In the study of Anthroposophy, sleeping and waking have been dealt with often and from varied points of view. But our understanding of these facts of life must be deepened and refreshed again and again, when other points in the constitution of the world have been considered by us. Our previous explanation, showing how the Earth is the seed of a newly arising macrocosm, will give us fresh possibilities for a deeper understanding of sleeping and waking.
In the waking state, man lives in the thought-shadows cast by a dead and dying world, and in the will-impulses into the inner nature of which, with his ordinary consciousness, he can no more penetrate than into the processes of deep, dreamless sleep.
Where subconscious impulses of will flow into the shadows of thought, the free dominion of self-consciousness arises. In this self-consciousness, the human ‘ego’ lives.
While man experiences his environment in this condition, his inner feeling is permeated by extra-earthly, cosmic impulses, entering from a remote and cosmic past into the present time. He does not become conscious of this fact. For a being can only become conscious of things in which it partakes with its own, dying forces, and not with the growing forces that are the creative kindlers of its life. Thus man experiences himself in consciousness while that which lies at the basis of his inner being is lost to the eye of his mind. And by this very fact he is able, during the waking state, to feel himself so entirely within his shadowed thoughts. There is no glimmer of life to hinder the full absorption of his inner being in the dead and dying. But from this his ‘life in the dead and dying,’ the essential being of the earthly sphere conceals the fact that it is in reality the seed of a new universe. Man in the waking state does not perceive the Earth in its true nature. The cosmic life that is germinating in the Earth escapes him.
Thus man lives in what the Earth gives to him as the basis of his self-consciousness. In the age of unfolding of the self-conscious ego, the true form both of his inner impulses and of his outer environment is lost to his mind's eye. But as he thus hovers over the true being of the world, he experiences in consciousness the being of the ‘I’: he experiences himself as a self-conscious being. Above him is the extra-earthly cosmos; beneath him, in the earthly realm, a world whose true essence is hidden from him. But in between, the free ‘I’ manifests itself, its essence radiating out in the full light of knowledge and of free volition.
It is different in the sleeping state. In sleep, man lives in his astral body and ego in the germinating life of the Earth. The strongest ‘urge into new life’ is there in the environment of man in dreamless sleep. His dreams too are permeated by this life, though not so intensely as to prevent him from experiencing them in a kind of semi-consciousness. Gazing half consciously upon his dreams, man witnesses the creative forces whereby he himself is woven out of the cosmos. Even while the dream lights up, the astral — kindling man to life — becomes visible as it flows into the etheric body. In this lighting-up of dreams, thought is still alive. It is only after man wakens that thought is gathered up into the forces whereby it dies and becomes a shadow.
This connection between our dream-conceptions and our waking thoughts is of the greatest significance. Man thinks within the sphere of those very forces whereby he grows and lives. Yet he cannot become a thinker until these forces die.
At this point there dawns in us a true understanding of why it is that man takes hold of the reality of things in thought. For in his thoughts he possesses the dead picture of that which, working from the fully living reality of the world, builds and creates him.
It is the dead picture. But this dead picture proceeds from the work of the greatest painter — from the very cosmos. It is true that the life remains out of it. If it did not, the ego of man could not unfold. Nevertheless, the full content of the universe, in all its greatness, is contained within this picture.
So far as was possible at that time and in that context, I indicated this inner relation of thought and world-reality in my ‘Philosophy of Freedom.’ It is in the passage of that book where I say that there is indeed a bridge leading from the thinking ego's depths to the depths of Nature's reality.
Sleep extinguishes the ordinary consciousness because it carries us into the germinating life of Earth — the Earth as it springs forth into the new, living Macrocosm. When the extinction is overcome by Imaginative consciousness, there stands before the human soul — not a sharply outlined Earth in mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms of Nature — but a vital process, kindled to life within this Earth and flaming forth into the Macrocosm.
It is thus: In the waking state man must lift himself with his own ego-being out of the being of the world, in order to attain to free self-consciousness. And in sleep he unites with the being of the world once more.
Such is the rhythm in the present moment of cosmic time the rhythm of man's earthly existence outside the inner being of the world while he experiences his own being in consciousness, and of his existence within the inner being of the world where the consciousness of his own being is extinguished.
In the condition between death and a new birth, the human ego lives within the beings of the Spirit-world. Then, everything that was withdrawn from man's consciousness during his waking life on Earth comes into it again. The macrocosmic forces emerge from their full state of life in a far distant past to their dead and dying nature in the present. And there emerge the earthly forces — the seed of the new living macrocosm. Then the human being looks into his sleeping states as clearly as in his earthly life he looks forth upon the Earth that glistens in the sunlight.
The Macrocosm, as it is today, has indeed become a thing of death. Yet it is through this alone that between death and a new birth man can undergo a life which signifies, compared to the waking life on Earth, a loftier awakening. For it is indeed an awakening, whereby he becomes able fully to control the forces that light up so dimly and fleetingly in dreams. These forces fill the cosmos, they are all-pervading. From them the human being derives the impulses through which, as he descends on to the Earth, he forms this body — the greatest work-of-art of the Macrocosm.
That which lights up so dimly in the dream — deserted, as it were, by the clear light of the Sun — lives in the Spirit-world where the spiritual Sun flows through and through it, and where it waits until the beings of the Hierarchies or man himself shall summon it to the creation of a new existence.
Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society
156. In waking life, to experience himself in full and free self-consciousness, man must forgo the conscious experience of reality in its true form, both in his existence and in that of Nature. Out of the ocean of reality he lifts himself, that in his shadowed thoughts he may make his own ‘I’ his very own in consciousness.
157. In sleep, man lives with the life of his environment of Earth, but this very life extinguishes his consciousness of self.
158. In dreaming, there flickers up into half-consciousness the potent World-existence out of which the being of man is woven and from which, in his descent from Spirit-world, he builds his body. In earthly life this World-existence with its potent forces is put to death in man; it dies into the shadows of his thought. For only so can it become the basis of self-conscious manhood.