Man and the World of Stars
VII. Inner Processes in the Human Organism. Sense-Perception, Breathing, Sleeping, Waking, Memory
22 December 1922, Dornach
Man perceives the things of the world through his senses but with his ordinary consciousness he does not perceive what takes place within the senses themselves. Were he to do this in everyday life he would not be able to perceive the outer world. The senses must, as it were, renounce themselves if they are to bring to man's cognizance what lies outside the senses in the world immediately surrounding him on Earth. If our ear could speak or our eye could speak, if we could by this means become aware of the processes taking place in those organs, we should not be able to hear what is outwardly audible nor see what is outwardly visible. But it is precisely this that enables man to know the world round about him, in so far as he is an Earth-being; he does not, however, thereby learn to know himself. This presupposes that during the process of acquiring self-knowledge one is able to suspend all cognition of the outer world, so that for a time nothing at all is experienced from the external world.
In Spiritual Science it has always been the endeavor to discover methods through which man may acquire true self-knowledge, and you are aware from the many different lectures I have given, that by this self-knowledge I do not mean the ordinary kind of brooding contemplation of the everyday self; for all that a man experiences thereby is simply a reflex picture of the external world. He learns nothing that is new; he merely gets to know, as it were in a mirror, what he has experienced in the outer physical world. True self-knowledge must, as you know, proceed through methods which silence not only the earthly outer world, but also the everyday soul-content which, as it exists in actual consciousness, is simply a mirror-picture of the outer world. And through the methods described in the book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, you know that spiritual research advances first to what is called Imaginative Cognition. Whoever advances to this Imaginative Cognition has before him, to begin with, everything from the supersensible world that can clothe itself in the images and pictures of this form of higher knowledge. And when he has acquired the inner faculty of Imaginative vision of the world, he is in a position to follow what takes place in the human sense-organs.
It would not be possible to follow what takes place in the sense-organs if something were to go on there only while the outer world were being perceived through them. When I am seeing an object of the outer world, my eye is still. When I am hearing some sound of the outer world my ear is still. This means that what the ear becomes aware of is not what goes on within the ear itself but what is continuing from the external world into the ear. But if, for example, the ear were only to be active in connection with the external world as long as outer perception were taking place, we should never be able to observe the process that goes on in the ear itself, independently of the outer world. But you all know that a sense-impression has an after-effect in the senses, apart from the fact that the senses always take part even when we are merely thinking actively in our ordinary consciousness.
It is possible to withdraw entirely from the external world in so far as it is a world of color, of sound, of smell, and so forth, and give attention only to what goes on within, or by means of, our sense-organs themselves. When we reach this point we have taken the first step towards acquiring true knowledge of man. To take the simplest example, let us say we want to understand how an impression made upon the eye from outside dies away. A person who has acquired the faculty of Imaginative Cognition is able, because he is perceiving nothing in the external world, to follow this dying away of the sense-impression. That is to say, he is following a process in which the sense-organ as such is involved, although at this moment it is actually not in connection with the external world. Or, let us say, someone can picture vividly to himself something he has seen, realizing how the organ of sight participated in the living thought of the colors, and so on. The same can be done in the case of all the senses. Then such a person actually becomes aware that what takes place within the senses themselves can only be perceived by Imaginative Cognition. A world of Imaginations appears before our soul as if by magic when we live, not in the external world, but in the senses themselves. And then we realize that our senses actually belong to a world other than the one we perceive through them in our Earth-existence. Nobody who is truly in a position, through the acquisition of Imaginative Knowledge, to observe the activity of his own senses, can ever doubt that man, as a being of sense, belongs to the supersensible world.
In the book Occult Science, I have called the world that man learns to know by thus withdrawing his attention from the outer world and living within his own senses, the world of the Angeloi, the Beings who stand one stage higher than man. What is it that actually happens in our senses? We can fathom it if we are able to observe the inner activity of the senses while we are not actually perceiving with them. Just as we can remember an experience that took place years before, although it is no longer present, so, if we are able to observe the senses while they are not engaged in any act of perception, we can acquire knowledge of what happens there. It cannot be called remembrance, for that would convey a fallacious idea; nevertheless, in what we perceive we can at the same time perceive the processes that are engendered in the senses by the outer world through color, sound, smell, taste, touch, and so forth.
In this way we can penetrate into something of which man is otherwise unconscious, namely, the activity of his own senses while the outer world is transmitting its impressions to him. And here we become aware that the breathing process — the inbreathing of the air, the distribution of the air in the human organism, the outbreathing — works in a remarkable way through the whole organism. When we breathe in, the inhaled air passes into the very finest ramifications of the senses, and here the rhythmical breathing comes into contact with what is called in Spiritual Science, the astral body of man. What goes on in the senses depends upon the astral body coming into contact with the rhythmical breathing process. Thus when you hear a tone, it is because in your organ of hearing the astral body can come into contact with the vibrating air. It cannot do this in any other part of the human organism, but only in the senses. The senses are present in man in order that the astral body can contact what arises in the human body through the breath. And this happens not only in the organ of hearing but in every sense-organ; even in the sense of touch or feeling that extends over the whole organism the astral body actually comes in contact with the rhythmical breathing, that is to say, with the action of the air in our organism.
It is precisely when studying these things that we realize how necessary it is to keep in mind that man is not merely a solid structure, but almost 90% a column of water; as the air circulates all the time in the inner processes of his body, he is also an air-organism. And the air-organism, with its weaving life, comes into contact, in the sense-organs, with man's astral body. This takes place in very manifold ways in the sense-organs, but speaking generally it may be said that this meeting is the essential factor in all sensory processes.
To observe how an astral body comes into contact with the air is not possible unless we enter the Imaginative world. With Imaginative Cognition other conditions are perceived in the environment of the Earth where the astral forces come into contact with the air. But within us as human beings, what is of essential importance is that the astral body comes into contact with the breathing process and with what is actually sent by the breathing process through the bodily organism.
Thus we learn to know the weaving activity of the Beings belonging to the hierarchy of the Angeloi. The only true picture we can have of it is that in the unconscious process which takes its course in sense-perception, this world of supersensible Beings is working and weaving, passing in and out, as it were, through the doors of our senses. When we hear and when we see, this is a process that does not take place only through our arbitrary will, but belongs also to the objective world, operating in a sphere where we men are not even present, yet through which we are truly men, men endowed with senses.
You see, when our astral body between waking and falling asleep enters into relation in the sphere of our senses with the air that has now become rhythmical breathing and has therefore changed in character, we learn, so to say, to know the outermost periphery of man. But we learn to know still more of man if we can reach the higher stage of supersensible cognition called Inspiration in the books already mentioned.
At this point we must think of how man is subject to the alternating states of waking and sleeping life. Sense-perception too is subject to alternation. Perceptions would not have the right effect upon our consciousness if we were not able continually to interrupt the process involved. You know from purely external experiences that prolonged surrender to a sense-perception impairs consciousness of it. We must again and again withdraw from a given sense-impression, that is to say, we must alternate between the impression and a condition when we have no impression. For our consciousness to be normal as regards sense-impressions depends upon our being able also to withdraw the senses from the impression that is being made upon them; sense-perception must always be subject to these brief alternating conditions. These alternations also occur in longer periods of our life, for we alternate once in every twenty-four hours between waking and sleeping.
You are aware that when we pass over into the condition of sleep, our astral body and ego leave our physical and etheric bodies. Consequently between going to sleep and waking the astral body enters into relation with the outer world, whereas between waking and going to sleep it is related only to what goes on within the human body. Picture to yourselves these two states, or these two processes: the astral body between waking and going to sleep in connection with what occurs within the human physical and etheric bodies, and the astral body between going to sleep and waking in connection with the outer world, no longer with the physical and etheric bodies of man himself.
The spheres of the senses in us are already almost an outer world — if I may use an expression which, though paradoxical, you will understand. Think, for example, of the human eye. It is like an independent being — naturally I mean this only analogously — but it is truly like an independent being placed there in a cavity in the skull, then continuing further towards the interior with comparative independence. The eye itself, although permeated with life, is remarkably like a physical apparatus. The processes in the eye and the processes in a physical apparatus can be characterized in a remarkably similar way. The soul, it is true, comprises the processes arising in the eye, but, as I have often said, the sense-organs or the spheres of the senses are like gulfs which the outer world extends into us, as it were, and in the spheres of the senses we participate far more in the outer world than we do in the other domains of our organism.
When we turn our attention to some inner organ such as the kidneys, for example, we cannot say that there we share in something external by virtue of experiencing the processes of the organ itself. But in experiencing what goes on in the senses, we experience the outer world at the same time. I beg you to disregard entirely things that may be known to you from treatises on the physiology of the senses and so forth. I am not now referring to any of these things but to the fact that is perfectly accessible to ordinary human understanding, namely, that the process which takes place in the senses can more readily be grasped as something that extends into us from without and in which we participate, than as something we bring about inwardly through our organism. Hence it is also a fact that in the senses our astral body is practically in the outer world. Especially when we have deliberately surrendered ourselves to sense-perceptions of the outer world, our astral body is actually almost entirely submerged in the outer world, though not to the same extent in the case of all the senses. It is completely submerged in the outer world while we sleep. So that from this point of view sleep is a kind of enhancement of surrender of the senses to the outer world. When your eyes are closed, your astral body also withdraws more into the interior of the head; it belongs more to you yourself. When you look out in the normal way, then the astral body draws into the eye and participates in the outer world. If it passes entirely out of your organism, then you go to sleep. Surrender of the senses to the outer world is, in fact, not what is ordinarily supposed, but as regards consciousness is really a stage on the way to going to sleep.
Thus in acts of sense-perception man participates to some extent in the outer world; in sleep he participates in it fully. With Inspiration (knowledge through Inspiration) he can become aware of what is going on in the world in which he is with his astral body between sleeping and waking.
With Inspired Cognition, however, man can become aware of something else, namely the moment of waking. The moment of waking is as it were something that is more intense, more vivid, but may nevertheless be compared with closing the eyes.
When I am standing in front of a color, I surrender my astral body to that in the eye which, as I said, is nearly outside, namely, the process occasioned by a color from the external world making an impression upon my eye. When I close my eyes I draw my astral body back into myself; when I wake, I draw my astral body back from the outer world, from the Cosmos. Often, infinitely often during the waking life of day, in connection with the eyes or the ears, for example, I do the same with my astral body as I do on waking, only then my whole organism is involved as a totality. On waking I draw back my whole astral body. Naturally, this process of drawing back the astral body on waking remains unconscious in the ordinary way, just as the sense-process itself remains unconscious. But if this moment of waking becomes a conscious experience for one who has reached the stage of Inspiration, it is at once evident that this entrance of the astral body takes place in a quite different world from that in which we otherwise live; above all it is very often obvious how difficult it is for the astral body to come back again into the physical and etheric bodies. Hindrances are there.
It can truly be said that one who begins to be aware of this process of the return of the astral body into the physical and etheric bodies experiences spiritual storms and percussions. These spiritual storms show that the astral body is diving down into the physical and etheric bodies but these bodies are not like the descriptions given by anatomists and physiologists, for they too belong to a spiritual world. Both the so-called physical body and the somewhat nebulous etheric body are rooted in a spiritual world. In its real nature the physical body reveals itself as something quite different from the material image presented to the eye or to ordinary science.
This descent of the astral body into the physical and etheric bodies can appear in imagery of infinite variety. Let us say a burning piece of wood drops spluttering into water — that is the simplest, the most abstract analogy for the experience that may arise in one who is just beginning to have knowledge of this process. But then it becomes inwardly real in manifold ways, and is afterwards completely spiritualized inasmuch as what at first can only be compared in its appearance to a raging storm becomes permeated subsequently with harmonious movements, giving the impression that something is speaking, is saying or announcing something.
What is thus announced clothes itself to begin with in pictures of reminiscences from ordinary life; but this changes in course of time and we gradually come to experience a world that is also around us but in which our experiences cannot be called reminiscences of ordinary perceptions, because they are of an entirely different character and because they show us in themselves that this is a different world. It can be perceived that man with his astral body passes out of his environment into the physical and etheric bodies by way of the whole breathing process. The astral body that is active in the senses contacts the delicate ramifications of the breathing process and penetrates into the subtle rhythms in which the breathing process reaches into the sphere of the senses. At the moment of waking the astral body leaves the outer world, enters into the physical and etheric bodies and seizes hold of the breathing process which has been left to itself during the period of sleep. Along the paths of the breathing processes, of the moving breath, the astral body enters into the physical and etheric bodies and spreads out as does the breath itself.
At the moment of waking, ordinary consciousness swiftly obtrudes itself into the perception of the outer world, and quickly unites experience of the breathing process with experience of the organism as a whole. Consciousness at the stage of Inspiration can separate this flow of the astral body along the paths of the breathing rhythm and become aware of the rest of the organic process — although naturally the latter does not take its course on its own. Not only at this moment of waking, but at every moment the movement of the breath in the human organism is of course connected inwardly with the other processes in the organism. But in the higher consciousness of Inspiration the two can be separated. We follow how the astral body, moving along the paths of the rhythmical breathing, enters into the physical body, and then we learn to know something that otherwise remains completely unconscious.
After having experienced all the states of consciousness which accompany this entrance of the astral body and are objective — not subjective — states of feeling, the knowledge comes to us that man, inasmuch as he is not merely a being of sense but also a being of breath, has his roots in the world I have called in Occult Science the world of the Archangeloi. Just as the Beings of the supersensible world standing one stage above man are active in his sense-processes, so are the Beings of the spiritual world standing two stages above him active in his breathing process. They pass in and out, as it were, as he goes to sleep and wakes.
Something of great significance for human life presents itself to us when we observe these processes. If our waking life was not interrupted by sleep, although impressions of the outer world would come to us, these impressions would last only for a short time. We could not develop a lasting power of memory. You know how fleetingly the pictures work in the senses as after-images. Processes activated more deeply in the organism continue to work for a longer time; but the after-effects would not continue for more than a few days if we did not sleep.
What is it that actually goes on in sleep? Here I must remind you of something I said here very recently, describing how during sleep, with his astral body and his ego, man always lives through in backward order what he has experienced in the physical world in the preceding waking period. Let us take a regular waking period and a regular sleeping period — it is however just the same for irregular periods. A man wakes up on a certain morning, busies himself during the day, goes to rest in the evening and sleeps through the night for about a third of the time he has been awake. Between waking and going to sleep he has a series of experiences, daytime experiences. During sleep he actually lives through in backward order what had been experienced during the day. The life of sleep goes backward with greater rapidity, so that only a third of the time is needed.
What has actually happened? If we were to sleep according to the laws of the physical world — I do not now mean the body, for the body sleeps according to those laws as a matter of course — but if in the conditions of existence outside the physical and etheric bodies, in our ego and our astral body, our sleep were governed by the same laws which govern our waking life by day, this movement backwards would not be possible, for we should simply have to go forward with the flow of time. We are subject to altogether different laws when in our astral body and ego we are outside the physical and etheric bodies.
Now think of the following. Today is the 22nd December; this morning was for you, when you woke from sleep, the morning of the 22nd December. Presently you will go to sleep and by the time you wake tomorrow, your experiences in their backward order, will have brought you again to the morning of today, the 22nd December. So you have gone through an inner process in which you have turned back. When you wake tomorrow, the morning of 23rd December, the process will have carried you back to the morning of the 22nd December. You wake up; at the same moment — because now your astral body, contrary to the laws it has been obeying during your sleep, makes the jerk through your body into the ordinary physical world — at the same moment you are compelled in your inmost soul-life to go forward quickly with your ego and astral body to the morning of the 23rd December. You actually pass through this process inwardly.
I want you to grasp in its full significance what I am now going to say. If you have some kind of gas in a closed vessel, you can compress this gas so that it becomes denser. That is a process in Space. But it can be compared — naturally only compared — with what I have just been describing to you. You go back in your astral body and your ego to the morning of December 22nd, and then, when you next wake, you jerk quickly forward to the morning of December 23rd. You impel your soul forward in Time. And through this process your soul-being, your astral body, becomes so condensed within Time, that it carries the impressions of the outer world not only for a short period, but as enduring memory. Just as any gas that is condensed exercises a stronger pressure, has more inner power, so does your astral body acquire the strong power of remembrance, of memory, through this inner condensation in Time.
This gives us an idea of something that otherwise always escapes our consciousness. We are apt to conceive that Time flows on evenly, and that everything taking place in Time also flows on evenly with it. As regards Space we know that whatever is extended in Space can be condensed; its inner power of expansion increases. But what lives in Time, the element of soul, can be condensed too — I am speaking figuratively, of course — and then its inner power increases. And for man, one of these powers is the power of memory.
We actually owe this power of remembrance, of memory, to what happens during our sleep. From the time of going to sleep until waking we are in the world of the Archangeloi, and together with the Beings of that hierarchy we cultivate this power of memory. Just as we cultivate the power of sense-perception and the combining of sense-perceptions together with the Beings of the hierarchy of the Angeloi, so do we cultivate this power of memory, which is a more in ward power, more connected with the centre of our being, in communion with the world of the Archangeloi.
True knowledge of man does not exist in a nebulous, mystic form of brooding introspection; true knowledge of man, with every further step that is taken into the inner life, leads at the same time into higher worlds. We have spoken today of two such steps. If we contemplate the sphere of the senses we are in the sphere of the Angeloi; if we contemplate the sphere of memory, we are in the sphere of the Archangloi. Self-knowledge is at the same time knowledge of the Gods, knowledge of Spirit, because every step that leads into man's inner being leads ipso facto into the spiritual world. And the deeper the penetration within, the higher — to use a paradox — is the ascent into the world of spiritual Beings. Self-knowledge, if it is earnest, is true World-knowledge, namely, knowledge of the spiritual content of the World.
From what has been said you can understand why in ancient times, when certain oriental peoples were striving to acquire an instinctive kind of spiritual vision, the aim was to make the breathing process into a conscious process by means of special breathing exercises. In point of fact, as soon as the breathing process becomes a conscious process, we enter into a spiritual world.
I need not say again today that those ancient practices should not be repeated by modern man with his different constitution, but should be replaced by others which are set forth in the books mentioned. It can however be said with truth in the case of both kinds of knowledge, the knowledge based upon the old, mystical clairvoyance and the knowledge yielded by the exact clairvoyance proper to the modern age, that genuine observation of the processes which take place inwardly in man leads at the same time into the spiritual world.
There are people who say: All this is unspiritual, for the aim is to investigate the senses, the breathing. They call it materialistic self-knowledge in comparison with nebulous mystical experience. But let them try to practice it for once! They will soon discover that genuine knowledge of the sense-process reveals it to be a spiritual process and that to regard it as a material process is sheer illusion. And the same applies to the breathing process. The breathing process is a material process only when seen externally. Seen from within, it is through and through a spiritual process, actually taking its course in a world far higher than the world we perceive through our senses.