The most important thing for which we can prepare a child is the experience of freedom, at the right moment in life, through the understanding of one's own being.


Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)

Self Development
night side, communication, sympathy, antipathy, principle of rhythm and dialogue
By: Florian Osswald, December 2017, Journal of the Pedagogical Section Vol.62

Given the Night – Part IV

Normally, we only consider the ‘day side’ or the conscious aspect of a conversation. It would be rather unusual to speak of a ‘continuation in the night’ - or of the subconscious aspect of a conversation. However, this is exactly what we are trying to explore in this paper. We are looking at the dynamics of conversations; a dynamic which can only come about through both aspects, day and night. This paper concludes the series ‘Given the Night’. The links to parts 1 to 3 can be found at the end.

Thus, the everyday ego and the everyday ‘you’ are only supplements of the great ego. Every ‘you’ is a supplement of the great ego. We are not an ego at all—however, we can and will become an ego. We are seeds of an ego. We should transform everything into a ‘you’—into a second ego—only in this manner do we raise ourselves to the Great Ego—that is both One and All.’ (Novalis) (1)


The Shape of the Whole

Modern communication theory has been thoroughly researched and ample literature has been published on the subject. The literature refers mainly to the conscious aspects of conversations, the so-called ‘day aspect’. However, the day cannot exist without the night. The night is the hidden, subconscious part of ourselves. Communication – just as life – is rooted in both sides. Only if we become aware of both, if we create a complete entity, we can perceive the actual shape of a conversation and a rhythmic – polar process becomes visible. To look at something in this way is not at all unusual because quite a few processes appear in a polar or dual shape to begin with. Consider for example light and darkness or sympathy and antipathy. We can only see the whole if we perceive both sides. As Rainer Maria Rilke says:


Like the moon, life certainly has a side which is constantly turned away from us but is not its opposite. It is a complement to perfection, to completeness, to the real, immaculate and full globe and sphere of being.’ (2)


Only the perception of the whole, the complete entity makes it possible to see ‘the real, immaculate and full sphere of being.’

Every conversation is an opportunity to break down the polarity of speaking and listening and to create a rhythmical whole.

In this paper we are trying to describe this process in more detail. Readers who regularly practice the exercise which is the basis of this series of articles will find an intimate connection between the gestures of speaking and listening and the gestures of falling asleep and waking up. (See appendix)


Communication starts with the First Breath

There is huge variety of reasons for conversation, from the informal smalltalk to decision making discussions and everything in between. Depending on the type of communication, we sometimes focus more on the structure of a conversation, sometimes more on the process. Every conversation is based on the two fundamental elements of speaking and listening. Many communication theories are based on the concept of sender and recipient. We all know how this model translates into technology, we use it constantly in our daily lives. People have always wanted to send information quickly across long distances. The Chinese used mirrors, others used fires or smoke signals. Our modern devices today fulfil the dreams of our ancestors to a large extend. However, technological development does not change the fact that the principle of dialogue is found at the centre of all human communication.


Even a newborn baby starts a dialogue with the world. The baby does not only imitate, but it triggers a reaction in other human beings. Newborn babies therefore have first ‘conversations’. Today, we know that babies develop language based on the dialogue with their environment. What comes first is the dialogue, that which connects listening and speaking. As Rudolf Steiner explains in Practical Advice for Teachers:


You will easily see from this that speech is really built up on a persisting rhythm of sympathetic and antipathetic activity — like feeling. Speaking, too, is primarily anchored in feeling.’ (3)


By listening, the child feels at one with language. Understanding is a gradual process because ‘the thought content of our speech is introduced by our accompanying the content of feeling with the content of knowledge...’ (4)


The continuous interplay between sympathy and antipathy is one of the most basic aspects of the human soul.


We develop within us all the world of feeling, which is a continual alternation — systole, diastole — between sympathy and antipathy. This alternation is continually within us. [...] Here we come to the real understanding of the life of soul and spirit. We create the seed of the soul life as a rhythm of sympathy and antipathy.’ (5)


Holistic Practice

As we can see here, rhythmical processes are the basis of learning our mother tongue. A further milestone in development is the way a toddler practices speaking. The child does not practice any singular aspects such as the ‘technique of speaking’. The small child dives into the language and learns from simple activities. She rhythmically repeats short chunks and makes connections until she finds her own way of expressing herself. Children acquire language best when they are surrounded by people who listen attentively and who give them ample opportunity to speak and listen. Language and speaking come alive in situations where careful listening and imitating are required. To listen to others and to express ourselves are the two key elements of conversation.


The Principle of Rhythm and Dialogue

The principle of rhythm and dialogue is ever present in the development from baby to adult. The rhythm of sympathy and antipathy, which is expressed in the act of listening and speaking, lives in the small child in the interplay between autonomy and the joy of discovering. Exploring and discovering support autonomy, and strengthened autonomy in turn fosters the joy of discovering. The relationship with the world is born out of the interplay between these two forces.


With every developmental step the question about the relationship between the human being and the environment needs to be addressed anew. Again and again we need to find a safe haven, a starting point from which to explore the world. In every age group this can happen best through devotion to our fellow beings and the world. Every development seems to be based on this contradictory experience which expresses itself in different ways with every new step. Not the one or the other is more important, but it is the process of rhythm and dialogue which is essential. The parts are not the important elements, but what counts is the perception of the whole process.


If you want to know your own being,

Look into the world all around you.

If you really want to know the world,

Look into the depths of your own soul.’ (6)


This principle is found in speaking and listening, in being awake and sleeping, in thinking and perceiving. The entity, the whole, embraces the polarities and lifts them up into an actively gained synthesis such as life, learning, cognition and dialogue. Life encompasses being awake and sleeping; learning encompasses remembering and forgetting; cognition encompasses thinking and perceiving; dialogue encompasses speaking and listening. Life, learning, cognition and dialogue are the benchmarks by which the polarities fade into rhythmical interplay.


Viewed in this way, real relationships between people are secure in this all-encompassing entity which must be recreated through rhythmical processes at any one moment. We can never truly achieve the correct rhythm because it is created anew at every moment. It does not live in space or time; it creates its own time and space. It is a form of life, of learning, of cognition, of dialogue.


Let us now look at this process in connection with communication.


Conversation as a River

Heinz Zimmermann, in his book "Speaking, Listening, Understanding" (7), compares a conversation with the flow of a river from the source to the sea. The source supplies the content. It transports the matter, the water, to the surface. At that moment, the interaction with the environment starts. The water leaves traces in the landscape. Additionally, the river flows at a particular speed by which it approaches its final destination: the ocean.


The metaphor of the river can help us to find orientation in a conversation: A conversation needs a content. The interaction with the environment starts as as soon as the content has been expressed. The final destination might be clearly defined or it might only emerge in the course of the conversation. With a little practice we can develop a sense for the right amount of content, tempo, contours and aims. We can start to ask: Do we have too much or too little to talk about? Can everyone take part in the conversation? Have we considered every aspect of the topic? What is missing? Where is this conversation heading? What belongs to the topic and what doesn’t?


Every river and every conversation take their own course. We can mark the traces of a river on a map just as we can record the course of a conversation on paper or in some digital form. Sometimes, when we look back on a conversation, we might see inner pictures connected to it. Those pictures are also a kind of record. Every type of record preserves the conscious aspects of the river or the conversation.


We can now elaborate on this and add the ‘night dimension’. There is an invisible trace of water from the ocean to the source. This trace cannot not be perceived with our normal ‘day consciousness’. However, we sense that there must be some sort of cycle: From the source to the ocean and back to the source. Liquid water becomes water vapour and then turns into clouds. What does the ‘night dimension’ of communication look like?


The practice which was described in part I of this series helps us to investigate the ‘night’.


Many people do not see themselves as a being who has a day side and a night side. The reason might be that we can only use our day consciousness to describe what is happening at night. If we presume that the night has its own dynamics and is not only a processing of the events of the day, we may ask what kind of ‘conversations’ we are having at night. Are they only a continuation of the conversations we had during the day? Might there be any nightly interlocutors?


Regarding these questions, Rudolf Steiner’s words can be of great help. They offer a glimpse into the events of the night. If we manage to light up the night, we will have gained some insight into the common bond between day and night.


And where might this lead us?

In the last decades many Waldorf institutions have invested a lot into quality management. This has strengthened their day aspect. The night side, however, has been somewhat neglected. In the next few years we will face the task of strengthening the night side because ‘sleep is the great social stabilizer’." (8) The social question is the most crucial question of our time - not only in connection with education. How to deal with conflicts is an enormous contemporary challenge. Therefore, the real task is to strengthen the processes of dialogue and rhythm. Only the work with the day and the night lets us enter into a kind of communication which enables true relationships with our fellow human beings.


Daily life is rich in communication. To talk to each other is a basic need of people. In an educational context we can distinguish between three types of conversations: Educational conversations with our pupils, the conversations with parents and those with colleagues. The night can help us in all three of them.

Take heart and encompass the whole! If you do, you will experience a process of waking up, of waking up to the night. Social processes make us aware of others. Our fellow human beings become points of reference. They enliven us and move us forward into new development. Conversations live of what we build together, you and I, what lives in day and night.


We should transform everything into a “you”—into a second ego—only in this manner do we raise ourselves to the Great Ego—that is both One and All.


A wonderful kind of hospitality lives in these words. They show us a new kind of conversation, the “welcoming dialogue”.


Translated by Karin Smith 







(1) Novalis, Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia

(2) Rilke, R.M. (2012) Letters to a Young Poet, Merchant Books

(3) Steiner R. (2000), Practical Advice for Teachers, Lecture 2, Anthroposophic Press, Great Barrington, GA 294

(4) ibid

(5) Steiner, R. (1996) The Foundations of Human Experience. Anthroposophic Press, Great Barrington, GA 293

(6) Steiner, R. (1988) The Calender of the Soul. Steiner Books. GA 40,

(7) Zimmermann H. (1996), Speaking, Listening, Understanding. Lindisfarne Press, Hudson, N.Y.

(8) Steiner, R. (1979) The Challenge of the Times. Anthroposophic Press. GA 186

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