Running on Rhythm

We hear so much about rhythm in Waldorf schools. “A parent’s job is to create a strong sense of rhythm in the home.” Most of us adopt consistent bed and eating times, at least during the school year, fully trusting the wisdom of the teacher. And then most of us, our family included, relaxes a bit on the rhythm over the summer.

For our family, the idea of rhythm was a huge shift in the way we had been parenting up until we moved to Sonoma County in 2011. It took three years in a Waldorf school to actually attain any consistent rhythm. It took another few years to have it’s effects truly permeate our children. If I could go back, the biggest change I would have made for our family would be to make developing rhythm a priority.

Besides the timing of eating and sleeping, what is rhythm and why is it so important? Rhythm is one of the three basic archetypes of the human body, the other two being Nerve-Sense and Metabolic/Limb. The Nerve-Sense works in the Thinking realm and deals with what has occurred in the past. The Metabolic/Limb aspect works in the Willing realm and deals with what will happen in the future. The Rhythm aspect works in the Feeling realm and connects the past with the future; the Rhythm is the present time.

The Nerve-Sense (Thinking) and Metabolic/Limb (Willing) forces in the body exist as two opposite poles. The Rhythmic (Feeling) force is seen as being able to hold that polarity, to allow both the Thinking and Willing to “have their say” so to speak. It allows the day (Thinking) and night (Willing) consciousness to both exist, with the still points of sunset and sunrise (Feeling) balancing the two. Steiner often speaks about the day consciousness as being crystal clear, formed, and quite awake. This is Thinking. He describes the night consciousness as being dark, ever-changing, and completely asleep. This is Willing. In fact, we know that digestion, which is central to the will sphere, should be completely asleep. We know there is a problem when the child is “awake” to their digestion, a child should not have any awareness of the metabolic processes within them. Steiner then explains the dream-time consciousness as being that which holds both form and the dissolution of form. There is the image of the water and baking soda experiment you did in school where the solution is liquid and then solid and then back to liquid in your hands. This is Rhythm. Think about the last dream you had, it’s probably fairly loose and disconnected. Now, bring the feeling of that dream in. More than likely, the feeling is more accessible than the details you can think about. That is the rhythm sphere.

Nerve-Sense        Thinking       Awake          Past

Rhythm                 Feeling        Dreaming      Present

Metabolic/Limb    Willing         Sleeping       Future

Every organ of our body runs on rhythm, from our heart and brain to our blood, and of course every female can tell you about monthly rhythm. By providing will-driven rhythm, a system like the body or the earth can run more on autopilot, using it’s own internal energy, and depend less on taking in energy from the outside. Rhythms are important, as is being exposed to different rates of rhythm. The fast rhythms of daily life play with the slow rhythms of the seasons. Like the strings of a violin, or the twelve cranial nerves exiting from the head and neck, these various rhythms work together to create one orchestrated rhythm, which the two different poles can synchronize with.

Within the upper pole (Nerve-Sense) we take the world into our head, quite literally via our mouths and brain. Through taking in food and ideas, we are changed by the world. By taking in food and ideas, we are taking in the image of the cosmos. This image gives a blueprint to our body for the creation of our form. 

When we work on that food or that thought (in the Metabolic sphere), we are in effect acting on the world; we are changing the world. This is most easily seen as the change we make on the world by moving our limbs. 

The act of taking in, and then working on food and ideas is completely dependent on the Rhythm we cultivate. Without a strong rhythm, the body can not fully process what is taken in by the body. Left behind are residual undigested food and ideas, able to act as a trigger for allergy, even as a poison if the undigested material circulates in the body for too long.

Rhythm needs room to set up shop. Within daily life, spaces of time need to be held sacred to this creation of rhythm. Within the body, the blood vessels hold that space for the various rhythms to play out. A large piece of this “blood space” is determined by our nervous system. We are acutely aware of the “fight or flight” pattern of constricted blood vessels, which creates a smaller space within which the rhythm has a harder time working. As a society, we are lacking the parasympathetic “rest and digest” input which ordinarily creates more space within our vasculature for the two polarities of Thinking and Willing to dance. Due to the cramped quarters, each pole only gets a limited voice at the table, decisions are made in haste, or left undecided. It is here we see the set up for chronic disease.

Setting up rhythm is certainly a large initial investment. Plans need to be made to design the day so homework can be done right after school (there needs to be a clear space); dinner can happen at 5 (grocery shopping and meal prep needs to be done on the weekend before maybe); and the candles can come out after dinner in the winter instead of the bright lights (the candles have to be bought and where are those matches?) After the initial planning and implantation, that rhythm begins to “stick” and you will find more relaxed free time, less frenzy, more FEELING. The family unit starts to gain it’s own momentum as everyone buys in and adopts this new way of being.

We can certainly give medications, enzymes, or herbs to help our digestion, and mood elevators to help digest our thoughts. We can also choose to go on a sensory “diet” and limit what we are taking in to our body. But, if we are able to get our rhythmic system up to optimal function, the body can “digest” what’s coming in with very little external effort own our part. We can “set it and forget it” as the saying goes. And we can spend more time in the present, which is truly a gift.

*** In Sonoma County, we are fortunate to have Kerry Ingram of Mothering Arts to support the mother in developing family rhythm from day one. www.motheringarts.com