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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Michael Mystery
GA 26

XX. Sleep and Waking, in the Light of the previous Observations

Sleep and Waking has been a theme frequently discussed in our anthroposophical studies, and from various points of view. But with the facts of life such as these, the understanding of them requires to be carried to a new depth every time, after studying a different aspect of the world. All that has been said about the Earth as life-seed of a new rising Macrocosm, makes it possible now to bring a deepened understanding to our views of sleeping and waking.

In this waking state, Man lives in the thought-shadows cast by a dead and dying world, and in will-impulses into whose inner being he as little sees in ordinary consciousness, as he sees what is going on in deep dreamless sleep.

With the inflow of the sub-conscious will-impulses into the thought-shadows arises the free, self-directed consciousness of the individual Self. In this Self-consciousness lives the I.

Whilst Man is in this state, awake to the life of the world around him, through all the feelings that inwardly arise in him there run non-earthly, cosmic impulses that reach from a far distant cosmic Past into the Present. He is not conscious of this. A being can be conscious of that alone, in which it takes part through its own dying forces, not through the forces of growth which feed its life. Thus Man comes to Self-realization through the loss from his mind's eye of that which is the very basis of his own inner being. This however is precisely what enables him, whilst in the waking state, to feel himself utterly immersed in the thought-shadows. No flicker of life disturbs the inner state of participation in the world of the dead and dying. This ‘life amid the dead and dying’ conceals however the essential characteristic of the Earth-world, namely that it is the life-seed of a new Universe. Man in his waking state does not perceive the Earth as the Earth truly is; her first beginnings of new cosmic life escape him.

So Man lives in that which the Earth gives him as basis for his Self-consciousness. He loses sight in his mind's eye of the true form of his own inner impulses, during this age of self-conscious Ego-development; and loses sight, too, of the true form of his surroundings. But it is just in this hovering above the stable reality of the World that Man realizes the stable reality of his I, realizes himself as a self-conscious being. Above him is the non-earthly, extra-terrestrial Cosmos; beneath him, in the Earth-region, is a world whose real being remains concealed; between the two the free being of the I becomes revealed, radiant in the fullness of perceptive knowledge and free will.

In sleep it is otherwise. Here Man lives in his astral body and I amid the young seed-life of Earth. The most intense ‘will to life’ is all about Man during his dreamless sleep. Through his dreams also runs this stir of life; though not so strongly but that the man can be aware of them in a sort of half-consciousness. And in this half-conscious dream-panorama are seen the forces by whose means the human being is woven out of the Cosmos. In the passing flash of the dream can be seen the astral power as it flows into the ether-body and quickens the man to life. In the surging life and light of dreams, Thought is living still. Only after awakening, is Thought hemmed in by those forces which bring about its death—reduce it to a shadow.

This connection between the dream-picture and the waking thought is of great significance. Man thinks with the same forces as those which enable him to grow and to live; only, for Man to become a Thinker these forces must be every dying.

Here is the point where true understanding may dawn upon the mind, of why it is that Man in his Thinking grasps reality. He has in this thoughts the dead likeness of that by which he himself is formed and created out of a living, life-giving reality.

The dead likeness! But this dead likeness is the life-work of the greatest of all painters, the Cosmos itself. From the likeness the life indeed is gone. Were the life not gone, Man's I could not evolve. Nevertheless this likeness contains the whole content of the Universe in all its glory.

So far as was possible at the time, within the general lines of the book, I pointed out this inner relation between Thinking and World-Reality long ago, in my ‘Philosophy of Freedom;’ {Published in English under the title ‘The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity’} it is indicated in the place where I speak of a bridge leading from the depths of the thinking I to the depths of Nature's reality.

The reason why sleep acts upon the ordinary consciousness as an extinguisher, is because it leads into the teeming life of Earth, shooting and sprouting up into the new, growing Macrocosm. When the Imaginative consciousness puts an end to this extinguishing action of sleep, the Earth which then presents itself to the human soul is not one of sharp outlines, in mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms; it is rather a living process that the soul has then before her—a living process kindled in the Earth and flaming out into the Macrocosm.

Thus Man has to raise himself with the reality of his own ‘I am’ out of the world's reality in his waking state, in order to arrive at free and independent self-consciousness. In his sleeping state he unites himself once more with world-reality.

Such, at the present cosmic moment, is the rhythm of Man's earthly life; outside the inner being of the world, but with the conscious experience of his own being; and within the inner being of the World, whilst the consciousness of his own being is extinguished.

In the state between death and a new birth, the I of Man is living within the beings of the spirit-world. There, everything comes to consciousness, that escaped consciousness during the waking life of earth. There the macrocosmic forces pass across the scene, from all their fullness of life in the far distant Past, down to their dead and dying existence in the Present. But the Earthly forces too display themselves, which are the life-seed of the growing Macrocosm that is to be. And Man looks there into his sleeping states, as during Earth-life he looks at the Earth shining in the sunlight.

Only because the Macrocosm, such as it is in the present, has become a thing of the dead, is it possible for the human being between death and new birth to lead a life which, compared to the waking life on Earth, signifies a higher awakening—an awakening which enables man completely to master the forces of which but a transitory flicker is seen in dreams. These are forces filling the whole Cosmos. They permeate everything. From them the human being draws the impulses with which, on his descent to Earth, he fashions his own body—the masterpiece of the macrocosmic artist.

What in dreams is but a brief sun-abandoned glimmer, lives in the spirit-world transfused with spiritual sunlight, waiting until the beings of the higher Hierarchies, or Man himself, shall call it forth in creative work to the moulding of new life and being.

Leading Thoughts

In the waking state, in order to gain living knowledge of himself in full and free Self-consciousness, Man is obliged to forgo the living knowledge of Reality, in its true form, both in his own existence and in Nature's. He lifts himself out of his sea of Reality, so that in his Thought-shadows he may make his own I his own real experience.

In the sleeping state, Man lives with the life of the Earth around him, but this life extinguishes his consciousness of Self.

In dreams, there flickers up in half-consciousness that forceful World-Reality of which Man's being is woven, and from which he fashions his body when he comes down out of the Spirit-world. In Earth-life this forceful World-Reality is reduced to death in shadow-thoughts, since only thus can it give the basis for Self-conscious Man.