Anyone who reflects on the fact that the human being can be ill, will find himself involved in a paradox which he cannot avoid if he wishes to think purely on the lines of natural science, he will have to assume to begin with that this paradox lies in the very nature of existence. For, considered superficially, whatever takes place in the course of the illness is a natural process. What takes place in the healthy state is also a natural process.
In the first place, the processes of nature are known to us only by observation of the world external to man, and of man himself inasmuch as we observe him in just the same way as a part of nature; we conceive that the processes going on within him however complicated, are yet of the same kind as the processes we can observe outside him, the outer processes of nature.
Here, however, a question emerges which is quite unanswerable from this point of view. How do there arise in man (not to speak at this point, of the animal) processes of nature which run counter to the healthy ones?
The healthy human organism would seem to be intelligible as part of nature; not so the sick. It must, therefore, in some way be intelligible out of itself, by virtue of something which it does not have from nature.
The prevalent idea is that the spiritual in man has for its physical foundation a very complicated process of nature, like a continuation of the natural processes we find outside man. Let us, however, look and see whether the continuation of any process of nature based on the healthy human organism ever calls forth spiritual experiences as such? The reverse is the case. Spiritual experience is extinguished when the natural process continues on an uninterrupted path. This is what happens in sleep; it happens, too, in unconsciousness.
Consider, on the other hand, how the conscious spiritual life is sharpened when an organ becomes diseased. Pain ensues, or at least discomfort and displeasure. The life of feeling receives a content which it otherwise does not have. The life of will is impaired. The movement of a limb which takes place as a matter of course in the healthy state can no longer be accomplished properly, pain or discomfort hinders and prevents it.
Observe now the transition from the painful movement of a limb to its paralysis. In the movement accompanied by pain we have the initial stages of a movement paralysed. The active spirit intervenes in the organism. In health, this activity reveals itself to begin with in the life of thought or representation. We activate a certain representation, and the movement of a limb ensues. We do not enter consciously with the representation into the organic processes which culminate in the movement. The representation submerges itself in the unconscious. Between the representation and the movement, feeling at the soul level intervenes in the healthy state. It does not refer itself distinctly to any physical organ. This, however, is the case in the diseased state. The feeling, experienced in health as free from the physical organism, unites with this in the experience of illness.
This shows the relationship of the process of healthy feeling and the experience of illness. There must be something there, which, when the organism is in health, is less intensely united with it than when it is sick. To spiritual perception this something is revealed to be the astral body. The astral body is a super-sensible organization within the physical organization. It may intervene loosely in an organ when it leads to soul experience which is self-supporting and is not experienced in connection with the body. Or it intervenes intensively in an organ; then it leads to the experience of illness. One of the forms of illness must be conceived as an abnormal seizing of the organism by the astral body, which causes the spiritual part of man to submerge itself in the body more deeply than is the case in health.
But thinking also has its physical basis in the organism. In the healthy state it is even freer from this than is feeling. In addition to the astral body, spiritual perception discovers a special ego-organization which expresses itself freely in the soul in thinking. If, with this ego-organization, man submerges himself intensively in his bodily nature, the ensuing condition makes his observation of his own organism similar to that of the external world — it is a fact that if we observe an object or process of the outer world, the idea in man and what he observes are not in a living reciprocal relationship, but are independent of each other. In a human limb this condition only takes place when it is paralyzed. The limb then becomes a piece of the outer world. The ego-organization is no longer lightly united with it as it is in health, when it can unite with the limb in the act of movement and withdraw again at once; it submerges itself in the limb permanently and is no longer able to withdraw.
Here again the process of healthy movement of a limb and of paralysis stand side by side in their relationship. One sees clearly that the initial stage of healthy movement is the first beginning of a paralysis, a paralysis which is released as soon as it begins.
We must see the very essence of illness in this intensive union of the astral body or ego-organization with the physical organism. Yet this union is only an intensification of that which exists more lightly in a state of health. Even the normal way in which the astral and ego-organization take hold of the human body, is related not to the healthy processes of life, but to the sick. Wherever the soul and spirit are at work, they annul the ordinary functioning of the body, transforming it into its opposite. In so doing they bring the organism into a line of action where illness tends to set in. In normal life this is regulated directly as it arises by a process of self-healing.
A certain form of illness occurs when the spirit, or the soul, pushes its way too far into the organism, with the result that the self-healing process can either not take place at all or is too slow.
In the faculties of soul and spirit, therefore, we have to seek the causes of illness. Healing must then consist in releasing [loosening] this soul or spiritual element from the physical organization.
This is the one kind of illness. There is another. The ego organization and the astral body may be prevented from reaching even that looser union with the bodily nature which is conditioned, in ordinary life, by the independent activities of feeling, thinking and will. Then, in the organs or processes which the soul and spirit are thus unable to approach, there will be continuation of the healthy processes beyond the due measure which is appropriate for the organism. But spiritual perception shows that in such a case the physical organism does not merely carry out the lifeless processes of external nature. For the physical organism is permeated by an etheric. The physical organism alone could never call forth a process of self-healing. It is in the etheric organism that this process is kindled. We are thus led to recognize health as that condition which has its origin in the etheric. Healing must therefore consist in a treatment of the etheric organism.