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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Soul Economy
Body, Soul and Spirit in Waldorf Education
GA 302

IV. Education Based on Knowledge of the Human Being III

26 December 1921, Stuttgart

When trying to understand the world through a natural scientific interpretation of its phenomena, whether through cognition or through everyday life, people tend to consider conditions only as they meet them in the moment. Such a statement might seem incorrect to those who merely look at the surface of things, but as we proceed, it will become evident that this is indeed true. We have grown accustomed to investigate the human physical organism with the accepted methods of biology, physics, and anatomy, but (though this may appear wrong at first) in the results we find only what the present moment reveals to us.

For example, we might observe the lungs of a child, of an adult, and of an older person, in their stages from the beginning to the end of life, and we reach certain conclusions. But we do not really penetrate the element of time at all in this way, because we limit ourselves to spatial observations, which we then invest with qualities of time. We are doing the same thing, to use a simile, when we read the time by looking at a clock. We note the position of the hands in the morning, for example, and positions in space indicate the time for us. We may look at the clock again at noon and deduce the passage of time from the spatial changes of its hands. We take our bearing in the course of time from the movements of the clock’s hands from point to point in space. This has become our way of judging time in everyday life. But through this method we cannot experience the true nature of time. Yet only by penetrating time with the same awareness we use to experience space can we correctly assess human life between birth and death. I would like to illustrate these theoretical remarks with examples to show the importance of living into the dimension of time, especially if you want to practice the art of education.

Let us take as our example a child who is full of reverence toward adults. Anyone with a healthy instinct would consider such an attitude in a child as something wholesome, especially if such reverence is justified, as indeed it should be on the part of the adult. However, people usually think no further, but merely attribute a feeling of reverence toward adults to certain aspects of childhood and leave it at that. But we cannot recognize the importance of such reverence unless we include the entire course of a human life in our considerations.

As we grows older, we may have the opportunity to observe old people. We may discover that some of them have the gift of bringing soul comfort to those who need it. Often it is not what they have to say that acts as balm on a suffering soul, but just the tone of voice or the way they speak. If now you follow this old person’s life back to childhood, you find that, as a child, that individual was full of reverence and respect for adults. Naturally, this attitude of reverence will disappear in later life, but only on the surface. Deep down, it will gradually transform, only to reemerge later as the gift of bringing solace and elevation to suffering and troubled minds.

One could also say it this way: If a young child has learned to pray and has learned to develop an inner mood of prayer, this mood will enter the subconscious and transform into the capacity of blessing in the ripeness of old age. When we meet old people whose mere presence radiates blessing upon those around them, you find that in their childhood they experienced and developed this inner mood of prayer. Such a transformation can be discovered only if one has learned to experience time as concretely as we generally experience space. We must learn to recognize the time element with the same awareness with which we experience space. Time must not be experienced only in spatial terms, as when we look at a clock. What I have been trying to illustrate regarding the moral aspects of life needs to become very much a part of our concept of the human being—certainly if we are going to develop a true art of education. I would like to elaborate this in greater detail.

If we compare human beings with the animals, we find that from the moment of birth, animals (especially the higher species) are equipped with all the faculties needed for living. A chick leaving its shell does not need to learn to walk and is immediately adapted to its surroundings. Each animal’s organs are firmly adapted to the specific needs of its species. This is not at all true, however, of human beings, who come into this world completely helpless. Only gradually do we develop the capacities and skills needed for life. This is because the most important period in our earthly life is between the end of childhood and the beginning of old age. This central period of maturity is the most important feature of human life on earth. During that time, we adapt our organism to external life by gaining aptitudes and skills. We develop a reciprocal relationship to the outer world, based on our range of experience. This central period, when human organs maintain the ability to evolve and adapt, is completely missing in the life of animals. The animal is born in a state that is fundamentally comparable to an old person, whose organic forms have become rigid. If you want to understand the nature of an animal’s relationship to its surroundings, look at it in terms of our human time of old age.

Now we can ask whether an animal shows the characteristics of old age in its soul qualities. This is not the case, because in an animal there is also the opposite pole, which counteracts this falling into old age, and this is the animal’s capacity of reproduction. The ability to reproduce, whether in the human or animal kingdom, always engenders forces of rejuvenation. While animal fall prey to the influences of aging too quickly on the one hand, on the other they are saved from premature aging because of the influx of reproductive forces until maturity.

If you can observe an animal or an animal species without preconceived ideas, you will conclude that, when the animal is capable of reproduction, it has reached a stage equivalent to that of old age in a human being. The typical difference in the human being is the fact that both old age and childhood (when the child’s reproductive system is slowly maturing) are placed on either end of the human central period, and during this period the human organism remains flexible, enabling human beings to relate and adapt individually to the environment. Through this arrangement, a human being will be a child at the right time, then leave childhood at the right time to enter maturity. And a person leaves maturity when it is time to enter old age.

If you look at human life from this aspect of time, you also understand certain abnormalities. You may encounter people who (if I may put it this way) slip prematurely into old age. I am not thinking so much of the obvious features typically associated with old age, such as grey hair or baldness; even a bald-headed person may still be childish. I am thinking of the more subtle indications, detectable only by more intimate observations. One could call such features the signs of a senile soul life, manifesting in people who should still be in the central period of flexibility and adaptability. But the opposite may also happen; a person may be unable to leave the stage of childhood at the right time and carry infantile features into the central stage of life. In this case, strange things may happen in the life of that person—the symptoms of which we can only touch on today. When we include the time element in our picture of the human being, we can diagnose aberrations in human behavior.

We know that, as we approach old age, we lose flexibility especially in the head. Consequently, all the capacities that we have acquired during life attain more of a soul and spiritual quality. But this is possible only at the expense of the head as a whole assuming certain animal-like qualities. From a physical point of view, an old person goes through conditions similar to those of a newborn animal. To a certain extent one becomes “animalized.” Thus old people gain something that they may preserve for the rest of their lives, provided their education was right. Their spiritual, soul experiences of the outer world no longer enter fully into the human organization. The cranium becomes ossified and fixed. Old people thus depend more on soul and spiritual links with the surrounding world. They are no longer able to transform outer events into inward qualities as well as they once did. Thus, a kind of animalization of the upper regions takes place.

It is possible for this animalization of the head structure to occur prematurely—during the middle period of life—but because we remain human despite such a tendency, we do not encounter external symptoms. Rather, we must look for certain changes in the soul realm. If the characteristic relationship of the older person to the outer world manifests prematurely—and this can happen even during childhood—a person’s experiences is drawn too much into the physical system, since the general flexibility of the rest of the human organization, typical of the younger age, naturally retains the upper hand. In this case, a person will experience inwardly, and too early, a relationship to the outer world typical of old age. Interaction between inner and outer world would thus be linked too much to the physical organization, bringing about soul properties more like that in the animal world than in normal human beings.

One can say (if you want to express it in this way) that animals have the advantage of a certain instinct over human beings, an instinct that links them more directly and intimately to the environment than is true of the normal human being. It is not simply a myth, but completely reflects the peculiarities of animal life, that certain animals will leave a place that is in danger of a natural catastrophe. Animals are gifted with certain prophetic instincts of self-preservation. It is also true that animals experience far more intensely the changing seasons than do human beings. They can sense the approaching time for migration, because they have an intimate and instinctive relationship with the environment. If we could look into an animal’s soul, we would find—although entirely unconsciously—an instinctive wisdom of life that manifests as the animal’s ability to live entirely within the manifold processes and forces of nature.

Now, if a person falls victim to encroaching age too early, this animal-like instinctive experience of the surroundings begins to develop, though in a sublimated form because it is lifted into the human sphere. Lower forms of clairvoyance, such as telepathy, telekinesis and so on—described correctly or wrongly—occur abnormally in human life and are simply the result of this premature aging in the central period of life. When this process of aging occurs at the proper time, people experience it in a healthy way, whereas if it appears in the twenties, a person gains clairvoyance of a low order. The symptoms of premature aging represent an abnormality in life that does not manifest outwardly but in a more hidden way. If these forms of lower clairvoyance were studied from the aspect of premature aging, a people would gain far deeper insight into these phenomena. This is possible, however, only when people observe life in a more realistic way. It is not good enough to investigate what we see with our eyes at the present moment. People must learn to recognize indications in these symptoms of a time shift from later to earlier stages of life.

We will see in the next few days how healing processes can occur through exact insight into human nature. It is possible that a kind of animalization could manifest not as an outwardly visible aging process but as a close, instinctive relationship to the environment encroaching on the lower regions of the human being and otherwise characteristic of an animal. The resulting phenomena of telepathy, telekinesis, and so on do not become less interesting because they are recognized for what they really are—the intrusion of a later stage of life upon an earlier, not manifestations of the spirit world. By developing time consciousness, we can fathom the very depths of human nature. To live in the dimension of time is to survey the course of time until we can see into both the past and future from the present moment.

You can get a sense of how present-day observation (though externally it may appear otherwise) is very remote from this more inward means of observation, which is more concurrent with time and its flow. Inadequate interpretation of what we encounter in life is the result of modern methods of observation. Contemporary scientific explanations and their effects on life are full of anemic interpretations.

Looking at the course of human life, we discover that the opposite of what we just described can also happen when childishness is carried into maturity. It is characteristic of children that they not only experience the external world less consciously than adults, but their experiences are also much more intimately connected with metabolic changes. When children see colors, their impressions strongly affect the metabolic processes; a child takes in outer sensory impressions all the way into the metabolism. It is not a mere metaphor to say that children digest their sensory impressions, because their digestion responds to all of their outer experiences. An old person develops certain animal characteristics within the physical, but a child’s entire life is filled with a sensitivity toward the vegetative organic processes that also affect the child’s soul life. Unless we are aware of this, we cannot understand a child’s nature.

In later years, human beings leave the digestive and metabolic processes more or less on their own; experiences of the external world are more independent of those processes. They do not allow their soul and spiritual reactions toward the outer world to affect the metabolism to the extent that a child does. The response of adults to their surroundings is not accompanied by the same liveliness of glandular secretion as in children.

Children take in outer impressions as if they were edible substances, but adults leave their digestion to itself, and this alone makes them adults under normal circumstances. But there are cases where certain vegetative and organic forces, which are properly at work during childhood, continue to work in an adult, affecting the psyche as well. In this case, other abnormal symptoms are also liable to occur. An example will make this clear. Imagine, for example, a girl who comes to love a dog that has made a deep impression on her nature. If she has carried childishness into later life, this tenderness will work right into the metabolism. Organic processes that correspond to her feelings of affection will be established. In this situation, digestive processes occur not only after eating or as the result of normal physical activities, but certain areas within the digestive system will develop a habit of secreting and regenerating substances in response to the strong emotions evoked by the love for the animal. The dog will become indispensable to the well-being of her vegetative system. And what happens if the dog dies? The connection in outer life is broken; the organic processes continue by force of inertia, but they are no longer satisfied. Her feelings miss something they had gotten used to, and inner troubles and strange disturbances may follow. A friend may suggest getting a new dog to restore the previous state of health, since the inner organic processes would again find satisfaction through external experiences. We will see later, however, that there are better ways to cure such an abnormality, but anyone may reasonably try to solve the problem this way.

There are of course many other examples, less drastic than a deep affection for a dog. If an adult has not outgrown certain childhood forces that absorb external impressions into the digestive system, and if that adult can no longer satisfy this abnormal habit, certain cravings within the vegetative organism will result. But there are other things that may have been loved and lost that cannot be replaced; then a person remains dissatisfied, morose, and psychosomatic. One must try to find the true causes of the seemingly inexplicable symptoms that arise from the depths of the unconscious. There are people who can sense what needs to be done to alleviate suffering caused by unsatisfied emotions that affect inner organic processes. They manage to coax and to bring to consciousness what the patient wants to recall, and in this way they can help a great deal.

Because of the present condition of our civilization, there are many who have not progressed from childhood to adulthood in the normal way, and the ensuing symptoms, both light and serious, have been widely noted. Whereas this led naturally to conversations in ordinary life among helpful, interested people, the situation has stimulated—in many respects rightly so—psychological research, and a new scientific terminology has sprung up. The patient’s psyche is examined through investigation of dreams or by freely or involuntarily giving oneself away. In this way, unfulfilled urges arise from the subconscious into consciousness. This new branch of science is called psychology or psychoanalysis, the science of probing the hidden regions of the soul. However, we are not dealing with “hidden regions of the soul,” but with the remains of vegetative organic processes left behind and craving satisfaction. When thwarted desires have been diagnosed, one can help patients readapt, and here lies the value of psychoanalysis.

When judging these things, anthroposophy, or spiritual science, finds itself in a difficult position. It has no quarrel with the findings of natural science; on the contrary, spiritual science is quite prepared to recognize and accept whatever remains properly within its realm. Similarly, spiritual science accepts psychoanalysis within its proper limits. But spiritual science tries to see all problems and questions within the widest context, encompassing the entire universe and the whole human being. It feels it is necessary to broaden the arbitrary restrictions laid down by natural science, which even today often investigates in an unprofessional and superficial way. Anthroposophy has no wish and no intention to quarrel and only puts what is stated in a lopsided way into a wider perspective. Yet this approach is distasteful and unacceptable to those who prefer to wear blinders, and, consequently, furious attacks are made against anthroposophy. Spiritual science must defend itself against an imbalanced attitude, but it will never be aggressive. This has to be said regarding the present currents of thought, as we find in psychoanalysis.

A person may draw the last period of life too much into middle age and, with it, experience abnormal relationships with the external world, manifesting as lower forms of clairvoyance, such as telepathy. In this case, one’s horizon extends beyond the normal human scope in an animal-like fashion. It is important to distinguish the two opposing situations, since a person may also move in the other direction by pushing what properly belongs to childhood into later periods of life. As a result, one becomes enmeshed too strongly with the physical organism, with the result that organic surges swamp the psyche, causing disturbances and inner abnormalities. Such a person suffers from a relationship that is too close to one’s own organic system. This relationship has been diagnosed by psychoanalysis, which should nevertheless direct its attention toward the human organs to understand the roots of this problem.

If we desire a comprehensive knowledge of the human being, it is absolutely necessary to include the entire human life between birth and death in our considerations. It is essential to focus on the effects of passing time and to inwardly live with and experience those effects. Spiritual science pursues knowledge of the whole human being by penetrating the suprasensory, using its own specific methods and fully considering the time element, which is generally ignored completely in our present stage of civilization. Imagination, inspiration and intuition, which are the specific methods of spiritual scientific work, must be built on an experience of time.

Imagination, inspiration and intuition, the ways leading to suprasensory cognition, should not be seen as faculties beyond ordinary human life but as a continuation, or extension, of ordinary human capacities. Spiritual science dismisses the bias that maintains we can attain this sort of cognition only through some special grace; spiritual science holds that we can become conscious of certain faculties lying deep within us and that we have the power to train them. The usual kind of knowledge gotten through modern scientific training and in ordinary practical life must certainly be transcended.

What happens when we try to comprehend the world around us—not as scientifically trained specialists but as ordinary people? We are surrounded by colors, sounds, varying degrees of warmth, and so on, all of which I would like to call the tapestry of the sensory world. We surrender to these sensory impressions and weave them without thoughts. If you think about the nature of memories rising in your soul, you will find that they are the result of sensory impressions woven into our thoughts. Our whole life depends on imparting this texture of sensory impressions and thoughts to our soul life. But what really happens? Look at the diagram. Let the line a to b represent the tapestry of the sensory world around us, consisting of colors, sounds, smells, and so on. We give ourselves up to our observation, this tapestry of the senses, and weave its impressions with our thinking (indicated here by the wavy line).

Observation and Thinking

When living in our senses, we unite all our experiences with our thoughts. We interpret the sensory stimuli through thinking. But when we project our thoughts into our surroundings, this tapestry becomes a barrier for us, a metaphorical canvas upon which we draw and paint all our thoughts, but which we cannot penetrate. We cannot break through this incorporeal wall with ordinary consciousness. As the thoughts are stopped by this canvas, they are inscribed upon it.

The only possibility of penetrating this wall is gained by raising one’s consciousness to the state of imagination through systematic and regular meditation exercises. It is equally possible to undergo an inner training in meditation as a method of research in an outwardly directed study of chemistry or astronomy. If you read my book How to Know Higher Worlds and the second part of An Outline of Esoteric Science, you can convince yourselves that, if you want to reach the final goal, the methods for such meditative exercises are certainly not simple and less time-consuming than those needed to study astronomy or chemistry. On the other hand, it is relatively easy to read books giving information about such exercises and, using one’s common sense, examine the truths of spiritual scientific research. You do not have to take these on authority. Even if you cannot investigate the spiritual world yourself, it is possible to test given results by studying the specific methods employed.

Meditative practice is based on freeing ourselves from outer sensory impressions. In meditation, we do not surrender to sensory impressions, but to the life of thinking. However, by dwelling again and again in meditation on a given thought or mental image—one that is easily and fully comprehensible—we gradually bring our life of thought to such a strength and inner substance that we learn to move in it with the same certainty we have in our sensory impressions. You have all experienced the difference between the striking effects of outer sensory impressions and the rather limp and pale world of our thoughts during ordinary consciousness. Sensory impressions are intense and alive. We give ourselves up to them. Thoughts, on the other hand, turn pale and become abstract and cold. But the very core of meditating is learning, through regular practice, to imbue thoughts with the same intensity and life that normally fills our sensory experiences. If we succeed in grasping a meditation with the same inner intensity that we experience through the stimulus of a color, for example, then we have enlivened, in the right way, the underlying thoughts of a meditation. But all this must happen with the same inner freedom employed in the normal weaving of thoughts or ordinary sense perceptions. Just as we do not allow ourselves to be taken over by nebulous moods or mystical dreaming, or become fatuous visionaries when observing the external world, we must not lose our firm ground when meditating in the right way. The same sane mood with which we perceive the world around us must also take hold when we meditate.

This attitude of taking outer sensory perceptions as an example for one’s conduct when meditating is characteristic of the anthroposophic method. There are plenty of vague mystics who disparage sensory perceptions as inferior and advise leaving them behind. They claim that, when you meditate, you should reach a state of mystic dreaming. The result, of course, is a condition of half sleep, certainly not meditation. Spiritual science pursues the opposite goal, considering the quality, intensity, and liveliness of sensory perception as an example to be followed until the meditator moves inwardly with the same freedom with which one encounters sensory perceptions. We need not fear we will become dried up bores. The meditative content (which we experience objectively in meditative practice) saves us from that. Because of the inner content that we experience while freeing ourselves from ordinary life, there is no need to enter a vague, trance-like state while meditating.

Correct meditation allows us to gain the ability to move freely in our life of thinking. This in turn redeems the thoughts from their previous abstract nature; they become image-like. This happens in full consciousness, just as all healthy thinking takes place. It is essential that we do not lose full consciousness, and this distinguishes meditation from a hallucinatory state. Those who give themselves up to hallucinations, becoming futile enthusiasts or visionaries, relinquish common sense; on the other hand, those who wish to follow the methods advocated here must make sure common sense accompanies all their weaving thought imagery. And what does this lead to? Though fully awake, we experience the pictorial quality of the dream world. The significant difference between imagination and dream images is that we are completely passive when experiencing the imagery of dreams. If they arise from the subconscious and enter our waking state, we can observe them only after they have occurred. When practicing imagination, on the other hand, we initiate them ourselves; we create images that are not mere fantasy, but differ in intensity and strength from the fantasy as do dream images. The main point is that we initiate the images ourselves, and this frees us from the illusion that they are a manifestation of the external world. Those given up to hallucinations, however, always believe that what comes to them represents reality, because they know that they did not create what they see. This is the cause of the deception. Those who practice imagination through meditation cannot possibly believe that the images they create represent external reality. The first step toward suprasensory cognition depends on freeing ourselves from the illusion that the images we have created—having the same intensity as those of the dream world—are real. This, however, is obvious, because the meditator remains fully aware of having initiated them in complete freedom. Only the insane would mistake them for outer reality.

Now, in the next step in meditation we acquire the ability to allow these images to vanish without a trace. This is not as easy as one might expect, because, unless the one meditating has created them in full freedom, the images become quite fascinating and fix themselves on the mind like parasites. One has to become strong enough to let such pictures disappear at will. This second step is equally important as the first. In ordinary life, we need the ability to forget; otherwise we would have to go through life with the total of all our memories. Similarly, the complete extinction of meditative images is as important as their initial creation.

When we have thoroughly practiced these exercises, we have done something to our soul life that might be compared to the strengthening of muscles through repeated bending and stretching. By learning to weave and form images and then to obliterate them—and all this is done in complete freedom of the will—we have performed an important training of the soul. We will have developed the faculty of consciously forming images that, under normal circumstances, appear only in dreams, during a state that escapes ordinary consciousness and is confined to the time between falling asleep and awaking. Now, however, this condition has been induced in full consciousness and freedom. Training in imagination means training the will to consciously create images and to consciously remove them from the mind. And through this, we acquire yet another faculty.

Everyone has this faculty automatically—not during sleep, but at the moments of awaking and falling asleep. It is possible that what was experienced between these two points in time comes to us as remnants of dreams, often experienced as though they come from the beyond. Naturally, it is equally possible that what we encounter on awaking surprises us so much that all memories of dreams sink below the threshold of consciousness. In general, we can say that, because dream imaginations are experienced involuntarily, something chaotic and erratic that normally lies beyond consciousness finds its way to us. If, while fully awake, we develop the ability of creating and of obliterating imaginations, we may reach a condition of emptied consciousness. This is like a new awakening, then, from beyond the tapestry of the sensory world; spiritual entities pass through the tapestry to reach us on paths smoothed by the meditation content (see the circle in the diagram). While thus persevering in emptied consciousness, we push through the barrier of the senses, and images come to us from beyond the sensory world, carried by inspiration. We enter the world beyond the sensory world. Through imagination, we prepare for inspiration, which involves the ability to experience consciously something that happens unconsciously at the moment of awaking. Right at the moment of awaking, something from beyond our waking soul life enters consciousness, so that something beyond the conscious sensory world enters us if, through imagination, we have trained our soul as described.

In this way, we experience the spiritual world beyond the world of the senses. The faculties of suprasensory cognition are extensions of those naturally given to us in ordinary life. It is one of the main tasks of spiritual science to train and foster the development of these higher faculties. And grasping the time element in human life is fundamental to such development.

If you look at the preparatory exercises for imagination, inspiration, and intuition as given in How to Know Higher Worlds or An Outline of Esoteric Science, you find that everything said there aims at one thing: learning to experience the flow of time. The human being goes through the various stages of experience in the world, first as a child, then as a mature person, and finally as an old person; otherwise, one may suffer from an abnormal overlap of one stage into the other. It is not imagination itself, but the meditative preparation, that should give the possibility of developing the full potential and of learning how to give ourselves to the world out of the fullness of life. To this end harmony must be brought about between the specific contributions to the world of childhood, middle age, and old age. These must flow together harmoniously into a worldview capable of reaching the spiritual world. Human beings in their wholeness, which includes the domain of time, must be actively engaged in work in the world. To achieve a worldview that reaches beyond the barriers of the sensory world, human beings must preserve the freshness of experience proper to youth; the clarity of thought and the freedom of judgment proper to the central period of life; and the power of loving devotion toward life that can reach perfection in old age. All these qualities are a necessary preparation for the proper development of imagination, inspiration, and intuition.