An essay by Rudolf Steiner
The habits of thinking that have come to be accepted in the modern study of nature [Naturerkenntnis] can yield no satisfying results for the study of the soul. What one would grasp with these habits of thinking must either be spread out in repose before the soul or, if the object of knowledge is in movement, the soul must feel itself extricated from this movement. For to participate in the movement of the object of knowledge means to lose oneself in it, to transform oneself, so to speak, into it.
How should the soul grasp itself, however, in an act of knowing in which it must lose itself? It can expect self-knowledge only in an activity in which, step by step, it comes into possession of itself.
This can only be an activity that is creative. Here, however, a cause for uncertainty arises at once for the knower. He believes he will lapse into personal arbitrariness.
It is precisely this arbitrariness that he gives up in the knowledge of nature. He excludes himself and lets nature hold sway. He seeks certainty in a realm which his individual soul being does not reach.
In seeking self-knowledge he cannot conduct himself in this way. He must take himself along wherever he seeks to know. He therefore can find no nature on his path to self-knowledge. For where she would encounter him, there he is no longer to be found.
This, however, provides just the experience that is needed with regard to the spirit. One cannot expect other than to find the spirit when, through one's own activity, nature, as it were, melts away; that is, when one experiences oneself ever more strongly in proportion to one's feeling this melting away.
If one fills the soul with something that afterward proves to be like a dream in its illusory character, and one experiences the illusory in its true nature, then one becomes stronger in one's own experience of self. In confronting a dream, one's thinking corrects the belief one has in the dream's reality while dreaming. Concerning the activity of fantasy, this correction is not needed because one did not have this belief. Concerning the meditative soul activity to which one devotes oneself for spirit-knowledge, one cannot be satisfied with mere thought correction. One must correct by experiencing. One must first create the illusory thinking with one's activity and then extinguish it by a different, equally strong, activity.
In this act of extinguishing, another activity awakens: the spirit-knowing activity. For if the extinguishing is real, then the force for it must come from an entirely different direction than from nature. With the experienced illusion one has dispersed what nature can give; what inwardly arises during the dispersion is no longer nature.
With this activity something is needed that does not come into consideration in the study of nature: inner courage. With it one must take hold of what inwardly arises. In the study of nature one needs to hold nothing inwardly. One lets oneself be held by what is external. Inner courage is not needed here. One forgets it. This forgetting then causes anxiety when the spiritual is to enter the sphere of knowledge. Fear is felt because one might grope in a void if one no longer could hold onto nature.
This fear meets one at the threshold to spirit knowledge. And fear causes one to recoil from this knowledge. One now becomes creative in recoiling instead of in pressing forward. One does not allow the spirit to shape creative knowledge in oneself; one invents for oneself a sham logic for disputing the justification of spirit knowledge. Every possible sham reason is brought forward to spare one from acknowledging the spiritual, because one retreats trembling in fear of it.
Instead of spirit knowledge, then, there arises out of the creative force that which now appears in the soul when it draws back from nature, the enemy of spirit knowledge: first, as doubt concerning all knowledge that extends beyond nature; and then, as the fear grows, as an anti-logic that would banish all spirit knowledge to the realm of the fantastic.
Whoever has learned to move cognitively in the spirit often sees in the refutations of this knowledge its strongest evidence; for it becomes clear to him how in the soul, step by step, the refuter chokes down his fear of the spirit, and how in choking it he creates this sham logic. With such a refuter there is no point in arguing, for the fear befalling him arises in the subconscious. The consciousness tries to rescue itself from this fear. It feels at first that should this anxiety arise, it would inundate the whole inner experience with weakness. It is true, the soul cannot escape from this weakness, for one feels it rising up from within. If one ran away it would follow one everywhere. He who proceeds further in the knowledge of nature and, in his dedication to it feels obliged to preserve his own self, never escapes from this fear if he cannot acknowledge the spirit. Fear will accompany him, unless he is willing to give up the knowledge of nature along with spirit knowledge.
He must somehow rid himself of this fear in his pursuit of the science of nature. In reality he cannot do so. The fear is produced in the subconscious during the study of nature. It continually attempts to rise up out of the subconscious into consciousness. Therefore one refutes in the thought world what one cannot remove from the reality of soul experience.
And this refutation is an illusory layer of thought covering the subconscious fear. The refuter has not found the courage to come to grips with the illusory, just as in the meditative life he has to obliterate illusion in order to attain spiritual reality. For this reason he interposes the false arguments of his refutation into that region of the life of the soul that now arises. They soothe his consciousness; he ceases to feel the fear that, all the same, remains in his subconscious.
The denial of the spiritual world is a desire to run away from one's own soul. This, however, represents an impossibility. One must remain with oneself. And because one may run away but not escape from oneself, one takes care that in running one loses sight of oneself. It is the same with the entire human being in the soul realm, however, as it is with the eye with a cataract. The eye can then no longer see. It is darkened within itself.
So, too, the denier of spirit knowledge darkens his soul. He causes its darkening through sham reasoning born of fear. He avoids healthy clarification of the soul; he creates for himself an unhealthy soul darkening. The denial of spirit knowledge has its origin in a cataract affliction of the soul.
Thus one is ultimately led to the inner spiritual strength of the soul when one is willing to see the justification of spirit knowledge. And the way to such a knowledge can be had only through the strengthening of the soul. The meditative activity, preparing the soul for spirit knowledge, is a gradual conquest of the soul's “fear of the void.” This void, however, is only a “void of nature,” in which the “fullness of the spirit” can manifest itself if one wishes to take hold of it. Nor does the soul enter this “fullness of the spirit” with the arbitrariness it has when acting through the body in natural life; the soul enters this fullness at the moment when the spirit reveals to the soul the creative will, before which the arbitrariness, existing only in natural life, dissolves in the same way as nature herself dissolves.
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