Rhythms and The Fellowship Community

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Rhythms are interesting processes. It is just process, activities in time, revolving time, that is so characteristic of life, of rhythms. In the macrocosmic world, the sun, the moon, the stars and their inter-relationship is always changing in time to birth rhythm. There are always slight variations in the rhythms that suggest cosmic soul life in addition to the pure life of rhythms. The earth in relation to the cosmos, with the changing seasons speak to this dimension of existence-that is rhythms. If we look to the mineral of the earth, we can consider that the celestial relation with the earth gives the mineral of the earth an exposure to rhythm. The plant, the animal and the human being is full of rhythms, to such an extent that biorhythms have become a specialty in our time. The role of these biorhythms is however only beginning to be pursued in a serious way in relation to illness. An Irish soccer team set its schedule on a rhythm so as to take into consideration its best player who had a hydro-arthrosis of a knee ever seventeen days. Such a circumstance gives good evidence of the rhythm of an illness coming to the light of day in our time.

I should like to use rhythm, two different rhythms, to look at the life and the unfolding of a community which has come to stand in the stream of therapeutics. I have been busy with this community, the Fellowship Community, since its inception 31 years ago. (written 5/11/97 – editor) The reason for this two-fold perspective in time sequences is to help conceive, to help imagine the soul and spirit of a community – and not just this particular community. To this end a seven-year rhythm, and a ten-year rhythm in the unfolding of this community will be shared.

The Fellowship Community is located in Chestnut Ridge (formerly Spring Valley), New York. It is surrounded by a larger community, the Threefold Community of which it is a part, an independent part. The Threefold and the Fellowship Communities are overseen by two different state agencies. This oversight is part of the legal structure of not-for-profit foundations in New York State. The Threefold is overseen by the Department of Education and the Fellowship by the Department of Social Service, which is now in the process of being absorbed into the Department of Health.

The Fellowship Community, dedicated in 1966, is an intergenerational working community whose central focus is the long-term care of the older person, the care of the land and the social processes of the community. These are the three major pillars of existence.

This working community grew out of the Anthroposophical Society of the United States. The term “working community” is used as work is the basis upon which long-term care, the program of the foundation is based. The working areas and groups in this community form the foundation of the “program” for long-term care. Such a community thus has the future karma of work and vocation as a basis for long-term care for those who are aging, ill with chronic disease and who are preparing for the step into the spiritual world. Such a work program permits on-going experiences for young and old alike, while learning can go on uninterruptedly for all ages in the process of living, needed and productive activities. The community is not a storage place for older souls. The interaction of young and old at work and play forms the basis for the most profound experience of fellowship allotted to human beings. This fellowship is the exchange between the very old and young, with all ages in between. Such fellowship, has been pointed to by Rudolf Steiner and permits the young person to look back to live into the future, and the older person to look to the future by gazing to the past. This marvel of fellowship in the community is embedded in an ongoing life and activity which helps carry young and old in a meaningful way.

This impulse began when Dr. Christoph Linder, sent to America by Ita Wegman to bring the medical impulse, founded the Fellowship Committee within the Anthroposophical Society, to help those in need, medically, soul-wise and financially. The Rudolf Steiner Fellowship Foundation grew out of this Committee and was incorporated as a not-for profit organization in 1959. In 1963 the Foundation took on the lands on which the Community now stands.

The physical unfolding of the community was made possible, to begin with, by gifts of a human being, Nancy Laughlin, a philanthropist. She started life as a foundling, having been left on the steps of a church when she was a very young baby. She was taken home by a wealthy bank owner, adopted and raised. She inherited her stepfather’s fortune. She never knew her family origins. At the time she gave from her fortune to start the Community, she sought to support the evolution of a social circumstance for those who are foundlings in society today – those who are aging, suffering with long-term illness and facing the step into the spiritual world at the end of earthly life. She carried in her heart the work with all generations of the human being, care of the ill, work with the land, and the incarnation of different social circumstances for all. It was her donations that supported seven years of activity beginning in 1959, which culminated in the dedication of the Community in 1966. It took seven years of work and the financial support of this benefactor to incarnate the Fellowship Community. It was a seven-year gestation period, as it were.

From the time of the dedication of the Community, a four-fold sequence of seven years can be seen from 1966 to 1994. A threefold sequence of tens years can be seen, as well. A threefold rhythm of ten can be contemplated from 1966 to 1996. These two rhythms will be spoken to now.

The first seven years were initiated with three older human beings who needed care, three older co-workers, and three young neighbors. The average age of the needy and caregivers (excluding the young neighbors) was about 63. The young neighbors who helped get the community started were the author, his wife and first child (eighteen months old). The first three years of the communities existence were years of learning to walk, stammer, and searching for social ways of thinking. We were assured by a number of leading Anthroposophists that such an undertaking would never work.

The following four years saw many physical changes and much construction, with the population growing from six to thirty. Incarnating the community from a physical perspective was in the forefront.

The second seven years saw the doubling of the size of the community physically, and the same doubling of the number who came to live. A great sense of life and growth predominated this period of unfolding. As this period drew to a close thirteen older community members crossed the threshold in a few months. All thirteen were replaced by new comers and about thirty more. With so many new comers a kind of lushness of humanity unfolded. At the same time, much soul searching by all came into existence.

The third seven years surfaced doubts about everything from the ground up. The very existence of the community was questioned. The way social process took place was questioned. Doubts came back from Anthroposophists in Europe. Then the supervising agency, the Department of Social Services, came for an inspection in 1979 and questioned the validity of its existence as well. An inspector suggested that our doors be closed. Fortunately a physician colleague of the author offered support after becoming acquainted with the Community and hearing of the suggestion of the inspector.

The support by this physician which began in 1979, and then with support from other friends over the next seven years, led to the Legislature of the State of New York passing a law to ensure that the Community could continue its service to society. The State Legislature recognized the need to permit dying human beings to stay in their home and community. This was in question by the Department of Social Services. The Legislators also placed the inter-generational efforts in the forefront, along with the obvious need for long-term care. This law gave birth to a new community identity and assured critics that there was support for such a community effort. What followed was a much more stable unfolding of the social process, with the threat from the supervising agency taken away. As the State Legislature could recognize that a worthwhile social effort was under way, so others came to look more positively on the work in progress. A kind of inner solidity arose within the Community. Obvious was that such a community effort in the name of long-term care had considerable wide ranging consequences.

With the fourth seven year period, three significant developments came about. These developments became possible out of a more solid inner core of devoted human beings and the living together of an ever growing number of human souls.

The first development was the full unfolding of administrative bodies (Circles) to serve the Rudolf Steiner Fellowship Foundation. As true for all not-for-profit organizations, specific rules and regulations govern the functioning of the Rudolf Steiner Fellowship Foundation. This Foundation was and is the legal body responsible for the Community. The rules and regulations governing the Foundation had and have to be followed except where specific exemption is granted by a department. It is also possible, as was the case with the Rudolf Steiner Fellowship Foundation, that the State Legislature can amend the laws underlying the rules and regulations. However, needed is an adequate managing, administration of the Foundation. Eight administrative “Circles” evolved to form a horizontal administration of the Foundation.

In order to bring a balance for the community, to create a “space” for the community, eight semi-autonomous “Work Groups”, were rather quickly brought into existence, though germs for such groups existed from the very outset. Able, and some not so able human beings of all ages came to be involved in these eight “Work Groups”. These groups then became a place for initiative and responsibility to come to the fore. These groups began to plan, budget, produce and help that the product or the service was directed in a way decided on by those at work in the group. This gave rise to a whole new set of human relationships within the community, relationships born out of work together. “Fraternal” relationships came to be spoken of. One can call this a “Fraternal” process.

The second development in this fourth period was the gradual interplay and exchange between “Administrative Circles” and “Work Groups”. Much larger horizons came to birth for many, who served both domains, administration and work. Those serving both work activities and administrative tasks began to find the capacity and the know how to evolve both. As these social “bodies” came into existence and evolved activities and responsibilities, a kind of rights process was born, not only for the older person, but for the child, and the mid-lifer as well.

A third development in this fourth period was the peeling out of spiritual life as a potentially separate domain in the social life of the community. Two groups serving spiritual life were formed early in 1980. The first group has met since then every other week in the name of the General Section of the School of Spiritual Science. The second group has met on alternate weeks in the name of the Medical Section of the School. These two groups unfolded in dialogue with the School at the Goetheanum. The task of these two groups has been to foster spiritual life in such a way as to permit a freedom in this domain and a cooperative mood, as well. All is still in the process of evolving, but the effort has been to support spiritual life in the School, the Fellowship Community, as well as in the larger community. Since the Fellowship lies in the middle of a larger Threefold Community, where Anthroposophical activities have been cultivated since 1928, a mindfulness of the Threefold Community has always been at hand.

These four seven-year periods, with significant steps in evolution, can be seen as a fourfold rhythm, a rhythm of life. The physical, the etheric, the astral and the emerging ego can be considered in relation to these four periods, however all seven periods bespeak the element of life, of the etheric life of a community. All is living when seen with a rhythm of seven years—a rhythm given by the etheric of a community. On this life, on this rhythm, the soul of the community can play, can express itself. The soul can be thought of as the myriad of human interchanges that take place in such a setting – interchanges within the community or in relation to the larger world, near and far.

Another set of time periods can be considered when looking at a social circumstance. This is a ten year period. It can be used to point to a rhythm, but also point to non-rhythm. What gives ten a non-rhythm is the zero, the null of the ten. The seven year periods can be viewed as the basis of life and of evolution. A kind of revolving process can be imaged. With ten, a certain degree of completeness can become apparent with 9 and a possible new start with 10. The flow of numbers from one to nine leads to a zero and with the zero a new beginning. Rather than the image of revolving, a kind of linear flow can be placed in the minds eye, a flow into nothingness. Out of nothingness, something new can arise. Nothingness becomes part of the imagination-meaning, that the imaginative activity has to come to a halt.

If we look at the history of the Fellowship Community in the light of three ten year periods, something of the quality of nothingness can be seen. In the first ten year period, the community was physically established. Construction could have stopped and the circumstance could have continued as a small home for older, aging, ill and dying human beings. With the second ten year period life was rampant. A possible movement of such activity, with other communities could have been taken on. With the third ten year period recognition from a much larger quarter of existence came towards the community. A thrust to enter other public institutions with ideas and administrative activities would have been, would be possible. However, the possibilities were never taken up. They were intentionally not taken up. Why?
By the time thirty years in the life of this community had run its course, much that has begun thirty years earlier was in need of repair, replacing, or changing. A triple nullity could be seen. The limit of what had begun thirty years before had been reached. Of great interest is that depreciation rates for most not-for-profit organizations is set at thirty years, for land and physical structures. At thirty years in the life of an organization to serve, to work for the social good and not for itself, a triple nothingness has to come about. Such appears to have happened in the unfolding of this community. The year 1996, the thirtieth year of existence for this community was filled with much that had to fall away and at the same time a kind of new life and a new birth had to come about.

For some years before 1996, in fact for about two years, it was possible to begin to speak about a possible spirit of the community. Strangers, old timers, and responsible human beings within and without the Community could sense that something new was arising. More money was spent on capital development in 1996 than had occurred during the first 20 years in the unfolding of the community. From every side changes were to be seen. Hardly a corner of the community went untouched by physical change in one way or another. We were gifted land which tied the two campuses of the community together. Human souls were taken into the spiritual world with a gusto that was almost breath taking. More individuals stepped forward to bear responsibility than before, and very new relations with the larger world came about.

A doubling of the acreage for the community was agreed on with the purchase of a farm next door. We fell heir to a large estate which permitted the purchase of the farm. A kind of new free and open standing in the world became apparent as a second law for the work of the Fellowship was passed by the State Legislature. Involvement in legal differences with the local village had led us to the highest court in the state. Within the Community, Class Lessons were held for the first time in the Goethe Room, within the central care facility. All work areas showed evidence of growth. Festivals grew in breadth and depth. Basic studies of Anthroposophy continued, and perhaps with renewed interest.

With these two perspectives, the perspective of four seven-year rhythmic periods, and then three ten year semi-non-rhythmic periods, the potential for contemplating soul and spirit of a community can be considered. With the seven year periods, with the revolving life of a social organism, the soul of a community can be called forth with some contemplation. If the three ten-year periods with flow and nullity are imaged, imaged with interruptions, with periods of pure emptied consciousness, then a kind of death and a new birth can be considered. The spirit of the community can arise.

The soul of the community appears as a gift from the many souls busy within the community and those who chose to work in association with this social circumstance. The spirit seems to arrive as a new birth within this soul.

A well known image used to approach soul and spirit, is the winding undulating serpentine movement of the Staff of Mercury. The staff itself, is the vertical that ends in a point that reaches to the “beyond”. The winding movement is influenced by the children of the Spirits of Movement, known as the Spirits-of-Rotation of time, who govern the rhythmic activities of the Elemental Beings in earthly existence. The staff, the vertical points to the Planetary Beings, the children of the Spirits of Wisdom. These seven Planetary Beings point to the realm out of which “New Spiritual Beings” are born – to a nullity out of which new birth can arise.

The hope is that this community can live in the light, the truth and the life of this Staff of Mercury.