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September 2018

Paul Hodgkins talks Foundation Studies


Now that it’s September, and back to school time, we thought it might be appropriate to sit down and hobnob a little with the director of the RSCT’s  Foundation Studies Encounter program, Paul Hodgkins.

Now, as you may remember from our interview with Paul last year, Paul is a former Waldorf teacher and has been pretty much a lifelong student of the work of Rudolf Steiner. And he’s been leading classes on Foundation Studies for a couple of decades as well.

Last Chance to Study with Paul?

Paul has been making noises for some time now about how the end of his time teaching Foundation Studies may be near, and how he’s looking to be replaced. But does that mean that this is your last chance to take the Foundation Studies Encounter course with Paul?  Not necessarily, he says.

The future, it seems, is yet to be determined. Paul’s ideal replacement would be someone who’s 42 or 49 or even 56 — a person who’s been through all their important 7-year cycles, but is still young enough to be around for a few more years, and with enough time in their life to commit to an every-Saturday schedule.

Foundation Studies in My City?

We talked with Paul about how the question has often come up about offering the Foundation Studies program in centres other than Thornhill. Maybe you live in such a place — like Burlington, Barrie, Guelph, Peterborough or some other smaller city in Ontario — and would like to put together a group of people for an RSCT Foundation Studies program.

What it takes for that to become a reality is ten or twelve students willing to pay the full $1,800 annual fee.  Ten students if we can find a local faculty person to lead the course, and twelve if we need to send in a teacher from elsewhere.

Technology is Replacing Paul

Paul joked that, actually, he is being replaced by technology, as more students choose instead the Distance learning option for Foundation Studies, which involves independent study with periodic consultations with a mentor by phone or Skype.

While that may be the only option for people whose lives keep them in remote locations, there is a very real compromise in terms of the artistic component, not to mention the reduced possibility for group discussions and social connections with other students. Paul says often there is a cathartic process that happens within the group of Foundation Studies Encounter students over the course of a year’s study.

Visiting Faculty

One new bright spot on the visiting faculty front for this year’s students will be the participation of Eurythmist Reg Down, who will not only be leading Eurythmy classes, but will also talk to the students about Eurythmy. Paul says it’s not often you find someone who can do both.

Otherwise, visiting guest speakers will be mostly anthroposophists coming through town on a lecture circuit, master teachers mentoring at TWS, or here to also spend time with student teachers. As in the past, Fiona Hughes will likely come by to talk about medicine, and RSCT Founding Director Diana Hughes will talk about reflective practice.

Foundational Texts

The basic books for Foundation Studies Encounter this year will include Rudolf Steiner’s “Theosophy” and “The Essential Steiner” by Robert McDermott, as well as the first chapter in Steiner’s “How to Know Higher Worlds”. And while we do encourage people to read independently, says Paul, the main thing for students is attendance at the sessions.

Anthroposophy and other Spiritual Paths

There are those who say that your spiritual path should make you feel good, that all suffering is illusory, that you’ve got to overcome your pain body, or that with the power of intention you can conjure forth your preferred version of reality. Anthroposophy is none of the above.

According to Paul, the anthroposophical path is about a radical transformation of thinking — something very new and very difficult. One does not easily transform thinking; it’s not about new ideas. This new way of thinking is the entry point into perception of the spiritual. It is the little key which opens the door to future spirituality.

There’s no building bridges to other spiritual paths because other spiritual paths are not concerned with the development of thinking. All religious and spiritual impulses have traditionally dealt with the life of feeling, the bridling of feeling and moral/social behavior. But, anthroposophy is not about feeling, it’s about thinking, about making the thinking itself somehow selfless.

The point of anthroposophical meditation is to transform the thinking. It’s not about mindfulness, healing the body, or having a daily peaceful experience. It’s really about awakening to one’s own thinking activity. And according to Paul, his challenge is to talk about meditation clearly enough to encourage people to take it up out of their own understanding, and not simply because someone says so.

The beginning of transforming thinking is engaging with the ideas that Steiner gave. Thinking has to struggle to grasp these ideas. And it’s that struggle that is the work. Perhaps surprisingly, the content of the ideas is not what is essential here.

Next Steps

This fall, the RSCT is offering the Foundation Studies Encounter program at two different times, one on Saturday mornings (8:30 am to 12:30 pm) and again on Wednesday mornings (8:45 am to 12:15 pm) — intended for parents, but open to others as well. Both courses run for 30 sessions and end in May 2019.

The Wednesday morning class starts Sept. 12th and continues through May 8th. Saturday classes begin Sept. 15th and continue through May 18th, 2019. Tuition fee is $1,800.

Free Introductory Sessions Sept. 6th and 11th

Free introductory sessions are being offered on the morning of Sept. 6th at 8:45 am, and on the evening of Sept. 11th at 7:30 pm in the Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto seminar room. These will be opportunities to hear more about the program and to have your questions addressed by Paul.