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The Spiritual Development of Man
GA 84

I. The Inner Experience of the Activity of Thinking

20 April 1923, Dornach

In my last lectures I have been dealing with the nature of man's being in a way which I think our visitors who are giving us the pleasure of attending the Teachers' Course here will have had no difficulty in following. To link up with my last lecture I will briefly recapitulate the main points.

In speaking about man's external observations and sense-perceptions and about the way in which the intellect, possibly assisted by experiments, is able to arrange and co-ordinate them, I pointed out that in all these functions it is, to begin with, only man's physical body that is in active manifestation

This physical body is permeated by what may be called the etheric body or the body of formative forces a finer organisation of the human being, a Second Man within man, so to speak. How can one have actual perception of this Second Man? It must again and again be emphasised that it is by no means so very difficult to gain a true perception of this Second Man, a perception as clear and authentic as anything perceived by the senses or conceived by the reasoning intellect. One thing however, is necessary, because in our own time man does not live with such intensity in the element of thought itself as he did in earlier epochs of evolution, but adopts a more passive attitude to thought and is content to let impressions simply come to him from the world of the senses. For this reason it is necessary to strengthen thinking by means of exercises. Of course man has thoughts today, but he can hardly have real insight into the nature and activity of thinking because by force of habit he allows the external sense-impressions to stream into his thoughts the moment he wakes from sleep, because he sets store only by these external sense-impressions. True, this fills his thoughts with a content derived from external sense-perceptions but he does not actually feel or experience his own activity of thinking. Modern man can achieve this, however, with the help of such exercises as I have indicated, for instance, in my book, “Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment.”

Such exercises require man as it were to throw himself with the whole of his being into the activity of thinking, to give himself up to this thinking with all inner intensity and, with complete indifference to what the outer senses present to him, to live consciously and exclusively in this activity of thinking.

It can be of great assistance in these meditative exercises if one has had some practice in mathematics, especially in geometry. As regards the activity of thinking that has to be applied in geometry, one need only take a resolute plunge, as it were, into one's own inmost being, to experience the nature of this thinking in its independence, in its plasticity, in its inner weaving life, and one has an experience of the activity of thinking when drawing, say, a triangle.

Of course you can draw a triangle on the blackboard. But is that a triangle, in reality? What you have on the blackboard is not a triangle but a vast number of tiny particles of chalk which stick to the board and could actually be counted if one had a sufficiently powerful microscope. That is no triangle! To think that the triangle is there on the blackboard is nonsense. You can have the triangle only in your mind, in the thought you form with the aid of these bits of chalk on the blackboard. But without the use of chalk and blackboard, when simply sitting or standing quietly without even moving a finger, when you have merely the idea, the thought of the triangle fixed in your mind, then you can picture to yourself—but always only in your thoughts—how you begin to draw a line here, then a second, then a third. Then you can live in this inner activity without doing anything externally. You can do more and more exercises of this kind, especially more complicated ones. For instance (it is being drawn on the blackboard): you have here a patch of red chalk and here one of green chalk. I draw it once again, and now you can, for instance, do the following.—What you have pictured before you in these two figures you are to do inwardly; now, as previously you drew the triangle in your mind, quickly imagine this: the red stretches over into the green as far as this, and the green pushes through beneath the red, so that this figure grows out of that, and that out of this, entirely in thought. There you have the red in the centre, the green around it. Now picture the red expanding, the green contracting, and then you get a green circle in the centre and surrounding it the red wheel; then reversed: the red moves inwards, the green expands, and you keep changing from one to the other in rhythmic sequence, an inner circle, an outer wheel: red, green; green, red; red, green; green, red ... You picture this to yourself without it being necessary to do anything outwardly. And you will gradually become aware that to think means doing something inwardly, just as one uses one's hands or arms outwardly. When you use your arm, you are aware of it. So now you must learn to be aware of the forces of thought. When aware of exercising your arms you experience your physical body. When you begin to exercise your thoughts in this way, you experience the Second Man within you, your etheric body, your body of formative forces. As soon as you have reached the point where you need only give yourself a mental push in order to transfer your awareness of arm-and-leg movements to an awareness of your inner forces of thought, you experience this Second Man within you, your etheric body, your body of formative forces. But you experience this Second Man as being woven entirely of thoughts. And at that moment the whole of your earthly life spreads out before you as if present. In a single panoramic survey, you behold your earthly life right back to your earliest childhood.

What is here experienced as the Second Man is not a space-body, but a time-body. And, as I have already said in the course of these lectures, when drawing a sketch of the physical body, one can insert into it a sketch of this time-body. But this represents only a momentary phase, as if you were catching a glimpse of a flash of lightning. This body of formative forces does not live in space except for one fleeting moment. The next moment it has already changed. It is always in a state of flux, ever-changing. And this changing is experienced as the life-tableau.

But simultaneously with this experience one feels oneself part of the whole universe, one no longer feels enclosed within one's skin, but one feels that one is actually in this condition of flux within the universe. One is really only a ripple in the etheric cosmos.—And one experiences other aspects of this Second Man.

One perceives that this Second Man is perpetually trying to dissolve the physical substance of the body into nothingness. In another connection I said to some of you the other day: physical matter, physical substance presses; the etheric forces suck, draw out of space the content which fills it, suck up everything. And throughout our earthly life we live in this interplay of forces. For our nourishment we take physical matter into ourselves. Through the process of nourishment this physical matter streams into our body, setting in action all kinds of processes in accordance with its own nature. When we eat pickled cabbage it enters our system, where its action is conditioned by its own chemical and physical properties. When we drink milk, its action proceeds according to the nature of milk. But very soon a stop is put to this action of milk and cabbage. The etheric body begins to assail the milk-and-cabbage-properties in order to effect their extinction. So that within our system a perpetual battle is in progress between the action of the cabbage-and-milk-properties on the one hand, and, on the other, the counter-action which aims at their extinction. This battle takes place and its effect becomes manifest in what man excretes and in that which, as formative forces, as man's super-sensible organisation, moves in the direction of the head. In exact proportion to the amount of matter we excrete through the various secretory organs, an equal amount changes, in the other direction, into negative matter, into negative substance which lives as the principle of suction in our nervous system, especially in our brain.

Nobody can understand the human being by looking at the physical body only, for then we see, merely from the periphery, no more than part of the processes operating within the human organism. A certain amount of knowledge is gained about the processes working within the alimentary track and about what is excreted through sweating and so on. But for all excretion, that is to say, all that is passing into the grossly material condition, there is the other pole, representing what is drawn into the nervous system as the etheric element. For everything we excrete as material substance, an etheric equivalent flows into us. This etheric element whirls and surges and weaves in our etheric body or body of formative forces which permeates us in the way I have described.

And one also learns to know oneself as this Second Man by observing how the power of memory, the ability to remember, can change. In ordinary life we become aware of external impressions. These continue inwards, entering our thoughts, our mental pictures, and then come to a standstill. We can call them forth again, but the inner force by means of which we recall them does not extend beyond the nerve-endings.

Take for example, the eye. What happens when we perceive something outside is that we push through the optic nerve-endings which are spread out in the eye right into the blood-circulation of the eye. That is how perception is brought about. When we only remember, however, we penetrate no further than where the optic nerve comes to an end in the eye. With our etheric body or body of formative forces we do not reach through the nerve-endings into the blood stream.

When we now intensify thinking, it is not as if we merely experience the san з rebound as in the ordinary functioning of memory, when external perceptions are transformed into mental pictures which are then held and thrust back. If, as it were in reverse, we also perceive what is etheric in the world, we thrust just as far into our organism with this etheric thought-content of the world as with our ordinary memory-pictures which, however, are only reminiscences of life. And then we develop a consciousness of the etheric working in the cosmos; we live within the etheric formative forces of the world.

How a man experiences himself when living consciously within the weaving of the etheric cosmic forces can be sketched in this way. (The drawing cannot here be reproduced.) Here we have the play of the etheric forces in their manifold manifestation. This must be taken configuratively. Everything lives and weaves within it. And then man experiences himself in this etheric weaving. It makes a strange picture, but that is how it is and how it must be imagined. The feet and legs are hardly noticeable. One has the feeling that at one point, as it were, one is growing out of this play of the etheric forces. One experiences their action as far as one's nerve-endings. It runs through the back and on to the nerve-endings in the front of the body, and that is the extreme limit to which the etheric world extends in us. That is man's position in the present etheric cosmos. The way in which one experiences the etheric world when finding oneself edged, as it were, into some extreme corner of the etheric cosmos is that it reaches only with its fringe into one's organism, where the etheric action then comes to a halt. In short, that is the way in which one learns to live in the etheric world.

And indeed this would by no means be so difficult an achievement, if only nowadays people would take the trouble to practise such mental activity as I have described. The easiest way to become an adept in this way of thinking is to absorb in the right manner and really live through what is contained in my “Philosophy of Spiritual Activity.”

There is, for instance, the section which deals with this awareness of the activity of thinking in relation to the ethical and moral principle in the world. What I have described there is the same from the qualitative aspect. And when one studies the “Philosophy of Spiritual Activity” in the right way, one begins to understand what the nature of this life in the Etheric, what this experience of the formative forces, really is.

The Inner Aspect of the Activity of Speaking

Our next experience after that of the activity of thinking, can be awareness of the activity of speaking. And a beginning can well be made with the activity of speech in ordinary, everyday life. Only it is necessary to become as well trained in governing speech as in governing thought. Control of the latter must be achieved to the extent that the senses are silent, that one lives only in active thinking, that sense-impressions are eliminated. As regards speech, it is necessary to reach the point of having a great deal to say—for one must have a command of words and not be inarticulate—but at the same time to be able at will to check the impulse for a time and to practise absolute silence.

I know that in the case of some people this is asking a great deal; but in order to gain knowledge of the Third Man, this is absolutely necessary. One must have a clear idea of what it means to be eager to deliver a carefully-prepared speech, to have the words on the tip of the tongue, and yet to keep silent. That is how one learns to practise active silence. To practise passive silence—as one might in an empty room (not an airless room, of course, but with no other people present), when there is nobody to speak to—to remain passively silent is useless? one must learn to be actively silent.

Now you can say: A dull fellow indeed, going about practising silence in people's company, walking up to them and, instead of talking to them, just looking at them and remaining wrapped in silence. Well, I admit, my dear friends, that socially this would certainly be anything but pleasant; it could, however, actually prove exceedingly fruitful for spiritual advancement, and beneficial results could ensue if, for instance, one attended a party at which people, including oneself, were by no means silent as a rule, and if one now began to practise silence. One says nothing although one knows a great deal and, in giving freely of one's store of knowledge, has formerly always been a great talker. I say that one could do this, but one need not do it outwardly and, although it could be fruitful, it would not be so very helpful when aiming high; the idea is that the entire exercise, as I have described it, is carried out inwardly, that one is fully prepared to speak but has the ability to suppress the impulse inwardly.

You will understand better what I mean when I tell you, for instance, that in ordinary, everyday life one does not think in the true sense of the word. One does think in the field of mathematics if, for instance, one makes a mental picture of a triangle in the way I have described. One does some real thinking particularly when the mind is occupied with unusual things of a kind for which the language has no words. But when completely absorbed in the things which nowadays make up the content of current popular interest, one does not really do any actual thinking, for in this mental process the organs of speech constantly co-vibrate, albeit so quietly that one does not hear it. The mental activity of modern man, who so dislikes thinking about anything that is not to be found in the external world of the senses, is not real thinking. The mind is merely weaving in shadow-pictures of words..

You can test it yourself and you will find this weaving of the soul in the shadow-pictures of words to be a fact. When one can really bring the larynx inwardly into a state of complete rest while still maintaining that inner activity of the soul which normally animates the movements of the larynx, so that the escape from the spoken word remains an entirely inward exercise—if, in other words, one does with the activity of speech what one has previously done with the activity of thinking that is a transformed faculty of memory (where one pushes only as far as the nerve-endings, while now one exercises the activity of speech only as far as the larynx, just to the point where the latter is about to break into speech)—then gradually there will develop what in recent lectures I have called “the deep silence of the human soul,” because checking and preventing speech inwardly means developing the deep silence of the soul.

To get an idea of what this deep silence in the soul means, imagine yourself in a town, not Basle, perhaps, but in London or in a city even noisier still. You are right within this noise and turmoil. Now you leave the town and the noise gradually fades as you get further away. Presently you find yourself in the stillness and solitude of a wood. You say: All is quiet within and without. There comes a point when the stillness reaches the degree ‘nought.’ First the noise, then it grows quieter, then absolute stillness at point ‘nought.’

But now this can go further. And indeed this process of not only experiencing the quietness of a silent outer world and the soul at rest, but of passing into the deep silence, can be the direct result of abstaining from the use of words while maintaining that full inner activity which normally is bent on becoming vocal. One merely refrains from making use of the physical body. (I have described the various meditative exercises in my book “Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment.”) Then one realises that there is something beyond the point ‘nought’ of stillness. In public lectures I have made use of a commonplace comparison. I said: Supposing someone with a certain amount of capital spends some of it and reduces his means; then continues to spend until finally there is nothing left; he has reached point ‘nought.’ But he goes on spending and runs into debt. Now he has less than nought; and so it goes on. Here the mathematicians have introduced the negative numbers: -6, -4, -2, 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, etc. In a similar way you can also imagine how in the realm of sound the stillness at point ‘nought’ passes over into the negative, into a state that is stiller than stillness, quieter than quietness. You can establish the same conditions in the depths of your soul.

But then, when the outer world is now not only silent but has passed beyond mere silence, when the soul's reaction extends beyond the stillness at point ‘nought’ into the negative sphere of all external sound, then the spirit begins to speak out of the depths of the soul's stillness and we become aware of our Third Man, the astral man, as we say. Expressions do not matter, they are terminology; another name could serve as well.

Of this Third, astral Man, we become aware when we reach the deep silence of the soul, and from out of this profound silence the Spiritual sounds forth, a sounding which is the opposite of physical sound.

This astral body, as you will see, takes us in every respect further than the etheric body alone could have done. To make this clear, let me deal with it from a cosmic point of view.

What is the modern physicist or astronomer, in fact the modern scientist, trying to do? He studies the laws of nature. Through observation or experiment he establishes them. These laws of nature constitute his science. They present him with what is inherent in things. With that he ought to rest content. But instead, he begins to be proud of his laws of nature, he begins to be arrogant. And he now asserts what he cannot by any means substantiate, that these laws apply to the whole of the universe. He says: Discoveries I make in my laboratory on the earth would, if tested under similar conditions, prove equally valid on the most distant stars of the universe, stars from which the light takes so many light-years to reach the earth—people pretend that these things make sense—so that, given similar conditions the same laws of nature must prevail there, because their validity is absolute.

Yes, but it is not like that. At its source the light shines brightly into its immediate surroundings; further away from the source its strength decreases and the further we go the weaker it becomes, it grows faint. The power of light diminishes at a ratio equal to the square of the distance. So it is with light. And curiously enough, so it is also on earth with the laws of nature.

The validity of what you establish on the earth as laws of nature becomes less and less the further you get away from the earth. To be sure it seems dreadful to say such a thing, and in the eyes of a staunch student of natural science anyone with such ideas must necessarily appear as the perfect idiot. That one can well understand, because when this happens, and one looks at it from the modern scientist's point of view, one can very easily put oneself in his place. Only the reverse does not happen: the modern scientist cannot put himself in the place of the spiritual investigator. The latter knows perfectly well how the student of natural science arrives at his facts. Such understanding is lacking when the case is reversed. Therefore most criticisms levelled at spiritual science from that quarter are, from their point of view, quite justified. But they merely show that the student of natural science cannot honestly find any real meaning in what the spiritual investigator has to say. That one must grant him, because it is a fact. It is simply beyond him. He must himself become a spiritual investigator before one can enter into polemics with him. For that reason the futility of polemics with a man who, firmly entrenched in natural science, has no mind for the findings of spiritual science, is obvious.

Well, with what has been said about the light, the student of natural science will agree, as he has discovered it himself, but as far as the laws of nature are concerned, he will disagree. However, with regard to light, the spiritual investigator must make a reservation. Natural science says: As the light radiates, its strength diminishes with distance, until at last it fades to the extent that its strength is identical with the degree ‘nought.’ But such a statement is just as clever as if someone were to say: Here I have an elastic rubber ball; now I press it. Naturally the ball tends to bulge out on the other side. The elasticity pushes the surface this way and that way. Now someone says: That cannot be; if I press elastic substance the process must go on and on, only it becomes so weak at last that it is no longer perceptible.—It is, however, not like that: elasticity rebounds.

And this also applies to the light. The light does not radiate in a way that one could say: Far out there it is so weak that it will soon approach the point of darkness, yet it continues to spread further and further. That is not true. Its radiation extends only to a certain point, to the periphery of a given sphere; then it rebounds. And as it comes back it is visible only to the spiritual investigator, not to the natural scientist. Because when the radiation of light has exhausted its elasticity and rebounds, it returns as spirit, as the super-sensible. Then the natural scientist cannot perceive it. There is no light that shines and does not come to a certain boundary from which it is thrown back to return as spirit. What I am now telling you about the light applies equally to the laws of nature. The validity of these laws diminishes the further you get away into space. But this continues only as far as the outer shell of a given sphere; thus everything comes back. The laws of nature, however, then return as thoughts that are wisdom-inwoven. And that is the cosmic ether.

The cosmic ether does not radiate in an outward direction with regard to the earth, it radiates with a centripetal movement from all sides. But what lives in all these incoming forces that radiate to the earth are creative, wisdom-filled thoughts. The cosmic ether is at the same time a thought-world of formative forces. There is, however, a difference: When here on earth I form the kind of thoughts which lead to the laws of nature, such thoughts are, figuratively speaking, neatly aligned, so that one can say: there exists a certain constancy of matter, a constancy of energy. We have exponents of the law of light, and so on. The formulations of what lives in matter are made by means of thoughts.

But when the thoughts come back, when one experiences how they live in the cosmic ether, they are not thoughts born of logic, not thoughts with such sharply defined outlines; they are experienced as pictorial thoughts, pictures, Imaginations.

When such questions arise one meets with strange things in modern cultural life. To some of you present here I said a few days ago: During the last 40 to 50 years, theories without number or, if you like, hypotheses, have been advanced about the cosmic ether. Some have conceived it as a rigid body, some as a liquid body, others as cosmic gas, as something in a state of whirling motion or the like, and so on. But what is happening when such hypotheses are advanced? They are simply the logical outcome of a mental approach that clings to the kind of thinking that has become habitual in dealing with the visible beings and processes of nature. But what comes back to us from the cosmos has long since become incapable of being grasped within the framework of thoughts in which the laws of nature are formulated. What is coming back can be apprehended only when one begins to think in pictures, to think imaginatively.

One could say: the validity of all that is contained in and governs the formulation of the laws of nature diminishes at the ratio of the square of the distance measured up to the periphery of a given sphere. There the laws of nature have altogether ceased to exist as such. They have become fused, they blend, to return, now, as pictures; they come back in figurations, in images.

And now, when one has achieved the stage of vision I have described, one perceives the world etherically, that is to say, in the form of pictures, and one has to acknowledge that now, while living in the etheric realm one does not only see nothing of one's physical body, but also one's power of thought that is employed in the ordinary world has ebbed away.. Instead, it is as if the universe were radiating back pictures, Imaginations, from all directions. So that in order to understand the ether, one begins to change ordinary thinking into thinking that is plastic, pictorial. It follows then, as a matter of course, that the ether could never be understood by means of any of these misconceived hypotheses. For at the boundaries of etheric radiation, all those calculations and theories concerned with physical phenomena in nature have lost their meaning. At that point the outstreaming has ceased and we have incoming radiation which no longer responds to the range of thought that depends on the ordinary consciousness, but demands a fundamentally artistic approach, inspired by thoughts springing from the realm of art, from the realm of art in the earthly sense.

What I have to tell you now will sound paradoxical, but it is the simple truth for one who sees the world in its true light. Supposing I carve a figure in wood, mould it into the shape of a human being and really succeed in creating a good likeness of the outward appearance of a man. But there is one thing a sculptor cannot do, namely, to let the space be ‘sucked out.’ All I can do as a sculptor is to master the physical material. If I were also able to make the laws governing the cosmic ether operate within the space occupied by my wooden figure, that is to say. if that deep silence were to reign externally, if the negative stillness, not only the stillness at point ‘nought,’ were to take possession, leaving not only space but something space-less, then my wooden sculpture would not, it is true, become a human being, but something like a plant. The wooden figure remains a sculpture only, as it has only physical properties and is merely a replica of an external form, because space-suction, which should really be the supplementary element in the form, does not also come into operation. As it is, that cannot happen, otherwise my wooden sculpture would be a growing organism.

You must realise that with ordinary artistic thinking, with ordinary artistic feeling, you cannot reach the etheric world because, to do so, one has not only to project mental images into space, but one must really lay hold of space, so that the ether empties it. Then one experiences life, the living, in this sucked-out space, or rather in the process of this suction. Thus a very different kind of thinking is needed to reach these higher worlds.—And when one has also had the other experience I described as the deep silence of the soul, then something else happens. One experiences how, coming out of cosmic space, etheric forms approach one, and in these forms one feels the presence of sentient, spiritual being. Not only etheric formations but actual spiritual beings of the so-called higher Hierarchies approach one. One lives as spirit among spirits; one experiences a real spiritual world. It approaches with the inflow of this back-streaming radiation. Wherever the etheric forms approach us the spiritual world is revealed. The physical has departed and returns in etheric forms. But now, together with these returning etheric forms, spiritual beings can approach us. Only, if you were to ask yourselves: Where do they come from?—the ‘where’ has no longer any spatial meaning. Their relation to space is that, converging from the periphery of the universe, they are coming in from all sides of the universe, because they let themselves be borne in on the cosmic ether. The cosmic ether gives them a spatial ‘where,’ but this ‘where’ connotes a gravitating from without.

These two ‘substantialities’ which I discover in this way in the world, the one which, working in the formative forces, approaches me in etheric forms and suffuses me, and the other, which lives and has its being in the spiritual world—these two substantialities the human being acquires as he descends from his pre-earthly to his earthly life, filling his whole being with a content held together by a part of the infinite world of formative forces—infinite only in a relative sense, namely, only as far as the boundaries of the universe; and itself filled with the astral body, with what is borne in on the ether and has a ‘where’ only through the ether.

We bear within us the physical body consisting of physical ingredients of the earth; we bear within us the etheric body which we receive from out of cosmic space; and within the etheric body we bear the astral body which is spirit from cosmic spirit. We confine within the limits of our own being what appears without contour and without limit in the universe.

And when we now proceed to do still more advanced exercises in which we do not only reach the deep silence of the soul but, penetrating this deep silence, we awake in the activity of our own will, as we normally awake only in the activity of thinking and conceiving, then we experience our fourth member, our ‘I.’—About this experience of the ‘I’ it is my intention to speak to you tomorrow.