Friday, December 15, 2023

Sickness and Healing


Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, March 3, 1910:

It has probably become clear to those people who attended the lectures which I was permitted to hold here this winter more or less regularly that this lecture cycle has dealt with a series of far-reaching questions concerning the soul. It is the intention of today's lecture, also, to deal with such a question, namely the nature of sickness and healing.

What might be said on the relevant facts in life from the point of view of spiritual science, in so far as they are only physical expressions of spiritual causes, was explained in earlier lectures held here — for example “Understanding Sickness and Death” 30 or “Illusory Illness” and “The Feverish Pursuit of Health “. 31 Today I want to deal with significantly deeper questions in the understanding of sickness and healing.

Sickness, healing and sometimes the fatal course of some illnesses deeply affect the human life. And since we have inquired repeatedly into the preconditions, the spiritual foundations which lie at the base of our reflections here, we are justified in also inquiring into the spiritual causes of these far-reaching facts and consequences of human existence. In other words, what can spiritual science say about these experiences?

We will have to investigate deeply once again the meaning of human life as it develops in order to clarify how illness, health, death and healing stand in relation to the normal course of development of the human being. For we see the events referred to affecting this normal course of development. Do they perhaps contribute something to our development? Do they advance or retard us in our development? We can only reach a clear conception of these events if here, too, we take the whole of the human being into account.

We have often said here that the latter is constituted of four members: first, the physical body which the human being has in common with all mineral beings of his environment which take their form from the physical and chemical forces within them. The second member of the human being we have always called the ether or life body. This he has in common with all living things; that is, with the plant and animal beings of his environment. Then we spoke of the astral body as the third member of man's being; this is the bearer of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, of all the emotions, images, thoughts and so on which flood through us throughout the day. This astral body the human being has in common only with the animal world of his environment. And then there is the highest member of the human being which makes him the crown of creation; the bearer of the ego, his self-consciousness. When we consider these four members, we can say in the first instance that there appear to be certain differences between them, even to the superficial view. The physical human body is there when we look at the human being, at ourselves, from outside. The external physical sense organs can observe the physical body. With the thinking which is tied to these organs, the thinking which is tied to the instrument of the brain, we can understand this physical body of the human being. It is revealed to our external observation.

The relation to the human astral body is quite different. We have already seen from previous descriptions that the astral body is only an outward fact, so to speak, for the truly clairvoyant consciousness; the latter can see the astral body in the same way as the physical one only by schooling the consciousness as has been frequently described. In ordinary life the astral body of the human being is not observable from the outside; the eye can only see the outer expression of the instincts, desires, passions, thoughts and feelings which surge through it. But in contrast, the human being observes within himself these experiences of the astral body. He observes what we call the instincts, desires, passions, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. Thus it can be said that the relationship between the astral and the physical body is such that in normal life we observe the former internally, but the physical body externally.

Now in a certain sense the other two members of the human being, the ether body and the bearer of the ego, are situated between these two extremes. The physical body is observable purely from the outside, the astral body purely from the inside. But the intermediary member between the physical body and the astral body is the ether body. It cannot be observed from the outside, but it affects the outside. The forces, the inner experiences of the astral body initially have to be transferred to the ether body; only then can they act on the physical instrument, the physical body. The ether body acts as an intermediary member between the astral body and the physical body, forming a link between outside and inside. We can no longer see it with the physical eyes, but that which we can see with the physical eyes is an instrument of the astral body only because the ether body is connected towards the outside with the physical body.

Now in a certain sense the ego acts from the inside to the outside, whilst the ether body acts from the outside inwards to the astral body; for by means of the ego and the way it affects the astral body the human being gains knowledge of the outside world, the physical environment, from which the physical body itself originates. Animal existence takes place without individual, personal knowledge because the animal does not have an individual ego. The animal inwardly lives through all the experiences of the astral body, but does not use its pleasure and pain, sympathy or antipathy to gain knowledge of the outside world. What we call pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, sympathy or antipathy are all experiences of the astral body in the animal; but the animal does not commute its pleasure into a celebration of the beauty of the world, but it remains within the element which causes the pleasure. The animal lives immediately within its pain; the human being is guided by his pain beyond himself into discovery of the world because the ego leads him out again and unites him with the outside world. Thus we see on the one hand how the ether body is directed inwards into the human being towards the astral body, whereas the ego leads into the outside world, into the physical world which surrounds us.

The human being leads an alternating life. This alternating life can be observed everyday. From the moment of waking in the morning we observe in the human soul all the in and out flooding experiences of the astral body — joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, feelings, images, etc. We see how at night these experiences sink down to a level of undefined darkness as the astral body and the ego enter an unconscious, or perhaps better said, subconscious state. When we look at the waking human being between morning and evening, the physical body, ether body, astral body and ego are interwoven, are inter-linked in their effects. When the human being goes to sleep at night, the occult consciousness can see that the physical body and the ether body remain in bed and that the astral body and the ego return to their proper home in the spiritual world, that they withdraw from the physical body and the ether body. It is possible to describe this in still a different way which will enable us to deal with the present subject in the appropriate way.

The physical body, which only presents us with its outward aspect, sleep remains in the physical world as the outward human being and keeps the ether body, the mediator between inner and outer, with it. That is why in the sleeping human being there can be no mediation between outer and inner because the ether body, as mediator, has entered the outside world. Thus one can say in a certain sense that in the sleeping human being the physical body and the ether body are merely the outer human being; one could even describe the physical and ether bodies as the “outer human being” per se, even though the ether body is the mediator between outer and inner. In contrast, the astral body in the sleeping human being can be described as the “inner human being”. These terms are also true of the waking human being, because all the experiences of the astral body are inner experiences under normal circumstances and what the ego gains in knowledge of the outside world in waking life is taken up inwardly by the human being to be assimilated as learning. The external becomes internalised through the ego. This demonstrates that we can speak of an “outward” and an “inward” human being, the former consisting of a physical and ether body, the latter of ego and astral body.

Now let us observe the so-called normal human life and its development in essence. Let us ask the question: Why does the human being return with his astral body and his ego to the spiritual world every night? Is there any reason for the human being to go to sleep? This subject has been mentioned before, but it is necessary for the topic we are dealing with today. Normal developments have to be understood in order to recognise the apparently abnormal states as they manifest themselves in sickness and healing. Why does the human being go to sleep every night?

An understanding of this can only be reached if one considers fully the relationship between the astral body and the ego and the “outer human being”. We described the astral body as the bearer of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, of instincts, desires, passions, of the surging imagination, perceptions, ideas and feelings. But if the astral body is the bearer of all these things, why is it that at night the human being does not have these experiences, even though the actual inner human being is connected with the astral body in such a manner that the physical and the ether bodies are not present? Why is it that during this period these experiences sink down into an undefined darkness? The reason is that the astral body and the ego, although they are the bearers of joy and sorrow, judgments, the imagination, etc., cannot experience directly those things of which they are the bearers. In our human life the astral body and the ego under normal circumstances are dependent on the physical body and the ether body for awareness of their own experiences. Our soul-life is not something which is immediately experienced by the astral body. If this were the case, then we would also experience it during the night when we remain united with the astral body. Our daytime soul-life is like an echo or a mirror-image. The physical body and the ether body reflect the experiences of the astral body. Everything which our soul conjures up for us between waking up and going to sleep, it can only do because it sees its own experiences in the mirror of the physical and ether or life bodies. At the moment when we leave the physical and ether bodies at night we still have all the experiences of the astral body in us but we are not conscious of them because in order to be conscious of them the reflecting qualities of the physical body and the ether body are required.

Thus in the whole of our life as it takes its course from waking up in the morning to going to sleep at night we see an interaction between the inner and the outer human being, between the ego and the astral body on the one hand and the physical body and the ether body on the other. The forces which are at work here are the forces of the astral body and the ego. For under no circumstances could the physical body as the sum of physical attributes bring forth our soul-life out of itself and neither could the ether body. The reflecting forces come from the astral body and the ego in the same way as the image which we see in the mirror does not originate in the mirror but in the object which is reflected in the mirror. Thus all the forces which cause our soul-life lie in the astral body and the ego, in the inward nature of the human being. And they become active in the interaction between inner and outer world, they reach out, so to speak, for our physical and ether bodies, but at night we see them enter the state which we call “tiredness”. We see them exhausted at night. And we would be unable to continue our life if we were not in a position to enter a different world each night than the one which we inhabit from morning to evening. In the world which we inhabit when we are awake we can make our soul-life perceptible, we can create it before our soul. That we do with the forces of the astral body. But we also exhaust these forces and cannot replenish them out of our waking life. We can only replenish them out of the spiritual world which we enter each night and that is why we sleep. We would be unable to live without entering the world of night and fetching from the spiritual world the forces which we use during the day. Thus the question what we bring into the physical world when we enter our ether and physical bodies is answered.

But do we not also carry something from the physical world into the spiritual world at night? That is the second question, and it is just as important as the first one.

In order to answer this question, we have to deal with a number of things which are a part of normal human life. In ordinary life we have so-called experiences. These experiences are significant in our life between birth and death. An example which has often been mentioned here will illuminate this, the example of learning to write. When we put pen to paper in order to express our thoughts, we practise the art of writing. We can write, but what are the conditions required that we can do so? It is necessary that in a certain span of existence between birth and death we have a whole series of experiences. Think of all the things which you went through as a child, from the first clumsy attempts to hold the pen, put it to paper, etc., etc. One might well thank God that one does not have to recall all those things. Because it would be a dreadful situation if every time that we wanted to write we had to recall all the unsuccessful attempts at tracing the lines, perhaps also the punishments connected therewith, and so on in order to develop what we call the art of writing. What has taken place? Development in an important sense has taken place in the human life between birth and death. We have had a whole series of experiences. These experiences took place over a long period of time. Then they were refined, as it were, into an essence which we call the “ability” to write. All the other things have sunk into the indeterminate shadow of forgetfulness. But there is no need to remember them, because our soul has developed to a higher stage from these experiences: our memories flow together into essences which appear in life as our capabilities and abilities. That is our development in the existence between birth and death. Experiences are transformed initially into abilities of the soul which can then come to expression by means of the outer tools of the physical body. All personal experiences between birth and death take place in such a manner that they are transformed into abilities and also into wisdom.

We can gain an insight into how this transformation takes place if we take a look at the period between 1770 and 1815. A significant historical event took place during this period. A large number of people were contemporaries of this event. How did they respond to it? Some of them did not notice the events passing by them. Impassively they neglected to turn the events into knowledge, wisdom of the world. Others transformed them into a deep wisdom, they extracted the essence.

How are experiences transformed in the soul into ability and wisdom? They are transformed by being taken in their immediate form into our sleep each night, into those spheres where the soul or the inner human being reside during the night. There the experiences which occur over a period of time are changed into essences. Any observer of life knows that if one wants to master and co-ordinate a series of experiences in a single sphere of activity it is necessary to transform these experiences in periods of sleep. For example, a thing is best learnt by heart by learning it, sleeping on it, learning it again, sleeping on it again. If one is not able to immerse the experiences in sleep in order for them to emerge as abilities or in the form of wisdom or art, then they will not be developed.

This is the expression on a higher level of what we are faced with as necessity on a lower one. This year's plant cannot become next year's one if it does not return to the dark lap of the earth in order to grow again the following year. Here development remains repetition. Where it is illuminated with the human spirit it is a true “development”. The experiences descend into the nocturnal lap of the unconscious and they are brought forth again, initially still as repetition; but eventually they will have been transformed to such an extent that they can emerge as wisdom, as abilities, as life experience.

Thus life was understood in times when it was still possible to observe the spiritual worlds more deeply than is the case today. That is why, where leading personalities of ancient cultures wanted to speak of certain things by means of an image we see indications of these significant foundations of human life. What would someone have to do if he wanted to prevent a series of daytime experiences catching fire in his soul and being transformed into certain abilities? What, for example, happens when someone experiences a certain relationship with another person over a period of time? These experiences with the other person descend into the night-time consciousness and re-emerge from night-time consciousness as love for another person, which, when it is healthy, is an essence, as it were, of the consecutive experiences. The feeling of love for the other person has come about in such a way that the sum of experiences has been drawn together into unity, as if woven into a fabric. Now what would someone have to do to prevent a series of experiences turning into love? He would have to take the special measure of preventing the nightly natural process which turns our experience into essence, the feeling of love, from taking place. He would have to unravel again at night the fabric of daytime experience. If he can manage this his achievement is that his experience of the other person, which turns into love in his soul, has no effect on him.

Homer was alluding to these depths of human soul-life in his image of Penelope and her suitors. 32 She promises marriage to each one after she has completed a certain fabric. She manages to avoid having to keep her promise only by unravelling each night what she has woven during the day. Great depths are revealed where the seer is also artist. Today there is little feeling left for these things and such interpretations of poets who were also seers are declared arbitrary and phantastical. This can harm neither the ancient poets nor the truth, but only our time, which is thus prevented from entering into the depths of human life.

Thus something is taken into the soul at night which returns again. Something is taken into the soul which the soul develops and which raises it to ever higher levels of ability. But now it must be asked: where does this development of the human being reach its limit? This frontier can be recognised if we observe how the human being when he wakes up in the morning always returns to the same physical body and ether body with the same abilities and talents, the same configuration which they have possessed from birth. This configuration, these inner structures and forms of the physical and ether bodies cannot be altered by human being. If we were able to take the physical or, at least, the ether body into the state of sleep then we would be able to change them. But in the morning we find them again unchanged from the evening. Here there is a clear limitation to what can be achieved by development in the life between birth and death. Development between birth and death is essentially restricted to experiences of the soul; it cannot extend to physical experience.

Thus for all the opportunities someone might have to pass through experiences which could deepen his musical appreciation, to awaken in his soul a profound musical life, it could not be developed if he did not have a musical ear, if the physical and etheric formation of his ear did not permit him to establish the harmony between the outer and the inner human being. In order for the human being to be whole, all the members of his being have to form a unity, to be in harmony. That is why all the opportunities which a person with an unmusical ear might have to go through experiences which would enable him to rise to a higher level of musical appreciation have to remain in the soul, have to resign themselves. They cannot come to fruition because the boundary is drawn each morning by the structure and form of the internal organs. These things are not dependent merely on the more rough structures of the physical and ether bodies but on very subtle relationships therein. Every function of the soul in our current normal life has to find expression in an organ; and if the organ is not formed in a suitable way then this is prevented. Those things which cannot be demonstrated by physiology and anatomy, the subtle sculpting within the organs, are precisely the things which are incapable of transformation between birth and death.

Is the human being completely powerless, then, to transfuse into his physical and ether bodies the events and experiences which he has taken into his astral body and ego? For when we look at people we can see that the human being can even shape his physical body within limits. One only needs to observe a person who has spent ten years of his life in deep inner contemplation: the gestures and physiognomy will have changed. But this occurs within very narrow confines. Is it always the case?

That this is not always confined to the narrowest of limitations can only be understood if we take recourse to a law which we have often mentioned here, but which needs to be recalled frequently because it is so alien to our present time, a law which can be compared with another one which became established for mankind in the 17th century on a lower level.

Up until the 17th century it was believed that the lower animals, insects, etc., could originate from river mud. It was believed that nothing more than pure matter was required to generate earth-worms and insects. This was thought to be true not only by amateurs but also by scholars. If we go back to earlier times we find that everything was systematised in such a way that, for example, instructions were given on how to create life from the environment. Thus a book from the 7th century AD 33 describes how the carcass of a horse has to be beaten tender in order to create bees. Similarly bullocks created hornets, donkeys, wasps. It was in the 17th century that the great scientist Francesco Redi 34 first pronounced the axiom: life can only originate from life! Because of this truth, which is taken as self-evident today so that no one can understand how anything else could ever have been believed, Redi was considered a dreadful heretic still in the 17th century and he barely escaped the fate of Giordano Bruno.

It is always like that with such truths. At first those who proclaim them are branded as heretics and fall prey to the inquisition. In the past people were burned or threatened with burning. Today this type of inquisition has been abandoned. No one is burnt anymore. But those who today sit on the curule chair of science regard all those who proclaim a new, higher level of truth to be fools and dreamers. People who today espouse in a different way the axiom regarding living things which Francesco Redi put forward in the 17th century are considered to be fools and dreamers. Redi pointed out that it is inexact observation to believe that life can originate immediately from dead matter but that it must be traced back to similar living matter, to the embryo which draws its matter and strength from the environment. Similarly spiritual science today must point out that what enters existence as soul and spiritual nature must originate from soul and spirit and is not an assembly of inherited characteristics. As the embryonic form of the earth-worm draws on the matter of its environment to develop, so the soul and spiritual kernel equally has to draw on the substances of its environment in order to develop. If we pursue the soul and spiritual nature in the human being backwards, we come to an earlier soul and spiritual element which exists before birth and which has nothing to do with heredity. The axiom that soul-spiritual elements can only arise from soul-spiritual elements entails in the last instance the axiom of repeated earth lives, of which a closer study of spiritual science furnishes the proof. Our life between birth and death leads back to other lives which we went through in earlier times. The soul and spiritual element originates in the soul and in the spirit, and the causes of our present experiences between birth and death lie in a previous soul and spiritual existence. When we pass through the gates of death we take with us what we assimilated in this life as transformation from causes into abilities. This we return with when we enter a future existence through birth.

In the time between death and birth we are in different circumstances than when we enter the spiritual world each night through sleep from which we wake up again in the morning. When we wake up in the morning, we find our physical and ether bodies as we left them the previous evening. We cannot transform them with our experiences in life between birth and death. We find our limitation in the finished ether and physical bodies. But when we enter the spiritual world through the gate of death we leave the physical and ether bodies behind and retain only the essence of the ether body. In the spiritual world we have no need to take account of an existing physical and ether body. In the whole period between death and a new birth the human being can work with purely spiritual forces, he is dealing with purely spiritual substance. He takes from the spiritual world what he requires to create the archetype of his new physical body and ether body and forms these archetypes up to the time of his new birth, weaving into them all the experiences which the soul was unable to utilise between birth and death in the previous physical and ether bodies. Then the moment arrives when this purely spiritual archetypal image has been finished and when the human being is able to sculpt into the physical and ether bodies what he has woven into the archetypal image; the archetype is thus active in this particular state of sleep which the human being is passing through.

If the human being were able to bring with him in a similar manner his physical body and ether body each morning on waking up, then he would be able to form them from out of the spiritual world; but he would also have to transform them. But birth means waking up from a state of sleep which encompasses the physical and ether bodies in the existence before birth. It is at this point that the astral body and ego descend into the physical world, into the physical body and the ether body, into which they can now sculpt everything which they could not form into the complete bodies of the previous life. Now, in a new life, they can express in an ether body and a physical body everything which they were able to raise to a higher stage of development but which they were unable to put into practice in the previous life because the complete ether body and physical body made it impossible.

Were we not able to destroy our physical and ether bodies, were the physical body unable to pass through death, it would be impossible to integrate our experiences into our development. However much we regard death with fear and shock and feel pain and sorrow at the death which will affect us, an objective view of the world teaches us in fact: we have to want death! For death alone gives us the opportunity to destroy this body in order to enable us to construct a new one in the next life so that we can bring into life all the fruits of earthly existence.

Thus two currents are active together in the normal course of human life: an inner and an outer. These two currents reveal themselves to us in parallel in the physical and the ether bodies on the one hand and in the astral body and the ego on the other. What can the human being do between birth and death in relation to the physical and ether bodies? Not only the astral body is exhausted by the life of the soul, but the organs of the physical body and the ether body are also exhausted. We can now observe the following: whilst the astral body is in the spiritual world during the night, it also works on the physical body and the ether body to restore them to their normal state. Only in sleep can what has been destroyed during the day in the physical and ether bodies be restored. Thus the spiritual world does indeed work on the physical and ether bodies, but with limitations. The abilities and structure of the physical body and ether body are given at birth and cannot alter except within very narrow margins. Two streams are active in cosmic development, as it were, which cannot abstractly be made to harmonize. If someone tried to unite these two streams in abstract reflection, tried to develop lightly a philosophy which said: “Well, the human being has to be in harmony, therefore the two streams have to be harmonious in man!” he would be making an enormous error. Life does not work according to abstractions. Life works in such a way that these abstract visions can only be achieved after long periods of development. Life works in such a manner that it creates states of equilibrium and harmony only by passing through stages of disharmony. This is the living interaction in the human being and indeed it is not meant to be made harmonious by reflection. It is always an indication of abstract, dry thinking if a harmony is imagined into a situation where life has to develop towards a stage of balance through disharmony. It is the fate of human development that we must have harmony as an aim which cannot, however, be reached if it is merely imagined into a given stage of human development.

It will now be easier to understand when spiritual science says that life presents different aspects, depending on whether we regard it from the point of view of the inner or outer human being. The person who wanted to combine these two aspects by some abstraction would leave out of account that there is more than one ideal, one judgment, but that there are as many judgments as there are points of view and that it is only when these different points of view act together that the truth can be found. This allows us to assume that life's view of the inner human being might be different from its view of the outer human being. An example will make clear that truths are relative, depending on whether they are regarded from one aspect or another.

It is certainly quite appropriate for a giant who has a hand the size of a small child to talk of his little finger. Whether a dwarf the size of the small child can also talk of the giant's little finger is another matter. Things by necessity are complementary truths. There is no absolute truth as regards outer things. Things have to be looked at from all different points of view and truth has to be found through the individual truths which illuminate one another. That is also the reason why in life as we can observe it the outer human being, physical body and ether body, and the inner human being, astral body and ego, need not in a given period of life be in complete harmony. If there were complete harmony then the case would be that when the human being enters the spiritual world at night he would take the events of the day with him and would transform them into the essence of ability, of wisdom, and so on, and the forces which he brought with him from the spiritual world in the morning into the physical world would be used only in relation to the soul life. But the frontier which we described and which is drawn for the physical body would never be crossed. Then, also, there would be no human development. The human being has to learn to take note of these limitations himself; he has to make them part of his judgment. The possibility must be given for him to breach these limits to the greatest possible extent.

And he breaches them continually! In real life these frontiers are crossed continually so that for example the astral body and the ego do not keep within the limits when they affect the physical body. But in doing so they breach the laws of the physical body. We then observe such breaches as irregularities, as disorganisation of the physical body, as the appearance of sickness, caused by action of the spirit — the astral body and the ego. Limits can be breached also in other ways, namely that the human being as inner being does not manage to correlate with the outside world, that he fails to relate fully to the outside world. This can be shown in a very dramatic example.

When the famous eruption of Mount Pelee 35 in Central America took place, very noteworthy and instructive documents were found in the ruins afterwards. In one of them it said: “You need not fear any more because the danger is past; there will be no more eruptions. This is shown by the laws which we have recognised as the laws of nature.” These documents, which stated that further volcanic eruptions were impossible according to the current state of knowledge of nature, had been buried — and with them the scholars who had written these documents on the basis of their normal scholarly knowledge. A tragic event took place here. But that precisely demonstrated the disharmony of the human being with the physical world quite clearly. There can be no doubt that the intelligence of the scholars who investigated these natural laws would have been adequate to find the truth if they had been sufficiently trained. For they were not lacking in intelligence. But although intelligence is necessary, it is insufficient on its own, Animals, for example, leave an area if such an event is imminent. That is a well-known fact. Only the domesticated animals perish with the human beings. The so-called animal instinct is therefore sufficient to develop a far greater wisdom as far as those future events are concerned than human wisdom today. “Intelligence” is not the decisive factor; our current intellect is present also in those who commit the greatest follies. Intelligence is therefore not lacking. What is lacking is sufficiently matured experience of events. As soon as the intelligence lays something down which appears plausible to its narrow limited experience it can come into disharmony with the real outward events and then the outer events break down around it. For there is a relationship between the physical body and the world which the human being will gradually learn to recognise and grasp with the forces which he possesses today already. But he will only be able to do this once he has accrued and assimilated the experiences of the outside world. Then the harmony which will have developed as a result of this experience will have been created by no other intellect than the one we have today; for it is precisely in the present that our intellect has developed to a certain stage. The only thing lacking is the ripening of experience. If the maturing of experience does not correspond to the outside then the human being becomes disharmonious with the outside world and can be broken on events in the outer world.

We have seen in an extreme example how disharmony between the physical bodies of the scholars and the stage which they had reached inwardly in the development of their soul came about. Such disharmony occurs not only when momentous events happen to us; such disharmony is given in principle and in essence always when any outer harm befalls our physical and ether bodies, when outer harm affects the outer human being in such a way that he is not capable of countering this harm with his inner forces, to ban it from his life. This applies whether it is externally visible or an internal sickness, which is, however, in reality only an external one. For if we have an upset stomach, then that is essentially the same as if a brick drops on our head. This is the situation which occurs when conflict arises — or is allowed to arise between the inner human being and the external world, when the inner human being cannot match the outer human being.

Fundamentally all illnesses are such disharmony, such breaching of the division between inner and outer human being. Something is created by the continual breach of these divisions which will become harmony only in the far distant future, which remains an abstraction if our thinking tries to impose it on our life. The human being only develops his inner life by beginning to realise that at his present stage he is not yet able to match outer life. This is true not only of the ego, but also of the astral body. The human being experiences consciously between waking up and going to sleep those things which are penetrated by the ego. The working of the astral body, the way in which it breaches its limits and is impotent to create proper harmony between the inner and the outer human being, lies outside normal human consciousness. But it is present, nevertheless. All these things reveal the deeper inner nature of sickness.

What are the two possible courses which an illness can take? Either healing or death occurs. In the normal development of life death must be seen as the one side and healing as the other.

What does healing signify for the development of the human being? First of all it must be clarified what sickness means for the overall development of the human being.

In sickness there is disharmony between the inner and the outer human being. In a certain way the inner human being has to withdraw from the outer one. A simple example is when we cut our finger. We can only cut the physical body, not the astral. But the astral body always transfuses the physical one and the result is that the astral body does not find in the cut finger what it should find when it penetrates into its smallest recesses. It feels disconnected from the physical part of the finger. That, in essence, is the nature of a whole number of illnesses that the inner human being feels disconnected from the outer, that it cannot penetrate the outer human being because an injury causes a division. Now health can be restored to the human being by outer means or the inner human being can be strengthened to such an extent that it is able to heal the outer human being. The link between outer and inner human being is re-established to a greater or lesser degree after healing, the inner human being can again live in the healed outer one.

This is a process which can be compared to waking up: after an artificial withdrawal by the inner human being we return to the experiences which are only available in the outside world. Healing makes it possible for the human being to return with those things which he could not otherwise bring back. The healing process is assimilated into the inner human being and becomes an integral part of this inner human being. Return to health, healing, is something which we can look back on with satisfaction because in a similar manner that sleep makes the inner human being progress we are given something by healing which allows the inner human being to progress. Even if it is not immediately visible, we are elevated in our soul experience, are enhanced in our inner human being by a return to health. In sleep we take with us into the spiritual world the things we have won through healing and the latter is therefore something which strengthens us as far as the forces which we develop in sleep are concerned. All these thoughts on the mysterious relationship between healing and sleep could be developed in full if there were the time, but it can be seen, nevertheless, how healing can be equated with what we take into the spiritual world at night; with that which brings progress into our processes of development in so far as they can be made to progress at all between birth and death. Those things which in normal life we draw in from outer experience come to expression in our soul-life between birth and death as higher development. But not everything which assimilated through healing emerges again. We can also take it through the gate of death and it can be of benefit to us in the next life. But spiritual science shows us the following: we should be thankful each time that we are healed, for each healing signifies an enhancement of our inner human being which can only be achieved with the forces which we have assimilated inwardly.

The other question is: what is the significance for the human being of the illness which ends in death?

In a certain sense it means the opposite, that we cannot restore the disturbed balance between the inner and the outer human being, that we cannot in the correct way cross the frontier between the inner and the outer human being in this life. As we have to accept our unchanged healthy body when we wake up in the morning we have to accept our unchanged damaged body when an illness ends with death and are incapable of making it change. The healthy body remains as it is and receives us in the morning; the damaged body can no longer receive us and we end up in death. We have to leave the body because we are no longer able to re-establish its harmony. But we then take our experiences into the spiritual world without the benefit of an outer body. The fruits which we gain as a result of our damaged body no longer receiving us become an enrichment for the life between death and a new birth. Thus, also, we have to be thankful to an illness which ends in death because it gives us the opportunity of enhancing the life between death and a new birth and to gather together the forces and experiences which can only mature during that time.

Thus we have here the consequences for the soul of illnesses which end in death and illnesses which end in healing. That gives us two aspects: we can be thankful to an illness which ends in healing because we have become strengthened in our inner self; and we can be thankful to an illness which ends in death because we know: in the higher stage which we enter in the life between death and a new birth death is of great significance for us because we will have learnt from it that our body must be different when we construct it for the future. And we will avoid the harmful aspects which caused us to fail before. The healing process makes our inner life progress, death influences the development in the outer world.

The necessity therefore arises that we take two different points of view. Nobody should think that it would be correct to say from the point of view of spiritual science: if death, which results from illness is something for which we must be grateful, if the course of an illness is something which elevates us in our next life, then we should really permit all illness to end in death and not make any attempt at healing! To speak like that would not be in the spirit of spiritual science, for the latter is not concerned with abstractions but with those truths which are arrived at from different points of view. We have the duty to make every attempt at healing with all the means at our disposal. The task to heal to the best of our ability lies embedded in the human consciousness. Thus the view that death, when it occurs, is something to be grateful for is not one which is normally present in ordinary human consciousness, but can only be won if we transcend it. From the “viewpoint of the gods” it is justified to let an illness end in death; from the human viewpoint it is justified only to do everything to bring about healing. An illness which ends in death cannot be judged on the same level. Initially these two views are irreconcilable and they have to progress in parallel. Any abstract harmonising is of no use here. Spiritual science has to advance to a recognition of the truths which stem from one particular side of life and of other truths which are representative of another side.

The sentence “healing is good, healing is a duty” is correct. But so is the other sentence “death is good when it occurs as the result of illness; death is beneficial for overall human development.” Although these two sentences contradict one another, both of them contain living truths which can be recognised by living knowledge. Precisely where two streams, which can only be made harmonious in the future, enter human life it is possible to see the error of thinking in stereotypes and the necessity to regard life in broad outline. It has to be clearly understood that so-called contradictions, when they refer only to experience and a deeper knowledge of the matter, do not limit our knowledge but lead us gradually into a living knowledge because life itself develops towards harmony.

Normal life proceeds in such a manner that we create abilities from experiences and that the things which we cannot assimilate between birth and death are woven into the fabric which we then make use of between death and a new birth. Healing and fatal illness intertwine with this normal course of human life in such a manner that every healing is a contribution to the elevation of the human being to a higher stage, and every fatal illness, too, leads the human being to higher levels. The former as far as the inner human being is concerned and the latter as far as the outer human being is concerned. Thus there is progress in the world in that it moves not in one but in two opposing currents. It is precisely in sickness and healing that the complexities of human life become visible. If sickness and health did not exist, normal life could only proceed in such a manner that the human being would spin the thread of his life hanging on to the apron strings of existence, never going beyond his limits. And the forces to construct his body anew would be given to him from the spiritual world between death and a new birth. In such a situation the human being would never be able to unfold the fruits of his own labour in the development of the world. These fruits can be unfolded by the human being in the close confines of life only in that he can err. For only by a knowledge of error can truth be arrived at. It is only possible to assimilate truth such that it becomes part of the soul, such that it influences development, if it is extracted from the fertile soul of error. The human being could be perfectly healthy if he did not interfere in life with his errors and imperfections by breaching his limits. But health which has the same origins as the inwardly recognised truth, health for which the human being wrestles from one incarnation to the next with his own life, such health only comes about through the reality of mistakes, through illness. The human being learns to overcome his mistakes and errors in healing on the one hand, and on the other he meets the mistakes which he was not able to overcome in life in the existence between death and a new life so that he learns to surmount them in the next life.

We can now return to our dramatic example and say: the intellect of those scholars who made such a wrong judgment at the time will not only become more cautious in jumping to conclusions, but it will let the experience ripen in order gradually to create harmony with life.

Thus it can be observed how healing and sickness affect human life so that the human being could never achieve his aims by his own effort without them. We can see how their seemingly abnormal intervention in our development belongs to human existence, as does error, if our aim is to recognise truth. We could say the same about sickness and healing as a great poet in an important epoch said about human error: “The striving human being errs.” 36 This might give the impression as if the poet had wanted to say: “The human being always errs!” But the sentence is reversible and might be said: “Let the human being strive whilst he still errs!” Error gives birth to renewed striving. The sentence “The striving human being errs” need not, therefore, fill us with despair, for every error brings forth new striving and the human being will continue to strive until he has overcome the error. That is as much as to say that error in itself points beyond itself and leads to human truth. And similarly it can be said: sickness may occur in the human being, but he must develop. Through illness he develops to health. Thus illness points beyond itself in healing and even in death, and produces a state of health which is not alien to man but which grows out of the human being and is in accord with this being.

Everything which appears in this context is well suited to showing us how the world in the wisdom of its existence avails the human being at every stage of his development of the opportunity to grow beyond himself in the sense of the saying by Angelus Silesius with which we concluded the lecture “What is Mysticism?” At that time we were referring to more intimate spheres of development; now we can expand its meaning to the whole field of sickness and healing and we can truly say:

If you transcend yourself in God's prevailing,
Then in your spirit will ascension reign! 37

Source: March 3, 1910

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