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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

III. The Human Soul on the Path to Self-Observation

In a dream the soul comprehends itself in a fleeting form, which is really a mask. In dreamless sleep it apparently loses itself entirely. In spiritual self-contemplation [Anschaung], which is achieved through circumspect reconstruction [besonnen] of the dream-state, the soul comes into its own as a creative being, of which the physical body is the reflected image.

A dream, however, arises out of sleep. Whoever undertakes to raise the dream up into the clear light of consciousness must also feel the incentive to go still further. He does this when he tries consciously to experience dreamless sleep.

That seems to be impossible, precisely because in sleep consciousness ceases. The desire consciously to experience unconsciousness seems like folly.

The folly, however, takes on another light when one confronts the memories one can follow from a given point of time backward to one's last awakening. To do so one must proceed in such a way as to connect the memory pictures vividly with that which they recall. Then, if one tries—working backward—to proceed to the next conscious memory picture before that, this will be found before the last falling asleep. If one has really made the connection vivid with what is recalled, there arises an inner difficulty. One cannot join up the memory picture after awaking with the one before falling asleep.

Ordinary consciousness gets one over this difficulty by not vividly connecting what is recalled, but simply placing the waking image next to the image one has on falling asleep. The person who has raised his consciousness to a high degree of sensitiveness, however, through conscious imitation of the dream, finds that the two images fall apart from one another [fallen ausenander]. For him an abyss lies between them, but because he notices this abyss it already begins to fill itself up. For his self-awareness the dreamless sleep ceases to be an empty passage of time. Out of it there emerges like a memory a spiritual content of the “empty time,” like a memory, it is true, of something that ordinary consciousness had not contained before. Even so this memory points to an experience of one's own soul like an ordinary memory. The soul, however, really looks thereby into that which in ordinary experience—in dreamless sleep—occurred unconsciously.

On this path the soul looks still more deeply within than it does in the condition that arises as a result of the conscious dream imitation. In this condition the soul beholds its own body-forming being. Through the conscious penetration of dreamless sleep, the soul perceives itself in its own being, completely detached from the body.

Now, however, the soul beholds not only the forming of the body but also, beyond that, the formation of its own willing [Wollen].

The inner nature of the will remains as unknown to ordinary consciousness as the events of dreamless sleep. One experiences a thought that contains the intention of the will. This thought sinks into the obscure world of the feelings and disappears into the darkness of the bodily processes. It emerges again as the external bodily process of an arm movement that is comprehended anew through a thought. Between the two thought contents there lies something like the sleep between the thoughts before falling asleep and those after waking.

Now as the inner working of the soul upon the body becomes comprehensible to the first level of vision, so does the will over and above the body to the second. The soul can follow the path to behold its inner working upon the body's organic development; and it can take the other path by which it learns to comprehend how the soul works on the body in such a way as to extract the will from it.

And just as dreaming lies between sleeping and waking, so feeling lies between willing and thinking. On the same path that leads to the illumination of the will process lies the illumination of the world of feeling also.

In the first kind of vision the soul's inner working on the organism is revealed. In the second the soul penetrates to the will. But an inner activity must precede the outward manifestation of the will. Before the arm can be raised, the creative current must flow into it so that in its metabolic processes, which run on quietly, processes are inserted that are clearly the result of feeling. Feeling is a willing that remains enclosed within the human being, a willing that is arrested at its inception.

The processes inserted into the body for feeling and willing reveal themselves for the second stage of vision as processes that are in opposition to those that support life. They are destructive processes. In the constructive processes life prospers; but the soul withers in them. The life of the body, which itself is built up by the soul, must be broken down so that the nature and activity of the soul can unfold out of the body.

To spiritual vision the working of the soul on the body is like a memory of something that the soul had first to accomplish before it could exist in its own activity.

Thereby, however, the soul experiences itself as a purely spiritual being that has let the forming of the body take precedence to the soul's own activity in order to have the body become the basis for the soul's inherent, purely spiritual development. The soul first devotes its creative effort to the body so that, after this has been done sufficiently, the soul can manifest itself in free spirituality.

And this development of the soul begins already with thinking that results from the perception of the senses. When one perceives an object, the soul commences its activity. It shapes the corresponding part of the body in such a way that it becomes adapted for developing, in the form of thought, a mirror image of the object. In experiencing this mirror image, the soul beholds the result of its own activity.

One will never find the spiritual nature of the soul by philosophizing about the thoughts that arise before ordinary consciousness. The spiritual activity of the soul does not lie in these thoughts but behind them. It is true that the thoughts which the soul experiences are the result of the brain's activity. The brain's activity, however, is first the result of the spiritual activity of the soul. In misunderstanding this fact lies what is unsound in the materialistic world view. This view is right when it demonstrates from every possible scientific presupposition that thoughts are the result of the brain's activity. Any other view that seeks to contradict this will always run up against the claims of materialism. The activity of the brain, however, is the product of the activity of the spirit. To realize this it is not sufficient to look back into the inner being of man. In doing so one encounters thoughts. And these contain only a pictorial reality. This pictorial reality is the product of the physical body. In observing retrospectively one must bring to life reinforced and strengthened soul capacities. One must wrest the dreaming soul from the twilight of the dream; then it will not evaporate into fantasies, but rather lay its mask aside so as to appear as a being active spiritually in the body. One must wrest the sleeping soul from the darkness of sleep; then the soul does not lose sight of itself but faces itself as an actual spiritual entity, which in the act of willing, by means of the bodily organism, creates above and beyond this body.