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GA 307

VII. The Rhythmic System, Sleeping and Waking, Imitation

Ilkley, 11th August, 1923

The transition from early childhood to the school age is marked by the change of teeth at about the seventh year, and in studying this period it must above all be remembered that up to the seventh year the child is working, as it were, as an inner sculptor and with the creative forces of the head is organizing and moulding his whole being. All that has been present in his environment, including the moral qualities, now plays a part in the development of the vascular system, the circulation of the blood and the processes of the breath, so that as a physical being man bears within him throughout his earthly life the results of the imitative period of his childhood from birth up to the time of the second dentition.

It cannot, of course, be said that he is conditioned only by this, for naturally much can be rectified in the body later by the exercise of moral forces and by inner activity of soul. Still we should realize with what a wonderful heritage we can endow the child on his path of life if we are able to prepare his physical organism to be the bearer of moral and spiritual qualities, if we help the work of the sculptor within him up to the age of seven by ourselves living a moral and spiritual life at his side.

Certain details and other matters of which I spoke yesterday, will come to light as the lectures proceed.

The teacher, then, must understand that when the child has passed his seventh year and comes then to actual school age, these plastic forces are transformed into an activity in the soul which must be reckoned with by his teacher. The child longs for pictures, imagery, and this fact should indicate to us the fundamental principle of his education at this age. From the time of the second dentition up to the age of adolescence, the development of the rhythmic system, i.e., the breathing and the circulation of the blood and also the digestive functions, is all-important. The soul of the child during that period longs for pictorial imagery and his rhythmic system is there to be dealt with by the teacher in an organic bodily sense. And so a pictorial, imaginative element must dominate all that the child is given to do; a musical quality, I might even say, must pervade the relationship between teacher and pupil. Rhythm, measure, even melody must be there as the basic principle of the teaching, and this element demands that the teacher must himself feel and experience this ‘musical’ quality.

It is the rhythmic system that predominates in the child's organic nature during this first period of school life, and the entire teaching must be pervaded by rhythm. The teacher must feel himself so inwardly living in this musical element that true rhythm may prevail in the class-room. He must be able to feel this instinctively.

It thus becomes evident that during the early years of school life (that is to say after the age of seven) all true education must develop from the foundation of art. The reason why education in our day leaves so much to be desired is because modern civilization is not conducive to the development of artistic feeling. I am not here referring to the individual arts, but to the fact that sound educational principles can only arise from a civilization penetrated with artistic quality. This has very great significance.

And if we can imbue our whole teaching with artistic quality, we influence the rhythmic system in the child. Such lessons actually make the child's breathing and circulation more healthy. On the other hand, our task is also to lead the child out into life, to develop a sound faculty of judgment for later life, and so during this age we must teach him to use his intelligence, though never by constraint. There must also, naturally, be some physical training and exercise, for it is our duty to help the child to have a healthy body in later life, in so far as his destiny permits. But to accomplish all this we need a deeper insight into the whole nature of man.

In our modern civilization, where all eyes are concentrated on outer, material things, no attention is given to the consideration of the state of sleep, although man devotes to it one-third of his earthly life. This alternating rhythm of our waking and sleeping is of the greatest possible significance. Never should it be thought that man is inactive while he sleeps. He is inactive only in so far as the outer, external world is concerned, but as regards the health of his body, and more especially the welfare of his soul and spirit, sleep is all-important. True education can provide for a right life of sleep, for the activities which belong to man's waking hours are carried over into the condition of sleep, and this is especially the case with the child.

At the base of all artistic creation lies in reality the unceasing activity of the rhythmic system. Breathing and the action of the heart continue without intermission from birth to death. It is only the processes of thought and will that induce fatigue. Thinking and movements of the body cause fatigue, and since they everywhere come into play, we may say that all life's activities cause fatigue. But in the case of the child we must be especially watchful to guard against over-fatigue. The best possible way to do this is to see that throughout the all-important early school years our teaching has a basic artistic quality, for then we call upon the child's rhythmic system where he tires least of all.

What then will happen if we make too great a demand on the intellect, urging the child to think for himself, forcing him to think? Certain organic forces that tend inwardly to harden the body are brought into play. These forces are responsible for the salty deposits in the body and are needed in the formation of bone, cartilage and sinew, in all those parts of the body in short that have a tendency to become rigid. This normal rigidity is over-developed if intellectual thinking is forced. These hardening forces are normally active during our waking consciousness, but if we make undue claims upon the intellect, if we force the child to think too much, we are sowing the seeds of premature arterial sclerosis.

Thus here too it is essential to develop by means of a true observation of the nature of the child a fine sense of the degree to which we may call with safety upon the different forces at work. A most vital principle is here at stake. If I allow the child to think, if I teach him to write, for instance, in an intellectual way, saying: ‘Here are the letters and you must learn them,’ I am overstraining the mental powers of the child and laying the germs of sclerosis, at any rate of a tendency to sclerosis. The human being as such has no inner relationship whatever to the letters of modern script. They are little ‘demons’ so far as human nature is concerned, and we have to find the right way to approach them. This way is found if to begin with we stimulate the child's artistic feeling by letting him paint or draw the lines and colours that flow of themselves on to the paper from his innermost being. Then, as the child's artistic sense is aroused, one always feels—and feeling is here the essential thing—how greatly man is enriched by this artistic activity. One feels that intellectuality impoverishes the soul, makes a man inwardly barren, whereas artistic activity makes him inwardly rich, so rich in fact that this richness must somehow be modified. The pictorial and artistic tends of itself to pass into the more attenuated form of concepts and ideas, and must in a measure be impoverished in this process of transference. But if, after having stimulated the child artistically, we then allow the intellectuality to develop from the artistic feeling, it will have the right intensity. The intellect too will lay hold of the body in such a way as to bring about a rightly balanced and not an excessive hardening process.

If we force intellectual powers in the child we arrest growth; but we liberate the forces of growth if we approach the intellect by way of art. For this reason at the Waldorf School value is placed upon artistic rather than upon intellectual training at the beginning of school life. The teaching is at first pictorial, non-intellectual; the relation of the teacher to the child is pervaded by a musical, rhythmic quality, so that by such methods we may achieve the degree of intellectual development that the child needs. The mental training in this way becomes at the same time the very best training for the physical body.

To the more sensitive observer there is abundant evidence in our present civilization that many grown-up people are too inwardly rigid. They seem to walk about like wooden machines. It is really a characteristic of our day that men and women carry their bodies about like burdens, whereas a truer and more artistically conceived educational system so develops the human being that every step, every gesture of the hand to be devoted later to the service of humanity brings to the child an inner sense of joy and well-being. In training the intellect we free the soul from the bodily activities, but if we over-intellectualize, man will go through life feeling that his body is “of the earth earthly,” that it is of no value and must be overcome. Then he may give himself up to a purely mystical life of soul and spirit, feeling that the spirit alone has value. Right education, however, also leads us by ways of truth to the spirit that creates the body. God in creating the world did not say: Matter is evil and man must avoid it. No world would have come into being if the Gods had thought like this. The world could only emanate from the Divine because the Gods ordained that spirit should be directly and immediately active in matter.

If man realizes that his highest life in every sphere is that which is directed according to divine intention, he must choose a form of education that does not alienate him from the world, but makes him a being whose soul and spirit stream down into the body throughout his whole life. A man who would deny the body when he immerses himself in thought, is no true thinker.


The waking life is beneficially affected if we develop the intellect from the basis of the artistic, and all physical culture has a definite relation to the child's life of sleep. If we wish really to understand the form that healthy culture and exercise of the body should take, we must first ask this question: ‘How does bodily exercise affect the life of sleep?’

All bodily activity arises supersensibly from the will, is indeed an out-streaming of will-impulses into the organism of movement. Even in purely mental activity the will is active and is flowing into the limbs. If we sit at a desk and think out decisions which are then carried out by others, our will-impulses are, nevertheless, streaming into our limbs. In this instance we simply hold them back, restrain them. We ourselves may sit still, but the orders we give are really an in-streaming of the will into our own limbs. We must therefore first discover what is of importance in these physically active impulses of the will if their unfolding is to have the right effect upon the state of sleep; and the following must be taken into account.

Everything that is transformed into action by the human will sets up a certain organic process of combustion. When I think, I burn up something in my organism, only this inner process of burning up must not be compared with the purely chemical combustion of the science of physics. When a candle is alight there is an external process of combustion, but only materialistic thinking can compare this inner process of combustion with the burning of a lighted candle. In the human organization the processes of outer Nature are taken hold of by forces of the soul and spirit, so that within the human body, and even within the plant, the outer substances of nature are quite differently active. Similarly the burning process within the human being is altogether different from the process of combustion we see in the lighted candle. Yet a certain kind of combustion is always induced in the body when we will, even though the impulse does not pass into action.

Now because we generate this process of inner combustion, we bring about something in our organism that sleep alone can rectify. In a certain sense we should literally burn up our bodies if sleep did not perpetually reduce combustion to its right degree of intensity. All this must again be understood in a subtle sense and not in the crude sense of Natural Science. Sleep regulates the inner burning by spreading it over the whole organism, whereas otherwise it would confine itself to the organs of movement.

Now there are two ways of carrying out bodily movements. Think of the kind of exercises children are often given to do. The idea is (everything is “idea” in a materialistic age in spite of its belief that it is dealing with facts) that the child ought to make this or that kind of movement in games or in gymnastics, because only so will he grow up to be a civilized human being. As a rule movements which grown-up people practice are considered the best, for since the ideal is that the child should grow up an exact copy of his elders, he is made to do the same kind of gymnastics. That is to say, a certain opinion is held by ordinary people and must apply also to the child.

As a result of this abstract public opinion, outer influence is brought to bear on the child. He is given this or that exercise merely because it is customary to make these movements. But this sets up processes of combustion which the human organism is no longer capable of adjusting. Restless sleep is the result of mere external methods of physical culture.

These things cannot be observed by the methods of ordinary physiology, but they take place nevertheless in the finer and more delicate processes of the human body. If we give children these conventional gymnastic exercises, they cannot get the deep, sound sleep they need, and the bodily constitution cannot be sufficiently refreshed and restored in sleep.

If on the other hand we can give cur educational methods an artistic form (and remember, in artistic activities the whole nature comes into play) a certain hunger for physical activity will arise quite naturally in the child, for, as we have seen, the excessive richness of the artistic sense reacts as an impulse towards the more sobering element of the intellect. Nothing so easily induces a craving for bodily exercise as artistic activity. If the child has been occupied artistically for about two hours—and the length of time must be carefully arranged—something that longs for expression in movements of the body begins to stir in the organism. Art creates a real hunger for true movements of the body.

Thus gradually we should lead over into games, into free movements in space, what the hands have expressed in painting and drawing, or the voice in singing. Also the child should be encouraged to learn some kind of musical instrument at the earliest possible age, for this involves direct physical activity. The inner forces must be allowed to stream out into movements in space, which should be a continuation, as it were, of the inner organic processes called up by the artistic work in the school. Physical training is then a natural development from the methods of teaching that are right for this age of life, and there is an intimate connection between the two.

If the child is given only such physical exercises as his artistic work creates a need for, he will get the kind of sleep he needs. A right provision for the waking life can thus cause a right life of sleep in which all the organic processes of combustion are harmonized. Bodily and mental training alike must develop from the artistic element. Thus especially so far as the body is concerned, nothing is more essential than that the teacher himself should be an artist through and through. The more joy the teacher can experience in beautiful forms, in music, the more he longs to pass from abstract words into the rhythms of poetry; the more the plastic sense is alive in him the better will he be able to arrange such games and exercises as offer the child an opportunity for artistic expression. But alas! our civilization to-day would like the spirit to be easy of access, and people do not feel inclined to strive too strenuously for spiritual ideals.

As I said in a previous lecture most people, while admitting the inadequacy of their own education, claim at the same time to know what education ought to be and are quite ready to lay down the law about it. And so it comes about that there is little inclination to take into consideration the finer processes of the human organism, as to how, for example, an artistic conception of gymnastic is determined by the artistic activity itself. What are the movements demanded by the human organism itself? No artistic feeling is brought to bear on the solution of these problems. The reading of books is the main occupation of the modern intellectual class; people study Greek ideals and a revival of the ‘Olympic Games’ has become a catch phrase, though this ‘revival’ is of a purely external nature. The Olympic Games are never studied from the point of view of the needs of the human organism, as they were in Greece, for the modern study of them is all book-learning, based on documents or outer traditions that have been handed down.

Now modern men are not ancient Greeks, and they do not understand the part played by the true Olympic Games in the culture of Greece. For if one penetrated fully into the spirit of ancient Greece, one would say: the children were instructed by the gymnasts in dancing and wrestling, as I have described. But why were they thus instructed? This was due to the Olympic Games, for these were not only artistic but also religious in their nature—a true offspring of Greek culture. In their Olympic Games the Greeks lived wholly in an atmosphere of art and religion, and with a true educational instinct they could bring these elements into the gymnastic exercises given to children.

Abstract, inartistic forms of physical culture are contrary to all true education, because they hinder the development of the human being. It would be far better to-day if, instead of trying to find out from books how to revive the Olympic Games, people made some attempt to understand the inner nature of man. For then they would realize that all physical education not based on the inner needs of the organism sets up an excessive process of combustion. The result of performing such exercises in childhood will lead in later life to flabbiness of the muscular system. The muscles will be incapable of carrying out the behests of the soul and spirit.

While on the one hand a false intellectual education inwardly so hardens the body that the bones become burdensome instead of moving with resilience in harmony with the soul, on the other hand the limbs are weakened through too strong a tendency to the process of combustion. Man has gradually become a creature who is dragged down on the one hand by the burden of the salts that have formed within him, and on the other hand is always attempting to escape, to free himself from those organic processes which are due to faulty combustion. An intimate knowledge of man is necessary before a true relationship can be established between these two processes of combustion and salt-formation. Only when we lead over artistic feeling into the intellectual element can the tendency to over-rigidity be balanced by the right degree of combustion. This right balance then affects the life of sleep, and the child sleeps deeply and peacefully. The restlessness and fidgetiness caused by most modern systems of bodily training are absent. Children who are forced to practise the wrong kind of physical exercises fidget in soul during sleep, and in the morning, when the soul returns to the body, restlessness and faulty processes of combustion are set up in the organism.

Our conceptions must therefore be widened by knowledge, for all this will show you that a profound understanding of human nature is essential. If in this earthly existence we hold man to be the most precious creation of the Gods, the great question must be: What have the Gods placed before us in man? How can we best develop the human child entrusted to us here on earth?

Up to the seventh year the child is through and through an imitative being, but from the time of the change of teeth onwards, his inner nature longs to shape itself according to the models set up by a natural authority.

A long time ago now I wrote The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, and in view of what I said there, I do not think you will accuse me of laying undue stress upon the principle of authority in any sphere of social life. Although man's self-expression is directed by an impulse of spiritual freedom, it is just as fully subject to law as the life of Nature. It is therefore not for us to decide according to our likes or dislikes what kind of education should be given to our children between the time of the change of teeth and adolescence. Education should rather be dictated by the needs of human nature itself. Up to the second dentition, at about the seventh year, the child imitates in every gesture, nay, even in the pulsations of the venal blood and in the rhythms of the breath, everything that goes on around him. From birth to the age of seven, the environment is the model which the child copies. But from the seventh to the fourteenth or fifteenth years, to the age of puberty, he must unfold a free spiritual activity under the influence of natural authority. This must be so if development is to be healthy and free and if the child is rightly to use his freedom in later life.

The faculty of personal judgment is not ripe until the fourteenth or fifteenth year. Only then has the child developed to a point at which the teacher is justified in appealing to his faculty of judgment. At the age of fourteen or fifteen he can reason for himself, but before this age we injure him, we retard his development if we enter into “the why and wherefore.” The whole of later life is immeasurably benefited if between the seventh and fourteenth years (approximately, of course) we have been able to accept a truth not because we see its underlying reason—indeed, our intellect is not mature enough for this—but because we feel that the teacher whom we revere and love feels it to be true. Our sense of beauty grows in the right way if we are able to accept the teacher's standard of the beautiful—the teacher to whom we give a spontaneous, and not a forced respect.

Our feeling for the good will also be a guide in later life if we have not been forced to observe petty rules, but have realized from the teacher's own warm-hearted words how much he loves a good deed and hates a bad one. His words can make us so warmly responsive to the good and so coldly averse from evil that we turn naturally to the good because the teacher himself loves it. Then we grow up, not bound hand and foot by dogma, but filled with a spontaneous love for what the teacher declares to be true, beautiful and good. If during the first period of school life we have learnt to adopt his standard of truth, beauty and goodness because he has been able to express them in artistic imagery, the impulse for these virtues becomes a second nature, for it is not the intellect that develops goodness. A man who has over and over again been told dogmatically to do this, or net to do that, has a cold, matter-of-fact feeling for the good, whereas one who has learnt in childhood to feel sympathy with goodness and antipathy to evil has unfolded in his rhythmic nature the capacity to respond to the good and to be repelled by what is evil. He has a true enthusiasm for the one and power to resist the other. In later life it is as though under the influence of evil he cannot breathe properly, as if by evil the breathing and the rhythmic system were adversely affected.

It is really possible to achieve this if after the child has reached his seventh year we allow the principle of natural authority to supersede that of imitation which, as we have seen, must be pre-dominant in the earlier years. Naturally authority must not be enforced for this is just the error of those methods of education that attempt to enforce authority by corporal punishment.

I have heard that what I said yesterday in this connection seemed to suggest that this form of punishment had been entirely superseded. As a matter of fact, what I said was that the humanitarian feelings of to-day would like to do away with it. I was told that the custom of caning in England is still very general and that my words had created a wrong impression. I am sorry that this should have been so, but the point I want now to make is that in true education authority must never be enforced and above all not by the cane. It must arise naturally from what we ourselves are. In body, soul and spirit we are true teachers if our observation of human nature is based upon a true understanding of man. True observation of man sees in the growing human being a work of divine creation. There is no more wonderful spectacle in the whole world than to see how definiteness gradually emerges from indefiniteness in the child's nature; to see how irrelevant fidgeting changes into movements dominated by the inner quality of the soul. More and more the inner being expresses itself outwardly and the spiritual element in the body comes gradually to the surface. This being whom the Gods have sent down to earth becomes a revelation of God Himself. The growing human being is indeed His most splendid manifestation. If we learn to know this growing human being not merely from the point of view of ordinary anatomy and physiology, but with understanding of how the soul and spirit stream down into the body, then as we stand with pure and holy reverence before that which flows from divine depths into the physical form our knowledge becomes in us pure religion. Then as teachers we have a certain quality that is perceptible to the child as a natural authority in which he places spontaneous trust. Instead of resorting to the cane or using any form of inner punishment such as I mentioned yesterday we should arm ourselves with a true knowledge of man, with the faculty of true observation. This will grow into an inner moral sense, into a profound reverence for God's creation. We then have a true position in the school and we realize how absolutely essential it is in all education to watch for those moments when the child's nature undergoes certain changes. Such a metamorphosis occurs, for instance, between the ninth and tenth years, though with one child it may be earlier with another later. As a rule it occurs between the ages of nine and ten.

Many things in life are passed by unperceived by the materialist. True observation of the human being tells us that something very remarkable happens between the ninth and tenth years. Outwardly, the child becomes restless; he cannot come to terms with the outer world and seems to draw back from it with a certain fear. In a subtle way this happens to almost every child, indeed if it does not occur the child is abnormal. In the child's life of feeling, a great question arises between the ninth and tenth years; he cannot formulate this question mentally, he cannot express it in words. It lies wholly in his life of feeling, and this fact intensifies the longing for its recognition. What does the child seek at this age?

Till now, reverence for the teacher has been a natural impulse within him, but at this age he wants the teacher to prove himself worthy of this reverence by some definite act. Uncertainty rises in the child, and when we observe this we must by our demeanour respond to it. It need not be something specially contrived. We may perhaps be especially loving in our dealings with the child—make a special point of speaking to him—so that he realizes our affection and sympathy. If we watch for this moment between the ninth and tenth years and act accordingly, the child is saved as it were from a precipice. This is of far-reaching significance for if this sense of insecurity remains it will continue through the whole of later life, not necessarily in this particular form, but none the less expressed in the character, temperament and bodily health.

At all times we must understand how the spirit works in matter and hence upon the health of the body and how the spirit must be nurtured so that it may rightly promote the health. A true art of education unmistakably shows us that we must conceive of this co-operation of spirit and matter as harmonious and never as in opposition. Modern civilization with its tendency to separate everything is guilty in regard to educational questions. Its conceptions of Nature are materialistic, and when people are dissatisfied with the results of this conception of nature they take refuge in spiritualism, attempting to reach the spiritual by methods that are anything but scientific.

This is one of the tragedies of our day. A materialism which intellectualizes everything is now only able to understand the concepts itself has evolved about matter; materialism however can never reach the heart of matter. And modern spiritualism? Its adherents want the spirits to be tangible, to reveal themselves materially by means of table-turning, physical phenomena and so on. They must not be allowed to remain spirits, and so invisible, intangible, because men are too lazy to approach them in a super-sensible form.

These things are really tragic. Materialism speaks only of matter, never of the spirit. But as a matter of fact materialism does not even understand matter, but speaks of it only in empty abstractions, while spiritualism, imagining that it is speaking of the spirit, is concerned only with matter.

Our civilization is divided into materialism and spiritualism—a strange phenomenon indeed! For materialism understands nothing of matter and spiritualism nothing of spirit.

Man is both body and spirit, and true education must bring about a harmony between the two. It can never be too strongly emphasized that the goal of education must be to give man an understanding of the spirit in matter and a spiritual understanding of the material world. We find the spirit if we truly understand the material world, and if we have some comprehension of the spirit we find, not a materialized spirituality, but a real and actual spiritual world.

If humanity is to find a path of ascent and not be led to its downfall, we need the reality of the world of spirit and an intelligent comprehension of the world of matter.