Therapeutic Insights: Earthly and Cosmic Laws
Lecture 2 of 5
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, June 26, 1921:
Two days ago we spoke of the time in which people still had a kind of inward knowledge. We gave as an example what an ancient Greek would have thought about the contemporary scientific world conception. Then I tried to show you how such a Greek, from the point of view of Imaginative cognition, would have described what we are accustomed to calling the human etheric body in relation to the element of water.
I said that Imaginative cognition would reveal a certain relationship of the entire activity of water — that surging and weaving of the water element, the striving toward the periphery, the sinking down toward the earth — a relationship of these forces of unfolding toward the periphery and toward the center with the shapes, with the pictures, of the plant element in its individual forms. We thus arrive here at a concrete formulation of the content of the Imaginative world — at least one part of the Imaginative world. Such a knowledge can only be attained practically for human perception if a development is striven for as it has been described in my book How to Attain Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, whose goal is Imaginative cognition.
Even with Imaginative cognition, however, one remains unacquainted with what, in an earlier world conception, was called the element of air. This airy element, such as it was conceived in more ancient times, can be penetrated only by so-called Inspired cognition. If you attempt to clarify the following to yourself, you will approach this Inspired cognition, this experience of the airy element. I have often mentioned to you that the human being today is studied quite superficially. Just call to mind how anatomical and physiological pictures of the human being are made today. Sharp outlines are drawn around the inner organs — heart, lungs, liver, and so on — and certainly these well-defined contours, these boundary lines of heart, lung, and liver, have a certain justification. In using such lines, however, we draw the human being as though he were through and through a solid body, which he really is not. Only the slightest portion of the human being consists of solid mineral substances. Even if we were to take a maximum, as it were, we could consider at most a mere 8 percent as solid in the human being; 92 percent of the human being is a column of fluid. Man is not solid at all; the solid is only deposited within the human being. There is very little consciousness of this fact at present among the pupils of physiology, anatomy, and so on. We do not learn to recognize the watery human being, the fluid human being, when we draw him with solid boundaries to his organs, for the fluid human being is something that is in a continual streaming. His organism is something that moves continually within itself, and into this fluid organism the airy organism now inserts itself. The air streams in, uniting with the substances within and, if I may describe it in this way, stirring them up.
By means of the fact that the human being has this airy element within, he actually forms a complete unity with the outer world. The air that is now within me will presently be outside me again. We cannot really speak of the human being as enclosed within his skin if we observe him with reference to this third element, the airy element. And even less could we speak of him as living contained within his skin if we contemplated him with reference to the warmth element, the element of fire. One cannot say that man is a self-contained being.
Now, however, let us take the entire human being, that is, the human being who is organized not only in the solid element but also in the fluid, airy, and warmth elements, in a configured, moving warmth. Let us compare this entire human being with the human being as he is when he is asleep, with his soul and spirit outside the physical and etheric bodies. What permeates the human being as soul and spirit from awakening to falling asleep is simply not there in the time between falling asleep and awakening. In that time the human being is in another world that is penetrated by another lawfulness. We must ask ourselves, now, which lawfulness permeates the world in which man finds himself between falling asleep and awakening.
Yesterday we mentioned four kinds of lawfulnesses: first, the lawfulness within the earthly world; second the lawfulness within the cosmic world; third, the lawfulness within the world soul; and fourth, the lawfulness within the world spirit. Where, then, is the human being with his soul and spirit — or with his soul aspect and his I— between falling asleep and awakening? A consideration of what we have said up to now will show that the astral body and I at this time (between falling asleep and awakening) are in the realm of the world soul and the world spirit.
1. Lawfulness within the earthly world. 2. Lawfulness within the cosmic world. 3. Lawfulness within the world soul. } Astral Body, I 4. Lawfulness within the world spirit.
We must take very seriously something we mentioned two days ago: that with the first two worlds, the earthly and the cosmic, we have exhausted the whole realm of space. By entering the realm of world soul and world spirit, we have already gone beyond the realm of space. This is something we must dwell upon within our souls again and again: every time the human being sleeps, he is led not only outside his physical body but beyond ordinary space. He is led into a world that should not be confused at all with the world that can be perceived by the senses. All lawfulness that lies at the basis of the rhythmical human being — the human being whose fluid and also whose airy element is organized through rhythm — comes from this world. Rhythm manifests itself in space, but the source of rhythm, the lawfulness that produces rhythm, streams into every point in space from extra-spatial depths. It is regulated everywhere by a real world that lies beyond the sense world. If we are confronted with that wonderful reciprocal play that takes place within the human rhythms, through breathing and the pulse, we actually perceive something in this rhythm that is regulated from extra-spatial spiritual depths and brought into the world in which the human being also finds himself as physical man. It is impossible to understand the airy element if we do not reach such a concrete understanding of the rhythmical expression of man within this airy element.
If one grasps with Imagination what I described two days ago as the weaving and being of the plant world and, parallel with this, the weaving and being of the human etheric body, then one remains still within the world in which one normally resides. One must think of oneself as being transported from the Earth, so to speak, and poured out into the entire cosmos. Then, however, in passing into the airy element, one must remove oneself from space. Then there must be the possibility of knowing oneself in a world that is no longer spatial but that exists only in time, a world in which only the time element holds a certain significance. In the times in which such things were still livingly perceived, it was seen that what belonged to such worlds could really be observed in the way that the spiritual played into human activity through rhythm. I pointed out to you how the ancient Greek formulated the hexameter: three pulse beats with the caesura, which gives a breath, and three more pulse beats with the caesura, or with the end of the verse, which gives the full hexameter. In two breaths one has the corresponding eight pulse beats. The harmonious resounding of the pulse beats with the breathing was shaped artistically in the recitation of the Greek hexameter. The way in which the spiritual, supersensible world permeates the human being — how it permeates the blood circulation, the blood rhythm, synthesizes four pulse beats, four pulse rhythms, to one breathing rhythm — all this was reflected in every speech formation that is in the hexameter. All original strivings to build verse derive from this rhythmic organization of the human being.
The world from which this rhythmic self-activity derives becomes real for the human being only when he becomes conscious during sleep. The activity in which the sleeping, but conscious, human being then lives plays into this rhythm. Ordinary everyday consciousness remains unconscious of what lies at the foundation of this, and this is even more the case with the ordinary, present-day scientific consciousness. If this does become conscious, however, there begins to appear before the human being something more than what I described yesterday as the surging, weaving plant world. Something appears that is not a picture merely of the ordinary animal world, which must be spatial; there appears now a very clear consciousness, one which, however, can appear only outside the body and never within it, a consciousness whose content consists of the concrete pictures out of which the shapes of the animals in space are formed. Just as our human rhythmic activity streams in from the extra-spatial, so do the shapes that then organize themselves into the different animals stream in from the extra-spatial.
The first thing that is experienced if one undergoes consciously what otherwise is gone through only unconsciously between falling asleep and awakening, immersing oneself in the world that is the source of our rhythm, is that the animal world in all its forms becomes comprehensible. The animal world in all its forms cannot be explained by means of outer physical foundations or forces. If a zoologist or a morphologist believes that the form of the lion, the tiger, the butterfly, the beetle is able to be explained by means of something found in physical space, he is very much fooling himself. In physical space one can never find an explanation for the different forms of the animals. One encounters the explanation in the way I have described it only if one enters the third lawfulness, the lawfulness of the world soul.
Now I would like to return to the conversation I presented two days ago between the ancient Greek and the modern scholar who knows everything — that is to say, although occasionally he admits to not knowing everything, he still pretends that everything is able to be explained along lines similar to his own way of thinking. The ancient Greek would say “Nothing at all can be explained by your method, though it has a kind of logic. You list all kinds of abstract conceptual forms, so-called categories — being, becoming, having, and so on. This logic is something that is supposed to represent the lawfulness of the concepts, the ideas.” (I am thinking now of a Greek of the pre-Socratic age, a Greek of the time from which the philosophies of Thales, Heraclitus, and Anaxagoras emanated, of which only a portion survives today.) “What you call logic,” this Greek would say, “was first constructed by a human being, a human being who really no longer knew much about the mysteries of the world. This logic was first made by Aristotle, after he had thoroughly applied his mundane intellect to Platonism. Truly Aristotle was a great man, but he was also a great philistine who completely corrupted the actual logic, who made real logic into an ephemeral web that is related to reality in the same way as a thinly spun phantom is related to something densely real. The real logic,” our ancient Greek, being a scientist in his way, would have said, “the real logic encompasses all those forms that become outward and spatial in the animal world and that one discovers on becoming conscious in the time between falling asleep and awakening. That is logic; that is the real content of the logical consciousness.”
In the animal world there exists nothing but that which exists also in the human being, but in the human being it is spiritualized, and thus he can think. He can think the logical formulas that swim in the outer world in space and become animals. When, between awakening and falling asleep, we manipulate our conceptual forms in ordinary consciousness, connecting one concept with another, we actually do the same thing in the realm of ideas that the outer world does in shaping the various forms of the animals. Just as it is possible to observe one's etheric world when turning one's gaze to the plants and thinking of this plant world as embedded in the element of water, so, in the same way, one's soul world — or it can be called the astral world — can be comprehended if one permeates oneself with this living weaving that becomes conscious between falling asleep and awakening, understanding thereby the outer shapes of the animal world. One must then think of one's own shaping of the world of ideas as woven into the rhythm of the airy element.
You can make yourself a quite concrete mental image from the many things I have pointed out to you concerning the human being. Take the following process quite concretely: you breathe in, and the air follows the well-known pathway to the lungs. In breathing in, however, the inhaled air presses upon the space containing the spinal cord and spinal fluid. This fluid surrounding the spinal cord rhythmically courses through the subarachnoid space of the brain. The cerebral fluid comes into activity, and this activity is the activity of thought. In reality, thought rides on the breath, which is transmitted to the cerebro-spinal fluid, and this fluid in which the brain floats transmits the rhythmical beat of the breath directly onto the brain. In the brain live the impressions of the senses, the impressions of the eyes, the ears, through nerve-sense activity. The breathing rhythm comes into confrontation with what lives in the brain from the senses, and in this confrontation develops the interplay between sensation and thought activity, that formal thought activity which outwardly has its life in the animal forms. It is this thought activity, which is brought about by the breathing rhythm, transmitting itself to the cerebro-spinal fluid in the subarachnoid space, that commingles with what lives in the brain through the senses. Residing there is everything that becomes active in us in the form of ideas out of the rhythm.
What is essential, my dear friends, is that you attempt gradually to penetrate into the way in which the spiritual plays into the physical world. The great cultural defect of our time is that we have a science that arrives at the spirit in abstract forms, in purely intellectual forms, whereas the spiritual must be conceived in its creative element, for otherwise the material world remains like something hard, unconquered, outside the spiritual. We must penetrate into how this element of the third and fourth lawfulnesses plays concretely into what we ourselves carry out.
It is one of the most sublime things that can become clear to us if we recognize the actual inner basis that can prevail in every breathing rhythm — what is not fulfilled but what could be fulfilled each time an inhalation plays into the cerebro-spinal fluid. Now comes the recoil, the response: the cerebro-spinal fluid is again pressed down through the subarachnoid space of the spine, and there is an exhalation. This is a surrender once again to the world, a merging with the world. However, in this I-becoming/merging-with-the-world lies in essence what is expressed in the breathing rhythm.
This is the way one must speak if one wishes to speak of the reality that is meant when speaking of the element of air, whereas in speaking about the earth one simply encompasses everything that is included in our seventy-odd chemical elements. You see, what becomes a corpse is subject to the lawfulness of the seventy-two elements. What brings this dead body into movement, however, so that it can grow, can digest, is something that streams in from the cosmos. Then what penetrates this organism so that it not only grows and is able to digest but unfolds itself continually in a rhythmical activity, in the pulse, in the breathing rhythm, comes from an extra-spatial world. We study this extra-spatial world in the air element, for that is where it reveals itself, just as we study the cosmic — and not the earthly — world in the water element, for that is where the cosmic is revealed. What is revealed to the present-day chemist or physicist derives only from the earth element differentiated in itself.
We can also find the transition to the warmth element or element of fire. This is really possible only in the moment that is a practical result when a human being attains the ability not only to move out of his body consciously but to immerse himself with this consciousness into other beings. There is something else to consider here. One may already have had the ability for a long time to move out of one's body; if a little egotism is retained regarding the world, however, one is able to grasp everything of which I have spoken up to now, but one cannot really immerse oneself in this outer world. One cannot surrender oneself to this outer world. If, however, elements of true supersensible love can be added during an immersion into that world in which one lives between falling asleep and awakening, then one learns to recognize by experience the element of warmth or fire. Only then does one recognize the true being of man, for what is looked at outwardly through the senses is only a semblance of man, is the human being from the other side, from the side of semblance.
If one ascends to the element of water, one has, to begin with, the experience of the etheric being of man dissolving. The etheric being of man becomes, you could say, a miniature picture of winter, summer, autumn, and so on. If one comes to the element of air, one becomes aware of a self-sustaining, rhythmical movement. The contained human being, the human being as he is eternal man, can be known only within the element of warmth. There everything comes into connection once again: the weaving movement of the water element and the rhythms of the air come together. They harmonize and deharmonize themselves in the warmth element, in the fire element, and there one can recognize the real being of man. There one is essentially in the fourth lawfulness, the lawfulness of the world spirit.
In hearing about an earlier science of the four elements — earth, water, air, and fire — one should not picture that we have progressed so wonderfully far with our modern science. One should rather picture that an altogether different consciousness existed concerning the roots of the human being in supersensible depths. Something was known, therefore, of the various relationships of the earth element to this supersensible. The earth element is, as it were, entirely outside the sphere of the supersensible. The water element already begins to approach it; this water element is already much more closely connected with the world of spheres spread in cosmic space than with what the Earth itself is. We leave space altogether, however, if we look for the source of what is within us as the air rhythm — and therefore our air organization — for regarding our air organization we are rhythmicizing, de-rhythmicizing, and so on. Finally we come to the universally extra-spatial, to that which overcomes time, when we come into the fire element, into the warmth element. Only here do we come to recognize the entire, self-contained human being. One really finds this, though in a corrupted form, if one rediscovers — and it is already necessary today that one rediscover it — the literature that appeared before the fifteenth century.
There appeared a few years ago the work of a Swedish scientist concerning alchemy. This Swedish scientist read about a process described by an alchemist, and he commented: “If you investigate this process today, it turns out to be pure nonsense; you cannot picture anything of what they are saying.” It is easy to grasp that the chemist of today, even the Swede, who is somewhat less prejudiced than the Central European, takes the expressions in which are clothed what once existed in the corrupted literature of ancient times and then finds that nothing emerges from them. I looked up the process that the good Swedish scientist could not understand in the same literature that he had read: the process described there was actually an aspect of the embryonic process, of embryonic development in the human being! This became clear very soon. One must be able to read such matters, however. The modern scientist reads in such a way that he applies the expressions and vocabulary that he has learned from his chemistry text. He puts up his flasks and test tubes and imitates the process described: nonsense! What he has read is actually describing a portion of the process that takes place in the mother's body during embryonic development. You thus can see the abyss that has appeared between what the modern scientist is able to read and what was once meant.
All things that were described in the ancient literature, however, have also been described again today under the influence of the concepts of a new spiritual science. If these writings are not rediscovered, one cannot read them at all. They existed in an entirely different way from the way we discover them today. They existed in an instinctive, atavistic way, but they did exist, and humanity lifted itself, as it were, beyond an understanding of merely the earth element. We must find entrance again into the elements that do not explain to us merely the corpse of the human being but the whole human being, the living human being. For this it is necessary that one learn to take quite seriously within our civilization what is presented in the question of pre-existence.
When the concept of pre-existence was cast out of Western cultural evolution, selfless research was actually cast out as well. When preachers today preach about immortality, as I have indicated often before, they appeal basically to human egotism. It is known that man feels uncomfortable, feels afraid, of the cessation of life. Of course life does not actually cease, but in speaking about immortality one appeals not to the forces of cognition but to man's fear of death, to man's will to continue living when the body is taken from him; in other words, man's egotism is appealed to. This is not possible when one speaks about pre-existence. It is actually inconsequential to people today — from the point of view of their egotism — whether or not they lived before they were born or conceived. They are living now, and of that they are certain, and they are not very concerned, therefore, with pre-existence. Rather they are concerned about post-existence, for although they are now living, they do not know whether they will continue to live after death. This is connected with their egotism. Since they are already living, however, they say to themselves — perhaps only unconsciously or instinctively if they have not trained in cognition — “I am living now, and even if I didn't exist before my birth or conception, it makes no difference to me if I only began to live then, as long as I can continue to live from now on.”
This is the mood on the basis of which feelings today are called forth through which human beings become enthusiastic about immortality. In the known languages, therefore, we have a word for immortality that directs us to the eternity at life's end, but we do not have a word, in the ordinary languages of our culture, for “unbornness.” This is something we must gradually acquire. Such a concept would speak more to cognition, would speak more to a lack of egotism, to a cognition of man that is free of egotism. This must be appealed to once again. Furthermore, cognition must become permeated by morality, by ethics. Unless our laboratory table becomes a kind of altar, and unless our synthesizing and analyzing become a kind of art of the spirit, and we become conscious that in doing this or that we participate in world evolution, our cultural evolution will not progress. We will come into a frightful descent if wider and wider circles do not perceive that one must achieve cognition free of egotism, a morally permeated cognition that must overcome today's analysis and synthesis, which do not take the higher worlds into any account. One must come to understand again something of the rhythm that plays into our lives, something of what plays into warmth. Into the warmth plays the moral element; and in the simple variations of warmth, varying intensities of warmth, there is in reality a world-permeating morality in which the human being develops himself. All this must gradually become conscious in humanity. This is not merely what I would like to call an idealistic whim demanding of us to interpret the signs of our times; rather, the signs of the times themselves speak of this deepening toward the supersensible that must be attempted.
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