Our bookstore now ships internationally. Free domestic shipping $50+ →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Learning to See in the Spiritual World
GA 350

IV. Learning to Live Correctly in the Outer World

18 July 1923, Dornach

There are many questions still pending from those asked recently, but I will tie in some of these with the recent subject of dreams. We shall start with a question that seems to have broken many scholars' heads, and that is the question of the lizard's tail.

As you know, if we see one of these large lizards and grab it by the tail, the tail breaks. In fact, it is very difficult to catch such lizards because, when the tail breaks, the lizard runs away quite happily without its tail. The tail seems brittle and scientists attempt to establish whether the tail is really torn away or if it is somehow left behind by the animal. Contemporary science proceeds in a materialistic way and therefore tends to assume that the animal simply has weak muscles in that part of its tail and that these muscles just cannot hold together under the strain of being caught.

But there is a little-noticed fact that is undervalued, which is that when the lizard is caught and kept in captivity for a long time it loses the ability to let go of its tail. It is as if the tail becomes stronger and therefore increasingly difficult to pull off. The peculiar thing is that when the lizard is in the wild he loosens his tail easily, and when he is in captivity he holds onto it. What is really going on here?

You see, people direct their thoughts toward the musculature around the tail, instead of looking at all the facts, facts that would very easily give the answer to why the lizard in captivity does not lose its tail. The missing evidence is that the animal in the wild is scared when one tries to catch it, because it is very unusual for it to be caught and may actually be the first time this has happened to it. The first time a man comes into its vicinity the lizard is scared and becomes so brittle that it lets go of its tail. Once the lizard becomes used to the proximity of people—when people are constantly near it—the lizard loses its fear and likewise stops losing its tail.

Even a superficial observation of all the facts in this situation leads us to conclude that fear plays a very important role in the case of the lizard. But we must examine this fear more carefully and say: The fear that this lizard has when people come near it to catch it—this somehow comes out of the animal when it is caught, though normally it remains inside. It is this fear that holds the matter in the tail together and makes it strong!

Let me introduce here a remarkable phenomenon of human life. As you know, when people who are very dependent on their soul life become scared they get diarrhea. The fear causes diarrhea. How can we understand the meaning of this? This means that whatever is normally held in their intestines is no longer held together as it was. What was it that held things together in the intestines? When fear rises up in the soul it stops holding things together in the intestines, but when fear remains in the intestines it holds things together.

The same thing is true of the lizard. If one looks at a lizard, it is like one's own lower body: it is completely filled throughout with the soul quality of fear.

It is especially true of the tail that it is completely filled with fear; and when this fear is pressed out or expressed, the tail breaks. The fear, however, normally remains within the animal. The animal does not feel the fear while in captivity because it is used to people, and because of this the fear can remain in the tail and hold it together. Here we see a very important quality of soul that has a certain significance for the bodily constitution.

Human beings also contain fear. We have fear in our big toe, in our legs, in our belly—there is fear everywhere. This is not everywhere the case however. Fear does not normally rise above the diaphragm—it does so only when we have nightmares. Nevertheless, fear does have a role to play: it holds our organism together. It is in our bones that fear lives most strongly. The bones are strong and hard because a terrible fear lives in them. It is fear that holds the bones together. When we feel our bones too much, our bones get soft. Those children who were fearful at the time when their bones were not yet completely hardened, develop weak bones—a condition called rickets. It is possible to cure children with rickets by reducing their fear through some soul work. But it would be quite false to say that this fear in us is something of the soul: that we need only approach the fear in a somewhat higher manner in order to have an experience of a higher kind of knowledge. To enter this subject in the wrong way would not be good, for we would make ourselves sick in body and soul at the same time. We must do something entirely different.

In order to gain knowledge of the spiritual world—I have already given you various other means—we must learn to live correctly in the outer world. How do people really live in the outer world these days? As we said recently, we freeze terribly, and often we sweat a lot, and this is how most people normally experience living in the world. First they sweat, then they freeze. This is not the only way one can live into the outer world, however. Rather one should try to cultivate a certain capacity, so that when it is cold one isn't just cold but rather one becomes aware of a kind of qualitative experience that goes with it, namely that of fear. When one is aware of fear, one easily notices that with the return of warmth fear disappears. When a person cultivates a certain awareness of fear connected with the coming of snow; when the warm rays of the sun bring a certain pleasant comforting feeling—that person is in fact living into the outer world in a way that leads to higher knowledge. This belongs with the other requirements I have tried to describe to you. It is really true that whoever wants to gain higher knowledge must feel something when he comes close to a glowing piece of iron, and he must feel something different when he approaches a piece of flint. When he approaches the glowing iron, the feeling should arise: here is something that is related to my own warmth and is good. But when he picks up a piece of flint he should feel a sense of strangeness and a somewhat fearful mood. (You can see immediately that whoever wants to gain higher knowledge cannot be nervous, as we say these days, or else he would drop the piece of flint the minute he takes it into his hand, because he is afraid of it!) One must be brave and conquer the fear. At the same time we cannot be like a moth that takes so much pleasure in the light that it flies right into it, to its death

The example of the insect flying into the flame gives you a good idea of the relationship of a flame to the spiritual world. We really must acquire a sensitivity to the inner feeling for whatever is at hand out there in nature. What will this produce? Let us examine things as they are now. Materialists assert above all that the earth has a crust of hard stone—they believe in this hard rock of the earth because they can walk on it and when they touch it, it is hard. Materialists believe in this hard rock, but whoever wants to gain higher knowledge should experience a certain fearfulness of this same hard rock. This fear is totally absent when a man finds himself in the warm air. I will draw the warmed air above the hard rock. (He draws on the blackboard.)

When one considers the warm air, fear is totally absent. (To show the warmth of the air I will color it red.) Yet it is possible to enter a condition such that even the warm air would make one afraid. This is the case when one attempts to get closer and closer to the feeling that one gets from the warm air. In a person who feels more and more comfortable living in the quality of the warm air, the warmth too will eventually cause fear. It seems strange, but the better one feels, the more fearful one becomes! When one gets used to feeling completely at ease in warmed air, when one becomes more and more used to the warmth and is fully at ease inside all of nature, then one can find spiritual knowledge. At this point something quite remarkable happens—I will try to make it clearer for you. Most people try to keep cool, to cool off when they get warm—all they know is that it is very pleasant to get cooled off. But if, instead of this, one were to remain warm, if one were to soak up the good feeling of the warmth—then whatever it is that I have drawn here schematically (yellow) would start to fill itself with all kinds of images (upper light) and the spiritual world would literally arise: the spiritual world which is contained in the air, which one does not normally feel and is not conscious of, because in most cases one cannot tolerate the warmth in the air. When one becomes accustomed to seeing those beings in the air, one gradually reaches the point where one can tell oneself: when I take a stone in my hand, it is very hard; but when I become more and more aware of the spiritual, when I am able to penetrate into the spiritual, when there is more and more activity around me—not just the sensory world but also the spiritual world—I can do something more. I cannot slip into the hard ground with my physical body of flesh and blood, but with my astral body I can actually slip into the earth (lower red). This is very interesting—at the moment that one starts to perceive the spiritual world in the realm of the air, at that moment one slips so far out of one's body that stones are no longer perceived as obstacles—and one can actually dive into the hard earth the way a swimmer dives into water. What is interesting is that we cannot penetrate into the air as spirits, for there are already other spirits there, but in the earth, which is empty of spirit, it is very easy to gain entrance—one can dive under as a swimmer does.

In between the solid and the gaseous elements we have the watery element (blue). This rises and falls as rain. Up above, as I am sure you have seen, there are sometimes formations of lightning (upper red). The water is between the hard earth and the air; it is thinner than earth and denser than air. What is the meaning here? This is something that is easiest to understand if we consider lightning.

According to the scientists, lightning is an electric spark. Let us examine why, according to them, it is an electric spark. You probably know all this but I will repeat it. If we take a sealing-wax rod and we rub it with a leather strap, it becomes electric; and if we have little pieces of paper, they are attracted by the rod; and so it is possible to electrify all kinds of objects by rubbing them. This is often shown to children in school. But there is also the specific need for something else. If you do this experiment in a very humid room, you will not be able to electrify a rod or anything else. First you have to dry everything thoroughly with a dry cloth; then, and only then, can you produce some electricity, for water does not produce electricity.

Now, according to the scientists there are clouds up above that rub against each other and somehow produce electric sparks. Even the child can tell you that in order to produce electricity you must remove all water, for if there is anything wet in the apparatus you will not be able to produce any electricity—even a child can tell you this. This is the kind of nonsense we are being told: it is clearly impossible to produce lightning by clouds rubbing against one another.

Think for a moment whither the water evaporates—it rises and reaches higher and higher into the region of the spiritual; it moves away from matter empty of spirits here-below and rises into the spiritual world above. It is actually spirit that produces what looks like our electric spark. For, as we rise, we move higher and higher into the regions of the spiritual. Matter is present only in proximity to the earth. Higher up, it is surrounded by the spirit. Therefore, at the moment when the water vapor rises and reaches the region of the spiritual, the flash is produced. The water First becomes more spiritualized and then it falls down again, "densified".

If one observes nature correctly, one is forced to come to spiritual subjects; but if one absolutely refuses to take the spiritual into consideration, one is then left with no alternative but to make all kinds of absurd statements like the ones you heard about the flying dreams or the lizard's tail or the cause of lightning. Everywhere we can look, it is clear that it is impossible to explain nature if one does not bring in the spiritual.

We will now try to proceed further. When one stands on the earth, starting from the feet and moving up, one is always related to the lower spiritual beings, and one can dive in like a swimmer. When we move out of our physical body with our astral body, we can actually penetrate into our solid surroundings and find ourselves within solid matter. (We cannot however do this with the surrounding air.) We can actually wander around, but this wandering around in the solid element has very important aspects. When we conduct ourselves correctly in relation to warmth then we come to the point of seeing spiritual beings in the air. But when we go out of our body at night and unite ourselves with the earthly in a spiritual form, then it can happen, when we awake, that we can still sense something around us of what we experienced when we were in the hard matter of the earth. Something remains in the soul.

Some of you may have noticed on awakening that it is easy to hear very soft sounds; and if, as you wake, you are really attentive you may have an experience similar to hearing someone knocking at the door. It is quite remarkable that when we live into the air with our soul there arise images, and when we live into the solid earth—into matter—with our soul, as a swimmer does who dives into water, then we experience tones.

It is very important to know that all hard matter continuously produces sounds that of course we cannot hear if we are not inside of it. All solid matter continuously contains tones and we can hear them on waking up only because we are still half in our surroundings. These sounds can have a very special meaning in certain cases. It is completely true, for example, that it sometimes happens, when a person dies at some distance, that someone else may hear on waking what sounds like a knocking at the door. This knocking sound is related to the dead.

Now of course it is very difficult for one to understand these things properly. But just think: You would all be unable to read, that is, to make sense of signs or letters on paper, if you had not first learned to read. In the same way one cannot immediately understand the wonders at work when one hears tones on waking up. You do not of course have to believe that there is actually a dead person standing at the door knocking with his fingers. But the dead do reside on earth in the first days after death, and they do live in the solid material of the earth. The fact that tones arise in connection with solid bodies does not necessarily have to seem very remarkable. It was quite widely known in the past when people paid attention to such things. People can have a premonition when someone at a distance dies. This means that someone has died and is still bound in his soul to the solid earth. Tones arise out of the dead when they abandon the earthly realm. It is just as easy to hear the sounds that are made at a distance as it is to read a telegraph message from someone who has transmitted from America. These kinds of long distance effects transmitted through matter are present on earth and are always there, and in days when people paid attention to these things the connection of the spiritual with the earthly was well known. This is not some fairy tale it is actually something that was perceived in earlier times.

As you can see, we are now entering an area that is described nowadays as superstition. But it is actually possible to explain these things scientifically, just as other scientific things are explained only you must know how to do this accurately.

One could come to the point of perceiving the spiritual world in the air: that is, if men were not so "poor me" as they so often are today. (The more civilized men become, the more depressed and plaintive they become in a certain way.) Those whose daily work forces them to live in great heat have no time during work hours to perceive the spiritual world and so they lose the opportunity to perceive the spiritual world contained in the air. The fact that one can see spiritual beings in the air is not in itself a dangerous thing; everybody could perceive those beings without further delay and without it in any way being dangerous.

However, in the case of hearing, if that seizes a person too strongly, and one enters a condition where one hears all kinds of things—that is a danger. The reason is that there are people who can come gradually to the point where they hear all kinds of things—they hear all kinds of things told to them. Such people are on the road to madness. There is a simple reason why there is never a danger in seeing the spiritual beings that are in the air. I will make it clear by using a comparison. If you were in a boat and you fell into the water you could drown but then, if someone pulled you up, you could have all kinds of experiences, except that of drowning: you would not actually drown. In the same way, if the human soul goes out and up it can see all kinds of things; however if it sinks into solid matter, it does in a way drown spiritually. This spiritual drowning happens when people lose their own consciousness in that they give it up to all kinds of things that are told to them inwardly. It is not a very serious danger when a man sees the spiritual outwardly. This is the same as walking around in the world, and just as a man is not afraid of a chair that is in front of him, so gradually he stops being afraid of spiritual beings and actually enjoys what he sees. But when things are heard inwardly, then we sink into the solid earth with our whole spiritual life, with our whole soul life, and it is possible to drown in that—one stops being truly human. Therefore one must always look with some caution and wakefulness at those people who say that all kinds of things have been told to them inwardly. That is always dangerous. Only the human being who is firmly rooted in the spiritual world and knows his way about can understand what is really being said, which amounts to this: it can never be higher beings speaking in a case like this it can only be spiritual beings of a lower nature.

I have told you these things in great detail so that you can see that as human beings we must come to a completely different conception of the outer world if we want to penetrate into the spiritual world. Of course there are people who can say: Why have the spirits made it so difficult for us to get to know them? But gentlemen, just think what kind of being a human would be if one didn't really have to make an effort to penetrate to the spiritual world—if one was always within it. One would be a purely spiritual automaton. A human being only comes to a proper relationship to the spiritual world, to the degree that he or she has really worked at it. It does indeed take the hardest inner effort in order to research and explore the spiritual world. It is not difficult to take one's ease at a laboratory bench and to make all kinds of experiments. It is quite easy to cut up corpses and thereby learn all manner of things but it takes inner work to really penetrate into the spiritual world, and for this kind of work the contemporary, educated world is too lazy. Because of this laziness people say: I have made these exercises on how to reach knowledge of the higher worlds—but I didn't see anything. The problem is that such people believe that these things have to be given to them outwardly, not that they have to work and conquer them inwardly. This indeed is in keeping with what people nowadays want—they want everything to be ready-made for them. As I have mentioned to you already, human beings these days want to put everything on film. They want to make a film of everything so that they can look at everything from the outside.

If we want to make progress—real progress, spiritually—we must make sure that no matter what we take up from the world, we will work it through. Therefore, in the future, those people will penetrate most deeply into the spiritual world who will as much as possible avoid having everything on film for their comfort. Rather they should choose to think everything through for themselves, to think along, so that when people tell them things about the world they will be participants in the thinking. As you can see, I have not shown you a film! Even if we had time for it, I would not attempt to present things to you with a film. I have done a few drawings, but these were done at the time and you could see them being made, so you could see what I was trying to do with every stroke and were able to think along with me.

This is also what needs to be introduced in the education of children. As few finished drawings or pictures as possible should be given, and as many as possible that are done in an impromptu manner, because in this way the child works inwardly with the teacher. In this way people become awakened to an inwardness that leads to a deeper living into the spiritual and thus enhances their understanding of the spiritual. Also one should not give children finished theories this makes them dogmatic. What really matters in all cases is that they are brought into autonomous activity this in turn will make the whole body freer.

I want to mention one other subject which arises from the questions I received from you. Many of you have read that potatoes were introduced into Europe at a particular time in history, for the people of Europe were not always potato-eaters. In fact a rather interesting story is related to this. There is an encyclopedia, in which I myself collaborated—but not in the article in question, for in this there is something comical, namely: According to the article, it is universally said that Drake introduced the potato into Europe. There is in Offenburg, which is now occupied by the French, a Drake monument. I looked it up in a conversational dictionary,8Pierers Konversation-Lexicon, Seventh Edition, in twelve volumes, Berlin and Stuttgart, 1888-1893. and there it stood: The monument was erected to Drake in Offenburg, for it is rumored (wrongly) that he brought potatoes to Europe. One can say if anything is even attributed to a person, people in Europe will build a monument to him. But this is not what I wanted to talk about rather, that at a particular time potatoes were introduced.

Let us now take a closer look at potatoes. When we eat potatoes we are not really eating a root the roots are the little things dangling off the potatoes, and these are removed along with the peel when one cleans them. The potato itself is actually a thickened stem. An ordinary plant grows and it has a root and then a stem—and if the stem becomes thicker, as is the case with the potato, there arises a kind of knot or tuber, which is really a thickened stem. You should remember this when you are eating a potato—you are eating a thickened stem. We should ask, what does it mean for us that with the introduction of the potato into Europe we learned to like the taste of thickened stems?

If you look at a whole plant, it is made up of root, stem, leaves, and flower. (This is drawn.) A plant is something quite remarkable. The roots down there become very similar to the soil insofar as they contain many salts; and the flower up here is very similar to the warm air, so that it is as if through the heat of the sun the flower were continuously cooked. As a result the flower contains many oils and fats. In other words, when we look at the plant we find roots at the bottom, and the root is rich in salts, whereas the flower is rich in oils. Therefore when we eat roots we introduce many salts into our intestines these salts in turn make their way to the brain and stimulate it. If for instance someone suffers not from migraine headaches but from ordinary headaches—the type that seem to fill your head—it is very good for that person to eat roots. One can see how a certain salty sharpness is present in those roots, and this can already be established by the taste. If you eat a flower, the plant is in fact already half-cooked; the oils are already on the outside and this is what primarily fattens the stomach and the intestines and, in turn, affects the lower body. These are the kinds of things doctors have to take into account when they prescribe teas. There will never be a very strong influence on the head if someone cooks flowers in the tea on the other hand, if you cook the roots, they will have a strong effect on the sick person's head.

So you can see that when considering the human being we pass from the stomach to the head or from the bottom to the top. With plants, we must do the opposite. To find the correspondence, we must proceed from the flower to the root. Remember—this may enlighten you as to the meaning of potatoes—that the root is connected with the head. The potato has a tuber, which is something that is not entirely turned into a root. Thus when you eat potatoes you are eating, by preference, plants that have not quite become roots. If one limits one's self to the eating of potatoes—too many potatoes—it is not possible to pay a proper amount of attention to the brain, so that all these potatoes stay down below in the digestive tract.

This is why we say that potato-eaters neglect their heads or brains. You will only perceive this connection if you are an adept of spiritual science. But one can say that ever since the habit of eating potatoes has become firmly established, the head has become less capable, and it is the tongue and throat that have been particularly stimulated. This is why the potato is particularly appreciated as a side dish for people, because it stimulates the body below the head, leaving the head itself unburdened.

If, on the other hand, we eat red beets, we develop a great craving for the activity of thinking. This happens unconsciously. Potatoes only make one crave the next meal. Potatoes make one hungry because they don't quite reach the head. In contrast to this, the red beet satisfies so quickly because it actually reaches all the way to the head, and that is the most important thing. Of course it is very unpleasant for people to disturb their ease with thinking. Therefore they will very often eat potatoes more readily than red beets just for this reason: that to do so does not stimulate their thinking. They become lazy and their thinking becomes lazy. The red beet on the other hand stimulates thinking—it is a true root—insofar as it actually makes one want to think, and anyone who does not want to think does not like red beets. If you need to have your thinking stimulated, the salty stimulation of radishes, for instance, might be necessary. Anyone who is not quick in the head will get good results eating radishes—because the addition of radishes to his meals will set his thoughts into movement.

So we can now see a remarkable thing: the radishes stimulate thinking, and it is not necessary to be really active oneself thoughts come naturally as a result of eating radishes thoughts so strong that they also stimulate very powerful dreams. On the other hand, one who eats a lot of potatoes will not have strong thoughts, and his dreams will make him heavier. If you habitually eat potatoes, you will find yourself constantly tired and always wanting to sleep and dream. You can see that there is enormous cultural and historical meaning in what foods people actually have access to.

One could say from what I have shown you: The way things really are we live completely in matter, from matter, and yet this is not true. I have often told you that human beings have a totally new body every seven years it is constantly being renewed. Whatever matter was in our body eight to ten years ago is nowhere to be found now: it has been expelled. We have cut it away in the form of our nails and with our hair it has run out of us with our sweat—it all goes out. Some of it goes out more quickly and some more slowly, but eventually it all passes out. So what is the true story? Well, this is more or less the way it goes. I will start by giving you a schematic drawing. Let us say this is the human being, who is constantly producing tissue, and expelling it, and always absorbing new matter and of course it is easy to think: Well, it comes in through the mouth and it goes out in feces and urine. In this way the human body is seen as a kind of tube. The matter enters while we are eating, and then is expelled after we have held onto it for awhile: this is more or less the way digestion is presently thought of. But in the real human being nothing at all of earthly matter naturally goes in—this is an illusion. What really happens is the following: Let's say we eat potatoes. This does not mean that we actually absorb anything from the potatoes. Something in the potatoes stimulates us, it stimulates our throat, it stimulates our larynx etc.—everywhere the potatoes go to work, and the result of this is that we receive the strength to expel the potatoes again. In this process of expulsion, something from the earth comes into us, but it comes from the ether, not from solid matter, and it is this that builds us up in the course of the seven years. We are really not built up from earthly matter. When we eat, we do so in order that we may be stimulated. In reality we are built from what is above us, so that all the ideas and conceptions people have of food coming in and food going out again, with the side effect of leaving some material inside, do not at all fit the situation. To repeat: what is really happening is that a stimulation occurs and in response to this stimulation a counter-force enters from the ether, and our whole body is built up from the ether. Nothing that we have in us is built from earthly matter. It is like this: when we push at something and there is a counter-push and a kind of reflexive push coming back to us, we must not confuse the pushing with the reflex action. We must not be confused by the fact we need food. The actual purpose of food is that we do not become lazy in the reconstitution of our bodies. We must not confuse this stimulating activity with the fact we happen to be taking in material food.

Now of course there can be all kinds of irregularities that enter the normal situation—such as, if we eat too much, the food stays in us too long, and we accumulate matter that should not be there—fat. And if we take in too little, then we are not stimulated enough and we absorb too little of what we need from the spiritual world, from the etheric world, which is so necessary for we do not build ourselves from the earth and its matter but rather we actually build ourselves up from what is outside the earth.

If it is the case that within around seven years the body is renewed, the heart is also renewed. The heart that I carried in me eight years ago is not there anymore. It has been completely renewed by what surrounds the earth—by light. Your heart is actually compressed sunlight, and what we have taken in as nourishment has only given us the necessary strength to concentrate the sunlight. All our organs are built from our light-surroundings. All that we eat, that we take in by way of nutrition, affords only stimulation.

The only thing that food does give us is that it builds a kind of inner chair, in which we feel ourselves, as we would feel the pressure against us of a chair. In ordinary life, as a result of this resistance we have the feeling of our self, our ego, and this is related to the physical material we have in us. You feel your body as you are constantly pressing upon what you have made out of the cosmos. When you sleep, you do not feel it, because you are constantly outside yourself. You feel your body, for it is like a kind of resting bed that is made for you. In some cases it can be hard and bony and in others it can be softer, but it is really like a bed in which one goes to sleep. Of course you know the difference between a soft feather bed and a wooden bench—we feel a difference as a result of which one we have. However, we also feel in the one condition as in the other that this does not concern the real, essential human being. The real human being is what sits inside of it all. I will explain to you next time how all this is related to higher knowledge.

When people nowadays want to reach knowledge, they do not deal directly with human activity rather, they concern themselves with whatever it is that their 'chair' offers them.