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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

On the Life of the Soul
GA 36

I. The Human Soul in the Twilight of Dreams

If, within the limits of ordinary consciousness, the human being wishes to study his soul, it will not suffice for him simply to direct his mind's eye backward, so to speak, in order to discern by introspection his nature as someone who looks out upon the world. He will see nothing new by this means. He will perceive himself in his capacity as a spectator of the world—merely from a different direction. In his waking life man is almost entirely occupied with the external world. He lives by his senses. In their impressions the external world continues to live in his inner life. Thoughts weave into these impressions. The outer world lives in the thoughts as well. Only the force with which the world is grasped in thoughts can be experienced as man's autonomous being. The sensation of this force, however, is of an entirely general and vague character. By means of ordinary consciousness one can differentiate nothing within this sensation. If one had to discern the human soul in it, one would obtain no more about the soul than a vague sensation of self; one would be unable to identify what it was.

What is unsatisfying about self-observation along these lines is that the nature of the soul promptly eludes the attempt to grasp it. Because of this drawback, people who seriously strive after knowledge may be driven to despair of it entirely.

Thoughtful people, therefore, have almost always sought knowledge of the human soul in ways other than such self-observation. In the realm of sense perception and ordinary thinking they have felt that the vague sensation of self is surrendered to the body. They have realized that the soul, so long as it remains in this surrender, can learn nothing of its own nature through self-observation.

A realm to which this feeling points is that of the dream. People have become aware that the world of images the dream conjures up has some connection with the vague sensation of self. This appears, as it were, as an empty canvas on which the dream paints its own pictures. And then it is realized that the canvas is really itself the painter painting on and within itself.

Dreaming thus becomes for them the fleeting activity of man's inner life, which fills the soul's vague feeling of self with content. A questionable content—but the only one to be had at the outset. It is a view, lifted out of the brightness of ordinary consciousness and thrust into the twilight of semi-consciousness. Yet this is the only form attainable in everyday life.

Despite this dimness, however, there occurs—not in thinking self-observation to be sure, but in an inward touching of the self—something very significant. A kinship between dreaming and creative fantasy can inwardly be touched [seelisch ertasten]. One has the feeling that the airy pictures of a dream are the same as those of creative fantasy, though the latter are controlled by the body from within. And this inner body [Korper-Innere] compels the dream-picturing power to desist from its arbitrariness and to transform itself into an activity that emulates, albeit in a free manner, what exists in the world of the senses.

Once one has struggled through to such a touching of the inner world, one soon advances a step further. One becomes aware how the dream-picturing power can form a still closer connection with the body. One sees this foreshadowed in the activity of recollection, of memory. In memory the body compels the dream-picturing power to an even stronger fidelity to the outer world than it does in fantasy.

If this is understood, then there remains but one step to the recognition that the dream-picturing force of the soul also lies at the basis of ordinary thinking and sense perception. It is then entirely surrendered to the body, while in fantasy and memory it still reserves something of its own weaving.

This, then, justifies the assumption that in dreaming the soul frees itself from the state of bondage to the body and lives according to its own nature.

Thus the dream has become the field of inquiry for many searchers after the soul.

It relegates man, however, to a quite uncertain province. In surrendering to the body, the human soul becomes harnessed to the laws which govern nature. The body is a part of nature. Insofar as the soul surrenders to the body, it binds itself at the same time to the regularity of nature. The means whereby the soul adapts to the existence of nature is experienced as logic. In logical thinking about nature the soul feels secure. But in the power of dream-making it tears itself away from this logical thinking about nature. It returns to its own sphere. Thereby it abandons, as it were, the well-tended and well-trodden pathways of the inner life and sets forth on the flowing, pathless sea of spiritual existence.

The threshold of the spiritual world seems to have been crossed; after the crossing, however, only the bottomless, directionless spiritual element presents itself. Those who seek to cross the threshold in this way find the exciting but also doubt-riddled domain of the soul life.

It is full of riddles. At one time it weaves the external events of life into airy connections that scorn the regularity of nature; at another it shapes symbols of inner bodily processes and organs. A too violently beating heart appears in the dream as an oven; aching teeth as a fence with pickets in disrepair. What is more, man comes to know himself in a peculiar way. His instinctive life takes shape in the dream in images of reprehensible actions which, in the waking state, he would strongly resist. Those dreams that have a prophetic character arouse special interest among students of the soul, as do those in which the soul dreams up capacities that are entirely absent in the waking state.

The soul appears released from its bondage to bodily and natural activity. It wants to be independent, and it prepares itself for this independence. As soon as it tries to become active, however, the activity of the body and of nature follow it. The soul will have nothing to do with nature's regularity; but the facts of nature appear in dreams as travesties of nature. The soul is interested in the internal bodily organs or bodily activities. It cannot, however, make clear pictures of these organs or bodily activities, but only symbols which bear the character of arbitrariness. Experience of external nature is torn away from the certainty in which sense perception and thinking place it. The inner life of what is human begins; it begins, however, in dim form. Observation of nature is abandoned; observation of the self is not truly achieved. The investigation of the dream does not place man in a position to view the soul in its true form. It is true this is spiritually more nearly comprehensible through dreams than through thinking self-observation; it is, however, something he should actually see but can only grope after as if through a veil.

The following section will speak about the perception of the soul through spirit knowledge.