Earthly Death and Cosmic Life. Lecture 6
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, March 19, 1918:
We have spoken on intimate questions concerning the life of the human soul, questions calculated to prepare us for concepts which extend to the relations of the so-called living — that is, those inhabiting physical bodies — to the disembodied souls, those living between death and rebirth. The chief point in reviewing such a theme is to make ourselves acquainted with certain fundamental concepts which psychically indicate in the proper way how man should and can think in such connections; for the reality of these relations does not depend upon whether man living here on Earth is conscious of any relations with the dead, or with any being in the spiritual world at all. This is obvious to anyone who thinks on these things; but it is only right to make the ‘obvious’ clear, even in the sphere of Spiritual Science.
Man always stands in relation to the spiritual world; he is always in a certain connection with those of the dead who are united with him by karma. It is most emphatically one thing to speak of the ‘reality’ of this relationship, and another to speak of the stronger or weaker consciousness we may have of it. It is important for each one — even for those who can only believe that such consciousness is utterly remote from them — to learn what such consciousness says; for it tells each one of realities in the midst of which he always stands. Precisely in regard to the relations of the so-called living to the so-called dead we must be clear that this relation is in certain connections more difficult to bring to consciousness than our relation to other beings of the spiritual world. To attain, through seeing and perceiving, a consciousness of the beings of the higher hierarchies, to receive a distinct revelation of them, is comparatively easier than to become aware of a quite distinct relation to the dead, that is, to become aware of them in the true, genuine way. This is for the following reasons.
In the time spent between death and rebirth, man passes through conditions very different from the life-relations of the physical world. We need but refer to the course of lectures on the life between death and rebirth to learn that the ideas and thoughts must be entirely different from those we must employ in speaking of the life in the physical world. Why are the concepts we must then use so different from those customary in ordinary consciousness? It is because in a sense man anticipates between death and rebirth certain conditions which will only become life-conditions during the next Earth-embodiment — that of Jupiter; man lives in such a way that what he now experiences between death and rebirth anticipates — albeit in a subtler, more spiritual form — the life-conditions of the Jupiter-evolution. Since in his Earth-life man has, in a sense, retained something from the earlier embodiments of Moon, Sun, and Saturn, so also he receives something belonging to the future during his life between death and rebirth. On the other hand the beings of the higher hierarchies, in so far as man can examine them with human perception, are all united — united in an immediate, present way — with the whole spiritual world, of course, but with the spiritual world in so far as it is coming to fruition in some form at the present time. They will, in coming ages, reveal the future.
Paradoxical as this may sound, yet it is true. It sounds paradoxical, because the question may arise as to how the beings of the higher world would exercise their activity on the dead, if the dead already carry the future within them. Of course the beings of the higher hierarchies also carry the future within them and are able to form it; but they do not do so without also forming something which is distinctly, or directly, characteristic of the present; what has been said, however, is the case in respect of the dead. For this reason the perception of what the higher hierarchies accomplish forms as it were a preparation for becoming conscious of intercourse with the dead. Not until man has brought about a more or less conscious perception of the beings of the higher hierarchies in his soul will it be possible for him gradually to attain the power, through his faculties of perception and feeling, of perceiving consciously anything concerning intercourse with the dead.
I do not mean by this that man must grasp the higher hierarchies clairvoyantly; but in so far as Spiritual Science offers the possibility, man must understand what flows into existence from the higher hierarchies. In all these things the understanding is the chief thing. If a man takes the trouble to understand them by means of Spiritual Science, those conditions of existence can certainly arise which call up something of a union of the so-called living with the so-called dead. For the understanding of this it is necessary to bear in mind the following:
The spiritual world in which man dwells between death and rebirth has its own special conditions of existence; conditions which we can scarcely observe in our ordinary Earth-life, and which sound paradoxical when they are given to us as a conception of life. Above all, it must be borne in mind that a man who wishes to experience such things consciously, must acquire what might be called a feeling of unity in common with all things in existence. It is one of the necessary demands for the continuation of man's spiritual evolution from the present time, from this disastrous present time, that he should gradually develop this feeling. In the subconsciousness of man this feeling, although of a lower kind, is thoroughly established; but we must not become pantheistic, prattling of a ‘Universal Spirit;’ we must not speak in general of this feeling of unity — but we must be clear in concrete detail as to how we can speak of it, how it is gradually built up in the soul; for it is a life-experience. Then the following comes into consideration:
We have often heard that when criminals, in whom instinctive subconsciousness works very strongly, have committed some particular crime, they have a peculiar instinct; they are drawn back to the place where they did it; an indefinable feeling drives them back. Such things only express in special cases what is common to man in respect of many things. When we have done something, accomplished something, however seemingly unimportant, something of it remains in us, something of what we have grasped in the doing of it; a certain force remains in us from the thing we have done; from the forces with which we have done it something remains connected with the ego. This cannot be otherwise expressed, although of course it is expressed as a kind of imagination. A man cannot avoid forming certain connections with all the beings he meets and the things he grasps (not, of course, physical things only), the things with which he has something to do in life. We leave our own distinctive mark on all things, and a feeling of being bound up with the things with which we have come in touch by our deeds remains in our subconsciousness. In the case of criminals this comes to expression in an abnormal way, because there the unconsciousness flashes up very instinctively into the ordinary consciousness; but in his subconsciousness every man has the feeling that he must return to the place with which he has come in touch by his deeds.
This also takes part in forming our karma; our karma arises from this. From this subconscious feeling, which at first presses into existence in a nebulous way, we have the general feeling of unity with the whole world. Because everywhere we leave our mark, we have this feeling. We can lay hold of it, sense it, perceive it. For this, however, we must call to mind certain intimacies of life. We must try, for instance, really to enter into the idea: ‘I will go now across the street;’ we then walk across, and afterwards we still imagine ourselves walking. By continued exercises of this kind we call forth from the depths of our soul the general feeling of unity with the world.
And for one who grows conscious of this feeling of unity, in the more concrete sense, it so develops that he ultimately says to himself: There is after all a connection, though an invisible one, between all things, as between the members of a single organism. As each finger, each lobe of the ear, all belonging to our organism, stands in connection the one with the other, so there is a connection between all things and all that happens, in so far as the occurrences take place in our world.
The Earth-men of today have as yet no fully valid consciousness of this feeling of unity with all things, this organic penetration into things; it remains in the unconscious. In the Jupiter evolution this feeling will be the fundamental one, and as we gradually pass from the fifth to the sixth post-Atlantean epoch, we prepare for the formation of such a feeling; so that the formation of this, which becomes necessary from our own time on into the near future, must supply a special ethical and moral foundation for mankind, which must be much more living than is the case today. This is meant as follows:
Today many think nothing of enriching themselves at the expense of others. Not only do they live thus without any moral self-criticism, they simply do not think about it at all. Were they to reflect upon it, they would find that a man lives far more at the cost of others than they had ever realized. Indeed every man lives at the expense of others. Now the consciousness will develop that a life lived at the expense of others signifies the same to the community as when any particular organ develops at the expense of another organ, in an unlawful way, and that the happiness of the individual is not really possible apart from that of the community. That, of course, people do not yet divine, but it must gradually become the fundamental principle of true human ethics. People strive today, each one for his own prosperity, not thinking that individual prosperity is fundamentally only possible in common with that of all the rest. Thus there is a connection between the feeling of community and the feeling that the life of the whole community is an organism.
That feeling can greatly increase, it can develop an intimate perception for the feeling of unity with all things around. If a man increases this intimate feeling, he gradually becomes able to receive a perception of what I described as the ‘light’ which is thrown out beyond death into our evolution between death and rebirth, which we perceive and from which we build our karma. I only just wish to hint at this.
When a man forms this feeling of unity he is able to do yet another thing, namely, to live with the idiosyncracies, situations, thoughts, and actions of another as though they were his own. This is connected in the soul-life with a certain difficulty in so thinking into another that what the other does, thinks, and feels is felt as his own. Only, however, when a man thinks back profitably to what he had in common with someone who has died, to whom he was karmically united, is he ready to reach the discarnate man; only when able to experience what he experienced in common with him — even to the slightest detail — and to think as one thinks when having this ‘feeling of unity.’
We picture it to ourselves in this way. We think of something which took place between ourselves and one who is dead; how we sat at table with him, or anything else, however small; but it is only possible for the soul to place itself rightly in this attitude for the attaining of reality if we really have the feeling of unity, otherwise the force in the soul is insufficient. We must understand that only from a place over which we can thus throw this ‘feeling of unity’ (speaking metaphorically) can the dead bring himself to our consciousness. We can imagine it quite ‘spatially;’ we must of course preserve in our consciousness the fact that we are only forming a picture of it; but it is a picture of a true reality. We come back to what was said before: that we visualize a situation with the dead, how we sat at table with him, walked with him, and then we turn our whole soul-life in the direction of this thought. If we can but develop in the thought a communion of soul with the dead that is in accordance with the ‘feeling of unity,’ then his gaze from the spiritual world can find the reality from these thoughts, just as our thoughts can find the reality to which they are directed.
If we allow these thoughts of the dead to be present in the soul, to the degree that they are filled with love, the psychic gaze of the soul encounters the psychic gaze of the dead. Through that, the dead can speak to us. He can only speak from the place upon which the direction of our ‘feeling of unity’ falls.
So are these things connected. We learn, as it were, to feel our karma when we gain an idea of how we leave behind everywhere the stamp of our thought; we learn to identify ourselves with these things and thus we develop the feeling that brings us into increasingly conscious union with the dead. In this way it becomes possible for them to speak to us.
The other requirement is that we can hear, that we can really perceive it at the time of happening. For this we must above all pay heed to what, so to say, lies as ‘air’ between us and the dead, so that he can speak to us across it. Comparing it with something physical: if there were an airless space between us, we should not be able to hear what is said; air must act as an intermediary. There must be something between us and the dead if they are to approach us. There must, as it were, be a ‘spiritual air,’ and we can now speak of the nature of this spiritual air in which we live together with the dead. Of what does it consist?
To understand this we must remember what I have said in other connections of how the human memory comes about; for these things are all connected. Ordinary psychology says of human memory: I have now an impression from the outer world; it calls forth a concept within me; this concept goes somehow into my subconsciousness and is forgotten, but when any special occasion arises, it comes back from the subconsciousness — and I remember. Almost all psychologists, as far as the memory is concerned, are of opinion that the reason why a concept arises in man is because he receives an impression — quickly forgotten — which sinks down into the subconsciousness, until some incident brings it back into the consciousness. Man ‘remembers’ and thinks he has the same concept that he first formed.
This is an absolute error — an error taught in almost all psychology, but an error nevertheless, for what is thus taught does not take place at all. When through an outer experience we receive an impression which later we remember, it is not at all the same concept we first formed that rises within us, but while we are in the act of forming the concept, a second subconscious process is going on. It does not come into consciousness during the outer experience, but it takes place nonetheless. Through processes of which we shall not speak just now, that which takes place in our organism today, but remains unconscious, takes place again tomorrow; and as today the outer impressions called forth the concept, so tomorrow what has been occasioned below calls forth a new concept. A concept I have today passes away and is gone; it no longer moves in my subconsciousness; but if tomorrow the same concept rises from my memory, it is because there is that within me which calls forth this same concept; only it was subconsciously generated. Anyone who supposes that concepts are taken up by the subconsciousness, move about therein, and finally arise again from the soul — if he wishes to remember after three days anything that came to him, and which he has written down in order not to forget — ought at once to realize that what he wishes to remember is also in what he has written, and three days later arises to him from the notebook. Just as there are only ‘signs’ in the notebook, so too in the memory there are only signs which call forth again in a weaker degree what had been experienced by him.
Anyone who commits to memory, or in some other way tries to instill something into his mind which he wishes to retain, anyone who crams — as we say when young — knows quite well that perception alone is not sufficient; and he will sometimes have recourse to very external aids to incorporate something into the memory. Let us observe someone who wishes to ‘cram;’ let us see what efforts he makes to help this unconscious activity which plays its part; he wishes somehow to assist the subconscious. These are two very different things; one, to incorporate something in the memory; the other, to call it forth. If we can study men and observe their characters, we soon find that even this shows that we have to do with two different kinds of people. We find there are those who grasp things quickly, but have a terribly bad memory; and others whose comprehension is slow but who have a good memory, that is, a good imaginative faculty and power of judgment. These two things are to be found side by side, and Spiritual Science must make the matter clear.
When in life we perceive something — and from early morning, from waking to falling asleep we are always perceiving something of the world — we are more or less conscious of sympathy or antipathy with what we perceive; and, as a rule, we are quite satisfied when we have grasped a matter. The activity which leads to memory, however, is far more extensive than that needed to grasp the impression. It takes place far more subconsciously in the soul, and this subconscious process, taking place of itself, often contradicts in a noteworthy way what takes place in us consciously. Often we may feel an antipathy towards an impression made upon us. The subconsciousness does not feel this antipathy; it generally feels quite differently from the ordinary consciousness. The subconsciousness develops a remarkable feeling towards all impressions.
Although an expression taken from the physical world and applied to the spiritual can only be figurative, here it is quite suitable to say that the subconsciousness develops a certain feeling of gratitude towards every impression — irrespective of its nature. It is not inaccurate to say that while we might see someone concerning whom our conscious impression may be very unpleasant — he might insult us to our very face — the subconscious impression would still be a certain feeling of gratitude.
The simple reason for this feeling is that everything in life which approaches the deeper element of our being enriches our life, really enriches it, including all unpleasant experiences. This has no connection with the manner in which we must consciously conduct ourselves towards our outer impressions. The way in which we must consciously respond to anything has nothing to do with what takes place subconsciously; in the subconsciousness everything leads to a certain feeling of thankfulness; there we receive every impression as a gift for which we must be grateful.
It is specially important to keep in mind this fact which is taking place below the threshold of consciousness. What works there and breaks into a feeling of thankfulness works in a similar way within us as does the impression of the outer world which is to be remembered; it goes side by side with the concept, and only the man who has a distinct feeling that he dreams from waking to falling asleep can be aware of these things. I have shown in the public lecture on ‘The Historical Life of Man and Its Problems’ that as regards our feeling and will we continue to sleep and dream even in waking life. If we allow the world to work upon us in this way, our impressions and concepts take place incessantly, but beneath this we dream about everything and this dream-life is far richer than we think. It is only eclipsed by our conscious concepts as is a weak light by a stronger.
We can, as it were, by experiment, acquire an explanation of such relations by paying attention to various intimacies of life. Let us try to make the following experiment in ourselves. Suppose we are lying on a sofa and wake up. Of course a man does not then observe himself, because immediately afterwards the world makes various impressions upon him; but it may happen that he lies quiet for a time after waking. Then he may observe what he perceived before he awoke, and this he can specially notice if someone has knocked at the door and not repeated the knock; he can recall this, and when he wakes he knows that something has happened; this is clear from the whole situation.
When a man observes something in this way, he is not far from the recognition of what spiritual science has to verify: that we perceive unconsciously a far wider range of our environment than is possible consciously. It is quite true that if on going into a street we meet someone just coming around the corner — whom therefore we could not have seen before he appeared — we may feel that we had seen him before he appeared; it frequently happens that we have a feeling that we had seen something happening before it actually does happen. It is true that first we have a psychic spiritual connection with what we perceive later. It is actually so; only we are ‘deafened’ by the later sense-perceptions and do not observe what takes place in the intimacies of the soul-life. This again is something which takes place of itself subconsciously, like the formation of memory or the feeling of thankfulness in regard to all surrounding phenomena.
The dead can only speak to us through the element which passes through the dreams interwoven with our life. The dead speak into these intimate subconscious perceptions which take place of themselves. If we are in a position to do so, we can share with them the same spiritual psychic air; for if they wish to speak to us, it is necessary that we take into our consciousness something of the feeling of gratitude for all that reveals itself to us. If there is none of this feeling within us, if we are not able to thank the world for enabling us to live, for enriching our life continually with new impressions, if we cannot deepen our soul by often realizing that our life is absolutely a gift, the dead do not find a common air with us; for they can only speak with us through this feeling of gratitude; otherwise there is a wall between us and them.
We shall see how many obstacles there are in regard to intercourse with the dead, for, as we have seen from other connections, it is dependent on our being karmically united with them. We cannot arouse in ourselves this feeling of gratitude if, having lost them, we wish them back in life; we should be thankful we did have them with us quite irrespective of the fact that we have them no longer.
Thus if we have not this feeling of gratitude with regard to the beings whom we wish to approach, they do not find us; or, at any rate, they cannot speak to us. The very feelings we so frequently have towards our nearest dead are a hindrance to their speaking to us. Other dead, who are not karmically united to us, usually have more difficulty in speaking to us; but with those nearest to us, we have too little of the feeling of thankfulness that they have been something to us in life. We should not hold fast to the idea that we have them no more, for that is an ungrateful feeling, considered in the wider sense of life. If we clearly understand that the feeling of having lost them weighs them down, we shall keep in mind the whole bearing of this. If we have lost someone we love, we must be able to raise ourselves to a feeling of thankfulness that we have had him; we must be able to think selflessly of what he was to us until his death, and not upon what we feel now we have him no more. The better we can feel what he was to us during his life, the sooner will it be possible for him to speak to us, to speak to us by means of the common air of gratitude.
In order to enter more and more consciously into the world out of which this comes, many other things are necessary. Suppose we have lost a child. The necessary feeling of gratitude can be brought about by picturing to ourselves how we sat with him and played with him in such a way that the game was as interesting as the child himself. When we can do this, we have the appropriate feeling of companionship — as there is only sense in playing with a child if one is as wholly a playfellow as the child himself. That gives the necessary atmosphere for the feeling of companionship. Thus, if we picture ourselves playing with the child in a truly living way, the place is created upon which our gaze and his can fall. If I am able to grasp what the dead says, I am in conscious union with him. This can be brought about by many things.
To many people thought is specially easy. Some will say that that is not true. Still there are some to whom thought is very easy; if it be found difficult then it is really something different which they feel. The very people who take it most easily, find it most difficult. This is because they are too lazy to think. What is meant by saying this is that most people take their thinking easily (one cannot say how easily because it is so very easy to think), one can only say that they just think, they acquire no concepts at all, that too would be ‘difficult.’ They just think, they grasp their ideas — they have them and live in them.
Then other things approach — for example, spiritual science. Spiritual science is not avoided by so many because it is difficult to understand, but because a certain effort is needed to accept its ideas. People avoid effort. Anyone who progresses in spiritual science gradually observes that it necessitates an application of will to comprehend the thoughts; that there is an expenditure of will in grasping thoughts as well as in lifting a hundredweight, but people do not want to do this; they think ‘easily.’ Anyone who makes a greater effort with his thinking by thinking harder and harder, thinks with more difficulty as it were, because he realizes more and more that for a thought to anchor itself within him, he must make efforts. There is nothing more favorable for penetration to the spiritual world than the fact that it becomes ever more difficult to grasp thoughts — and he is the most fortunate in his progress in spiritual science who can no longer apply the standard of easy thinking used in ordinary life, but will say to himself: This thinking is really a harrying undertaking! One must exert one's strength as though thrashing with a flail. Such feelings can only be indicated, but they can develop; it is favorable when they do.
Much else is connected with this — for instance, the fact that what many possess gradually withdraws. Many are so quick with their thinking that it is only necessary to mention one thought-complex and they grasp the connection of the whole; they always have an answer ready. What would conversations in drawing-rooms betoken, if thinking were difficult! We can, however, observe that as we gradually become acquainted with the inner relation of things, it becomes more difficult to chatter and be ready with an answer; for that comes from easy thinking. With advance in knowledge man becomes more Socratic, so that he must strain every nerve to attain the right to express an opinion.
This feeling, this effort of will, is part of the comprehension of thought. It is related to another feeling which we often have when we commit something to memory and have to ‘cram’ — and cannot take in what we should. We can experience the relationship between these two things — the difficulty of retaining anything in the memory and the difficulty of exerting an effort of will in order to understand anything. Man can, however, exercise himself in this; he can apply what may be called conscientiousness, a feeling of responsibility in regard to his thinking. The following is to be found in many people. When from a certain experience of life a person says, for instance: ‘So-and-so is a good man,’ the other instantly retorts, ‘An awfully good man.’ How frequently an answer is in the superlative. There is, of course, not the slightest reason why it should be in the superlative, it is only the absolute lack of how we ought to think; we have the feeling that we ought to have experienced something, and we wish to express this. Of course such demands of life should not be driven too far, otherwise in many drawing-rooms the ‘great silence’ would commence.
This feeling, however, when awakened from a feeling of responsibility towards thinking, from the feeling that thinking is difficult, this is the basis of the possibility and capacity to experience inspiration, for an inspiration does not come as thoughts spring to most people; an inspiration comes when it is as difficult as anything else which we feel to be difficult. We must first learn to feel thoughts as ‘difficult,’ to feel the retention of memory as something different from mere thinking; then we shall be able to experience a feeling for that weak, dreamlike rise of thought in the soul which does not really wish to cling, but to vanish, when thoughts arise which are difficult to grasp. We can reinforce ourselves by developing a feeling of really living with the thoughts.
Just let us realize what goes on in our souls in order to accomplish our purpose when we intend to go anywhere. As a rule a man does not usually think about this, but he should reflect on what has taken place in the world as a consequence of his having accomplished his purpose and attained what he had in view. He should reflect upon what has taken place in his soul. In reality a reaction has taken place there. Often this may be even strikingly expressed; when a mountain-climber has to exert himself strenuously to reach the summit of a mountain, and arriving at the top, breathing laboriously, exclaims: ‘Thank God I am here!’ one feels that a certain reaction has taken place in his feelings.
In this direction one can acquire an even finer perception, which continues in the intimate life of the soul. This resembles the following feeling. One who begins to call to mind a situation shared with a dead friend, and who begins to essay a common interest with the dead, uniting himself with the thoughts and feelings of the dead, will feel himself as being on a journey; and then comes a moment when he feels as though coming to rest in his thought. He can first be active in thought — then reaches a state of equipoise; he feels as though he had stopped for a rest after having walked for a long time. This is a great help towards the inspiration which such a thought can give.
He can also provide for inspiration through thought by making use of the whole man instead of the higher consciousness only. This of course leads to closer intimacies as regards this experience.
Anyone who succeeds in drawing into his consciousness that feeling of gratitude which would in an ordinary way remain unconscious will at once observe that, unlike the ordinary consciousness, it works in such a way that one is able to unite it with the whole man — at least as far as the arms and hands. Here I must remind you of what I have already said about this side of the human perception: how ordinary ideas are grasped by the brain, but intimate ideas pass through it as through a sieve, into the hands and arms, which are really the organs for their reception. This can really be felt.
A man need not, of course, outwardly express all this, but he can have the conviction that certain experiences of life such as wonder and awe can only be expressed through the arms and hands. Fragmentary expressions of this experience — e.g., that the unconscious impulse to take part in these expressions quivers in the hands and arms — are revealed when a man clasps his hands over the beauty of nature or many other things that enter into his consciousness. Everything that subconsciously happens to us comes partially to expression in life. As regards what may be called ‘the desire of the hands and arms to take their part in external expression,’ a man can keep still; it is only necessary to move his etheric hands and arms.
The more we are conscious of this, the more we are able to feel outer impressions sympathetically with our arm-organism, the more we develop a feeling which can be expressed in this way: ‘When I see the color red I am inclined to make certain movements of the hands, for they are appropriate; when I see blue I incline to other movements.’
The more a man is conscious of this, the more he develops the feeling for inspiration for what should develop in the soul, for what he should retain as impressions. When we give ourselves up to playing with children, we lose ourselves in the impression, but we find ourselves. Then comes inspiration, if we have qualified ourselves and prepared the whole man to receive the impression — when even in the case of plunging into our own thoughts, the very fact of this submersion unites us in the feeling-in-common with the dead, so that when we awake we can remain united with the reality of the experience with the whole man, as just described, and this unity is experienced in the feeling of gratitude quivering into the hands and arms.
Then the real spiritual existence in which the dead live between death and rebirth holds intercourse with the living in such a way that we may say: We find our dead when we can meet in a common spiritual place with a common thought which he also perceives, when we can meet in this ‘thought-in-common,’ in a feeling of full companionship. We have the material for this through the medium of the feeling of gratitude; for the dead speak to the living out of the space woven by the ‘feeling-in-common,’ through the air which is created from the feeling of general gratitude common to the world.
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