Body, Soul and Spirit in Waldorf Education
V. Health and Illness I
27 December 1921, Stuttgart
As described in the previous lecture, cognition through imagination can be attained by lifting into consciousness what is active subconsciously and involuntarily in dreaming. To be more precise, it is the activity behind our dreaming and not the dreaming itself with its content that is lifted into consciousness, since if this were to happen, we should remain in the realm of unreality. (For the moment I will leave this activity behind our dreaming undefined.) It is this activity — lifted into consciousness by controlled will power — that becomes the basis for cognition through imagination, and this conscious activity is very different from that of dreaming. In dream activity, because we are not active participants, we have the feeling that our experiences are real. But when we lift the activity that produces dreams into consciousness, we realize very well that we are seeing images we ourselves made. It is this awareness that saves us from falling into hallucinations instead of doing research through spiritual science.
This first meditative activity of creating images must now be superseded by a second step that involves obliterating those images, thus leading to empty consciousness. If you have been able, in full consciousness and under full control, to enhance your soul powers in this way, you will have in fact entered the spiritual world. You will then be able to engage in an activity that, being solely soul and spirit, is independent of the physical body; you no longer perceive with your physical organs. While thinking becomes freed from the body, your conscious experience becomes purely spiritual.
Yesterday I showed that, for spiritual scientific investigators, dreamlike experience is not to be seen as a model for spiritual perception. Only fully controlled experiences, similar to those of our sensory perceptions, are valid. Obviously there is no possibility of sensory perception in suprasensory cognition. Nevertheless, we can see definite capacities in our ability to move freely when surrounded by sensory perceptions and in our independence from our personal makeup while perceiving. An example will clarify my meaning.
Let us look at one of our most characteristic and representative sensory organs, the human eye. We recognize the relative independence of this organ by the way it rests in its cavity, attached to the remaining organism by insubstantial links. Forgetting for the moment what happens in the act of seeing, we find another, more external process. Near the eye are the lachrymal glands, which, while we are awake, continually secrete a liquid composed mainly of salt water. This liquid flushes the whole eyeball, especially the part exposed to the outer air when the eye is open. Through this glandular activity, the eye is constantly bathed so that dust entering the eye from the outside is washed away through tear ducts entering the nose. This process, which forms part of the normal function of our organ of sight, is hidden from ordinary consciousness.
Now this wisely ordained (though completely unconscious) activity of the lachrymal glands can be accelerated by the various stimuli of pressure or cold, for example, or through exhaustion, either in the eye or in the organism in general. The lachrymal glands thus become more active, and the cause of secretion and the secretion of tears itself begins to enter our consciousness. However, a further increase of this activity may occur in a very different way; when sadness makes us weep, tears flow as a result of a purely emotional stress or because our feelings have been deeply moved. Here we see how, under normal circumstances, the lachrymal liquid is constantly secreted in complete unconsciousness, and how outer irritants will lead to an increase in our consciousness of this activity. But when a person cries because of soul distress, this lachrymal activity is lifted into the sphere of consciousness only through soul or moral issues, not through physical causes.
This simple fact can help to illustrate what happens when, through meditation, we are able to lift ourselves into a bodyfree state of consciousness, in which we can live entirely in soul and spiritual experiences. If you shed tears because you receive a letter that makes you unhappy, you must admit that the cause of your tears has nothing to do with your physical eyes. Nevertheless, it affects your physical eyes. The fact that tears are not connected with the physical act of reading the letter is easily proved if someone else reads the letter to you and you experience the same tearful consequences. Something non-physical has set an organic process in motion.
Now imagine you have gained such mastery over yourself that you can suffer great sorrow without shedding any tears. Of course, this does not imply that your anguish would be any less intense than when you weep. In this situation, soul experiences do not directly affect the bodily functions. This example may illustrate how, through self-development, we can achieve a state of soul and spirit, emancipated from the physical organism. It may help you to form some idea of how imagination, inspiration, and intuition as methods of spiritual science can open the gates into the suprasensory world. If you take the proper steps, you will be able to describe experiences from beyond the tapestry of the senses, experiences that may be seen as an enhanced continuation of what a person experiences in normal life. This, however, is possible only through the practice of specific soul and spiritual exercises.
If now, through continued spiritual training, you have reached the stage where you can suppress previous imaginations of your own creation, and if in the ensuing stage of emptied consciousness you are able to experience real soul and spiritual content, the first thing that comes to meet you is a tableau sort of image of your earthly life, approximately from birth until the present. You will be unable to see your physical body in that picture, because it vanishes when you reach bodyfree perception. And there before you, ready to meet your soul, is everything you have experienced, everything that belongs to your stream of memory, which normally remains unconscious, with only individual images occasionally arising. It confronts you as an entity, as a kind of time organism full of its own inner movement.
If you look at the physical body as it appears spatially, you find that its members are interdependent, all together making up the whole. What happens in the head has a certain relationship with the stomach and vice versa. All the processes in an organism are interrelated. The same is true of an organism existing in time; later events depend on earlier ones, and the past lives in the present. At such a moment, you are all at once confronted by a tableau of your whole life.
Now, if you are able to consciously suppress the tableau of these memory pictures — not just the body but the entire life tableau — you reach the stage where you are able to perceive experiences prior to birth, or rather, prior to conception. The realm of soul and spirit that you inhabited before entering this earthly existence remains part of your inner being, even during life on earth. It works and lives in us in a way similar to the way hydrogen lives with oxygen after they form water. One cannot examine hydrogen separately from the oxygen while they form water; similarly, one cannot examine the human soul and spirit separately while we live on earth. Just as the oxygen must first be isolated from water before we can examine the remaining hydrogen, the soul and spiritual parts of the human being must first be isolated. When this happens, we are led not into the present time but into our pre-earthly existence. Thus, you really can perceive what has descended from the spirit world to assume earthly form. The realm where we lived before entering earthly life is revealed to us.
It is understandable if some are unprepared to go to such lengths to investigate the eternal human being. Certainly, everyone is free not to follow these paths. But to think it is possible to examine the human soul and spirit using ordinary methods of cognition is like believing naively that we could examine hydrogen while it forms a part of water, without first isolating it. One must recognize that ordinary consciousness is unable to enter the realm of soul and spirit. If you are unprepared to accept the results of spiritual investigation, you will have to remain silent about suprasensory realities. And in this case, you will have to be content with involvement only within material existence. The truth may be irksome to some, but there are certain facts in life that one must simply accept.
Continuing along this path of spiritual training, we gradually reach knowledge through inspiration. We become inspired by something that does not normally enter consciousness but permeates our being as does the oxygen we breathe in from the outer air. In full consciousness, we are filled with inspirational cognition and the experience of our pre-earthly life, just as in respiration we are filled with physical oxygen. We breathe with our soul and spiritual being, rising to the stage of inspiration. This word was not chosen arbitrarily, but with the nature of this type of cognition in mind.
Inspirational cognition has yet another characteristic. You will find more about it in How to Know Higher Worlds. In order to develop this higher cognition, another faculty is necessary: presence of mind. It is this faculty that enables us to act spontaneously during any given life situation. In order not to miss the right moment, we may have to act without waiting until we have time to assess an issue properly. We should really use these moments in life to practice swift and decisive action, learning to quickly grasp the moment, because whatever comes through inspiration passes in a flash. As soon as it appears, it has already vanished. One must be able to catch such fleeting moments with the utmost attentiveness.
The ordinary world of the senses appears to us be spread out in space. But when we are confronted by our life tableau, we see it existing in time. However, during inspirational cognition, we are outside the realm of time. We depend on being able to perceive in the flash of a moment; time loses its meaning as soon as we experience inspiration.
If we penetrate this life tableau, we find something far more real than the ordinary memory pictures can give us. The images of memory are neutral and lack inner strength; they are there, and we are free to take them up, but in themselves they have no strength. When viewing our life tableau, on the other hand, we see that it is full of its own life and strength and contains the very forces that form the human being. These are the suprasensory, formative forces that are active, for example, in forming the brain of a young child before the final structure has been finished. It is these formative forces that we begin to recognize, for they are contained within this life tableau. We do not apprehend something abstract, but a full reality, encompassing the course of time and full of power. It is the refined nonmaterial body of forces that we also call the ether body, or body of formative forces. This body presents only momentarily a well-defined appearance in space, for it is in constant motion. If we were to try to paint a picture of it, we would paint something unreal, because the ether body is in a constant flow. Its subsequent stage would be very different again, just as a former stage was different. This ether body is a time organism through and through, and is the basis for the growing processes and the forces active in the human metabolism.
Once we have advanced far enough in imaginative cognition, consciously living in the realm of soul and spirit beyond the physical, and once we have progressed far enough to see our life tableau — or ether body — at will, then we have truly experienced a complete transformation of our cognition. We find that experiences in the etheric world are similar to, and yet very different from, what happens in the world of artistic activity. To experience this, one has to develop a more creative way of thinking, one very different from abstract naturalistic thinking. Although in certain respects this kind of thinking resembles that of a creative artist, in other ways it is quite different. An artist’s creations have to reach a certain finality within the realm of fantasy. The artist’s creativity remains bound to the physical; it is not freed from corporeality. But the activity practiced in imaginative cognition is freed entirely from the physical and, therefore, is capable of grasping spiritual reality. For example, when we look at the Venus de Milo, we hardly have the feeling that this statue will move and walk toward us; an artistic creation does not embody outer realities. If you saw the devil painted on canvas, you would not be afraid that he was coming after you. The important thing is the way an artist, bound to physical reality, deals with material reality. But artists do not plunge into the reality of soul and spirit. What has been achieved in imaginative cognition, on the other hand, is immersed in ultimate reality, the reality of spiritual processes.
Now someone might argue that pure cognition should be kept separate from artistic activities. It is easy to prove by logic that cognizing means moving from one concept to the next in logical sequence and that, if we enter the sphere of art, we are in fact transgressing the realm of cognition. One can argue for a long time about the laws of cognition. But if nature herself is an artistic creator, she will never reveal herself to mere logical thinking. Logic alone will never reach her true being. Therefore, however much logic might prove that cognizing should not be confused with artistic activities, we cannot enter the reality of the etheric world without an artistic mode of cognition. What matters is the way things are and not what the laws of cognition should be. Even when certain suppositions are logically tenable, they may only prevent us from reaching our goal. Therefore it is proper to maintain that an artistic element must become part of our efforts if we wish to raise our ordinary cognition to the level of imagination.
When we reach the stage of inspiration, we may again compare our experiences with something they resemble, yet differ from greatly: moral experiences and the comprehension of moral ideas. Viewed qualitatively, inspirations are like moral ideas. Yet they are totally different, since any moral ideal we may have does not, in itself, have the power to realize itself on its own; in themselves, moral ideals are powerless. We must make them effective through our own physical personality, placing them in the world by means of our physical existence. Otherwise, they remain only thoughts. But this cannot be said of an inspiration. Though qualitatively similar to moral ideas, or moral impulses, inspiration manifests as a reality, existing in its own right. It is a powerful force that works like the elemental forces in nature. Thus we enter a world that, whereas we have to imagine it as similar to the world of moral ideas, has reality because of its primal power.
If one can take a stand in the world of soul and spirit, having advanced far enough in the state of inspiration, then something else is still needed to experience its content. We have to carry something into this realm that does not exist at all in our abstract world of thoughts: complete devotion to our chosen objective. It is impossible to come to know a being or power in the spiritual world unless we surrender lovingly and completely to what we encounter during the state of inspiration. At first, inspiration remains only a manifestation of the spiritual world. Its full inner nature reveals itself only when, with loving devotion, we pour ourselves out into its substance. And only after experiencing the reality of soul and spirit in this way — full of life and with heightened consciousness — do we enter the realm of inspiration.
And this is intuitive cognition. Shadow forms of intuition can be found in ordinary life, where they exist in religious feelings and moods. However, a religious feeling remains a purely inner experience that does not lift us into outer spirituality. Intuition, on the other hand, is an experience of objective spiritual reality. In this way, intuition is similar and yet again very different from a purely religious experience.
If you want to arrange these levels of higher knowledge in a more or less systematic order, we can say, first of all, that in ordinary life we have knowledge of the material world, which we could call naturalistic knowledge. Then we come to knowledge gained through imagination, which has a kind of artistic nature. The next step is knowledge attained through inspiration, which is, in essence, a moral one. Finally we reach knowledge through intuition, which is like religious experiences, but only in the sense just described.
These suprasensory experiences of an artistic, moral, and religious sort work on and transform the whole human being. Although ordinary consciousness knows nothing of them, they nevertheless form part of the human being. Therefore suprasensory knowledge gained through imagination, inspiration, and intuition enables us to know the whole human being. And because these powers streaming from the spiritual world into earthly existence work in an especially strong way in children, higher cognition, in particular, allows us to understand the nature of a child. It is important, however, to recognize how suprasensory forces are related to physical forces.
This can be illustrated particularly well if we take memory as an example, because active memory definitely depends on the functioning of physical organs. Even commonplace experiences can demonstrate how our body must play its part when we use our powers of memory. For instance, we may wish to memorize part of a play or a poem, only to find that the lines simply refuse to become imprinted on the mind. Yet, after sleeping on them overnight, we may suddenly remember them without difficulty. This happens because, during the sleep, our body has regenerated so that we are able to use its renewed vitality the following morning for the task of remembering the lines.
One can also prove anatomically and physiologically that, through paralysis or the separation of certain areas within the nervous system, specific areas of memory may be wiped out. In other words, we can see that memory depends on the functioning of the physical organization and that physical organs are active during the process of remembering. However, this kind of memory activity is completely different from what we experience in heightened consciousness through imagination, inspiration, and intuition. For these suprasensory experiences simply must not be involved in any way in the functions of physical organs. This tells us why such experiences cannot be remembered in the ordinary way; they do not impress themselves into ordinary memory.
Anyone engaged in spiritual scientific research must allow ordinary memory to run its course alongside what one experiences in the suprasensory realm. Ordinary memory must remain intact. In a way, a student of anthroposophy has to maintain a second personality that represents ordinary life and is always present. But the researcher knows full well that there is this other, first personality engaged in suprasensory knowledge that will not allow itself to become imprinted on the memory. In ordinary life we can retain only a memory image of a fish we have seen, not the fish itself. In suprasensory cognition, we have direct perceptions — not mental images — and thus we cannot carry them in our memory. Consequently one has to return to them again and again. However, it is possible to remember the process we used to gain suprasensory cognition, and if we repeat those efforts, suprasensory sight will reemerge, albeit only passively, since it cannot live in the memory. It can be attained only through renewed inner activity. The fact that these higher faculties are beyond the reach of memory is a characteristic of suprasensory cognition. One can regain it, but only by following a route similar to the one traveled earlier. One can remember the path taken previously, but not the suprasensory experience itself.
It is this fact that distinguishes suprasensory experiences from those of ordinary life. It must be emphasized again and again, however, that a healthy memory goes hand in hand with true suprasensory experiences. If you lose the stream of common memory while engaged in suprasensory experiences, you will pour your subjective personality into them. Then you would not be a student of spiritual scientific research but live in hallucinations and personal visions. It is important to understand that all forms of hallucinations should be strictly excluded from suprasensory cognition and that such cognition must be developed along with a normal, healthy soul life. Anyone who argues that imagination and inspiration attained through anthroposophy might simply be hallucinations does not understand the nature of the spiritual scientific path and talks only out of ignorance.
It is essential to recognize this difference between suprasensory cognition and memory, since both are real in life. Suprasensory substance gained through imagination and inspiration has its own separate existence, and we can become aware of it through our own effort. Memory, on the other hand, is not just the result of our own effort, because the subconscious also plays a role. What we experience through imagination remains in the spirit world, as though it comes to unite with us. But memory flows right through us, entering the physical body and causing it to participate; it penetrates the physical human being. Comparing memory with imagination helps us appreciate the difference between everything related to the physical body and the suprasensory forces that live in us eternally, even between birth and death. But, because this eludes ordinary consciousness, it must be shown through spiritual scientific investigation.
We come to know the whole human being only by immersing ourselves in this relationship between the suprasensory aspect of the human being and physical existence. If we penetrate the knowledge gained through suprasensory cognition, we come to know the child and the growing human being in such a way that we can develop a true art of education. This example of the relationship between the suprasensory human being and the activity of memory helps shed light on this problem.
Let us imagine that a teacher is introducing a subject to a class. First he approaches it in a somewhat general way and may have the impression that all was going well. But after a time, he notices that a child in the class is becoming pale. Pallor is not always obvious and might easily go unnoticed by those not trained in exact observation. Ideally, however, teachers should remain fully aware of each student’s condition. The symptoms I will describe could have many causes. But when teachers deepen their knowledge of the human being through anthroposophic training, they awaken and enhance their ordinary pedagogical instincts so they are able to diagnose and address other causes as well. If a science of education establishes fixed and abstract rules, it affects teachers as though they were constantly stepping on their own feet while trying to walk; it robs them of all creative spontaneity. When teachers always have to wonder how to apply the rules prescribed by educational science, they lose all ingenuity and their proper pedagogical instincts. On the other hand, the educational principles based on spiritual science have the opposite effect. They do not allow inborn pedagogical sense to wither away but enliven and strengthen the teacher’s whole personality. At least, this is the intention of the practical educational principles that spring from anthroposophy.
However varied external symptoms may be (life, after all, is full of surprises), our imaginary teacher, whose pedagogical sense has been stimulated and sharpened by anthroposophy, might suddenly realize that this child is growing pale because he was overfed with memory content. Of course, there might be many other reasons for such a symptom, which a gifted teacher would also be able to discover. I am giving you this example, however, to illustrate one of the fundamental tasks of spiritual science: to make people aware of how the human soul and spirit interacts with the physical, material nature of the human being. Anthroposophy does not want to simply reveal spiritual knowledge; most of all, it endeavors to open people’s eyes to the way living spirit works and reveals itself in matter. Such knowledge enables us to deal correctly with the practical problems of life, and it places us firmly in the world where we have to fulfill our tasks.
If this pallor, caused by the overburdening of the student’s memory, is not recognized in time, a perceptive teacher will notice a further change in the child — this time psychological — as an anxiety complex develops. Again, this symptom may not be conspicuous and might be detected only by teachers for whom intense observation has become second nature. And, finally, overtaxing a student’s memory can eventually have the effect of retarding the child’s growth forces; even physical growth can be affected.
Here you have an example of how soul and spirit interact with what is physical. It shows us how important it is for teachers to know how to deal with children’s tendencies toward health and sickness. Of course, illnesses have to be treated by medical doctors, but educators are always confronted by inherent trends toward health or sickness in children, and they should learn to recognize these tendencies. They should also be aware of how illnesses can come out later in life and how, often, they can be traced back to what happened in school. Such knowledge makes teachers far more circumspect in choosing their teaching methods. In the example given, the teacher would certainly avoid placing too much stress on the student’s memory, and he might see a healthier complexion return to the child’s face. He could bring about such a change by showing his student something beautiful that would give pleasure. The next day he might again show the child something beautiful or a variation of the previous object, thus bypassing mere memory.
A teacher may also discover the opposite symptoms in a child. For example, a teacher notices a girl whose face appears permanently flushed, even if only slightly. She may discover that this change is not at all the result of embarrassment, but represents a shift in the girl’s health. Again, this symptom may be so slight that it would go unnoticed by a less perceptive teacher. And this condition could have many other causes, and these would not escape our teacher’s notice either. It could be that this student has a tendency to blush because the teacher did not appeal sufficiently to the child’s memory. Realizing this, she would try to rectify this condition by giving the student more memorizing to do. If not addressed, this irregularity could intensify and spread to the girl’s psyche, where it would manifest in mild but significant outbursts of temper.
This connection between slackness in memorizing and slight but unhealthy fits of temper is certainly a possibility. The general repercussions of such a condition would be injurious to a student’s health. In such cases, the mutual effects between soul and spirit on the one hand, and the body on the other, could lead to breathing and circulatory problems. Thus, teachers who are unaware of such links may unwittingly plant illnesses in their students, and these can remain dormant for many years and then, triggered by other causes, lead to serious illnesses. For this reason, any teacher worthy of the title should be aware of these connections and characteristics in human nature.
As mentioned previously, acute illnesses must be dealt with by medical doctors, but during their developmental stages, children are always moving either toward health or illness. The art of education demands that teachers be conversant with these indications and have the ability to perceive them, even in their more subtle manifestations.
To illustrate this point even more drastically, I will give you one more example that, I realize, may be open to argument, but life presents us with a great number of situations. Consequently, the case I will describe may also be the result of completely different causes. If you live with what anthroposophy offers to teaching, you become used to looking around for the most varied causes when confronted with a particular problem. But the following connections between symptom and cause are certainly possible.
Let us imagine that a boy in a class has followed the lessons attentively and to the satisfaction of the teacher. However, one day he suddenly appears somewhat blasé; he is no longer inclined to pay attention, and much of the subject matter seems to pass unnoticed. Depending on the experience and outlook of the boy’s teacher, he might even resort to corporal punishment or some other form of correction to bring about greater participation. However, if this teacher is aware of the interplay between spirit and matter that manifests in health and illness, he would approach this in a very different way. He might say to the boy, “You shouldn’t allow your finger- and toenails grow too long. You ought to cut them more often.” Outer signs of growth, such as fingernails and toenails, are also permeated by soul and spirit. And if fingernails and toenails grow too long, these growth forces become blocked. Being held back in this way, those forces are no longer able to flow into the nails. This obstruction to the flow of growth forces, which is removed when the nails are cut, similarly affects the soul and spiritual counterpart and manifests as difficulties in concentration. The ability to pay attention can be developed only with a free and unlimited flow of the life forces that permeate the whole organism. In most cases, this kind of change in powers of concentration may pass unnoticed. I give this example to show that anthroposophic principles and methods of education in no way neglect the physical aspects of life. Nor do they lead to a vague kind of spirituality; spirit is taken fully into account, so that life can be understood and treated appropriately.
Educators who gradually learn to understand human nature can learn how to deal correctly with matters related to their students’ health and illness.