The Spiritual is 'Forgotten' by the Ordinary Consciousness
It can be Remembered Again
Men could not reject a spiritual knowledge such as Anthroposophy, if they would but observe with the necessary attention the everyday phenomena of their own mental life. For these phenomena are eloquent witnesses to its reality.
On the one side, looking towards the inner life of man, there stands the fact of Memory. In memory, the experiences man has with the things of the world are preserved in the soul. On the other side is external Perception, behind which the thoughtful human soul feels irresistibly impelled to surmise and seek the inner secrets of the World of Nature.
In both directions, the conscious experience of man comes up against a 'nothingness.'
That which comes to us in memory is no longer there in the outer world. External perception can indeed stimulate, but it cannot bring forth the memories of past experience. On the other hand, careful observation will shew that for the experience of memory man is in every case dependent on his own bodily nature. We feel the memory rising up into consciousness from an exercise of our bodily nature. Science can indeed confirm this, but the feeling is sufficiently certain even without it. Science will shew for instance how memory is impaired by a diseased condition of certain parts of the body. These proofs however only corroborate what is directly evident to the naïve consciousness of man, — provided this be combined with accuracy of observation, which may very well be the case, for the naïve feeling need not be superficial; it is quite able to perceive deeply and truly. Thus in the act of memory man feels how there arise out of his body the forces which — as though with unseen spiritual hands take hold of facts which are no longer there in the world of external Nature. This experience is certainly more delicate, less tangible than others which we have through the immediate sense of life. Yet in its way its evidence is no less certain than that of pains or pleasures, for example, where we know with the sureness of a direct experience that their source is in the body.
On the other side we have our perceptions of the outer world. The life of the soul comes up against these perceptions; it cannot penetrate through them to that which they reveal. Impelled as it is to surmise that something is there revealing itself, — with its own activity it can go no further. Here it has reached its 'nothingness.' It cannot but surmise that it stands at the frontier of a world full of inner content, and yet, as it seeks to penetrate through the perceptions, it feels itself — spiritually — reaching out into the void.
We need only take one more step in this reflection. Behind Memory there begins the region where our own body — for the ordinary consciousness — vanishes into the unknown. Behind Perception, external Nature does the same. The relations of these two to the conscious inner experience of man are of the same kind. Now in Memory, with its foundation in a bodily activity, there arises Thought. For it is in thought that our memories of past experience come forth into conscious life. But thought is also kindled by outward Perception. That which manifests itself to us from without, is brought home to our inner consciousness in thought. Thus do the inner life of Man and the external world of Nature meet in the element of Thought.
And is not this a meeting as it were of old acquaintances? With what a happy sense of kinship does the soul contrive to understand new things perceived in the light of old experience remembered. The strongest sense of the reality of life comes to the soul when it can do this. The inner life of memory, the outer world in perception, meet not as strangers but as friends, who have something to tell one another upon a common subject.
Now the inner force which lives in memory can be intensified. By working upon his soul, man can strengthen the force that shews itself in memory. This possibility, and the way in which it can be realised, are subjects which have frequently been dealt with in these columns.
In doing this, man strikes and penetrates into his bodily nature more deeply than in the process of ordinary consciousness. With the deepened, strengthened force of memory he now perceives himself to be discovering those bodily activities which — as we saw — are always involved in the normal memory process. Indeed, lie not only approaches but penetrates right into them. Vet it is nothing of a bodily nature which comes before the soul at this point. We must picture it as follows. It is as though a shadow-figure, seen against a wall, were suddenly to come to life and step towards us. It is familiar to its because thought is familiar. For it stands there in the soul in just the same way as a thought in ordinary consciousness. But while a thought is not alive, this is alive. It is an 'Imagination.' Like a thought, it is justified by its relationship to a reality. It is therefore not in the least what we should ordinarily call a fancy or imagination. For we perceive at once that it relates to a reality, — in the very same way as the thought in which we hold a memory relates to a reality.
But there is this difference. The thought refers to a reality which was once there in our experience and is now no longer there. The Imagination — though in the very same manner — brings before our soul a reality which in the ordinary experience of life has never yet occurred to us. We have in fact entered a sphere of spiritual perception.
We have penetrated into our own body, yet it is not' Body' but 'Spirit' which we have struck here. It is indeed the Spirit which underlies the Body. We take hold of it 'with spiritual hands,' in the same way as we take hold of past experiences when they arise in ordinary memory.
And as in Thought external Nature meets the inner life of Man, so in Imagination the Spirit of Nature meets the human Spirit. The Spirit that is in Man, taken hold of in Imagination, goes out to meet the Spirit that is in Nature, and this Spirit too reveals itself now in Imagination. To the ordinary consciousness, Thought arises in the act of Memory and kindled by Perceptions from the outer world. To the strengthened consciousness, Imagination arises in the living inner experience of the soul itself, and kindled by a no less living experience of the outer world.
All this can be achieved in the full light of consciousness, where self-deception, suggestion, auto-suggestion and the like are quite impossible. Anyone who reaches true Imagination, lives in it as he lives in the most certain thought, the reference of which to a reality is unmistakable. When we have ceased to allow the slightest vagueness or unconscious element in our experience of the relation of our thoughts to reality, we shall certainly not fall into illusions in our experience of Imagination.
Herein lies the reason why the man who has attained true 'Imaginative Experiences' can speak of them to one who has not yet done so, while the latter can accept his statements with full conviction without giving himself up to any blind belief in authority. In effect, he who tells of Imaginations is only speaking of what is there in the listener himself — beneath the level of his memories — as his own reality of Spirit. In every-day life when a memory is recalled to a man, not by his own thought alone but by another man in conversation with him, he will say to himself, 'I certainly did have that experience in the course of my life, in my ordinary consciousness.' So when he listens to a statement of Imaginative Experience he can say, 'That is I myself in my spiritual perceptions, hitherto unknown to my ordinary consciousness. The man who tells of true Imaginations has only helped me to call up into consciousness what my consciousness had not yet called up for itself. My relation to him is of the same kind as my every-day relation to a man who might remind me of something that had slipped my memory.'
The World of the Spirit, in effect, is simply a thing 'forgotten' by the ordinary consciousness, which — strengthened and intensified — can rediscover it like a returning memory of past experience.