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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

II. The Human Soul in the Light of Spirit Vision

If one resorts to dream phenomena in order to acquire knowledge of the soul's nature, one ultimately is forced to admit that the object of one's search is wearing a mask. Behind the symbolizations of bodily conditions and processes, behind the fantastically connected memory experiences, one may surmise the soul's activity. It cannot be maintained, however, that one is face to face with the true form of the soul.

On awaking, one realizes how the active part of the dream is interwoven with the function of the body and thereby subject to the external world of nature. Through the backward-directed view of self-observation one sees in the soul life only the images of the external world, not the life of the soul itself. The soul eludes the ordinary consciousness at the very moment one would grasp it cognitively.

By studying dreams one cannot hope to arrive at the reality of the soul element. In order to preserve the soul activity in its innate form one would have to obliterate, through a strong inner activity, the symbolizations of the bodily conditions and processes, along with the memory of past experiences. Then one would have to be able to study that which had been retained. This is impossible. For the dreamer is in a passive state. He cannot undertake any autonomous activity. With the disappearance of the soul's mask, the sensation of one's own self disappears also.

It is different with the waking soul life. There the autonomous activity of the soul can not only be sustained when one erases all one perceives of the external world; it can also be strengthened in itself.

This happens if, while awake in the forming of mental pictures, one makes oneself as independent of the external world of the senses as one is in a dream. One becomes a fully conscious, wakeful imitator of the dream. Thereby, however, the illusory quality of the dream falls away. The dreamer takes his dream pictures for realities. If one is awake one can see through their unreality. No healthy person when awake and imitating the dream will take his dream images for realities. He will remain conscious of the fact that he is living in self-created illusions.

He will not be able to create these illusions, however, if he merely remains at the ordinary level of consciousness. He must see to it that he strengthens this consciousness. He can achieve this by a continually renewed self-kindling of thinking from within. The inner soul activity grows with these repeated kindlings. (I have described in detail the appropriate inner activity in my books Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment and An Outline of Occult Science).

In this way the work of the soul during the twilight of dreams can be brought into the clear light of consciousness. One accomplishes thereby the opposite of what happens in suggestion or auto-suggestion. With these, something out of the semi-darkness and within the semi-darkness is shifted into the soul-life, which is then taken to be reality. In the fully circumspect activity of the soul just described, something is placed before one's inner view in clear consciousness, something that one regards, in the fullest sense of the word, only as illusion.

One thus arrives at compelling the dream to manifest itself in the light of consciousness. Ordinarily this occurs only in the diminished half-awake consciousness. It shuns the clarity of consciousness. It disappears in its presence. The strengthened consciousness holds it fast.

In holding the dream fast it does not gain in strength. On the contrary it diminishes in strength. Consciousness, however, is thereby induced to supply its own strength. The same thing happens here in the soul. It is just as it is when, in physical life, one transforms a solid into steam. The solid has its own boundaries on all sides. One can touch these boundaries. They exist in themselves. If one transforms the solid into steam, then one must enclose it within solid boundaries so that it will not escape. Similarly the soul, if it would hold fast the dream while awake, must shape itself, as it were, into a strong container. It must strengthen itself from within.

The soul does not need to effect this strengthening when it perceives the images of the external world. Then the relationship of the body to the external world takes care that the soul is aroused to retain these images. If, however, the waking soul is to dream in sensory unreality, then it must hold fast this sensory unreality by its own strength.

In the fully conscious representation [Vorstellen] of sensory unreality one develops the strength to behold the spiritual reality.

In the dream state the autonomous activity of the soul is weak. The fleeting dream content overpowers this autonomous activity. This supremacy of the dream causes the soul to take the dream for reality. In ordinary waking consciousness the autonomous activity experiences itself as reality along with the reality of the sense world. This autonomous activity, however, cannot behold [anschauen] itself; its vision is occupied with the images of sense reality. If the autonomous activity learns to maintain itself by consciously filling itself with content unreal to the senses, then, little by little, it also brings to life self-contemplation [Anschaung] within itself. Then, it does not simply direct its gaze away from outer observation and back upon itself; it strides as soul activity backward and discovers itself as spiritual entity; this now becomes the content of its vision [Anschaung].

While the soul thus discovers itself within itself, the nature of dreaming is even more illumined for it. The soul discerns clearly what before it could only surmise: that dreaming does not cease in the waking state. It continues. The feeble activity of the dream, however, is drowned by the content of sense perception. Behind the brightness of consciousness, filled with the images of sense reality, there glimmers a dream world. And this world, while the soul is awake, is not illusory like the dream world of semi-consciousness. In the waking state man dreams—beneath the threshold of consciousness—about the inner processes of his body. While the external world is seen through the eye and is present in [vorgestallt] the soul, there lives in the background the dim dream of inner occurrences. Through the strengthening of the autonomous activity of the soul the vision of the external world is gradually dampened to the dimness of dream, and the vision of the inner world, in its reality, brightens.

In its vision of the external world the soul is receptive; it experiences the external world as the creative principle and the soul's own content as created in the image of the external world. In the inner vision, the soul recognizes itself to be the creative principle. And one's own body is revealed as created in the image of the soul. Thoughts of the external world are to be felt [empfunden] as images of the beings and processes of the external world. To the soul's true vision, achieved in the way described, the human body can be felt [empfunden] only as the image of the human soul which is spiritual.

In dreams, the soul activity is loosened from its firm union with the body, which it maintains in the ordinary waking state; it still retains, however, the loose relationship that fills it with the symbolic images of bodily senses and with the memory experiences that also are acquired through the body. In spiritual vision of itself the soul so grows in strength that its own higher reality becomes discernible, and the body becomes recognizable in its character of a reflected image of this reality.