In Waldorf Education there is a lot of talk about the importance of “inner work” when working with young children. Put simply, if you do not have a strong sense of yourself, your emotional triggers, your flaws and your strengths then you will not be able to work in a conscious and conscientious way with young children. I believe that this inner work is just as important for parents, grandparents… really all of humanity.
For me, inner work is the daily practice of remaining mindfully and consciously connected to your core values. As a parent, I hope to model this conscious connection to my children through the way I speak, move and even think in my daily life.
Essential Inner Work for the Carer of Young Children
At first glance these may seem overwhelming to a mother with young children at home, but through my examples I hope to reveal how this kind of inner work can still be practiced on a daily basis regardless of money and time-constraints. On a side note, this list happens to run parallel to some of the conditions laid out by Rudolf Steiner in his “Conditions of Esoteric Training” from his book How to Know Higher Worlds if you’re interested in going deeper.
Exercise & Meditation practice.
This is a daily practice and it is nonnegotiable but exercise does not have to equate to heading to the gym and meditation does not have to equate to sitting in absolute silence for 20 minutes at a time. When my children were young exercise meant walking to the park with the stroller and chasing after them in the fields and playground. Other times it meant practising yoga with my children playing at my feet and crawling all over me. Right now I try to maintain a regular home yoga practice but I am also active on our farm- barn chores can really break a sweat. As for meditation I spoke about creating a very simple daily mindfulness practice here. Although I really enjoy traditional meditation (sitting in silence and connecting with my breath) sometimes as a mother meditation can be as simple as knitting, journalling or being really present in the moment regardless of what you’re doing.
Connection and Service to others.
Again, this does not mean that you need to be doing community service each and everyday. It might mean helping out in your community (including your children’s school) when called upon, it might mean being conscientious of the needs of your friends or greater community. For example, if you hear that someone is solo parenting with sick children at home- making them dinner and bringing it to them. Perhaps this means joining a prayer group or a book club or parent council but it can also mean meeting with mothers at the park once a week while your children play, sipping tea or coffee with one another and simply talking and connecting.
Mindfulness of Words, Actions and Thoughts.
For me being mindful of my words means being aware of their impact both at home, online and in community environments. Other ways I try to be mindful are attempting to stay in alignment with my essential self in thinking when I approach disagreements; and practising holding boundaries while also respecting others and trying as best I can to practise non-judgement.
It is also important to connect with the deeper thought that triggers a feeling of lack and which could cause of an outburst of emotion if not carefully and consciously brought to awareness. So for example, if my children are being whiney how will I approach the situation- from a perspective of LACK with an inner dialogue like this: “I am not a good enough mother, what will people think of me if I am raising children like this, why is she doing this to me? etc” VS. from a perspective of ABUNDANCE: “She is needing something right now but this is not an ideal way to express her desire. How can I help her in some way to get what she really needs? What is the lesson that can be learned by both of us here and how?”. In both situations I need to creatively come up with a solution to stop the whining but in the latter I am making a conscious choice to be present with what is while with the former I am projecting into the past and future in fear.
Recognition, Acknowledgement and Connection to my Authentic Voice.
When we really recognize our own self-worth (and every human being is worthy) we can begin to connect to a higher part of ourselves. A part that does not compete nor ridicule nor judge but that wants to spread goodness and love and truth. At this point in my life, I don’t believe that “the truth” is black and white or right or wrong, but I do believe that when we are truly present and connected with our higher Self, the environment and the people around us, we can clearly see the truth that lies in that particular moment. This requires a huge amount of curiousity, self-inquiry and exploration on a daily basis. Practising this Self recognition is perhaps where rituals such as journalling or mindfulness exercises may come into play or even therapy of some sorts in order to resolve any trauma or inner discord from one’s own childhood.
Acting from a Place of Will and Resolution.
I was listening to an On Being episode with Elizabeth Gilbert and she said that she truly believes that 90% of what we do is boring and mundane. Even the artist, the painter, the writer, the celebrity… think of the most thrilling job you can… only 10% of it is pure fun, stimulating and exciting. What we must connect with is the joy in the task at hand. The joy is not only found in the folded laundry but in the folding itself; the joy is not only found in the peaceful sleeping child but in reading a bedtime story to him; the joy is not found only in a cupboard full of clean dishes but in feeling of the warm soapy bubbles on your fingertips. Life is a beautiful, messy and oftentimes arduous journey and it takes a great amount of will to stick with things and see them through.
By animating small acts of charity and gratitude in our own daily lives, we show to our children that it is in the small daily actions that we connect with each other in a meaningful and reverent way. I have an entire Journal entry devoted to “Planting and Nurturing Seeds of Gratitude“. One of the most important practices I have developed over the years is to identify the abundance and grace in every given moment. It is so easy in the world today to become forlorn or bitterly angry. Our suffering needs to be seen (after necessary grieving) as a gift that creates opportunity for change.
We must realize that our existence is a gift from the entire universe. How much is needed to enable each one of us to receive and maintain his existence! How much do we not owe to nature and to our fellow human beings!
– Rudolf Steiner
*Although I quote Rudolf Steiner throughout this article, I must also give credit to the inspiration and understanding of Dr. Shefali Tsabury’s teachings.