Thursday, September 16, 2021

Dreamlife and External Reality


Anthroposophy and the Inner Life. Lecture 7 of 9

Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, February 8, 1924:

In the last lectures I have already drawn your attention to the way the Science of Initiation must speak of the alternating states of sleeping and waking, which are known to us from ordinary consciousness and through which we can really find a path of approach — one path of approach — to the secrets of human life. It is a life that finds expression while we sleep — soul life, dream life, a life that ordinary consciousness, if free from mystical or similar tendencies, does not take seriously at first. This attitude is certainly justified; the sober-minded man does not take his dream-life seriously and, to a certain extent, he is right, for he sees that it shows him all kinds of pictures and reminiscences of his ordinary life. When he compares his dream-life with his ordinary experience, he must, of course, hold fast to the latter and call it reality. But the dream-life comes with its re-combinations of ordinary experiences; and if man asks himself what it really signifies for the totality of his being, he can find no answer in ordinary consciousness.

Let us now consider this dream-life as it presents itself to us. We can distinguish two different kinds of dreams. The first conjures pictures of outer experiences before our soul. Years ago, or a few days maybe, we experienced this or that in a definite way; now a dream conjures up a picture more or less similar — usually dissimilar — to the external experience. If we discover the connection between this dream-picture and the external experience, we are at once struck by the transformation the latter has undergone. We do not usually relate the dream-picture to a particular experience in the outer world, for the resemblance does not strike us. Nevertheless, if we look more closely at this type of dream-life that conjures outer experiences in transformed pictures before the soul, we find that something in us takes hold of these experiences; we canmot, however, retain them as we can in the waking state, when we have full use of our bodily organs and experience the images of memory which resemble external life as far as possible. In memory we have pictures of outer life that are more or less true. Of course there are people who dream in their memories, but this is regarded as abnormal. In our memories we have, more or less, true pictures, in our dreams, transformed pictures of outer life. That is one kind of dream.

There is, however, another kind, and this is really much more important for a knowledge of the dream-life. It is the kind in which, for example, a man dreams of seeing a row of white pillars, one of which is damaged or dirty; he wakes up with this dream and finds he has toothache. He then sees that the row of pillars ‘symbolises’ the row of teeth; one tooth is aching, and this is represented by the damaged or, perhaps, dirty pillar. Or a man may wake up dreaming of a seething stove and find he has palpitation of the heart. Or he is distressed in his dream by a frog approaching his hand; he takes hold of the frog and fords it soft. He shudders, and wakes up to find he is holding a corner of his blanket, grasped in sleep. These things can go much further. A man may dream of all kinds of snake-like forms and wake up with intestinal pains.

So we see that there is a second kind of dream which gives pictorial, symbolic expression to man's inner organs. When we have grasped this, we learn to interpret many dream-figures in just this way. For example, we may dream of entering a vaulted cellar. The ceiling is black and covered with cobwebs; a repulsive sight. We wake up to fund we have a headache. The interior of the skull is expressed in the vaulted cellar; we even notice that the cerebral convolutions are symbolised in the peculiar formations constituting the vault. If Nye pursue our studies further in this direction we find that all our organs can appear in dreams in this pictorial way.

Here, indeed, is something that points very clearly, by means of the dream, to the whole inner life of man. There are people who, while actually asleep and dreaming, compose subjects for quite good paintings. If you have studied these things you will know what particular organ is depicted, though in an altered, symbolic form. Such paintings sometimes possess unusual beauty; and when the artist is told what organ he has really symbolised so beautifully, he is quite startled, for he has not the same respect for his organs that he has for his paintings.

These two kinds of dream can be easily distinguished by one who is prepared to study the world of dreams in an intimate way. In one kind of dream we have pictures of experiences undergone in the outer world; in the other, pictorial representations of our own internal organs.

Now it is comparatively easy to pursue the study of dreams as far as this. Most people whose attention has been called to the existence of these two kinds will recall experiences of their own that justify this classification.

But to what does this classification point? Well, if you examine the first kind of dreams, studying the special kind of pictures contained, you find that widely different external experiences can be represented by the same dream; again, one and the same experience can be depicted in different people by different dreams.

Take the case of a man who dreams he is approaching a mountain. There is a cave-like opening and into this the sun is still shining. He dreams he goes in. It soon begins to grow dark, then quite dark. He gropes his way forward, encounters an obstacle, and feels there is a little lake before him. He is in great danger, and the dream. takes a dramatic course.

Now a dream like this can represent very different external experiences. The picture I have just described may relate to a railway accident in which the dreamer was once involved. What he experienced at that time finds expression now, perhaps years afterwards, in the dream described. The pictures are quite different from what he had experienced. He could have been in a ship-wreck, or a friend may have proved unfaithful, and so on. If you compare the dream-picture with the actual experience, studying them in this intimate way, you will find that the content of the pictures is not really of great importance; it is the dramatic sequence that is significant: whether a feeling of expectation was present, whether this is relieved, or leads to a crisis. One might say that the whole complex of feelings is translated into the dream-life.

Now, if we start from here and examine dreams of this (first) type, we find that the pictures derive their whole character chiefly from the nature of the man himself, from the individuality of his ego. (Only, we must not study dreams like the psychiatrists who bring everything under one hat.) If we have an understanding of dreams — I say, of dreams, not of dream-interpretation — we can often learn to know a man better from his dreams than from observing his external life. When we study all that a person experiences in such dreams we find that it always points back to the experience of the ego in the outer world.

On the other hand, when we study the second kind of dream, we find that what it conjures before the soul in dream pictures is only experienced in a dream. For, when awake, man experiences the form of his organs at most by studying scientific anatomy and physiology. That, however, is not a real experience; it is merely looking at them externally, as one looks at stones and plants. So we may ignore it and say that, in the ordinary consciousness of daily life, man experiences very little, or nothing at all, of his internal organism. The second kind of dream, however, puts this before him in pictures, although in transformed pictures.

Now, if we study a man's life, we find that it is governed by his ego — more or less, according to his strength of will and character. But the activity of the ego within human life very strongly resembles the first kind of dream-experience. Just try to examine closely whether a person's dreams are such that in them his experiences are greatly, violently altered. In anyone who has such dreams you will find a man of strong will-nature. On the other hand, a man who dreams his life almost as it actually is, not altering it in his dreams, will be found to be a man of weak will.

Thus you see the action of the ego within a man's life expressed in the way he shapes his dreams. Such knowledge shows us that we have to relate dreams of the first kind to the human ego. Now we learnt in the last lectures that the ego and astral body are outside the physical and etheric bodies in sleep. Remembering this, we shall not be surprised to learn that Spiritual Science shows us that the ego then takes hold of the pictures of waking life — those pictures that it otherwise takes hold of in ordinary reality through the physical and etheric bodies. The first kind of dream is an activity of the ego outside the physical and etheric bodies.

What, then, is the second kind of dream? Of course it, too, must have something to do with what is outside the physical and etheric bodies during sleep. It cannot be the ego, for this knows nothing of the symbolic organ-forms presented by the dream. One is forced to see that it is the astral body of man that, in sleep, shapes these symbolic pictures of the inner organs, as the ego the pictures of external experience. Thus the two kinds of dreams point to the activity of the ego and astral body between falling asleep and waking up.

We can go further. We have seen what a weak and what a strong man does in his dreams; we have seen that the weak man dreams of things almost exactly as he experienced them, while the strong man transforms and re-arranges them, colouring then by his own character. Pursuing this to the end, we can compare our result with a man's behaviour in waking life. We then dis-cover the following intensely interesting fact. Let a man tell you his dreams; notice how one dream-picture is linked to another; study the configuration of his dreams. Then, having formed an idea of the way he dreams, look at the man himself. Stimulated by the idea you have formed of his dream-life, you will be able to form a good picture of the way he acts in life. This leads us to remarkable secrets of human nature. If you study a man as he acts in life and learn to know his individual character, you will find that only a part of his actions proceeds from his own being, from his ego. If all depended on the ego, a man would really do what he dreams; the violent character would be as violent in life as in his dreams, while one who leaves his life almost unchanged in his dreams, would hold aloof from life at all points, let it take its course, let things happen, shaping his life as little as he shapes his dreams.

And what a man does over and above this — how does that happen? My dear friends, we can very well say that it is done by God, by the spiritual beings of the world. All that man does, he does not do himself. In fact, he does just as much as he actually dreams; the rest is done through him and to him. Only, in ordinary life we do not train ourselves to observe these things; otherwise we would discover that we only actively participate in the deeds of life as much as we actively participate in our dreams. The world hinders the violent man from being as violent in life as in dreams; in the weak man instincts are working, and once more life itself adds that which happens through him, and of which he would not dream.

It is interesting to observe a man in some action of his life and to ask: what comes from him, and what from the world? From him proceeds just as much as he can dream, no more, no less. The world adds something in the case of a weak man, and subtracts something in the case of a violent man. Seen in this light, dreams become extraordinarily interesting and give us deep insight into the being of man.

Many of the things I have been saying have, it is true, dawned upon psycho-analysts in a distorted, caricatured form. But they are not able to look into what lives and weaves in human nature, so distort it all. From what I have put before you today in a quite external way, you can see the necessity of acquiring a subtle, delicate knowledge of the soul if one wants to handle such things at all; otherwise one can know nothing of the relations between dreams and external reality as realised by man in his life. Hence I once described psycho-analysis as dilettantism, because it knows nothing of man's outer life. But it also knows nothing of man's inner life. These two dilettantisms do not merely add, they must be multiplied; for ignorance of the inner life mars the outer, and ignorance of the outer life mars the inner. Multiplying d x d we get d-squared: d x d = d2. Psycho-analysis is dilettantism raised to the second power.

If we study the alternating states of waking and sleeping in this intimate way, we can perceive and understand so much of the essential nature of man that we are really led to the portal of the Science of Innitiation.

Now consider something else that I told you in these lectures: the fact that man can strengthen his soul forces by exercises, by meditations; that he then advances beyond the ordinary more or less empty, abstract thinking to a thinking inherently pictorial, called ‘imagination’. Now it was necessary to explain that man, progressing in ‘imagination’, comes to apprehend his whole life as an etheric impulse entering earthly life through conception and birth — strictly speaking, from before conception and birth. Through dreams he receives reminiscences of what he has experienced externally since descending to earth for his present life. ‘Imagination’ gives us pictures which, in the way they are experienced, can be very like dream-pictures; but they contain, not reminiscences of this earthly life, but of what preceded it. It is quite ridiculous for people who do not know Spiritual Science to say that imaginations may be dreams too. They ought only to consider what it is that we ‘dream of’ in imaginations. We do not dream of what the senses offer; the content represents man's being before he was endowed with senses. Imagination leads man to a new world.

Nevertheless there is a strong resemblance between the second kind of dream and imaginative experience when first acquired through soul exercises. We experience pictures, mighty pictures — and this in all clarity, we might say exactness. We experience a universe of pictures, so wonderful, so rich in colour, so majestic that we have nothing else in our consciousness. If we would paint these pictures, we should have to paint a mighty tableau; but we could only capture the appearance of a single moment just as we cannot paint a flash of lightning, but only its momentary appearance, for all this takes its course in time. Still, if we only arrest a single moment we obtain a mighty picture.

Let us represent this diagrammatically. Naturally, this will not be very like what we behold; nevertheless, this sketch will illustrate what I mean.

Look at this sketch I have drawn. It has an inner configuration and includes the most varied forms. It is inwardly and outwardly immense. If, now, we become stronger and stronger in concentrating, in holding fast the picture, it does not merely come before us for one moment. We must seize it with presence of mind; otherwise it eludes us before we can bring it into the present moment. Altogether, presence of mind is required in spiritual observation. If we are not only able to apply sufficient presence of mind in order to seize and become conscious of it at all, but can retain it, it contracts and, instead of being something all-enibracing, becomes smaller and smaller, moving onward in time. It suddenly shrinks into something; one part becomes the human head, another the human lung, a third the human liver. The physical matter provided by the mother's body only fills out what enters from the spiritual world and becomes man. At length we say: what the liver is we now see spiritually in a mighty picture in the pre-earthly life. The same is true of the lung. And now we may compare it with the content of the second kind of dream. Here, too, an organ may appear to us in a beautiful picture, as I said before, but this is very poor compared to what imagination reveals.

 Diagram 8
Diagram 8


Thus we gain the impression that imagination gives us some-thing created by a great master-hand, the dream something clumsy. But they both point in the same direction and represent, spiritually, man's internal organisation.

It is but a step from this to another and very true idea. When, through imagination, we discern the pre-earthly human being as a mighty etheric picture, and see this mighty etheric picture crystallise — as it were — into the physical man, we are led to ask what would happen if the dream-pictures, those relating to the inner organs, began to develop the same activity. We find that a caricature of the inner organs would arise. The human liver, so perfect in its way, is formed from an imaginative picture that points to the pre-earthly life. If the dream-picture were to become a liver, this would not be a human liver, not even a goose-liver, but a caricature of a liver. This gives us, in fact, deep insight into the whole being of man. For there is really some similarity between the dream-picture and the imaginative picture, as we now see quite clearly. And we cannot help asking how this comes about.

Well, we can go still further. Take the dream pictures of the first kind, those linked to outer-experiences. To begin with, there is nothing resembling these in imaginative cognition. But imaginative cognition reaches back to a pre-earthly experience of man's, in which he had nothing to do with other physical human beings. Imaginative vision leads to an image of pre-earthly experiences of the spirit. Just think what this implies.

When we look into man's inner life we receive the impression that certain symbolic pictures, whether they arise through imagination or in dreams [of the second kind], refer to what is within man, man's internal organisation; on the other hand, the imaginations which refer to outer experiences are connected, neither with man's internal organisation nor with outer life, but with experiences of his pre-earthly state. Beside these imaginations one can only place dream experiences of the first kind, those relating to external experiences of earthly life; but there is no inner connection here between these imaginations and these dreams. Such a connection only exists for dreams of the second kind.

Now, what do I intend by all these descriptions? I want to draw your attention to an intimate way of studying human life, a way that propounds real riddles. Man really observes life in a most superficial manner today. If he would study it more exactly, more intimately, he would notice the things I have spoken about in this lecture. In a certain sense, however, he does notice them; only, he does not actually know it. He is not really aware how strongly his dreams influence his life. He regards a dream as a flitting phantom, for he does not know that his ego is active in one kind of dream, his astral body in another. But if we seek to grasp still deeper phenomena of life, the riddles to which I referred become more insistent. Those who have been here some time will have already heard me relate such facts as the following: There is a pathological condition in which a person loses his connection with his life in memory. I have mentioned the case of an acquaintance of mine who one day, without his conscious knowledge, left his home and family, went to the station, bought a ticket and travelled, like a sleep-walker, to another station. Here he changed, bought another ticket and travelled further. He did this for a long time. He commenced his journey at a town in South Germany. It was found later, when the case was investigated, that he had been in Budapest, Lemberg (Poland), etc. At last, as his consciousness began to function again, he found himself in a casual ward in Berlin, where he had finally landed. Some weeks had passed before his arrival at the shelter, and these were quite obliterated from his consciousness. He remembered the last thing he had done at home; the rest was obliterated. It was necessary to trace his journey by external inquiries.

You see, his ego was not present in what he was doing. If you study the literature of this subject you will find hundreds and hundreds of cases of such intermittent ego-consciousness. What have we here? If you took trouble to study the dream-world of such a patient you would discover something peculiar. To begin with, you would find that, at least at certain periods of his life, the patient had had the most vivid dreams imaginable, dreams that were especially characterised by his making up his mind to do something, forming certain intentions.

Now, if you study the dreams of a normal person you will find intentions playing a very small part, if any. People dream all sorts of wonderful things, but intentions play no part, as a rule. When intentions do play a part in a dream, we usually wake up laughing at ourselves for entertaining them. But if you study the dream-life of such people with intermittent consciousness, you will find that they entertain intentions in their dreams and, on waking, take these very seriously; indeed, they take these so seriously that they feel pangs of conscience if unable to carry them out. Often these intentions are so foolish in the face of the external physical world that it is not possible to carry them out; this hurts such people and makes them quite excited. To take dreams seriously — especially in regard to their intentions (not wishes) — is the counterpart of this condition of obliterated consciousness.

One who is able to observe human beings can tell, in certain circumstances, whether a person is liable to suffer in this way. Such people have something which shows they never quite wake up in regard to certain inner and outer experiences. One gradually finds that such a person goes too far with his ego out of his physical and etheric bodies in sleep; every night he goes too far into the spiritual and cannot carry back into the physical and etheric bodies what he has experienced. At last, because he has so often not brought it completely back, it holds him outside — i.e. what he experiences too deeply within the spiritual holds the ego back and he passes into a condition in which the ego is not in the physical body.

In such a radical case as this it is especially interesting to observe the dream-life. This differs from the dream-life of our ordinary contemporaries; it is much more interesting, but of course this has its reverse side. Still, objectively considered, illness is more interesting than health; from the subjective side — i.e. for the person concerned, as well as from the point of view of ordinary life, it is another matter. For a knowledge of the human being the dream-life of such a patient is really much more interesting than the dream-life of an ordinary contemporary.

In such a case you actually see a kind of connection between the ego and the whole dream-world; one might say, it is almost tangible. And we are led to ask the following questions: What is the relation of the dream pictures that refer to internal organs, to the imaginations that also refer to internal organs?

Well, viewed ‘externally’, the pictures of man's inner organisation that are given in imagination, point to what was within man before he had his earthly body, before he was on the earth; the dream-pictures arise when once he is here. The imaginations point to the past, the dream-pictures to the present. But though an ordinary dream-picture that refers to an internal organ would correspond to a caricature of that organ, while the imagination would correspond to the perfect organ, nevertheless the caricature has the inherent possibility of growing into a perfect organ.

This leads us to the studies we shall be pursuing tomorrow. They centre in the question: Does the content of such an imagination relate to man's past life, and is the dream the beginning of the imagination of the future? Will a dream-picture of today evolve into the imagination to which we shall be able to look back in a future life on earth? Is the content of the dream perhaps the seed of the content of the imagination?

This significant question presents itself to us. What we have gained through a study of dreams is here seen in conjunction with the question of man's repeated lives on earth. You see, moreover, that we must really look more deeply into the life of man than we usually find convenient; otherwise we shall find no point of contact with what the Science of Initiation says about the being of man.

By such a lecture as this I wanted especially to awaken in you some idea of the superficial way man is studied in the civilisation of today, and of the need of intimate observation in all directions. Such intimate observation leads at once to Spiritual Science.


Image: Thank you, Chris Manvell!

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