Earthly Death and Cosmic Life. Lecture 4
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, March 5, 1918:
There are, of course, at the present time a great many hindrances to finding this common ground. The first hindrance is one to which I have but little referred, but what is to be said thereon follows from other considerations already discussed here. The first hindrance is that we are, as a rule, too prodigal with our thoughts, we might even say we are dissipated in our thought-life.
What, exactly, is meant by this?
This means a dissipation of the force with which our thinking is endowed! We continually indulge in prodigality, we are wholly dissipated in our thought-life. We allow our thoughts to take their own course. We desire something which occurs to us, and we drop that as something else occurs; in short, we are disinclined in some respects to keep our thought under control. How annoying it is, sometimes, for instance, when someone begins to talk; we listen to him for a minute or two, then he turns to quite a different subject, while we feel it necessary to continue the subject he began. It may be important. We must then fix our attention and ask ourselves, ‘Of what did we begin to talk?’ Such things occur every day: when subjects of real earnestness are to be brought into discussion, we have continually to keep in mind the subject begun.
This prodigality, this dissipation of thought-force, hinders thoughts which, coming from the depths of our soul-being, are not our own, but which we have in common with the universal ruling spirit. This impulse to fly at will from thought to thought does not allow us to wait in the waking condition for thoughts to come from the depths of our soul-life; it does not allow us to wait for ‘inspirations,’ if we may so express it. That, however should be so cultivated — especially in our time, for the reasons given — that we actually form in our souls the disposition to wait watchfully until thoughts arise, in a sense, from the subsoil, which distinctly proclaim themselves as ‘given,’ not formed by ourselves.
If we really develop this, we shall soon perceive that in the world there is not only what we see, hear, and perceive with our outer senses, and combine with our intellect, but there is also an objective thought-texture. Only few possess this today as their own innate knowledge. This experience of a universal thought-tissue, in which the soul actually exists, is not some kind of special occult experience; it is something that any man can have if he develops the aforementioned mood.
From this experience he can say: In my everyday life I stand in the world which I perceive with my senses and have put together with the intellect; I now find myself in a position in which I am as though standing on the shore; I plunge into the sea and swim in the surging water; so can I, standing on the brink of sense-existence, thus plunge into the surging sea of thought. I am really as though in a surging sea.
We can have the feeling of a life — or, at least, we have an inkling of a life — stronger and more intense than the mere dream-life, yet having just such a boundary between it and outer sense-reality as that between dream-life and sense-reality. We can, if we desire, speak of such experience as ‘dreams,’ but they are no dreams! For the world into which we plunge, this world of surging thoughts which are not our own but those in which we are submerged, is the world out of which our physical sense-world arises, out of which it arises in a condensed form, as it were. Our physical world of sense is like blocks of ice floating in water: the water is there, the ice congeals and floats in it. As the ice consists of the same substance as the water, only raised to a different physical condition, so our physical world of sense arises from this surging, undulating sea of thought. That is its actual origin.
Physics speaks only of ‘ether,’ of whirling atoms, because it does not know this actual primordial substance. Shakespeare was nearer to it when he makes one of his characters say: ‘The world of reality is but the fabric of a dream.’ Men lend themselves too easily to all kinds of deception in respect to such things. They wish to find a great atomic world behind physical reality; but if we wish to speak of anything at all behind physical reality, we must speak of the objective thought-tissue, the objective thought-world. We only arrive at this when, by ceasing the prodigality and dissipation of thought, we develop that mood which comes when we can wait for what is popularly called ‘inspiration.’
If we truly ask ourselves such questions, we rouse something which in our mind would otherwise lie dormant. We come, as it were, to ‘read between the lines’ of life; we come to know it in its many-sidedness. We come to see ourselves, so to speak, in our environment, and we see how it forms us and brings us forward little by little. This we usually observe far too little. At most, we only consider the inner driving forces that lead us from stage to stage.
Let us take some simple ordinary instance from which we may gather how we only bring the outer into connection with our inner being in a very fragmentary way.
A man enters a room, for instance, or goes to some place, but he seldom asks himself how the place changes when he enters it. Other people have an idea of this at times, but even this notion of it from outside is not very widespread today. I do not know how many people have any perception of the fact that when a company is in a room, often one man is twice as strongly there as another; the one is strongly present, the other is weak. That depends on the imponderabilities. We may easily have the following experience: A man is at a meeting, he comes softly in, and glides out again; and one has the feeling that an angel has flitted in and out. Another's presence is so powerful that he is not only present with his two physical feet but, as it were, with all sorts of invisible feet. Others do not, as a rule, notice it, although it is quite perceptible; and the man himself does not notice it at all.
A man does not, as a rule, hear that ‘undertone’ which arises from the change called forth by his presence; he keeps to himself, he does not enquire of his surroundings what change his presence produces. He can, however, acquire an inkling, a perception of the echo of his presence in his surroundings. Just think how our outer lives would gain in intimacy if a man not only peopled the place with his presence but had the feeling of what was brought about by his being there, making his influence felt by the change he brings.
I shall now only point to the enrichment of life by the addition of such intimacies, when we can thus read between the lines, when we learn to look thus into life and become alive to the fact that we are present, when we are present with our ‘consciousness.’ By such consciousness we also help to create a sphere common to us and to the dead. When we in our consciousness are able to look up to the two pillars just described — a high-principled course of life, and an economy, not prodigality, of thought — when we develop this inner frame of mind it will be accompanied by success, the success that is necessary for the present and the future when, in the way described, we approach the dead.
Then, when we form thoughts, which we connect not merely with a union in thought with one of the dead, but with a common life in interest and feeling; when we further spin such thoughts of life-situations with the dead, thoughts of our life with him, so that a tone of feeling plays between us — when we thus unite ourselves, not to a casual meeting with him but to a moment when it interested us to know how he thought, lived, acted, and when what we roused in him interested him — we can use such moments to continue, as it were, the conversation of the thoughts.
If we can then allow these thoughts to lie quiet, so that we pass into a kind of meditation, and the thoughts are, as it were, brought to the altar of the inner spiritual life, a moment comes when we receive an answer from the dead, when he can again make himself understood by us. We only need to build the bridge of what we develop towards him, by which he on his side can come to us.
For this coming it will be specially useful to develop in our deepest soul an image of his entity. That is something far from the present time because, as we said, people pass one another by, often coming together in most intimate spheres of life and parting again without knowing one another.
This becoming acquainted does not depend on mutual analysis. Anyone who feels himself being analyzed by those living with him, if he is of a finely organized soul, feels as though he received a blow. It is of no moment to analyze one another. The best knowledge of another is gained by harmony of heart; there is no need to analyze at all.
What has been said makes indeed a great demand on our age. Nevertheless, it is said, because we are convinced by spiritual facts that our social life, our ethical-religious life, would experience an infinite enrichment if the living allowed themselves to be ‘advised’ by the dead. Today man is disinclined to consult even those who have come to a mature age. Today it is regarded as right for quite a young man to take part in councils of town and state, because while young he is mature enough for everything — in his own opinion. In ages when there was a better knowledge of the being of man, he had to reach a certain age before being in any council. Now people must wait until others are dead in order to receive advice from them! Nevertheless, our age, our epoch, ought to be willing to listen to the counsel of the dead, for welfare can only come about when man is willing to listen to their advice.
Even now man should ask himself: How does the Oriental regard Europe today? The Oriental who scrutinizes Europe carefully has the feeling that European civilization leads to a deadlock, and has led to an abyss. He feels that he dare not lose what he has brought over of spirituality from ancient times when he receives what Europe can give him. He does not disdain European machines, for instance, but he says — and these are the actual words of a renowned Oriental: ‘We will accept the European machines and instruments, but we will keep them in the shops, not in our temples and homes, as he does.’ He says that the European has lost the faculty to perceive the spirit in nature, to see the beauty in nature. When the Oriental looks upon what he alone can see — that the European only holds to outer mechanism, to the outer material in his action and thought — he believes that he is called upon to reawaken the old spirituality, to rescue the old spirituality of earthly humanity. The Oriental who speaks in a concrete way of spiritual things says (as Rabindranath Tagore a short while ago): Europeans have drawn into their civilization those impulses which could only be drawn in by harnessing Satan to their car of civilization; they utilize the forces of Satan for progress. The Oriental is called upon — so Rabindranath Tagore believes — to cast out Satan and bring back spirituality to Europe.
That is so. Let us, however, consider the Goethe Society as an outer instrument. It, too, exists. A few years ago the post of President fell vacant. In the whole realm of intellectual life only one, a former Minister of Finance, was found to be elected as President of the Society! That is what is to be seen outwardly. Such things are more important than is usually supposed. What is more necessary is that the Oriental, aflame with spirituality and wise in it, should come to know that there is in European civilization a Spiritual Science directed by Anthroposophy; yet he cannot know of this. It cannot reach him, because it cannot get through what exists — because the President of the Goethe Society is a retired Minister of Finance. But, of course, that is only one phenomenon symptomatic of the times.
Modern man, however, does not wish to go so far as this clear standpoint, or he would have to put the question differently. He would have to say to himself: I do not regard Socrates as an idiot, I have learned to know him better — but that demands the rejection of Moszkowski's philosophy of life; in Jesus, too, I see the greatest bearer of ideas who has at any time come in touch with earthly life — but this demands the rejection of modern psychiatry; they cannot agree!