Monday, March 7, 2011

rudolf steiner in seven-part harmony

"It's your seven-year cycle," she said. "You're coming up on the next seven, so that's why you feel that something's about to change."

And I thought, well what a load of crap.

And then I thought about it. And then I started reading. And then I thought about it some more.

I always liked Rudolf Steiner, actually. Thought about sending my kids to Waldorf School and all that. Picking mushrooms, skipping through the forest, planting veggies, learning things at your own pace. No TV and electronics. No plastic toys — just wooden ones. Free to color as you please. Opposite of Montessori control freak schools in absolutely every way. But I also realized that that's what I wanted to do — it wasn't necessarily what my kids needed to be doing.

What I didn't realize was that Steiner was into Western astrology when he came up with his seven year cycles model. Okay. Interesting. I'm not terribly impressed, to tell the truth. I'll have to ask my astrology friends and get their expert opinions. My problem with how Steiner uses astrology in this regard is where he stops.

He stops on my next birthday (which is coming up fast) and calls it Mercury Retrograde, calls it the Crossroads, and says the cycle completes itself and starts all over again. Well, no way. That's where I part ways with Rudolf Steiner.

Crossroads, okay. I'm okay with crossroads. That I can do, especially right now. I've been feeling rather crossroadsy of late, to tell the truth.

But start all over? Just because his imagination just ran out and he's got nothing more to say? Hell no. Sure, I'll give him credit for focusing on the younger years. After all, those great schools are based in part on his theory of seven year cycles. And sure, I'll give him a break: when he was writing not that many people were living as long as folks live nowadays. So, if his stages started getting a little sketchy, who can really blame him.

Erik Erikson in my opinion did a much better job than Steiner in the life-stages department. He formulated each stage in terms of challenges that must be met. And if you screw up the first one (easy to do in my opinion), it affects the next. And mess up what follows — i.e. not have a successful resolution of the stage's key conflict — then eventually, you end up with a snowball effect as your life just gets more and more off track. That very first stage of Erikson is pivotal: trust vs mistrust. I'm afraid I never quite mastered that one as well as I'd have liked. Or maybe I mastered it very well indeed. Who knows? I guess Papa Erikson knows. Wish I'd asked him all my queries when I had the chance. Instead, I just stared up at him with teddy bear fantasies. He was such a sweetie pie, who wouldn't want to curl up with him at night? (So unlike grumpy Bettelheim, whom I also adored. And when they taught together, well wow. Like being in the presence of God and the Devil at the same time, and they're saying the same thing — but you don't know who to believe ...)

Steiner's not really like either of them. He had more Goethe in him. Animism. And even astrology. Spirituality of the life cycle — and the soil. A lot like A.D. Gordon, for that matter. But it's just a little too much of that soul-stuff that does me in. I'm not really against the notion of a 'sentient soul' or 'intellectual soul' or 'higher mind' — I just don't think these terms are that helpful.

At any rate, Steiner's cycles are just not helpful past his 'Saturn Return' pronouncement. So I thought I'd try my hand at it. Erikson did well with the later stages, but I don't think he's influencing me too much here. He's so much more gracious than I will ever be, no matter how many stage conflicts I ever manage to successfully navigate.

So. With apologies to Rudolf Steiner, here are my versions of the stages that the great man relegated to do-over:

Age: 56-63 The Soul of Menial Labor

In this stage, the Crossroads, you discover that you've worked your ass off for more cycles than you'd like to count. You've got repetitive motion injuries. You've corrected the same mistakes on the same kinds of university student papers for more years than you'd like to remember. Instead of 'inner tranquility and acceptance' you've decided that yes! You've reached the Crossroads, and you just can't take much more of this.

Age: 63-70 The Soul of Gimme Shelter

This is the Take-this-Job-and-Shove-It stage. Unless you're a psychoanalyst or a conductor (music, not trains). But if you've got any job where you've been doing and saying the same thing over and over and haven't had a new thought in years, it's in this stage when the choice of blowing your brains out vies with an ever narrowing number of options. One thing that's going to have to be solved is not having enough in your tax sheltered annuities to last you into your infirmity years. Of course, following Erikson, if you do navigate this one successfully, you probably owe it less to your psychological well-being, than to your worker's union, which has not yet lost its collective bargaining rights. Thank them with a big fat donation.

Age: 70-77 The Reflective Soul

Far from the more conventional 'unconditional love' stage, here you've reached Bean Counting, in which (since you didn't do this two or three cycles earlier), you seriously consider whether or not you can afford to live much longer. In this age, it's a good idea to watch 'Soylent Green' over and over again — especially the part where Edward G. Robinson gets to have the best Pastoral Symphony death possible for being a good boy and turning himself in to the death wardens. (Hope I didn't just ruin the movie for you. After all, I didn't just tell you the ending, which is that Soylent Green is people. Everybody already knows that). Steiner's idea that after 70, all that's left is 'Reflection' is just plain crap. Because:

Age: 77-84 The Put-Up or Shut-Up Soul

I'm pushing Erikson's 'Generativity vs Stagnation' up a bit. I've seen some pretty prolific folk in this stage. There's energy for one last burst of creativity, even though almost every part of your body hurts at this point. Still, the voice is holding out, the music is flowing, and so is the pen (not that anyone uses a pen today). Creative juices: if you're gonna say it at all, now's the time — it's now or most likely it's not gonna happen at all. So, I guess I'm in agreement with those who say that at this stage, the 'doors of perception' are open. Finish the bleeping novel, already.

Age: 84-91 The Losing-my-Mind Soul

This stage used to be the age of Philosophy, but not anymore. Maybe it's the environment. The air, the food, the water — something. But there's a whole lot more dementia around than there used to be. Then again, there are a whole lot more folks in Cycle 12 than there used to be, so maybe that's all it is. Public radio and TV stations are raking in the zillions by offering Brain Boosting programs for people who donate lots to support their stations. 'Tis the season for brain yoga, with the goal of making 84-91 feel like anything but. Of course, the losing-my-mind syndrome at this point might also be attributed to the particular cocktail of meds being dished up five times a day, that's gotta be messing with brain cells aplenty.

Age: 91-98 The Soul of Someone Else's Problem

When still cogent, this is the age of the Elder. You've ceased being just old enough to be a constant worry to anyone who cares — to being genuinely adored and admired. After all, while your time may be almost up, your descendants also appreciate that you're passing on some pretty great genetic stuff to them, with regards to longevity, and they're terribly grateful. Thus, they're also willing to listen to your stories, type them up, film you spouting your words of wisdom, and (if you haven't done so already) they're willing to write down every word you have to say. They'll also put it all online for you, and help set up your blog. Your job: Make stuff up. Your past is pre-internet, so anything could have happened. And since you don't care anymore, but they do — have fun with it.

Age: 98-105 The Good Run for my Money Soul

For now, at least, this is about as far as I'm willing to commit to. Next year, maybe the number of cycles will double, or treble. Who knows? This is the age of Legacy. Since there is no more financial legacy left, you become the living legacy. A legend in your own time. By this time, you likely believe all the stuff you made up in the last cycle, and so reverence is indeed yours. For a day or two a year. Maybe on Mother's Day or maybe on your birthday. You really have had a good run for your money — but the money's likely long gone (along with Social Security and your Long Term Care Insurance company that went broke three cycles earlier). Call it Saturn Return if you like — I'm okay with it now. But that's just my own limited imagination. Still, it's worth a bit of gratitude — if your mind's still intact and the money's not all gone. If your kids are still alive, and you've lived a full aeon.

Maybe it's that when Rudolf Steiner was my age, he had only one more year to live. Maybe that's why he never really developed these later stages. But I do know he had a good idea about how to live the cycles we are given. Out there in nature picking mushrooms. Back in the garden growing edible beauty. Up on the cliffs and out on the trails. Standing at the Crossroads — without a pile of papers to grade ...


  1. AARP has just dubbed these the encore years. No seven year segments were offered. Let's see encores to: Hair, The Big Chill, The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, Apocalypse Now . . .

  2. Encore Years — very Steiner! I don't mind re-doing Hair, but why do we have to do Apocalypse Now over and over and over again?

  3. My friend Hans recently wrote, "In the Chinese-Japanese calendar, [a person's 60th] birthday would be a great *sam* as their calendar works its way through a 60 year cycle of pairing the 5 elements and the 12 animals. The 60th birthday is a time of life celebration and rebirth."

    In other words, just what you said: the Crossroads.

    What would Steiner (and what would you) say about 50?

  4. Age: 42-49: Mars. The soul works hard to impress the full forces of personality upon the world. These are the years of vocation and higher state of consciousness.

    Age: 49-56 Jupiter. Wisdom dawning. Vision and Understanding. The ego needs to unfold the Life Spirit.

    Age: 56-63. Saturn. Completes its return and comes back to the position of one's birth. The crossroads — mastery and reevaluation.

  5. That was Steiner.

    As for me, I like those round numbers. 50 still felt vibrant and whole and beautiful — and menopausal. The great thing about the latter, was that my heating bills went way down, as I ceased to be freezing all the time — and I really got to work my Spanish fans.