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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Esoteric Development
GA 245

V. General Demands Which Every Aspirant for Occult Development Must Put to Himself

(Subsidiary Exercises)

In what follows, the conditions which must be the basis for occult development are presented. Let no one think that he can make progress by any measures applied to the outer or the inner life if he does not fulfill these conditions. All meditation, concentration, or other exercises are worthless, indeed in a certain respect actually harmful, if life is not regulated in accordance with these conditions. No forces can actually be given to a human being; it is only possible to bring to development the forces already within him. They do not develop by themselves because outer and inner hindrances obstruct them. The outer hindrances are lessened by the rules of life which follow; the inner hindrances by the special instructions concerning meditation, concentration, and so on.

The first condition is the cultivation of an absolutely clear thinking. For this purpose one must rid oneself of the will-o'-the-wisps of thought, even if only for a very short time during the day — about five minutes (the longer, the better). One must become master in one's world of thought. One is not master if outer circumstances, occupation, some tradition or other, social relationships, even membership in a particular race, or if the daily round of life, certain activities, and so forth, determine a thought and how one enlarges upon it. Therefore during this brief time, one must, entirely out of free will, empty the soul of the ordinary, everyday course of thoughts, and by one's own initiative place a thought at the center of the soul. One need not believe that this must be a particularly striking or interesting thought. Indeed it will be all the better for what has to be attained in an occult respect if one strives at first to choose the most uninteresting and insignificant thought. Thinking is then impelled to act out of its own energy, which is the essential thing here, whereas an interesting thought carries the thinking along with it. It is better if this exercise in thought control is undertaken with a pin rather than with Napoleon. The pupil says to himself: Now I start from this thought, and through my own inner initiative I associate with it everything that is pertinent to it. At the end of the period the thought should stand before the soul just as colorfully and vividly as at the beginning. This exercise is repeated day by day for at least a month; a new thought may be taken every day, but the same thought may also be adhered to for several days. At the end of such an exercise one endeavors to become fully conscious of that inner feeling of firmness and security which will soon be noticed by paying subtler attention to one's own soul; then one concludes the exercise by focusing the thinking upon the head and the middle of the spine (brain and spinal cord), as if one were pouring that feeling of security into this part of the body.

When this exercise has been practiced for about a month, a second requirement should be added. We try to think of some action which in the ordinary course of life we certainly would not be likely to perform. Then we make it a duty to perform this action every day. It will therefore be good to choose an action which can be performed every day and will occupy as long a period of time as possible. Again it is better to begin with some insignificant action which we have to force ourselves to perform; for example, to water at a definite time of day a flower we have bought. After a time a second, similar act should be added to the first; later, a third, and so on — as many as are compatible with the carrying out of all other duties. This exercise should also last for one month. But as far as possible during this second month, too, one should continue the first exercise, although it is a less paramount duty than in the first month. Nevertheless it must not be left unheeded, for otherwise it will quickly be noticed that the fruits of the first month are soon lost and the slovenliness of uncontrolled thinking begins again. Care must be taken that once these fruits have been won, they are never again lost. If, through the second exercise, this initiative of action has been achieved, then, with subtle attentiveness, we become conscious of the feeling of an inner impulse of activity within the soul; we pour this feeling into the body, letting it stream down from the head to a point just above the heart.

In the third month, a new exercise should be moved to the center of life — the cultivation of a certain equanimity towards the fluctuations of joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain; “heights of jubilation” and “depths of despair” should quite consciously be replaced by an equable mood. Care is taken that no pleasure shall carry us away, no sorrow plunge us into the depths, no experience lead to immoderate anger or vexation, no expectation give rise to anxiety or fear, no situation disconcert us, and so on. There need be no fear that such an exercise will make life arid and unproductive; rather one will quickly notice that the moods to which this exercise is applied are replaced by purer qualities of soul. Above all, if subtle attentiveness is maintained, one will discover one day an inner tranquility in the body; as in the two cases above, we pour this feeling into the body, letting it stream from the heart, towards the hands, the feet and, filially, the head. This naturally cannot be done after every single exercise, for here it is not a matter of a single exercise but of a sustained attentiveness to the inner life of the soul. Once every day, at least, one should call up this inner tranquility before the soul and then undertake the exercise of pouring it out from the heart. A connection with the exercises of the first and second months is maintained, as in the second month with the exercise of the first month.

In the fourth month, as a new exercise, one should take up what is sometimes called a “positive attitude” to life. It consists in seeking always for the good, the praiseworthy, the beautiful, and so on, in all beings, all experiences, all things. This quality of soul is best characterized by a Persian legend concerning Christ Jesus. One day as He was walking with His disciples, they saw a dead dog lying by the roadside in a state of advanced decomposition. All the disciples turned away from the repulsive sight; Christ Jesus alone did not move but observed the animal thoughtfully and said: “What beautiful teeth the animal has!” Where the others had seen only the repulsive, the unpleasant, He looked for the beautiful. So must the esoteric pupil strive to seek for the positive in every phenomenon and in every being. He will soon notice that under the mask of something repulsive there is a hidden beauty, that even under the mask of a criminal there is a hidden good, that under the mask of a lunatic the divine soul is somehow concealed.

In a certain respect this exercise is connected with what is called “abstention from criticism.” This is not to be understood in the sense of calling black white and white black. There is, however, a difference between a judgment which, proceeding merely from one's own personality, is colored with one's own personal sympathy or antipathy, and an attitude which enters lovingly into the alien phenomenon or being, always asking: How has this other being come to be like this or to act like this? Such an attitude will by its very nature strive more to help what is imperfect than simply to find fault and to criticize.

The objection that the very circumstances of their lives oblige many people to find fault and condemn is not valid here. For in such cases the circumstances are such that the person in question cannot go through a genuine occult training. There are indeed many circumstances in life which make a productive occult schooling impossible. In such a case the person should not impatiently desire, in spite of everything, to make progress which can only be possible under certain conditions.

He who consciously turns his mind, for one month, to the positive aspect of all his experiences will gradually notice a feeling creeping into him as if his skin were becoming porous on all sides, and as if his soul were opening wide to all kinds of secret and subtle processes in his environment, which hitherto entirely escaped his notice. What is important here is that every human being combat a prevalent lack of attentiveness to such subtle things. If one has once noticed that the feeling described expresses itself in the soul as a kind of bliss, one seeks in thought to guide this feeling to the heart and from there to let it stream into the eyes, and thence out into the space in front of and around oneself. One will notice that an intimate relationship to this space is thereby acquired. One grows out of and beyond oneself, as it were. One learns to regard a part of one's environment as something that belongs to oneself. A great deal of concentration is necessary for this exercise, and, above all, a recognition of the fact that all tumultuous feelings, all passions, all over-exuberant emotions have an absolute destructive effect upon the mood indicated. The exercises of the first months are also repeated, as was suggested for the earlier months.

In the fifth month, one should seek to cultivate in oneself the feeling of confronting every new experience with complete impartiality. The esoteric pupil must break entirely with the attitude of men in which, in the face of something just heard or seen, they say: “I never heard that, or I never saw that before; I don't believe it — it's an illusion.” At every moment he must be ready to accept an absolutely new experience. What he has hitherto recognized as being in accordance with natural law, or what has appeared possible to him, must not be a shackle preventing acceptance of a new truth. Although radically expressed, it is absolutely correct that if anyone were to come to the esoteric pupil and say, “Since last night the steeple of such-and-such a church has been tilted right over,” the esotericist should leave a loophole open for possibly believing that his previous knowledge of natural law could somehow be widened by such an apparently unprecedented fact.

He who turns his attention, in the fifth month, to developing this attitude of mind, will notice creeping into his soul a feeling as if something were becoming alive in the space referred to in connection with the exercise for the fourth month, as if something were stirring. This feeling is exceedingly delicate and subtle. One must try to be attentive to this delicate vibration in the environment and to let it stream, as it were, through all five senses, especially through the eyes, the ears, and through the skin, in so far as this last contains the sense of warmth. At this stage of esoteric development, one pays less attention to the impressions made by these stimuli on the other senses of taste, smell, and touch. At this stage it is still not possible to distinguish the numerous bad influences which intermingle with the good influences in this sphere; the pupil therefore leaves this for a later stage.

In the sixth month, one should try to repeat again and again all five exercises, systematically and in a regular alternation. In this way a beautiful equilibrium of soul will gradually develop. One will notice especially that previous dissatisfactions with certain phenomena and beings in the world completely disappear. A mood reconciling all experiences takes possession of the soul, a mood that is by no means one of indifference but, on the contrary, enables one for the first time to work in the world for its genuine progress and improvement. One comes to a tranquil understanding of things which were formerly quite closed to the soul. The very gestures and bearing of a person change under the influence of such exercises, and if, one day, he can actually notice that his handwriting has taken on another character, then he may say to himself that he is just about to reach a first rung on the upward path to comprehension.

Once again, two things must be stressed: First, the six exercises described paralyze the harmful influence other occult exercises can have, so that only what is beneficial remains. Secondly, these exercises alone ensure that efforts in meditation and concentration will have a positive result. The esotericist must not rest content with fulfilling, however conscientiously, the demands of conventional morality, for that morality can be very egotistical, if a man says to himself: I will be good in order that I may be thought good. The esotericist does not do what is good because he wants to be thought good, but because little by little he recognizes that the good alone brings evolution forward, and that evil, stupidity, and ugliness place hindrances along its path.