Two weeks before Easter, general secretaries and country representatives made their way up the Dornach hill to the Goetheanum for a week of meetings. Their hosts were the executive members and section leaders bringing around forty people together.
Each morning began with an enlivening session of eurythmy led by Jan Baker-Finch from Australia, to me an essential ingredient for long meetings that extended into the evening. As we limited ourselves to only a few themes, we were able to gain depth, direction and momentum in this meeting.
First up was the theme of the year. In November 2015 the general secretaries, together with the leaders at the Goetheanum, wrestled to find a theme that was current and connected with the thread of recent years: self knowledge and world transformation. What arose was ‘World Transformation and Self-Knowledge in the Face of Evil’, which has since been published in Anthroposophy World Wide and discussed with members.
Lost in translation
Feedback on this theme was interesting, such as the difficulty with translation. Clearly, it is preferable to take any suggested theme and not only translate but transform it into words that reflect the language and culture of a country. There can also be a difficulty in working with certain words and concepts, for example ‘evil’ may create a block through religious connotation. When the English council looked at the theme a spontaneous response was to change the wording to, ‘Meeting a world in crisis through a path of self knowledge’. Not only English speakers but others immediately related to this anglicised version.
Underlying questions remains: who in New Zealand connects to and works with the year’s theme? On reflection, would it be better to place a question rather than present a closed theme, would a question provide an open invitation for all to explore what interests and challenges them?
The annual theme informs section work across the world, in a number of diverse ways, small and large, individual and by a group.
In all there are eleven sections at the Goetheanum. Some of them were founded during the Christmas Conference 1923/24 while others were formed later. Due to the rifts in the executive after Rudolf Steiner died, sections such as the medical section moved their base away from the Goetheanum. In recent years there has been a strengthening of the sections and today all have their home at the Goetheanum.
Anthroposophy lives in the Anthroposophical Society, the School of Spiritual Science and in professional /working life. While it was recognised that section work penetrates all three areas each section has developed its particular way of working and connecting with people. In some countries section work is long established, in NZ and others it is still evolving.
It was said that anyone working out of the anthroposophical impulse in their profession is doing section work. The challenge is that there is little if any connection between those in the field/profession and those in the Society and School of Spiritual Science. There is a split, a disconnect between the three. The inspiration and impulse that can come from work in the School does not flow into life and vice versa.
Few of those working in the field have any knowledge of the School and there is little engagement with the work on the ground from the School. The Society is not necessarily experienced as the supportive warm body it can be, while building human relationship is the first step to forming section work bridges.
What is more spiritual than the farmer working with cow manure, the teacher guiding the child, the therapist meeting the patient? Spirit lives in the action. Can we lift our deeds to a level that is not only meaningful but transformative for the world and can we bring this to consciousness? Is it possible to do this without the reflection and supportive correction of others?
In moving forward, the isolation that the Society experiences can only be broken down when human relationships are strengthened. Inclusion is something section work can offer, that is, it can be a platform where people inspired by anthroposophy can meet and work together.
This theme connects directly with the Goetheanum World Conference, to be held in September 2016. Invitations have been sent to members and non-members with the hope that meetings between people will ignite an awareness for what is wanted for the future. Having the presence of non-members provides reflection but also, as most of these people carry a flame for the work in their field, they will bring with them a relationship to anthroposophy and its place in the world.
The Goetheanum – a temperature gauge
It is always important to see and hear of development at the Goetheanum. Most striking in this visit was the transformation of the west entrance. Dark corners have vanished, the reception is welcoming and flooded with natural light, the bookshop is expanding and you can find your way directly to the stairs leading up to the main hall and the red window.
It was not possible to completely finish the build before the AGM but enough was in place to celebrate by cutting the ribbon! A few years ago the enormity of the building task left one wondering if all could be done but funds were raised along with large donations so that today the Goetheanum stands whole and inviting.
Membership dues and donations have not been spent on the building, these go towards operation costs. The struggle to remain ‘in the black’ continues. Despite a projected deficit, the year 2015 closed on a positive note due to the financial response to the Christmas appeal and a large and unexpected legacy.
In 2015 most co-workers had willingly relinquished a month’s salary but at the close of the year it was possible to reduce this by 50%. How this year will fare has yet to be determined but the treasurer and co-workers are approaching it with positivity.
Talk and Action
Prior to the AGM, the European councils met and this year those of us beyond the boundaries of Europe were invited to attend. Day One exposed us to two different presentations and approaches to workshopping. It began with what has become a familiar pattern of an introductory talk leading on to a discussion. Day Two was managed with few words and lots of action. First, some movement then a visualisation exercise, finishing with a brief sharing before writing a haiku that was stuck to a dodecahedron.
Though the content was interesting the experience made me aware of the importance of having the courage to invite diversity into our work and meetings. In conversation and talk we work mainly with the past while the action exercises raise possibilities for the future. One-sidedness in our work and meetings can be deadly; diversity and change can bring life. Given a choice, what would you choose and what do you do?
Sue Simpson – General Secretary