Anthroposophy and the Inner Life. Lecture 6 of 9
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, February 3, 1924:
When we study human life on earth, we see it proceed in a kind of rhythm expressed in the alternating states of waking and sleeping. It is from this point of view that one must consider what was said in the last lectures about the constitution of man. Let us look, with ordinary consciousness, and in what might be called a purely external way, at the facts before us. In the waking man there is, first, the inner course of his vital processes; but these remain subconscious or unconscious. There is also what we know as sense impressions — that relation to our earthly and cosmic environments which is mediated by the senses. Further, there is the expression of the will — the ability to move as an expression of impulses of will.
Now, when we study man with ordinary cognition we find that the inner life-process, which runs its course in the subconsciousness, continues during sleep; sense activity and the thinking based upon it are, however, suppressed. The expression of the will is also suppressed; likewise the active life of feeling that connects willing and thinking, standing between them to a certain extent.
Now if we simply study, in an unbiased way and without succumbing to preconceived opinions, what we have just found by ordinary consciousness, we are led to say: The processes described as psychical, and the processes taking place between the psychical and the external world, cease in sleep. At most we can say that the dream life finds expression when man sleeps. But we must certainly not assume that these psychical processes are created anew — out of nothing, as it were — every time we wake. This would doubtless be a quite absurd thought, even for ordinary consciousness. On unbiased consideration we must assume that the vehicle of man's psychical processes is also present in sleep. We must admit, however, that this vehicle does not act on man during sleep, i.e. that which evokes in man's senses a consciousness of the external world, and stimulates this consciousness to think, does not act on man in sleep. Moreover, that which sets the body in motion from out of the will is also absent; likewise, what evokes feeling from the organic processes, is not there.
During waking life we are aware that our thoughts act upon our bodily organism. But, with ordinary consciousness, we cannot see how a thought or idea streams down, as it were, into the muscular and bony systems so that the will is involved. Nevertheless, we are aware of this action of our psychic impulses upon our body, and have to recognise that it ceases while we sleep.
Thus even external considerations show us that sleep takes something from man. The only question is, what? If, to begin with, we look at what we have designated man's physical body, we see that it is continually active, in sleep as in the waking state. Moreover, all the processes we described as belonging to the etheric organism continue during sleep. In sleep man grows, he carries on the inner activities of digestion and metabolism, he continues to breathe, etc. All these activities cannot belong to the physical body as such, for they cease when it becomes a corpse. It is then taken over by external, earthly Nature and destroyed. But these destructive forces do not overpower man in sleep; therefore there are counter-forces present, opposing the disintegration of his physical body. Thus we may conclude, from mere external considerations, that the etheric organism is also present during sleep.
Now we know from the preceding lectures that this etheric organism can become an object of knowledge through ‘imagination’; one can experience it ‘in a picture’, just as one experiences the physical body through sense impressions. And we know too that what may be called the astral organism is experienced through ‘inspiration’.
We will now go further — Of course, we could go on drawing conclusions in the above way. But, in the case of the astral body and ego-organisation, we prefer first to study how they actually appear to higher consciousness.
Let us recall how we had to describe the activity of the astral body in man. We saw that it works through the medium of what is airy, or gaseous, in the human organism. Thus we must recognise, to begin with, the astral body in all the activities of the airy element in man.
Now we know that the first and most essential activity of the astral body within the airy element is breathing; and we know from ordinary experience that we have to distinguish between breathing in and breathing out. Further, we know that it is the act of breathing in that vitalises us. We deprive the outer air of its life-giving power and return, not a vitalising, but a devitalising element. Physically speaking, we take in oxygen and give off carbonic acid. But we are not so much concerned with this aspect at the moment; it is the fact of ordinary experience that interests us here: we breathe in the vitalising and breathe out the devitalising element.
The higher knowledge which, as discussed in these last few days, is acquired through ‘imagination’, ‘inspiration’, and ‘intuition’, must now be directed to the life of sleep. We must actually investigate whether there is something that confirms the conclusion to which we were led, namely: that something is lifted out of man when he sleeps.
This question can only be answered by putting and answering another. If there is something that is outside man in sleep, how does it behave when outside?
Well, suppose a man, by such soul exercises as I have described, has actually acquired ‘inspiration’, i.e. a content for his emptied consciousness. He is now able to receive ‘inspired’ knowledge. At this stage he can induce the state of sleep artificially; this, however, is no mere sleep but a conscious condition in which the spiritual world flows into him.
I should now like to describe this in quite a crude way. Suppose such a man is able to feel, as it were, in an element of spiritual music, the spiritual beings of the cosmos speaking ‘into’ him. He will then have certain experiences. But he will also say to himself: These experiences which I now have, reveal something very peculiar; through them what I had to assume as outside of man during sleep no longer remains unknown. What now happens can really be made clear by the following comparison.
Suppose you had a certain experience ten years ago. You have forgotten it, but through something or other you are led to remember it. It has been outside your consciousness; but now, after applying sonic aid to memory or the like, you recall it. It is now in your consciousness. You have brought back into your consciousness something that was outside it, though connected with you in some way. It is like that with one who has a more inner consciousness and reaches inspiration. The events of sleep begin to emerge, as memories do in ordinary life. Only, the experiences we recall in memory were once in consciousness; the experiences of sleep, however, were not there before. But they enter consciousness in such a way that we really feel we are remembering something not experienced quite consciously before, at least in this life. They come to us like memories. And, as we formerly learnt to understand and experience through memory, we now begin to understand what happens during sleep. Thus into ‘inspired’ consciousness there simply emerges the experience of what leaves man and remains outside him during sleep, and what was unknown becomes known. We learn to know what it is really doing while he sleeps.
If you were to put into words what you experience with your breath during life, you would say: That I am inwardly permeated with life is owing to the element I breathe in. I cannot owe it to the element I breathe out, for that has the forces of death.
But when, as we saw just now, you are outside your body during sleep, you become extremely partial to the air you breathe out. When awake you did not notice what can be experienced with this exhaled air; you have only heeded the inhaled air which is the vitalising element while you and your soul are within the physical body. But now you have the same — indeed a more exalted — feeling towards the air you so anxiously avoid when you find it accumulated in a room. You express your dislike of the exhaled air. Now the physical body cannot bear it, even in sleep, but your soul and spirit, outside the body, actually breathe in — to put it physically — the carbonic acid you have exhaled. Of course, it is a spiritual, not a physical process; you receive the impression made by your exhaled air. In this exhaled air you remain connected with your physical body. You belong to your body, for you say to yourself: There is my body and it is breathing out this devitalising air. You say this unconsciously. You feel yourself connected with your body through its returning the air in this condition. Youfeel yourself entirely within the air you have exhaled. And this air you breathe out brings you continually the secrets of your inner life. You perceive these, although this perception is, of course, unconscious for the untrained sleeping consciousness. This exhaled air ‘sparkles forth’ from you and its appearance leads you to say: That is I myself, my inner human being, sparkling out into the universe.
And your own spirit, streaming towards you in the exhaled air has a sun-like appearance.
You now know that man's astral body, when within the physical, delights in the inhaled air, using it unconsciously to set the organic processes in action and induce in them inner mobility. But you also realise that the astral body is outside the physical when you sleep and receives, in its feelings, the secrets of your own human being from the exhaled air. While you ray forth towards the cosmos, your soul beholds unconsciously the inner process involved. Only in ‘inspiration’ does this become conscious.
Further, we receive a striking impression. It is as if what confronts the sleeping man stood out against a dark background. There is darkness behind, and against this darkness the exhaled air appears luminous: one can put this in no other way. We recognise its essential nature, inasmuch as our everyday thoughts now leave us and the active, cosmic thoughts — the objective, creative thoughts of the world — appear before us in what is flowing out of ourselves. There is the dark background, and the sparkling radiating light; in the latter the creative thoughts gradually arise. The darkness is a veil covering our ordinary, every day thoughts — brain thoughts, as we might call them. We receive a very clear impression that what we regard as most important for physical, earthly life, is darkened as soon as we leave the physical body. And we realise, much more strongly than we could have believed in ordinary consciousness, the dependence of these thoughts upon their physical instrument — the brain. The brain retains these, by an adhesive force as it were. Out there we need no longer ‘think’ in the sense of everyday life. We behold thoughts; they surge through what appears to us as ourself in the exhaled air.
Thus inspired knowledge perceives how the astral body is in the physical during waking life, initiating, with the help of the inhaled air, the functions it has to perform; how it is outside during sleep and receives the impressions of our own human being. While we are awake the world on which we stand, the world which surrounds us as our earthly environment and the vault of heaven above, form our outer world. When we sleep what is inside our skin, and is otherwise our inner world, becomes our outer world. Only, to begin with, we feel what is here streaming towards us in the exhaled air; it is a felt outer world, that we have at first.
And then something further is experienced. The circulation of the blood, which follows closely the process of respiration and remains unconscious during waking life, begins to be very conscious in sleep. It comes before us like a new world, a world, indeed, that we do not merely feel but begin to understand from another point of view than that from which we understand external things with ordinary consciousness. With ‘inspired’ consciousness — though the will as a life process is present in the unconsciousness of every sleeper — we perceive the circulatory process, just as we perceive external processes of Nature during earthly life. We now come to see that all we do through that will of which we are ordinarily unconscious, involves a counter-process within us.
With every step you transport your body to another place, but something else occurs as well: a warmth-process takes place within you, setting the airy element in motion. This process is the furthest extension of those general processes of metabolism that, like it, occur inwardly and are connected with the circulation of the blood. With ordinary consciousness you observe externally a man's change of place as an expression of his will; but now you look back upon yourself and only find processes occurring within you, and these make up your world.
Truly, what we here behold is not what the theories of present-day science or medicine describe on anatomical grounds. It is a grand spiritual process, a process that conceals innumerable secrets and shows of itself that the real driving power at work within man is not his present ego at all. What man calls his ego in ordinary life is, of course, a mere thought. But it is the ego of man's past lives on earth that is active in him here. In the whole course of these processes, especially of the warmth-processes, you perceive the real ego, working from times long past. Between death and a new birth this ego has undergone an evolution in time; it now works in an entirely spiritual way. You perceive all these metabolic processes, the weakest as well as the most powerful, as the expression of just the highest entity in man.
Moreover, you now perceive that the ego has changed its field of action. It was active within, working upon the breath provided by the mere respiratory process; but now you perceive, from without, the further stages of the warmth-processes that the ego has elaborated from the respiratory processes. You behold the real, active ego of man, working from primeval times and organising him.
You now begin to know that the ego and astral body have actually left the physical and etheric bodies during sleep. They are outside, and now do and experience from without what they otherwise do and experience from within. In ordinary consciousness the ego and astral organisations are still too weak, too little evolved, to experience this consciously. ‘Inspiration’ really only consists in inwardly organising them so that they are able to perceive what is otherwise imperceptible.
Thus we must actually say: Through ‘inspiration’ we come to know the astral body of man, through ‘intuition’, the ego. During sleep, intuition and inspiration are suppressed in the ego and astral body; when they are awakened, man, through them, beholds himself from without. Let us see what this really means.
You remember what I have already said. I spoke of man in his present incarnation (sketch, right centre), and of the etheric body which extends back to a little before birth or conception (yellow); of his astral body which takes him back to the whole period between his last death and his present birth (red); and of ‘intuition’ that takes him back to his previous life on earth (yellow).
Now, to sleep means nothing else than to lead back your consciousness, which is otherwise in the physical body, and to accompany it yourself. Sleep is really a return in time to what I described as past for ordinary consciousness, though nevertheless there. You see, if one really wants to understand the Spiritual,
one must acquire different concepts from those one is accustomed to apply in ordinary life. One must actually realise that every sleep is a return to the regions traversed before birth — or, indeed, to former incarnations. During sleep one actually experiences, though without grasping it, what belongs to one's pre-earthly state and earlier incarnations.
All this becomes quite different at death. The most striking change is, of course, that man leaves his physical body behind in the earthly realm, where it is received, disintegrated and destroyed by the forces of the physical world. It can no longer give rise to the impressions I described as being made upon the sleeping man through the medium of the exhaled air. For the physical body no longer breathes; with all its functions it is now lost to man. There is something, however, that is not lost — and even ordinary consciousness can see that this is so. Thinking, feeling and willing live in our soul, but over and above these we have something very special, namely: memory. We do not only think about what is at present before, or around, us; our inner life contains fragments of what we have experienced, and these re-arise as thoughts. Now those people, often somewhat peculiar, who are known as psychologists have developed quite curious ideas about memory. These investigators of the human soul say something like this: man uses his senses; he perceives this or that and thinks about it. He has then a thought. He goes away and forgets the whole thing. But after a time he recalls it; the memory of what has been, re-appears. Man can recall what is past and has been out of his mind meanwhile; he can bring it to mind again. On this account, these people think that man forms a thought from his experience, this thought descends somewhere, to rest as it were in some chest or box and to re-appear when remembered. Either it bobs up of its own accord, or has to be fetched.
This sort of thing is a very model of confused thinking. For the whole belief that the thought is waiting somewhere whence it can be fetched, does not correspond to the facts at all. Just compare an immediate perception which you have, and to which you link a thought, with the way an image of memory, or a memory-thought, arises. You make no distinction at all. You receive a sense impression from without, and a thought links itself thereto. The thought is there; but what lies behind the sense impression and calls forth the thought, you usually speak of as unknown. The memory-thought that arises from within you is, indeed, no different from the thought that emerges for outer perception. In one case — representing it schematically — you have man's environment (yellow); the thought presents itself from without in connection with this environment (red); in the other it comes from within. The latter is a memory-thought (vertical arrow). The direction from which it comes is different.
While we are perceiving — experiencing — anything, something is continually going on beneath the mental presentation, beneath our thinking. It is really as follows: Thought accompanies perception. Our perceptions enter our body, whereas our thought ‘stands out’. Something does enter our body, and this we do not perceive. This goes on while we are thinking about the experience, and an ‘impression’ is made. It is not thought that passes down but something quite different. It is this something that evokes the process which we perceive later and of which we form the memory-thought — just as we form a thought of the outer world. The thought is always in the present moment. Even unprejudiced observation shows that this is so. The thought is not preserved somewhere or other as in a casket, but a process occurs which the act of memory transforms into a thought just as we transform outer perception into a thought.
I must burden you with these considerations, or you will not really come to an understanding of memory. That the thought does not want to go right down, is known to children — and to grown up people, too, in special cases — though only half consciously. So, when we want to memorise something, we have recourse to extraneous aids. Just think how many people find it helps to repeat a thing aloud; others make curious gestures when they want to fix something in their minds. The point is that an entirely different process runs parallel to the mere process of mental presentation. What we remember is really the smallest part of what is here involved.
Between waking up and falling asleep we move about the world, receiving impressions from all sides. We only attend to a few, but they all attend to us. It is a rich world that lives in the depths of our being, but only some few fragments are received into our thoughts. This world is like a deep ocean confined within us. The mental presentations of memory surge up like single waves, but the ocean remains within. It has not been given us by the physical world, nor can the physical world take it away. When man sheds his physical body, this whole world is there, bound up with his etheric body. Upon this all his experiences have been impressed, and these man bears within him immediately after death. In a certain sense, they are ‘rolled up’ in him.
Now man's first experience, immediately after death, is of everything that has made its impression upon him. Not only the ordinary shreds of memory which arise during earthly consciousness, but his whole earthly life, with all that has ‘impressed’ him stands before him now. But he would have to remain in eternal contemplation of this earthly life of his if something else did not happen to his etheric body, something different from what happens to the physical body through the earth and its forces. The earthly elements take over the physical body and destroy it; the cosmic ether, working (as I told you) from the periphery, streams in and dispels in all directions what has been impressed upon the etheric body. Thus man's next experience is as follows: During earthly life many, many things have made their impression upon me. All this has entered my etheric body. I now survey it, but it becomes more and more indistinct. It is as if I were looking at a tree that had made a strong impression upon me during my life. At first I see it life-size, as when it made its impression upon me from physical space. But it now grows, becomes larger and more shadowy; it becomes larger and larger, gigantic but more and more shadowy. Now it is like that with a human being whom I have learnt to know in his physical form. Immediately after death I have him before me as he impressed himself upon my etheric body. He now increases in size, becomes more and more shadowy. Everything grows, becomes more and more shadowy until it fills the whole universe, becomes thereby quite shadowy, and completely disappears.
This lasts some days. Everything has become gigantic and shadowy, thereby diminishing in intensity. Man sheds his second corpse; or, strictly speaking, the cosmos takes it from him. He is now in his ego and astral body. What had been impressed upon his etheric body is now within the cosmos; it has flowed out into the cosmos. We see the working of the universe behind the veils of our existence.
We are placed in the world as human beings. In the course of earthly life the whole world works upon us. We roll it all together in a certain sense. The world gives us much and we hold it together. The moment we die the world takes back what it has given. But it is something new that it receives, for we have experienced it all in a particular way. The world receives our whole experience and impresses it upon its own ether.
We now stand in the universe and say to ourselves, as we consider, first of all, this experience with our etheric body: truly, we are not only here for ourselves; the universe has its own intentions in regard to us. It has put us here that its own content may pass through us and be received again in the form into which we can transmute it. As human beings we are not here for our own ends alone; in respect to our etheric body, for example, we are here for the universe. The universe needs us because, through us, it ‘fulfils’ itself — fills itself again and again with its own content. There is an interchange, not of substance but of thoughts between the universe and man. The universe gives its cosmic thoughts to our etheric body and receives them back again in a humanised condition. We are not here for ourselves alone; we are here for the sake of the universe.
Now a thought like this should not remain merely theoretical and abstract; indeed it cannot. If it were to remain a mere thought, we would have to be creatures of pasteboard, not men with living feelings. In saying this I do not deny that our civilisation really does tend to make people often as apathetic towards such things as if they really were made of pasteboard. Civilised people today often appear to be such pasteboard figures. A thought like this preserves our human feeling and sympathy with the world, and leads us directly to the point from which we started. We began by saying that man feels himself estranged from the world in a two-fold way: on the one hand, in regard to external Nature which, he must admit, only destroys him as physical body; on the other hand, in regard to his inner life of soul which, again and again, lights up and dies away. This becomes for him a riddle of the universe. But now, as a result of spiritual study, man begins to feel himself no mere stranger in the universe. The universe has something to give him, and takes from him something in turn. Man begins to feel his inner kinship with the world. He now sees in a new light the two thoughts that I have put before you and which are really cosmic thoughts, namely:
Thou, O Nature, canst only destroy my physical body.
I, myself. have no kinship with thee, in spite of the thinking, feeling and willing of my inner life. Thou lightest up and diest down; and in my inner being I have no kinship with thee.
These two thoughts, evoked in us by the riddles of the universe, now appear in a new light, for we begin to feel ourselves akin to the cosmos and an organic part of its whole life. Thus anthroposophical reflection begins by making friends with the world, really learning to know the world that, on external observation, repulsed us at first. Anthroposophical knowledge makes us become more human. If we cannot bring to it this quality of heart, this mood of feeling, we are not taking it in the right way. One might compare theoretical anthroposophy to a photograph. If you are very anxious to learn to know someone you have once met, or with whom you have been brought into touch through something or other, you would not want to be offered a photograph. You may find pleasure in the photograph; but it cannot kindle the warmth of your feeling life, for the man's living presence does not confront you.
Theoretical Anthroposophy is a photograph of what Anthroposophy intends to be. It intends to be a living presence; it really wants to use words, concepts and ideas in order that something living may shine down from the spiritual world into the physical. Anthroposophy does not only want to impart knowledge; it seeks to awaken life. This it can do; though, of course, to feel life we must bring life to meet it.