I have been attending a parent and toddler group at the Steiner school in Kings Langley for a little while. I first started going there with Selena and then started taking Dorian there in September. It’s a lovely place with a different outlook and philosophy, and where I have learned about the Rubicon stage, but unfortunately the regulatory body Ofsted had rated it badly and so it had to introduce radical measures in order to stay open.
But these changes have made things worse for everyone. When I first started taking Selena there the grounds were open to the public. The site is quite large with lots of fields, buildings, houses, and gardens dotted about. The people I bumped into would look at us and say hello and I remember feeling quite lost and unsure about where I was supposed to go but everyone I met helped us by either pointing us in the right direction or walking a bit of the way with us and then advising us just to ask the next person we see for help. There was a lovely atmosphere and a trusting attitude towards us being there. After the group, some of us would stay and eat our lunch in the field or garden, use the toilet or go back to the group room for something before leaving the premise.
When I started taking Dorian a gate had been put up to close off the site from the public. You ring to get let in and then you queue at reception to sign in. If you are late then you have to wait for another person to escort you to the house where the group meets and if you want to use the toilet then it is an added strain on the escort and whoever else might need escorting somewhere. Once the group finishes, you get escorted back to reception, and because we are relying on a member of staff who is often about to go to a different session, meeting or class, there is a pressure to leave. The place and the site is not as lovely and open anymore. Not because of the Steiner school but because of the new policies that must be in place to show that they are creating a safe place for the children.
Anyway, that was a bit of a distraction from what I had in mind to write about. What I have recently learned about from going to this group is that there is a stage of life that is known as the Rubicon stage. It happens when we are about 9 or 10 years old. At that stage in life we start to recognise and see that we are different and separate from our parents. It strikes me that this marks the beginning of a journey as an individual. The start of the process of individuation. The Rubicon as you know is a river, quite a famous river I think, and when you cross it, you cross it to get to the other side. There is no way that you can go into the river and stay there and once you are in the river there is no turning back. But not everyone wants to cross it, and this, it seems, can have a devastating impact on the young person.
It is almost as if the river represents the torrent or emotions that only that individual can process. Up until that point, the child looks to the primary carer as if they were an extension of themself but this new current sweeps the child into a new area of life and they realise that the primary care giver is a separate individual. They are no longer a union but have moved into the position of other. And the fact that they are other means so many things. It means that the parent becomes a sort of stranger, an embarrassment, and a source of powerful emotions. But then eventually, a different sort of relationship can start to build between the child and parent. If the conditions are set for kindness, understanding, respect for differences, then a healthy attitude can develop in the child. Patience, tolerance, acceptance, respect and so on.
But if that river is never crossed, what happens to the child? In Buddhist psychology, there is a process of becoming, and of identifying oneself as this or that kind of person. And if the conditions around the individual do not support that identity then a feeling of being lost or not knowing who they are can occur. And if they can’t cope, then next phase is a destructive process where one seeks oblivion because their identity is no longer working for them.
It seems that the worst case scenario is one where the child rejects crossing the river but then cannot live a fulfilled life knowing that they are not who they thought they were.
And the best case scenario is one where a child willingly crosses the river to meet the other waiting on the other side, embracing the unknown, the darkness, and the mystery of the Rubicon.