside the body. It is a time of connection and community, but it is also a time of increasing solitude and cabin fever. It is the beginning of the hardest time of the year to resist media as a way of breaking the monotony and a good time to take stock and prepare ahead of time for the Winter depths that are approaching and the endless Spring rains ~at least here in Portland!
First of all, I want to say that I have enormous compassion for mothers who put their kids in front of the screen. Especially ones who know they shouldn’t and feel endless guilt and shame. The truth is mothers (and fathers) don’t have the same support they used to have in a traditional village setting. Modernity is a big transition and we are only beginning to understand the enormous impact the recent surge of technology has had on us.
Few of us have extended family close by to offer childcare…
so when we go out or need to work we have to pay for it. This is exhausting and it’s no wonder good mothers, like me, sometimes resort to visual media (TV and movies) and breathe a huge sigh of relief when the peace and quiet descends.
Among Waldorf communities, of which I am a participant, there is a very strict anti-media policy. There is some controversy about this, and its roots are very dense philosophically. It all stems from Steiner’s assertion of a spiritual being called Ahriman who represents the spirit of materialism and is expressed in the world through media and technology.
Steiner gave a lecture titled “The Balance in The World and Man, Lucifer and Ahriman: The World as Product of the Working Balance” where he explained all this. For Steiner the world is made up of polarities, like good and evil, and an emergent middle way, a balance of sorts. Rather than suggest a middle way of moderation he actually suggests a more sophisticated natural relationship between polarities in which experiencing the poles of both good and evil is necessary for the most primal gestures of the human soul – the middle way.
The lemniscate, or infinity symbol, is an important figure in Anthroposophy.
It represents this motion between the two poles of good and evil and all the permutations of them. The cross point between the two poles represents the rhythm of the emergent middle way.
For example, when you draw a circle and keep tracing its form, it goes on and on. Your pencil never leaves the page. It goes on forever in continuous peaceful monotony. When you do the same thing with a the radius of a circle (a line), you have to lift your pencil over and over and then drop it right back at the center. Each attempt takes a slightly different amount of time creating a feeling chaos and disorder.
However, when you trace the lemniscate (a combination of circular and linear motion), something very interesting emerges. Your pencil winds the bend easily and then falls through the center, and then it goes around again. Try it and notice what emerges. When you move between circular and straight motion in the form of the lemniscate, rhythm emerges.
So what does all this have to do with TV and media exposure?
Here is a quote from Helmut von Kugelgen about exposure to technology:
“This does not mean that these inventions should be avoided — they belong to the age of the consciousness soul — but it is most important that enough weight be put on the other side of the scales. …Today we are faced with a huge problem of balance. These inventions, which increasingly fill our world, need to be balanced by the faculty of imagination. This is the secret to how we can deal with the forces of evil.” ~Helmut von Kugelgen
So rather than villainize TV and media, I am more interested in offering ideas that will provide balance and counterpoint to its force. In fact, I will even argue here that strict anti-media policies are actually detrimental to achieving authentic personal rhythm and therefore family or community harmony. It is not a retreat to the pole our culture is most comfortable with, the easy, peaceful and monotonous circular motion that will insure our children’s well-being, but rather an honest experience of both poles in motion.
With that in mind, here are 10 suggestions to find the middle way by bolstering the pole of imagination – Arhiman’s opposite pole:
- :: Take a week or so to observe the natural rhythm of your home. Take note of times that tend to be most chaotic and stressful for you, and for your children. Morning time can be one of those times of chaos especially when you have specific times you or they need to be somewhere. Start to anticipate these times and rather than allow them to snowball, meet them with a likeness or an opposite. For example: waking up in the morning can be a difficult transition. Either add more rest with cuddles (that’s a great way to get kids to jump out of bed) or something energizing like a song. Coming to the dinner table is another example. The energy needs to shift from being outward and expansive to being inward and connected. A dinner bell is magical opposite energy, and sending kids to the garden to harvest this or that is and example of similar energy. You are sending them further out in order to help them begin to move back inward. It’s amazing. Take some time and gather some basic inward and outward tools.
- :: Make a list of Needs and Wants for each member of the family. Make sure all needs are being met, and that dreams are encouraged. Be creative. Then list any problems that seem to be emerging, like sibling rivalry, or hitting, or whining. Notice when these things happen and take a few quiet moments and ask your heart, what are the deeper needs at the root of this behavior. Then wait and listen for what needs come to you. This is a great way to discover hidden needs that can’t be met because no one knows about them. Now consider how the newly realized needs can also be met. For example: My husband and I recently had a problem with our three year old son and hitting. We identified the problem, and then quietly contemplated it for a few minutes together. After a few minutes we realized that his need for movement is not being fulfilled and that perhaps it is the root of the more superficial “problem”.
- :: Understand Repair and use it instead of burying it all under guilt and shame. Say your sorry and explain what was going on for you when you exploded, or said no unfairly, or rushed them, or interrupted them, or overdid the TV thing. Trauma research shows us that it is more important to have trauma and navigate it successfully than to avoid it altogether. Remember that the middle way is not one where we avoid difficulty and evil, but rather one where it’s opposing pole, ease and goodness, is strong and stable. Repair, apologizing and working together at inner growth, goes a long way toward this. What does this have to do with TV? Well, I have noticed that when I am in the groove of repair I am more fluid and less stuck. When I am feeling less stuck, I am more likely to put an appropriate movie on, rather than just show them anything they want out of desperation.
- :: Keep most toys and projects hidden and unavailable. By removing most of the toys, your children will be encouraged to rely on their faculty of imagination. Clear clutter. Our kids each have one basket of toys – a basket of small cars for our son and a basket of dolls for our daughter. Organize the rest of the toys according to whether they are expansive and contracting. Playdough, beeswax, paintng and other handwork brings energy in and down, contracting. Building forts, balls, jump ropes and interactive games bring energy up and out. Make sure your children are getting both kinds of toys in their day so that their rhythm can emerge. Now you can use toys, projects and activities like medicine and your kids will learn that there are many alternatives besides TV. You can also consider if you have a balance of expansive and contracting toys and bolster one or the other if its weak.
- :: Gather ideas ahead of time so that in the moment you have options. Pinterest can be a good way to gather ideas. Make a board for Expansion and one for Contraction and fill it with ideas. Be sure to tell me if you do so I can follow it and share with other mothers. Check out my Mindful Parenting board for ideas too! You can also use a 3-ring binder to collect and store ideas from magazines and the internet.
- :: Rotate some toys seasonally. We change out our puppets, scarves, dress-up stuff and some of our other toys according to the season. Take an afternoon and go through all the toys and divide them into four. Often the end of one season can start dragging. Rediscovering seasonal stuff can really help bring new life to the seasonal transitions for kids. Keep in mind that while winter tends to be more condusive to contractive toys and games, this is also the time when we need to keep the fire of action and expansion burning.
- :: Stash at least 2 last-ditch emergency desperation gifts for your children, especially older children who are expected to guardian younger kids. You shouldn’t need these often (like once/season or less), but just knowing they’re there will help decrease the overwhelm that occurs right before you snap, and either yell at them to leave you alone, or just put on a movie without forethought. Right now I have a book set aside for each of them.
- :: Arm yourself with audio books, music, stories and musical instruments. Use a Pandora Station to find new music. Collect your favorites or see if they are in the library. We like Sparkle Stories. Remember that technically music and stories that are not live are of the Arhiman pole of the lemniscate. Make sure they are balanced with plenty of imaginative play and on-the-fly story telling.
- :: Feed your kids (and yourself) enough fat. Fat is calming to the brain and nervous system. It is also super important for brain and central nervous system development. Consuming fat helps keep blood sugar stable and that can help you and your kids maintain an even keel. I always notice more breakdowns when my kids (or I) haven’t eaten enough fat. On top of eating enough fat you might also want to make sure they have enough of the nervous system calming minerals, Calcium and Magnesium as well as protein.
- :: Put on a movie, but choose something ahead of time that doesn’t jangle the nervous system too much. A few ideas are: The Story of the Weeping Camel, Cave of the Yellow Dog. We have an Arhiman Faerie charm at our house to remind us that there is no perfection in Anthroposophy and that as long as our hearts are open, our feet on the ground and our imaginations free, we actually need Arhiman in order to find a deep and truly human path.
Remember that it is in the emergent middle that contentment and true inner rhythm reside, not in avoiding the “negative” poles of evil and technology. While it is timely at this juncture in history to notice the scarcity of the opposing pole of imagination, peace, and contentment, the solution doesn’t lay in avoidance, but in balance and motion between technology and imagination.
First Published: Fall of 2012 in Rhythm of the Home