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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Cosmology, Religion and Philosophy
GA 25

V. Experiences of the Soul in Sleep

WE speak to-day of the ‘Unconscious’ of ‘Subconscious’, when we wish to signify that the soul-experiences of ordinary consciousness—observation, representation, realization, volition—are dependent on a state which is not included in this consciousness. That knowledge which would base itself only on these experiences can no doubt, by logical sequence of argument, point to such a ‘subconscious’; but that is all it can do. It can bring no contribution to a definition of the unconscious.

The imaginative, inspired and intuitive knowledge which has been described in the foregoing considerations, can give such a definition. Now we shall try to do the same for the soul-experiences of man during sleep.

The sleep-experiences of the soul do not enter upon ordinary consciousness, for this rests on the basis of the physical organization; and during sleep the experience of the soul is outside the body. When in waking the soul begins, with the help of the body, to imagine, to feel, and to will, it joins up in its memory with those experiences which took place before sleep on the basis of the physical organization. The experiences of sleep reveal themselves only to Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. They do not appear in the guise of memory, but as if in a psychic review of it.

I shall now have to describe what is revealed in this review. Because it is hid from ordinary consciousness, such a description of this review must, when the consciousness is faced with it unprepared, naturally appear grotesque. But the foregoing explanations have shown that such a description is possible, and how it is to be taken. Although it may even be laughed at from some quarter or another, I shall give it as it emerges from the states of consciousness already described.

At first, in falling asleep, a man finds himself in an inwardly vague, undifferentiated state of being. He sees there no difference between his own being and that of the universe; nor any between separate objects or people. His state of existence is universal and vague. Taken up into the imaginative consciousness, this experience becomes an ‘Ego-feeling’, in which the ‘universe-feeling’ is included. He has left the sphere of the senses, and has not yet clearly entered upon another world.

We shall now have to use expressions such as ‘Feeling’, ‘longing’, etc., which also in ordinary life refer to something known; and yet we shall have to use them to denote processes which remain unknown to the ordinary soul-life. But the soul experiences them as facts during sleep. Think, for instance, how in daily life joy is experienced consciously. Physically an enlargement of the small blood vessels takes place, and other things, and this enlargement is a fact; when it takes place, joy is consciously felt. Similarly, the soul goes through real experiences in sleep; and this will be described in terms which refer to corresponding experience of the imaginative, inspired and intuitive consciousness. If, for example, we speak of ‘longing’ we shall mean an actual soul-process which is imaginatively revealed as longing. Thus the unconscious states and experiences of the soul will be described as if they were conscious.

Simultaneously with the feeling of vagueness arid the absence of differentiation, there arises in the soul a longing for rest in what is spiritual and divine. The human soul evolves this longing as a counterbalance to the feeling of being lost in infinity. Having lost the sphere of the senses, it craves for a state out of the spiritual world that will support it.

Dreams interweave themselves into the state of soul just described. They traverse the unconscious with half-conscious experiences. The real form of sleep experiences is not made clearer through ordinary dreams, but still less clear. This lack of clearness applies also to the imaginative consciousness if this latter is clouded by dreams arising spontaneously. One perceives the truth on the further side of life both awake and in dream by means of that conception of the soul which is attained by free will through the exercises previously explained.

The next state through which the soul lives then is like a division or partition of itself into inner happenings which are differentiated from each other. During this period of sleep, the soul feels itself to be not a unity but an inner plurality, and this state is one suffused with anxiety. Were it felt consciously, it would be soul-fear. But the human soul experiences the real counterpart of this anxiety every night, though remaining unconscious of it.

In the case of modern man there appears at this moment of sleep the soul-saving effect which corresponds in the waking condition to his self surrender to Christ. It was different, of course, before the events of Golgotha. Then men, when awake, received from their religious beliefs the antidote which carried over into the condition of sleep and was the medicine for this fear. For the man who lives after the events of Golgotha are substituted the religious experiences which he has in the contemplation of the life and death and being of Christ. He overcomes his fears through the working of this into his sleep. This fear prevents, as long as it is present, the inner vision of that which should be experienced by the soul in sleep, as the body prevents it in the waking state. The leadership of Christ overcomes the inner division and transforms the plurality into a unity. And the soul comes now to the point of having an inner life different from that of the waking condition. The physical and etheric organisms belong now to its outer world. On the other hand in its present inner self it experiences a reflection of the planetary movements. The soul experiences something cosmic in place of the individual, conditioned by the physical and etheric organisms. The soul lives outside the body; and its inner life is an inner reflection of the planetary motions. This being so, the inspired consciousness is aware of the corresponding inner processes in the manner which has been described in our previous studies. This consciousness perceives also how that which the soul receives through its contact with the planets continues to have an after-effect in the consciousness after waking. This planetary influence continues in awakeness as a stimulant in the rhythm of breathing and blood-circulation. During sleep the physical and etheric organisms are subjected to the effect of the planet-stimulation, which by day influence them, as described, as the after-effect of the previous night.

There are other experiences side by side with these. In this phase of its sleep-existence, the soul experiences its relation to all human souls with which it had come into contact in earthly life. Considered intuitively this leads to certainty on the subject of repeated earth life; for these earth-lives reveal themselves in their relation to the soul. And the connection with other spirit-beings, which live in the world without ever assuming a human body, is also one of the soul's experiences. But in this condition of sleep the soul experiences also what point to good and evil tendencies, and good and evil events in the predestined course of earthly life. In fact, what older philosophers have termed ‘Karma’ is now presented to the soul.

In daily life all these happenings of the soul have so much effect that they help to cause the feelings, the general mood of the soul, of happiness or unhappiness.

In the further course of sleep another state of the soul is added to the one just described. It goes through a copy or imitation of state of the Twin Stars. As the bodily organs are sensed in waking, so a reconstructing of the fixed constellations is now attempted. The cosmic experience of the soul is widening. It is now a spirit amongst spirits. ‘Intuition’ sees the sun and the other fixed stars as physical projections of spirits, in the manner just described. These adventures of the soul reverberate during daily life as its religious leanings, its religious feeling and willing. It can be said indeed that the religious longing, stirring in the depth of the soul, is in awake life the aftermath of the stellar experience during the state of sleep.

But it is significant above all that in this state the soul is faced with the facts of life and death. It sees itself as a spirit-being, entering into a physical body through conception and the life of the cell, and unconsciously it sees the event of death as a passing over into a purely spiritual world. That the soul in its waking state cannot believe in the reality of what outwardly represents itself to the senses as the events of birth and death is therefore not only the imaginative picturing of a longing but a vaguely-felt reliving through things presented to the soul in sleep.

If man could recall to his consciousness everything he lives through unconsciously from falling asleep to waking up, he would have a consciousness-content giving the experiences of truth to his philosophical ideas in the first occurrence in which sense-phenomena merge Into a universal inner cosmic life, and in which a kind of pantheistic knowledge of God occurs. If he was conscious of this planet and fixed-star life of sleep he would indeed have a cosmology full of content. And the conclusion could be formed from the experience of star-life, that a human being has a life as spirit among spirits.

From falling asleep, through further states of sleep, man actually becomes an unconscious philosopher, cosmologist, and God-filled being. From the depths of experiences otherwise only possible in sleep, ‘Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition’ lift up that which shows what kind of being man himself really is; how he is part of the Cosmos and how he becomes one with God.

This last happens to man in the deepest stage of sleep. From there the soul begins to return to the world of the senses. In the impulse leading to this return the intuitive consciousness recognizes the activity of those spirit beings which have their physical counterpart in the moon. The spiritual moon-activities are the ones recalling men in their sleep back to their presence on earth. Naturally these same lunar activities are also present in the New Moon. But the transformation of whatever changes visibly in the moon has its significance concerning the part lunar activities play in man's holding on to his earthly life from birth or conception to death.

After the deepest state of sleep man returns to his waking state through the same intermediate states. Before awakening he goes once more through experiencing the universal world state, and the longing for God, in which dreams can play their part.