Does my life have meaning?
This was the perhaps slightly pretentious question that headed the invitation flyer to the Biography Workshop that took place on 13/3/10 in the “
Arab Jewish Waldorf kindergarten, in cooperation with the Arab Waldorf initiative “Tamrat El Zeitun”, from Shfaram. Karen Gierlach, a Waldorf educator and Biography Workshop leader from the U.S.A, facilitated the workshop.
Curious and slightly hesitant, we had all gathered together: Arabs and Jews, English, Arabic and Hebrew speakers, in order to receive an overview of the developmental life phases as seen by Anthroposophy (which inspired the Waldorf education that our children experience). We also hoped to attain new perceptions of the significant events that had taken place in each of our lives, and to perhaps gain new insights. What brought us to this moment in time, and to the workshop today? Is there a cycle or correspondence between crucial turning points at various times in our lives? Why are there people who grow inwardly “old”, while others do not? Does each of us indeed have a unique “spiritual plan” or destiny in this world? Where have the choices we have made in our lives lead us?
As the day proceeded, I felt a gentle pendulum-like sensation between similarities and differences, between that which unites us to that which differentiates us, in this diverse human group that had come together in a kindergarten play yard in the small village of Hilf. Some of the time we sat together, listening to the same lecture in several languages: English (the mother tongue of the speaker), Arabic, and Hebrew. The effort to translate and the intention that everything be clear in three languages necessitated prior preparations (we translated written workshop materials into Arabic and Hebrew prior to the commencement of the workshop) and also a special sort of attention and listening during the workshop itself.
We started out the workshop by singing together different versions of the same song in Arabic and in Hebrew, and later on we experienced learning a new song together, in English - which was not the “mother tongue” of most of the participants. Singing a round together also necessitated the ability to simultaneously listen to one’s own voice, and to listen to the voices of the others. This was like a picture emphasizing our need to listen and learn both from ourselves and also from each other, in a deeper sense.
Besides the group part of the workshop, we also took time for individual work in a series of guided artistic and written exercises, and afterwards we shared our thoughts with each other in intimate, mixed groups. It was surprising to discover that many of us shared similar experiences during different age periods in our lives, despite the differences of language, culture and religion. The lunch break also provided a pleasant (and tasty) opportunity for informally getting to know each other. Slices of Sabbath kugel* (*an Ashkenazi Jewish dish) took their place next to a pot of Mejadara** (**an Arab lentil and rice dish), and an Arabic speaker from Shefa-Amar (Shfaram) exchanged impressions with a Hebrew speaker from Kiryat Tivon.
An introspection into my own personal past, and chiefly my childhood, brought into sharper perspective something which I already knew, and which perhaps sounds trivial: a warm welcome into this world, and the receipt of a solid base in childhood, one characterized by warmth, love, security, beauty, and adult figures worthy of imitation - all of these live within us for the rest of our lives. Having received them, one is able to deal with almost any conceivable difficulty throughout one’s adult life. This reaffirms the importance of giving our children the best possible childhood that we can, and of asking ourselves once more: are we really doing this, with our children? This is what I hope to give my own children as a mother, and what all the parents and teachers in Ein Bustan aspire to give to the children. I particularly appreciated the assuring message that even if we have experienced negative experiences, all is not lost. It is possible to find the opportunities to mend and change, and not to repeat patterns or values we received which do not suit us. We need to find flexibility, creativity and resourcefulness, and to make changes with courage and determination…we check, examine, experience, and learn from our crises. Our sense of purpose assists us to go forth into the future.
Does my life have meaning? I am not sure that I have an answer to this question. However, thanks to the work involved in preparation for this workshop and during it’s course, I had the honor and pleasure of making a new friend - Lana Nasrallah, from Shfaram. I also made the acquaintance of a charming woman, Karen Gierlach, the workshop facilitator, and was enriched by her perspective on life. I discovered new poems and dealt with their significance and translation. I received satisfaction from the fact that I enabled people from Tivon (a Jewish town) to get to know the village of Hilf (a Bedouin Arab village) both lie in close proximity to each other, but for many of the participants from Tivon, this was the first time that they had set foot in the village, thereby overcoming an invisible wall of fear and alienation. All of these things were significant for me, and who knows what new seeds were planted during the workshop - seeds that will grow and flower, in my future, and in the futures of those that participated here on this day.
As the workshop drew to a close, Karen left us with a profound thought: all of our interactions with each other, and the positive relationships that were created during this workshop (and in our lives in general), bring a healing gesture to our society and to the world as a whole.
I’d like to warmly thank everyone who attended the workshop in Ein Bustan, from near and far, and to all those who helped in preparation for and during the workshop. In particular: Karen Gierlach, the facilitator, Shefa Veinstein, from the Salaam Shalom Educational Foundation, Lana Nasrallah, from the Tamrat Zeitun Waldorf initiative, and Meirav Vizer and Gidi Heiman, teachers from Ein Bustan. I conclude with a poem from the workshop, by the Sufi poet J’lal Adid Rumi (1207-1273):
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house:
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture, still,
treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice
meet them at the door laughing
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
March 14, 2010