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April 2020

Interview with Paul Hodgkins


This interview with Paul Hodgkins was conducted by Geraldine Snowden and Robert McKay in December 2019 for the newsletter of the Toronto Branch of the Anthroposophical Society in Canada. It was published in their Spring 2020 newsletter, and is reprinted here with their kind permission. Paul had been teaching Foundation Studies at the RSCT for 15 years at the time of this interview:

"Paul Hodgkins was born in the Midlands in England on January 31, 1947. He immigrated to Canada in the mid-1960’s. He married twice, once in 1971 and a second time in 1990 to his wife Susan Richard. He has five children (Philip, born September 26, 1979; Will born August 12, 1984; Evelyn board August 3, 1984; Charlotte born April 7, 1992 and Beatrice born on July 20, 1995). After several different occupations, he began teaching in a Waldorf School in 1985 and later focused on anthroposophical adult education. Paul was the Program Director of the Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto’s Foundation Studies Encounter Course for many years, stepping back in the 2019/20 year due to his current illness. The following interview was conducted at Paul’s home in Toronto.

GS: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your biography?

PH: Well…I was born at a very early age but I can’t remember a thing about that…General biography stuff? Where I grew up and stuff like that?

GS: (laughing and nodding)

PH: I grew up in a working class family in England. I was kind of a dreamy kid. I was raised as a  Catholic and went to Catholic schools but I didn’t do too well with that. In my adolescence I had a quarrel with the church. I didn’t like what was coming in the religion lessons. I didn’t like the prejudices. I didn’t like the—I don’t know how to put it—the lack of friendship I felt from the teachers. Not that I wanted to be friends so much but there was no attempt get the teachers and students together. It was just a job for them. 

So I left school not having done very well. To get myself out of that situation, I had to eventually write an exam to join the British civil service which I did. I became a clerk where everything was written with a fountain pen. I had to leave home for that. I left at about age 17. 

It was during that time that one of my friends told me about a man who owned a fish and chips shop. This man had gotten the money to buy his shop through working in a gold mine in Canada. My friend and I met with him and he convinced us to go to Canada to make our fortune. So at 19 we set off to Canada to make our fortune. We worked in a gold mine in Red Lake, northwest Ontario, for about two years. We did make a lot of money but we spent it all. It took us less time to spend it than it took to make it. 

Is this interesting? 

GS: (laughing) Yes, please go on.

PH: Really? Okay. Well, at that point we decided to go to B.C. to work on fishing boats because we had heard we could make more money on fishing boats. We left Red Lake and came down through Toronto, intending to head west. 

In Toronto, as luck would have it, my friend fell in love with a girl. Then I too met a girl and fell in love. My girlfriend was much more cultured than I was. She began to bring me out of my working class background and educated me culturally. She wasn’t stuck up or anything but she appreciated life’s finer things. 

While I was dating her I joined IBM. I also had to write an exam to get into IBM. It was like an intelligence test and was about three hours long. At that time, IBM wasn’t really interested in qualifications. They were interested in intelligence quotient and that sort of thing. I started as an operator in the IBM test centre helping IBM customers to work out their program needs before they actually purchased their computer. In those days – in the late 1960’s – a computer was between one and three million dollars. You only bought one and it would fill a room. This was a third generation computer; we all felt we were working at the cutting edge of technology.

I then moved into the education department of IBM and found that I had knack for teaching. Still, I found the work soul destroying – something about computers – I did that for about four years and then I quit. I did not have another job to go to, I just quit.  I didn’t know what I was going to do. I don’t know if I would have put it in those terms back then: “I am quitting because this is soul destroying”. I knew it made me miserable. 

By this time I was in my mid-twenties. I knew I could always earn money. I took on a job cleaning: mopping floors, cleaning windows, and things like that. It was just something interim but I quite liked that work. It was easy and I was cleaning a trio of bookstores in Toronto which gave me the chance to take up some serious reading. I had started reading at IBM. Someone had put me on to Plato’s dialogues. I read some philosophy in a kind of haphazard way and I didn’t find it entirely satisfying. I asked myself, “If philosophy is so great, why does it change from one generation to the next? Is there any permanency in this?” It might not have been the right question, but that was my question. I was an atheist and moved on to mathematics and science, reading at about a high school level. Then someone told me there are Eastern philosophies that can raise your consciousness. In reading this material, I had to get over the spiritual connotations. I was looking for things that were evidential or materially sound but I kept reading and investigated Daoism, Yoga, and Buddhism. I became particularly interested in Zen Buddhism which seemed to me the best of both worlds. It was very straightforward and only to do with one’s own consciousness. 

By the time I was in my late 20s, I was far removed from IBM or the need to make money. I had come into the alternative world. By now I had lost all interest in money or a career. I read a book about vegetarianism, met a vegetarian, and became a vegetarian. I began to shop at my local health food store and the guy that owned the store offered me a job. That store eventually became the biggest natural food store in Toronto with 300 bulk bins. This was long before the Big Carrot. It is long since closed down. During the next few years, I tried all sorts of diets: macrobiotics, veganism, dairy free, juice fasting, water fasting, brown rice fasting and so on. When customers came in to the store I was able to speak their language regardless of which group they were in. So I became something of a go-to person in the store. Not that I really knew anything but I knew which book to point them to. I could say, “Here, read this book!”

Then I had an experience - a kind of wake up - that art was to play a role in my life; that this had always been intended. The experience was caused by a television program about Alex Colville. So, I took myself off to university in Montreal to study art. When I got to university, I found that stripes were the “in thing”. Molinari was painting vertical strips, Yves Gaucher was painting horizontal strips, and Claude Tousignant was painting concentric circles and there was a lady painting wavy strips, wavy lines…Gaucher took it to its inevitable conclusion and painted a canvas just one colour—as big as that wall there—red. Nevertheless, I had some intense and interesting experiences. These were intelligent men and woman. 

I left when my first child was born. I went back to work in the health food store for a while. Now that I had a child, I started thinking about school and I didn’t want him to have my school experience. I just assumed all schools were like what I had. Actually, the Canadian schools are much nicer but I didn’t know that. I was untrusting. So that was a question I was carrying. 

There was another question that I had started to carry at that time as well. I don’t know if I should share this. I really haven’t shared it with anybody. My father had rheumatoid arthritis and as it became clear that he was approach death, I thought about Eastern gurus who took on the pains or illnesses of their students out of compassion. I was walking down the street wishing I could help my father. I thought about taking on his suffering. To my surprise, I found that I didn’t have the compassion. I didn’t really want to take on his pain—his physical suffering—on myself. I was horrified to admit this to myself. In that moment, there was this spiritual figure present, who I had known of all my life who took on the suffering of the world, and that was the Christ. It was as though the sky was filled with Christ…Christ wearing a crown of thorns and then it was as though I heard…well I didn’t actually hear a voice…but what came to me was, “Stop seeking in any direction but this one.”  

I didn’t rush off and become a ‘born again’ but I put my Buddhism to the side and started to look for a meaningful understanding of the Christ. So now I was looking for a good education for my son and I was looking for Christ. Because my experience at university had been unsatisfactory, I was also carrying a third question, trying to find something that made art meaningful. So these were my three questions. As it happens, at this time, I went into a book store – one of those New Age bookstores – and found three books, one about education, one about the Christ and one about colour, all by the same author—Rudolf Steiner—but none of which I could understand. 

On the back of each of these books was the notice that if reader had not read the “five basic books”, he cannot form a judgement on this material. So, I thought, “Well if I am going to understand these books, I will have to read these five basic books.”  I began to study these. I couldn’t understand the Philosophy of Freedom at all at first but I got along better with the other ones. Then I found out there was an Anthroposophical Society in Canada that had a centre on Lawton Boulevard. I began to get books from the library there, and going to any presentations that were given.

Then, Shirley Routledge invited me to participate in the first Waldorf teacher training program, which was only 12 weeks long. Through that, I met Coenraad van Houten and a student teacher named Paul. That summer he went to Ottawa to take up a class in the Waldorf school and by then Philip our son was ready for school. 

We couldn’t possibly afford to put him in the Toronto Waldorf School, so I spoke to my friend Paul about the Ottawa Waldorf school. We ended up in Ottawa. 

That decision really came about as a result of a kind of lucid dream. I was wondering intensely what are we going to do? Where are we going to send him to school? I had this dream that he was sitting on my shoulders on a bridge overlooking a regatta and behind us marching up the road came this band dressed in red and black uniforms and wearing bearskin hats. Then the men in uniform were standing outside of buildings that looked like Houses of Parliament.

So I went the next day to a bookstore and got a book about Canada, thinking that the dream might be indicating London, Ontario. I said to myself, “Surely I am not meant to go back to England! Maybe it is symbolic of London in Ontario.” I looked up London Ontario in the book and there was nothing that looked like that and then I came to a page on Ottawa and there was the very scene I had experienced in the dream. In Ottawa on Canada Day, there is a regatta under the bridge and there is march—a trooping of the colours—and I said, “Okay, we are going to Ottawa!”  And sure enough that was the place to be.

I had a funny meeting with the founding teacher in Ottawa. Philip was his name. He was an older man, a melancholic. Paul introduced me to him and explained to him I was wondering which class my son should go into because his birthday was on the borderline. Philip said that it doesn’t depend on the birthday but depends on the conception date. Those conceived before Christmas are in a group that have a relationship with Christ and those conceived after Christmas are in another group that has a different relationship with Christ. I later did a survey in the school of children with borderline birthdays and it was amazing how it confirmed what Philip said.  But can you imagine someone now speaking like this to a prospective parent? Philip seemed to have no social awareness about making such a statement. He just told you straight out what he believed. Of course, I thought, “He’s for me! This is a guy who is going to tell it like it is!” 

So, we put our son in the school and Philip asked me to take a classroom because a teacher was sick. He was running an on-going training program for the teachers so I participated in that and the following year did what was a called an in-service training.  The year after that I was offered the Grade 1 class. That was the only class that I took through eight year. So I became a teacher at the school and he became my mentor. When I asked him a question he would often say, “What would be the point of my telling you that? Go and find out for yourself. Go and strive for the answer for it is the striving that teaches not the answers.” One time he asked me how’s it going and I told him I was having some classroom management issues. He asked me, “Well how prepared are you?” It was a rhetorical question. He knew I wasn’t well prepared. 

Then, 24 years ago, we moved to Richmond Hill and I taught part-time at the Toronto Waldorf School, then at the Halton Waldorf School and after that I was a supply teacher back at the Toronto Waldorf School. I think they would have liked me to take on a full-time position but Arlene Thorn was pressing on me more and more to teach some adult courses. We were struggling financially to keep our children in the school and Arlene said I will make it possible for you to earn enough to pay the school fees if you will give up your working with the school. 

At some point while I was getting into primarily teaching adults, I was in a study group and we were studying the Philosophy of Freedom. I got a call from Timothy Cox who was working for the Steiner Centre at the time, asking if I would give a course on the Philosophy of Freedom. I don’t know how he knew our group was studying that book.  Just the day before he called, I had decided on the one hand I was not free and on the other hand I was filled to overflowing with useless knowledge. I had put aside all my other belief systems – Plato, science, Catholicism, Buddhism – I had replaced all these with a huge anthroposophical belief system but I was still not really free in my thinking. In a sense, I had my leg over the balcony. When Timothy asked if I would provide three mornings on the Philosophy of Freedom I immediately said yes!  I don’t know what I was thinking! I put the phone down and thought, “What have I done?” So then I had to study the book intensely. Through this work, I had an awakening. I became aware of myself as a spiritual being. To cut a long story short, I gave the course and became famous over night. Who would be so stupid to give a course on the Philosophy of Freedom. It was the book no one understood. So that was it. 

Then I began teaching adults more and more. Wendy Brown who had just started Foundation Studies at the Steiner Centre, asked me if I would come in one morning and talk about the Philosophy of Freedom. So I did that. In the following year she asked me to join the steering committee for the Foundations Studies Program at the Steiner Centre. The committee met every week to form the course. I became a key figure in it over time. This would have been about 15 years ago.

I have done very little other study since then. I had a need to experience something that was spiritually real. Ideas had now become real for me and I experienced thinking as the essential spiritual activity. Goethe was the first modern phenomenologist. Goethe observed with an open mind. He didn’t come to any conclusions. When you observe with an open mind, you invite meaning to come from the spiritual and connect itself with what you are observing in the material. That is how Goethe discovered the archetypal plant. Unless you keep it open, your own thinking can get in the way of this kind of invitation – show yourself to me – but the showing doesn’t come from the physical plant over there but from the spiritual realm. Steiner’s book, The Philosophy of Freedom, is also a phenomenology but the phenomenon being observed is thinking itself. It is the phenomenon of all phenomena! That has been my practice.

\RM: Can you say a little bit about the role of feeling in this sort of observation?

PH: Our feeling life is very much there but subtly hidden behind our thinking in the form of our 

feeling for truth. When we strive to observe like this, we are relying in fact on our feeling for truth. Our feeling can confirm the truth of what is coming to us from the spiritual world. 

People often want to link intuition with feeling and they are actually right to do so. When you have this intuitive knowing it resonates in a sense of certainty in your feeling. It is not just an intellectual certainty. Insights achieved in this way, give rise to the feeling of certainty that you are experiencing the truth. Of course, you have to be careful. Some people just want a feel-good experience. A lot of people seeking the spirit just want to have a feel-good experience. That is a trap. That just tells you about your own sympathies and antipathies. This all takes practice.

Really, to work with Goethean observation you have to come to it again and again and again. For example, take the example of observing some challenge in your life. Out of this observation may first come a thought, a moral intuition but only when you come to it again and again and again can it become warm. The warmth comes from the heart which is the regulator of our warmth form, our warmth system. This repeated work pulls the moral intuition, which is a thought, gradually into the heart’s sphere. That is really what heart thinking is. When a moral intuition is pulled into the heart warmth, when it is permeated with warmth, it can become a motivator. It then affects your feelings and will very strongly in a moralistic way then and enables moral action. You can then try to execute a moral deed. Even then, it is not always right. You may realize that you have somehow got it wrong and need to go back and cycle through again. So it is a three step process, in the Philosophy of Freedom it is moral intuition, moral imagination and moral action. In Knowledge of the Higher World and Its Attainment, it is imagination, inspiration and intuition. So the middle one is the inspiring one. It is the heart forces that inspire you. 

In my work, teaching adults, I am not looking at the same phenomena that Goethe was looking at, for instance. I have tried to bring this way of observing to my teaching by morally sensing the needs of the group in front of me. This has led me to work on myself as well. I have found that the cause of all ills is immorality and the healing of all ills is morality. As I am close to my death now, I can see that I have been far from moral in my life. Very far. I mean I am not morally a monster like Stalin or someone of that ilk, but in many smaller ways…well, I have a long way to go to become truly moral. And moreover, I can’t do it by myself.

In Foundation Studies, I have often said what was once experienced as the spiritual is now experiencing itself in the human being. So it is not humans becoming spiritual, it is the spiritual become human. Where am I going with this…oh, yes…so the organizing principle behind what we experienced – all of those spiritual experiences, all of those spiritual beings that once showed themselves to us once upon a time – the organizing principle behind all of those is the Christ. The spiritual has to experience itself in the human being, for the human being to properly become human. One can say, in a way, “I” cannot become moral. Not by oneself. Only, as Paul says, not “I” but Christ in me. But there is no way to invite Christ in except by striving. It is a two way street.  

St. Paul says I know what I should do but I don’t do it. I know what is good but I am not good. Then he says not I but Christ in me. That doesn’t mean you raise your consciousness to a Christ-like level. Some people want the Christ Being to be a human man with a higher consciousness. It is not that. In Christ a divine consciousness came into a human. In a way, this is something we can be given if we are moral enough to take it on. Then it can show itself individually. This is all very complicated for me—for my tiny mind! 

If you take Goethe’s plant—the archetypal plant—it is only one but it shows itself to you in many ways. It shows itself in any plant form you could think of. And so it is with the Christ Being as the logos of humanity. It can show itself in the human being, in any number of individuals. This has only just started. It is the beginning of an eventual outcome where we will all show this Christ logos, each in an individual way. 

I am totally okay with dying. As I hinted at earlier, I am not so okay with being dead. I will have to meet myself and my immorality clearly in the face, along with my lack of awakeness. In the spiritual world after death, you eventually meet spiritual beings who think in you. You see your life from their point of you. The more awake you can be in that process the better. I don’t think I am going to be very awake there. I have experienced quite a bit of self-loathing recently—not in a morbid way; I am not morbid about it all. I am willing to take on my karma. I am willing to try to make up for what I have done wrong and I am willing to bear that to the best of my ability, even if it is painful. But I know from experience that I am not always going to do that. I can look back on my life and I can see where I have opted out of the right thing to do. Every case of immorality is an attempt to avoid consciousness of the spiritual. There has been a lot of petty immorality in my life – petty, little selfish thoughts and actions. Lying and stuff like that. Most of us do these things. When I sit and think of them, I see they add up and add up. There has been an entire lifetime of them. 

I have taken a little bit of anthroposophy and made myself good at it but I know I will be coming back. And I think we will come back together. You know, when I was sick in Vietnam, I think Steiner came to me! He just approached me and I had the impression that he has unconditional love for all of us—for the least of us in his care, or perhaps it is better to say, on his path—and that is because standing behind him was this huge figure of unconditional love. 

I think he is building a following—I don’t want to say army—he is building a following to come back to earth to fight a battle in a way. There is going to be a strong materialistic impulse that is going to have to be met. I think all of us are going to have to come back to be a part of that and it won’t be easy. I am sure we will all come back. 

Robert, you’ve talked have spoken about this. You have mentioned you see the meditative path as a kind of team work.

RM: Yes, that idea came clear to me after seeing the Mystery Dramas down in Ann Arbor. We are working together in ways we are not even conscious of. Someone, who in one incarnation you are butting heads with or having some real difficulty with, is the very person who in the next incarnation makes it possible for you to accomplish some pivotal task. Our destinies are deeply intertwined. So every step we can take, as you say, to face up to our immorality, every step we can take to improve, we are not just helping ourselves, we are helping the team. 

PH: I got that too from the first Mystery Drama. I love how in the last scene of the first drama, they all come together and say what contribution they are going to make but then you know they are going to come back to earth and in some case be butting heads again. But yes, to realize how the person I am struggling with is also connected to making my destiny possible is a good approach…to see that we are a team… 

RM: An honour to be on the team with you sir!

GS: Before we finish up, I want to say that having you as a teacher in the Foundations Program was so important to me. It really led me to love Steiner. Reading Steiner is so amazing. It’s subtle but I can see as I keep reading, it is making changes in the way I think and feel. I have you to thank for making that possible for me.

PH: Thank you for saying that.

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