Friday, September 17, 2021

Dreams, Imaginative Cognition, and the Building of Destiny


Anthroposophy and the Inner Life. Lecture 8 of 9

Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, February 9, 1924:

Yesterday I tried to show how a more intimate study of man's dream-life can lead us towards the Science of Initiation. To a certain extent, the point of view was that of ordinary consciousness. Today it will be my task to enter more deeply into the same subject-matter from the point of view of ‘imaginative’ cognition — i.e. to present what we were studying yesterday as it appears to one who has learnt to see the world in ‘imaginations’.

For the moment we will neglect the difference between the two kinds of dreams discussed yesterday, and consider dreams as such. It will be a sound approach to describe ‘imaginative’ vision in relation to dreams which a man endowed with imagination may have. Let us compare such a dream with the self-perception attained by the imaginative seer when he looks back upon his own being — when he observes imaginatively his own or another's organs — or, perhaps, the whole human being as a complete organism. You see, the appearance of the dream-world to imaginative consciousness is quite different from its appearance to ordinary consciousness. The same is true of the physical and etheric organism. Now the imaginative seer can dream too; and under certain circumstances his dreams will be just as chaotic as those of other people. From his own experience he can quite well judge the world of dreams; for, side by side with the imaginative life that is inwardly co-ordinated, clear and luminous, the dream-world runs its ordinary course, just as it does side by side with waking life. I have often emphasised that one who attains really spiritual perception does not become a dreamer or enthusiast, living only in the higher worlds and not seeing external reality. People who are ever dreaming in higher worlds, or about them, and do not see external reality, are not initiates; they should be considered from a pathological point of view, at least in the psychological sense of the term. The real knowledge of initiation does not estrange one from ordinary, physical life and its various relationships. On the contrary, it makes one a more painstaking, conscientious observer than without the faculty of seership. Indeed we may say: if a man has no sense of ordinary realities, no interest in ordinary realities, no interest in the details of others' lives, if he is so ‘superior’ that he sails through life without troubling about its details, he shows he is not a genuine seer. A man with imaginative cognition — he may, of course, also have ‘inspired’ and ‘intuitive’ cognition, but at present I am only speaking of ‘imagination’ — is quite well acquainted with dream-life from his own experience. Nevertheless, his conception of dreams is different. He feels the dream as something with which he is connected, with which he unites himself much more strongly than is possible through ordinary consciousness. He can take dreams more seriously. Indeed, only imagination justifies us taking our dreams seriously, for it enables us to look, as it were, behind dreaming and apprehend its dramatic course — its tensions, resolutions, catastrophes, and crises — rather than its detailed con-tent. The individual content interests us less, even before we acquire imagination; we are more interested in studying whether the dream leads to a crisis, or to inner joy, to something that we find easy or that proves difficult — and the like.

It is the course of the dream just that which does not interest ordinary consciousness and which I can only call the dramatic quality of the dream — that begins to interest us most. We see behind the scenes of dream-life and, in doing so, become aware that we have before us something related to man's spiritual being in quite a definite way. We see that, in a spiritual sense, the dream is the human being, as the seed is the plant. And in this ‘seed-like’ man we learn to grasp what is really foreign to his present life — just as the seed taken from the plant in the autumn of a given year is foreign to the plant's life of that year and will only be at home in the plant-growth of the following year. It is just this way of studying the dream that gives imaginative consciousness its strongest impressions; for, in our own dreaming being, we detect more and more that we bear within us something that passes over to our next life on earth, germinating between death and a new birth and growing on into our next earthly life. It is the seed of this next earthly life that we learn to feel in the dream.

This is extremely important and is further confirmed by comparing this special experience, which is an intense experience of feeling, with the perception we can have of a physical human being standing before us with his several organs. This perception, too, changes for imaginative consciousness, so that we feel like we do when a fresh, green, blossoming plant we have known begins to fade. When, in imaginative consciousness, we observe the lungs, liver, stomach, and, most of all, the brain as physical organs, we say to ourselves that these, in respect to the physical, are all withering.

Now you will say that it cannot be pleasant to confront, in imaginations, a physical man as a withering being. Well, no one who knows the Science of Initiation will tell you it is only there to offer pleasant truths to men. It has to tell the truth, not please. On the other hand, it must be remembered that, while we learn to know the physical man as a withering being, we perceive in him the spiritual man; in a sense, you cannot see the spiritual man shine forth without learning to know the physical as a decaying, withering being.

Thus man's appearance does not thereby become uglier but more beautiful — and truer, too. And when one is able to perceive the withering of man's organs, which is such a spiritual process, these organs with their etheric content appear as something that has come over from the past — from the last life on earth — and is now withering. In this way we really come to see that the seed of a future life is being formed within the withering process that proceeds from man's being of a former life on earth.

The human head is withering most; and the dream appears to imaginative perception as an emanation of the human head. On the other hand, the metabolic and limb organism appears to imaginative vision to be withering least of all. It appears very similar to the ordinary dream; it is least faded and most closely united, in form and content, with the future of man. The rhythmic organisation contained in the chest is the connecting link between them, holding the balance. It is just to spiritual perception that the human heart appears as a remarkable organ. It, too, is seen to be withering; nevertheless, seen imaginatively, it retains almost its physical form, only beautified and ennobled (I say ‘almost’, not ‘completely’).

There would be a certain amount of truth in painting man's spiritual appearance as follows: a countenance comparatively wise looking, perhaps even somewhat aged; hands and feet small and childlike; wings to indicate remoteness from the earth; and the heart indicated in some form or other reminiscent of the physical organ.

If we can perceive the human being imaginatively, such a picture which we might attempt to paint will not be symbolic in the bad sense that symbolism has today. It will not be empty and insipid, but will contain elements of physical existence while, at the same time, transcending the physical. One might also say, speaking paradoxically (one must begin to speak in paradoxes to some extent when one speaks of the spiritual world, for the spiritual world does really appear quite different from the physical): When we begin to perceive man with imagination we feel in regard to his head: How intensely I must think, if I am to hold my own against this head! Contemplating the human head with imaginative consciousness one gradually comes to feel quite feeble-minded, for with the acutest thoughts acquired in daily life one cannot easily approach this wonderful physical structure of the human head. It is now transformed into something spiritual and its form is still more wonderful as it withers, showing its form so clearly. For the convolutions of the brain actually seem to contain, in a withered form, deep secrets of the world's structure. When we begin to understand the human head we gaze deeply into these cosmic secrets, yet feel ourselves continually baffled in our attempts.

On the other hand, when we try to understand the metabolic and limb system with imaginative consciousness, we say to our-selves: Your keen intellect does not help you here; you ought properly to sleep and dream of man, for man only apprehends this part of his organisation by dreaming of it while awake.

So you see, we must proceed to a highly differentiated mode of perception when we begin to study man's physical organisation imaginatively. We must become clever, terribly clever, when we study his head. We must become dreamers when studying his system of limbs and metabolism. And we must really swing to and fro, as it were, between dreaming and waking if we want to grasp, in imaginative vision, the wonderful structure of man's rhythmic system. But all this appears as the relic of his last life on earth. What he experiences in the waking state is the relic of his last life; this plays into his present life, giving him as much as I ascribed to him yesterday when I said of his life of action, for example, that only as much of man's actions as he can dream of is really done by himself; the rest is done by the gods in and through him. The present is active to this extent; all the rest comes from his former earthly lives. We see that this is so when we have a man before us and perceive his withering physical organisation. And if we look at what man knows of himself while he dreams — dreams in his sleep — we have before us what man is preparing for the next life on earth. These things can be easily distinguished.

Thus imagination leads directly from a study of the waking and sleeping man to a perception of his development from earthly life to earthly life.

Now what is preserved in memory occupies a quite special place in the waking and in the sleeping man. Consider your ordinary memories. What you remember you draw forth from within you in the form of thoughts or mental presentations; you represent to yourself past experiences. These, as you know, lose in memory their vividness, impressiveness, colour, etc. Remembered experiences are pale. But, on the other hand, memory cannot but appear to be very closely connected with man's being; indeed it appears to be his very being. Man is not usually honest enough in his soul to make the necessary confession to himself; but I ask you to look into yourself to find out what you really are in respect to what you call your ego. Is there anything there beside your memories? If you try to get to your ego you will scarcely find anything else but your life's memories. True, you find these permeated by a kind of activity, but this remains very shadowy and dim. It is your memories that, for earthly life, appear as your living ego.

Now this world of memories which you need only call to mind in order to realise how entirely shadowy they are — what does it become in imaginative cognition? It ‘expands’ at once; it becomes a mighty tableau through which we survey, in pictures, all that we have experienced in our present life on earth. One might say: If this [ 1 ] be man, and this the memory within him, imagination at once extends this memory back to his birth. One feels oneself outside of space; here all consists of events. One gazes into a tableau and surveys one's whole life up to the present. Time becomes space. It is like looking down an avenue; one takes in one's whole past in a tableau, or panorama, and can speak of memory expanding. In ordinary consciousness memory is confined, as it were, to a single moment at a time. Indeed, it is really as follows: If, for example, we have reached the age of forty and are recalling, not in ‘imagination’, but in ordinary consciousness, something experienced twenty years ago, it is as if it were far off in space, yet still there. Now — in imaginative cognition — it has remained; it has no more disappeared than the distant trees of an avenue. It is there. This is how we gaze into the tableau and know that the memory we bear with us in ordinary consciousness is a serious illusion. To take it for a reality is like taking a cross-section of a tree trunk for the tree trunk itself. Such a section is really nothing at all; the trunk is above and below the mere picture thus obtained. Now it is really like that when we perceive memories in imaginative cognition. We detect the utter unreality of the individual items; the whole expands almost as far as birth — in certain circumstances even farther. All that is past becomes present; it is there, though at the periphery.

Once we have grasped this, once we have attained this perception, we can know — and re-observe at any moment — that man reviews this tableau when he leaves his physical body at death. This lasts some days and is his natural life-element. On passing through the gate of death man gazes, to begin with, at his life in mighty, luminous, impressive pictures. This constitutes his experience for some days.

But we must now advance farther in imaginative cognition. As we do so our life is enriched in a certain way and we accordingly understand many things in a different way from before. Consider, for example, our behaviour towards other people. In ordinary life we may, in individual cases, think about the intentions we have had, the actions we have performed — our whole attitude towards others. We think about all this, more or less. according as we are more or less reflective persons. But now all this stands before us. In our idea of our behaviour we only grasp a part of the full reality. Suppose we have done another a service or an injury. We learn to see the results of our good deed, the satisfaction to the other man, perhaps his furtherance in this or that respect — i.e. we see the results which may follow our deed in the physical world. If we have done an evil deed, we come to see we have injured him, we see that he remained unsatisfied or, perhaps, was even physically injured; and so on. All this can be observed in physical life if we do not run away from it, finding it unpleasant to observe the consequences of our deeds.

This, however, is only one side. Every action we do to human beings, or indeed to the other kingdoms of Nature, has another side. Let us assume that you do a good deed to another man. Such a deed has its existence and its significance in the spiritual world; it kindles warmth there; it is, in a sense, a source of spiritual rays of warmth. In the spiritual world ‘soul-warmth’ streams from a good deed, ‘soul-coldness’ from an evil deed done to other human beings. It is really as if one engendered warmth or coldness in the spiritual world according to one's behaviour to others. Other human actions act like bright, luminous rays in this or that direction in the spiritual world; others have a darkening effect. In short, one may say that we only really experience one half of what we accomplish in our life on earth.

Now, on attaining imaginative consciousness, what ordinary consciousness knows already, really vanishes. Whether a man is being helped or injured is for ordinary consciousness to recognise; but the effect of a deed, be it good or evil, wise or foolish, in the spiritual world — its warming or chilling, lightening or darkening action (there are manifold effects) — all this arises before imaginative consciousness and begins to be there for us. And we say to ourselves: Because you did not know all this when you let your ordinary consciousness function in your actions, it does not follow that it was not there. Do not imagine that what you did not know of in your actions — the sources of luminous and warming rays, etc. — was not there because you did not see or experience it. Do not imagine that. You have experienced it all in your sub-consciousness; you have been through it all. Just as the spiritual eyes of your higher consciousness see it now, so, while you were helping or harming another by your kind or evil deed, your sub-consciousness experienced its parallel significance for the spiritual world.

Further: when we have progressed and attained a sufficient intensification of imaginative consciousness we do not only gaze at the panorama of our experiences, but become perforce aware that we are not complete human beings until we have lived through this other aspect of our earthly actions, which had remained subconscious before. We begin to feel quite maimed in the face of this life-panorama that extends back to birth, or beyond it. It is as if something had been torn from us. We say to ourselves continually: You ought to have experienced that aspect too; you are really maimed, as if an eye or a leg had been removed. You have not really had one half of your experiences. This must arise in the course of imaginative consciousness; we must feel ourselves maimed in this way in respect to our experiences. Above all, we must feel that ordinary life is hiding something from us.

This feeling is especially intense in our present materialistic age. For men simply do not believe today that human actions have any value or significance beyond that for immediate life which takes its course in the physical world. It is regarded, more or less, as folly to declare that something else takes place in the spiritual world. Nevertheless, it is there. This feeling of being maimed comes before ‘inspired’ consciousness and one says to one's self: I must make it possible for myself to experience all I have failed to experience; yet this is almost impossible, except in a few details and to a very limited extent.

It is this tragic mood that weighs upon one who sees more deeply into life. There is so much in life that we cannot fulfil on earth. In a sense, we must incur a debt to the future, admitting that life sets tasks which we cannot absolve in this present earthly life. We must owe them to the universe, saying: I shall only be able to experience that when I have passed through death. The Science of Initiation brings us this great, though often tragical enrichment of life; we feel this unavoidable indebtedness to life and recognise the necessity of owing the gods what we can only experience after death. Only then can we enter into an experience such as we owe to the universe.

This consciousness that our inner life must, in part, run its course by incurring debts to the future after death, leads to an immense deepening of human life. Spiritual science is not only there that we may learn this or that theoretically. He who studies it as one studies other things, would be better employed with a cookery book. Then, at least, he would be impelled to study in a more than theoretical manner, for life, chiefly the life of the stomach and all connected therewith, takes care that we take a cookery book more seriously than a mere theory. It is necessary for spiritual science, on approaching man, to deepen his life in respect to feeling.

Our life is immensely deepened when we become aware of our growing indebtedness to the gods and say: One half of our life on earth cannot really be lived, for it is hidden under the surface of existence. If, through initiation, we learn to know what is otherwise hidden from ordinary consciousness, we can see a little into the debts we have incurred. We then say: With ordinary consciousness we see we are incurring debts, but cannot read the ‘promissory note’ we ought to write. With initiation-consciousness we can, indeed, read the note, but cannot meet it in ordinary life. We must wait till death comes. And, when we have attained this consciousness, when we have so deepened our human conscience that this indebtedness is quite alive in us, we are ready to follow human life farther, beyond the retrospective tableau of which I have spoken and in which we reach back to birth. We now see that, after a few days, we must begin to experience what we have left un-experienced; and this holds for every single deed we have done to other human beings in the world. The last deeds done before death are the first to come before us, and so backwards through life. We first become aware of what our last evil or good deeds signify for the world. Our experience of them while on earth is now eliminated; what we now experience is their significance for the world.

And then we go farther back, experiencing our life again, but backwards. We know that while doing this we are still connected with the earth, for it is only the other side of our deeds that we experience now.

We feel as if our life from now onwards were being borne in the womb of the universe. What we now experience is a kind of embryonic stage for our further life between death and a new birth; only, it is not borne by a mother but by the world, by all that we did not experience in physical life. We live through our physical life again, backwards and in its cosmic significance. We experience it now with a very divided consciousness. Living here in the physical world and observing the creatures around him, man feels himself pretty well as the lord of creation; and even though he calls the lion the king of beasts, he still feels himself, as a human being, superior. Man feels the creatures of the other kingdoms as inferior; he can judge them, but does not ascribe to them the power to judge him. He is above the other kingdoms of Nature.

He has a very different feeling, however, when after death the undergoes the experience I have just described. He no longer feels himself confronting the inferior kingdoms of Nature, but kingdoms of the spiritual world that are superior to him. He feels himself as the lowest kingdom, the others standing above him.

Thus, in undergoing all he has previously left unexperienced, man feels all around him beings far higher than himself. They unfold their sympathies and antipathies towards all he now lives through as a consequence of his earthly life. In this experience immediately after death we are within a kind of ‘spiritual rain’. We live through the spiritual counterpart of our deeds, and the lofty beings who stand above us rain down their sympathies and antipathies. We are flooded by these, and feel in our spiritual being that what is illuminated by the sympathies of these lofty beings of the higher hierarchies will be accepted by the universe as a good element for the future; whereas all that encounters their antipathies will be rejected, for we feel it would be an evil element in the universe if we did not keep it to ourselves. The antipathies of these lofty beings rain down on an evil deed done to another human being, and we feel that the result would be something exceedingly bad for the universe if we released it, if we did not retain it in ourselves. So we gather up all that encounters the antipathies of these lofty beings. In this way we lay the foundation of our destiny, of all that works on into our next earthly life in order that it may find compensation through other deeds.

One can describe the passage of the human being through the soul-region after death from what I might call its more external aspect. I did this in my book Theosophy, where I followed more the accustomed lines of thought of our age. Now in this recapitulation within the General Anthroposophical Society I want to present a systematic statement of what Anthroposophy is, describing these things more inwardly. I want you to feel how man, in his inner being — in his human individuality — actually lives through the state after death.

Now when we understand these things in this way, we can again turn our attention to the world of dreams, and see it in a new light. Perceiving man's experience, after death, of the spiritual aspects of his earthly life, his deeds and thoughts, we can again turn to the dreaming man, to all he experiences when asleep. We now see that he has already lived through the above when asleep; but it remained quite unconscious. The difference between the experience in sleep and the experience after death becomes clear.

Consider man's life on earth. There are waking states interrupted again and again by sleep. Now a man who is not a ‘sleepy-head’ will spend about a third of his life asleep. During this third he does, in fact, live through the spiritual counterpart of his deeds; only he knows nothing of it, his dreams merely casting up ripples to the surface. Much of the spiritual counterpart is perceived in dreams, but only in the form of weak surface-ripples. Nevertheless in deep sleep we do experience unconsciously the whole spiritual aspect of our daily life. So we might put it this way: In our conscious daily life we experience what others think and feel, how they are helped or hindered by us; in sleep we experience unconsciously what the gods think about the deeds and thoughts of our waking life, though we know nothing of this. It is for this reason that one who sees into the secrets of life seems to himself so burdened with debt, so maimed — as I have described. All this has remained in the subconscious. Now after death it is really lived through consciously. For this reason man lives through the part of life he has slept through, i.e. about one-third, in time, of his earthly life. Thus, when he has passed through death, he lives through his nights again, backwards; only, what he lived through unconsciously, night by night, now becomes conscious.

We could even say — though it might almost seem as if we wanted to make fun of these exceedingly earliest matters: If one sleeps away the greater part of one's life, this retrospective experience after death will last longer; if one sleeps little, it will be shorter. On an average it will last a third of one's life, for one spends that in sleep. So if a man lives till the age of sixty, such experience after death will last twenty years. During this time he passes through a kind of embryonic stage for the spiritual world. Only after that will he be really free of the earth; then the earth no longer envelopes him, and he is born into the spiritual world. He escapes from the wrappings of earthly existence which he had borne around him until then, though in a spiritual sense, and feels this as his birth into the spiritual world.


1. The drawing is not reproduced.


Image: Thank you, Chris Manvell!

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