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Karmic Relationships VII
GA 239

Lecture VIII

14 June 1924, Breslau

From many studies on the subject of the forming of human destiny or karma you will have realised that human life is not viewed in its entirety if sleep is left out of consideration. When a man reflects about himself with the ordinary consciousness of to-day, he looks back only upon the days because the nights are passed in unconsciousness. In the case of normal sleepers, therefore—as nowadays there are no Seven Sleepers—a third of life is disregarded. But for experience of the super-sensible and of man's participation in the spiritual world, it is this very third of life that is of essential importance. When a person has reached a definite age he looks back over the days he remembers, as far back as his memory goes. The nights are between the days but in his recollection the nights are left entirely out of consideration. A true retrospect is really not possible for a man of modern times because his observation of life is far too superficial. But if he were capable of carrying out such a retrospect, then precisely through what he does not see in the ordinary way he would have an indication of karma. Observation of the life of sleep gives significant hints of individual karma. Attention must above all be paid to the essential difference between the two moments of waking and going to sleep.

Ordinary consciousness can feel this difference instinctively, but Initiation-Science alone can throw light upon it. The difference between the moment of waking and the moment of going to sleep is particularly evident to people who are sick or ailing. They notice more readily than do those in good health that the moment of going to sleep is often accompanied by at least a slight feeling of pleasure. The moment of waking, on the other hand, has something slightly unpleasant about it; waking is accompanied by happiness only if the attention of the person concerned is at once turned to the outer world and when his consciousness of the outer world drowns what is rising up from within him. For many people the moments both of waking and of going to sleep are shrouded in a certain dimness. At the moment of going to sleep a man has the feeling that he is somehow dragging the past day's experiences along with him, that these become more and more nebulous and that he then abandons them. The moment of waking is accompanied by a slight feeling of oppression, a feeling of lifting oneself out of certain depths, bringing from them something that is carried over into the day and is got rid of only during the course of it. The result is that a certain feeling of unpleasantness may be associated with the experience of waking. An unpleasant sensation of taste may intensify into an equally unpleasant sensation of a stupefied head. People do not as a rule distinguish between these delicate experiences but they are unmistakeable indications of a great deal in human life. For what is really taking place? We describe quite correctly and from a certain standpoint very exactly what is taking place if we say: during sleep the physical and etheric bodies lie in the bed and the ego and astral body pass out into the spiritual world, returning into the physical and etheric bodies in the morning on waking. But how does this process take place? In order to make progress in our study of karma we will envisage the whole process which, to begin with, it is justifiable to describe in a rather abstract way.

Diagram I

This emergence of the ego and astral body from the physical and etheric bodies can be sketched like this. Let us suppose this figure to be the human being and here are the physical body and the etheric body. In the evening, when sleep begins, the ego and astral body move outwards. We will draw quite diagrammatically how the two members widen out, expand, but describe a kind of circle. In the morning, on waking, the ego and the astral body pass into the physical body again through the limbs, actually by way of the fingers and toes. The fact is that a circle is described and this statement must be taken more literally than is usually imagined. In reality, when a normal human being wakes in the morning, the picture seen by clairvoyance is not of the whole astral body and the whole ego being immediately within the physical and etheric bodies; on the contrary, ego and astral body pass only slowly and by degrees into the physical body from morning onwards until towards midday and afternoon. You will say that if this were really the case we should feel our ego and astral body moving only gradually from the tips of the fingers and toes towards the head. To very exact clairvoyant observation this is actually the case, only the person concerned does not inwardly feel it to be so, for the reason that the way in which these higher principles work is different from any kind of physical activity. You see, if a locomotive is propelling a carriage, it pushes forwards from the spot where it is at the moment. And if a railway line is, say 30 metres long and the engine is pushing forward, as long is needed for the first metre, then so long for the second, and so on, at a certain point there may be no effect from the engine if it has not yet reached thus far. But with spiritual conditions it is different; spiritual conditions are effective at other places as well as where they happen to be centred. So the waking hours of the day are used for the purpose of bringing our ego and astral body slowly into our physical and etheric bodies from the tips of our fingers and toes. But the ego and astral body begin to be active from the very beginning, from the moment of waking, so that one has the feeling of being completely filled by them. To clairvoyant sight, however, it is clear that an actual revolution takes place through the day; the complementary revolution takes place during the night. But a revolution also takes place—one that is less dependent upon time—when you have an afternoon nap. Here again the ego and astral body leave the physical and etheric bodies and the process adapts itself to your need of sleep. Sleep is a prophet and knows when you will wake although you yourself do not; your astral body under all circumstances knows it. It knows when you will wake even if as the result of some disturbance you sleep for a shorter time than you intend, even if before going to sleep you say that you want to sleep for only half-an-hour but you lie asleep for three hours instead. The astral body knows exactly how long you will sleep. It is an accurate prophet because the inner, spiritual circumstances are, in fact, different from the external circumstances experienced at the time.

You will certainly have realised that there is a very great difference between the process of going to sleep and that of waking. When we wake we have just been in the spiritual world and when we go to sleep we pass out of the physical world and into the spiritual world. A stream bears us along in the spiritual world between sleeping and waking and we also have experiences then—experiences which are, however, wrapt in unconsciousness. We have experiences during sleep which are, in fact, similar to those of the daytime, only they are of much greater intensity.

Diagram II

If you observe the soul's waking life you will find there, in the first place, the thought-experiences evoked by the various impressions made by life. But memories of the earthly life already past are always intermingled with these experiences. Try for once to consider how in every situation memories mingle with the momentary impressions made by life. In fact, if close attention is paid, one can get a picture of how, at different moments, life is a veritable hodge-podge, a mingling of memories and instantaneous impressions. There are two quite different factors: the thoughts which rise up from within and the thoughts which enter via the senses. These are quite different currents of the inner life and during sleep they are also in evidence. The stream of what is present (impressions of the daily life) on going to sleep continues during the night and perpetually flowing towards this is what we experience on waking.

These two currents stream towards each other: the one stream, experienced particularly on going to sleep, is the one already mentioned, the one that is experienced consciously, vividly and powerfully during the first decades after death when life is lived through again in reverse order. As I put it to you rather drastically: if you give someone a box on the ear, then, in living through the event after death you do not experience the anger which you consciously felt on Earth when giving the blow, or maybe the satisfaction at being able to express the anger. Instead, you undergo what the other person experienced, his physical pain and also his moral suffering. This is what you would experience, but in a picture, not yet in reality, if you could consciously continue your life when it is already becoming dim at the approach of sleep. If you were to pass into sleep with full, clear consciousness, you would live through the day's experiences in reverse, but in pictures. Whereas during the first decades after death it is all experienced as reality.

What I have described applies, approximately, to life by day in the waking state, when we are given up to outer life merely with our thoughts. But there is also the other current and this has something stupendous in it. We experience it on waking, as I have explained, but there is an element of heaviness in it which is carried into the day and is only gradually overcome; later in the day we become free of it. When this second stream is fully perceptible to Initiation vision it is seen to be a repository of the whole karmic past which passes before the human being every time he sleeps. Whereas a person can experience something of the karma that is taking shape for the future, when he wakes from sleep he has in the feeling I have described a faint, admittedly a very faint, glimpse of his present karma. The moment of waking brings a faint indication of what an individual bears within him from his past earthly lives. This is of course taken into what the astral body and the ego radiate when from the tips of the fingers and toes they spread through the body. A very burdensome karma, a karma that is difficult to bear, radiates unhealthy material deposits into the head, whereas a good karma radiates health-bringing deposits. And it is here that the spiritual and the natural make contact. The good in a man's karma radiates the healthy states of the organism into the head in the morning and clarifies it; healthy elements radiate upwards from good karma. From bad karma, from the residue of whatever guilt has been incurred, unhealthy deposits in the human organism are reduced to a kind of vapour which rises up into the head. The head then feels dull and heavy. The weaving of karma right into the physical can be perceived from the condition prevailing on waking in the morning. Karma takes shape through the alternating effects of sleeping and waking life. Now just as the karma that takes shape from what we have done every day of our life until its end, signifies in sleep during the night what the momentarily formed thoughts signify during the day, so does that mighty spectacle encountered when we have slept from evening to morning signify the cosmic memories of our past karma. Just as we have personal memories when we wake, from going to sleep until waking we have our karmic memories, if our consciousness extends so far. Memories of the different lives through which we have passed on Earth come to meet us. Soon after going to sleep there can be revealed to one who is able to understand such experiences through Initiation wisdom and Initiation insight, the last Earth-life, the last Earth-life but one and so on, right back to lives which become indefinite because the individual himself was then still living in the universal All, with a dreamlike, plant-like consciousness. Thus sleep is actually the window through which man looks at his karma. He becomes familiar with his karma and works at its further shaping during sleep through the deeds and thoughts which fill his waking life. This is the first weaving of karma: it takes place during sleep. We have already considered a second weaving that takes place during the first decades after death.

We shall acquire a more serious conception of life when the significance of sleep has been grasped in this way, when we realise that we sink into sleep every night because it is then that we work at the formation of our karma, and because it is during sleep that our karma from previous earthly lives finds the way whereby it can play a part in our daily life. From the night, karma gradually enters into our daily life and we bring something quite definite with us into the day. An individual who can recollect clearly how at one point in his life a particularly significant event occurred to him, will, if he has a more intimate, finely developed faculty of introspection, easily perceive that if, let us say, this event took place in the afternoon, ever since morning an inner restlessness was impelling him towards it. Most people who can perceive something of the sort will have had the feeling that from the morning onwards they had been moving towards an event that was to be significant in their life. Such an event—if it was a really fateful although entirely unexpected event—affected all the preceding hours of the day. On days when something important is to happen to us we do not wake up exactly as we do on days that take their usual course—only we do not notice it. Those who used to lead the life of peasants on the land—such people knew about these things and did not like to be torn suddenly out of sleep, because when there is no gradual transition into the waking life of day one is wrested away from such intimate experiences. Peasants say that on waking one should never look at the window at once but away from it, so that while the light is still dim one can become aware of what is emerging from sleep. The peasant will not at once look at the window nor does he like to be startled into waking suddenly; he likes to be wakened naturally, at the same time every morning by the church bell, so that he can prepare himself for this through the whole period of sleep. Then the day dawns, the church bell sounds into his life and then, in the early morning he has inklings of his destiny, of events of destiny, not those resulting from acts of free will. This is what he likes to happen and unlike people claiming to be highly civilised he would hate to be wakened by an alarum clock, for that drives one with dead certainty away from everything spiritual—much more forcibly, of course, than the window looked at immediately on waking. But our modern culture has introduced materialism into all the circumstances of life and will continue to do so. There is a great deal in modern life which makes it impossible for men to perceive the spirit living and weaving in the world. The more aware they become of that indefinite, half mystical influence which can radiate from sleep, the more clearly is their attention directed to their karma.

And now you will understand why I was able to say that we readily dream of individuals whom we meet in life and to whom we at once feel drawn or the reverse, quite independently of whatever outer impression they make. What is happening in such cases? These are individuals with whom we were together in earlier lives on Earth. Let us say that in the afternoon of 14th June, 1924, we have had the experience of meeting someone we perhaps dislike. We now carry into sleep the experience that gave rise to the feeling of dislike. But there, in sleep, the karma is revealed; this person stands before us as he was in the last earthly life or in the last but one, and so on; we meet him as he was in his earlier life. We encounter everything we experienced in connection with this individual who has now appeared and who simply reminded us of something—we meet him as a bodily figure, but in a spiritual way. No wonder that we begin to dream of him; with ordinary consciousness we cannot do otherwise. But if we come across an individual for the first time, however beautiful or ugly his features may be or however strongly he interests us, in our sleep we never meet him, for he was never with us in earlier lives on Earth. No wonder we cannot dream of him! You see how transparent such things become when he facts are examined spiritually.

Now what transpires between sleeping and waking in the forming of karma may follow a normal, perfectly normal course. Then a man will experience how his destiny takes shape as the fulfilment of what he brought upon himself in earlier earthly fives. Or he will experience the ultimate karmic value of what he thinks or does in this present fife. It will as a rule live itself out in what he thinks or does. But something quite different may come about.

Suppose a man who is living on the Earth today achieved in deed or thought something of real importance in an earlier life. The karmic result of this does not lie in the physical body or in the etheric body which are inherited from the parents, but it lies in the astral body and ego—the members which are outside the physical and etheric bodies during sleep at night. But suppose that this karmic load has such strength that it cannot wait until the age of life when the astral body may be weak, for in old age muscles and bones have already become brittle. Let us take seventy years—the patriarchal age—to be the normal length of a man's life on Earth. In these seventy years man's astral body and ego also undergo development. The astral body of a child can work strongly and forcefully upon the whole physical and etheric organism; it can hammer, as it were, upon muscles and bones. In old age this is no longer possible, for the astral body then becomes relatively weak. The strength of the ego increases but it withdraws into the weaker astral body and hence works with less power. The astral body, however, is particularly responsible here, for in old age it is no longer able to hammer effectively upon muscles and bones. Now imagine that someone is living at the present time, in the twentieth century, having lived before in the fourteenth or eleventh century. During his life in the eleventh century he performed a really significant act, one that made very strong impressions on the astral body. The ensuing result remains in the astral body and when the man comes again in the twentieth century it wants to be finally fulfilled and from this astral body to give the necessary stimulus. When the result of the experience in the eleventh century is of such significance that it cannot make use of a feeble, aged astral body hardly capable of performing important deeds, then it must use an astral body in the early years of life. And if the event has been so important as to eclipse all other events of life, a great deal must be compressed into the period while the astral body is still youthful. What does this mean? It means that the individual concerned will have a short life in the twentieth-century incarnation. Here you see how the length of life is determined by the consequences of former earthly thoughts and deeds being anchored in the astral body.

We now go further. Think, for instance, of an astral body that is positively inflated as the result of important deeds—particularly evil deeds—in an earlier incarnation; such deeds inflate the astral body and it makes a strong impact upon the physical and etheric bodies. This strong impact is not healthy; only a certain normal relation of the astral body to the physical and etheric bodies is healthy. The strong impact which can, for instance, be caused by bad karma, batters the organs, softens them and causes disease. Now comes the second incarnation. Such action or thinking in the eleventh century can inflate the astral body, thereby condemning the individual to death at an early age. But he may fall ill in any case, apart from this violent impact; he may have a severe illness and die from it. That is the physical aspect. For when we see what is going on in the person's physical body, we say: he is ill and the illness ends in death; he falls ill at the age of twenty-five and dies at thirty in consequence of the illness.

Is this also the spiritual aspect? Is this also what would be said by Initiation Science? No! Initiation Science would say the opposite. For it is precisely the earlier significant action or thought that brings about the death in the next earthly life; the deed in the eleventh century brings about the death in the twentieth century. And the death sends the illness on in advance ... a man becomes ill so that he may die at the right moment. The consequence of the later death, which is a karmic necessity, is, as you now realise, the illness which is sent in advance. That is the spiritual aspect. When one rises from the physical world to the spiritual world everything is in fact reversed; it takes the opposite course and we see how the illness is karmically brought into man. That is the karmic aspect of illness. This karmic aspect of illness can be an extremely important factor for diagnosis. It need not immediately be discussed with the patient but it may certainly be important. If you bear in mind that what is contained in karma has its own definite place, you will certainly discover it.

Diagram III

Now if the significant incident, action or thought affecting another human being or some particular matter occurred in an immediately preceding incarnation, let us say in the eleventh century, when we are asleep we encounter what took place in that century before anything dating from a still earlier incarnation, let us say in the second century B.C. Thus we gradually encounter what has happened to us in earlier earthly lives. But if one begins here (pointing to the sketch) then what is encountered first is what has made the way from here to here. The karma comes to meet us; but this means that what is above here has come from what is below, perhaps from the heart; something that is low down in the organism and was affected in the previous incarnation comes, however, from the head. In the case of illness, therefore, when we see how far back the influential events lie, karma can indicate to us that an affection, let us say, of the legs, comes from incarnations in the relatively near past, whereas a symptom of illness in the head comes from incarnations in the relatively far distant past. Thus the transition from the spiritual into the physical can also be indicated by karma.

What results from this is extremely important for therapy. For where must we seek the remedy for illness affecting the head and for illness affecting the legs? The remedy for illness affecting the head will be found in what existed far, far back in the evolutionary process of Nature, in what is reminiscent of very early Nature-processes, for instance, mushrooms, which in their present imperfect form recapitulate an earlier plant formation, or in algae and lichens, or, in the case of the fully developed plant, in the root, since that is the part that has remained at the earliest stage. Illness in the lower body and more towards its periphery will have to be healed with what appeared at a later stage in the evolution of Nature, namely, blossoms, flowering plants or also with later formations in the mineral kingdom. Whatever is a late development in man must be healed with what is also a late development in Nature. In the head, too, there are, of course, organs which are comparatively late formations. When the Earth was still recapitulating the Moon-evolution and Sun-evolution, man existed without his present eyes, in general without sense-organs, although the first rudiments of them were already present during the Saturn-evolution. As they are today, mirroring the outer world inwardly, they are a relatively late product of evolution, appearing at the same time, for instance, as siliceous substance in its present form on the Earth. Silica as it is today is a late product in the evolution of the world of Nature, although its rudiments were laid in the far, far past.

Hence when silicic acid is correctly administered as a remedy it acts upon everything belonging to the nerves-and-senses system, especially the senses, through the whole organism. In their present form the senses developed in an age when rocks containing silica also appeared in their present form. In the first incarnation which can still be called an incarnation, when with our whole bodily make-up we were a more integral part of Nature, we lived, simply in accordance with our karma, an existence shared with different forms of plant and animal life, the successors of which are here to-day. The mushrooms and the roots of plants are unlike what they were in that early epoch but in a certain way what is present to-day in the mushrooms, lichens, algae and roots of plants is reminiscent of the conditions prevailing in our first definite incarnation. In the blossoms and flowering plants of today and in minerals at a corresponding stage ... (a gap in the transcript here). I bring this before you only to show how a true observation of karma leads to stages in the evolution of Nature. And from the relation of Nature to Man we can recognise how to heal. Every branch of life must ultimately be widened in such a way that it gradually becomes spiritual knowledge. Everything else is so much groping and fumbling, an existence in spiritual darkness, and it is this that has brought mankind into the present situation. If men are to emerge from it again they must grasp the reason for it in clear consciousness, that is to say, knowledge of the physical must be widened to knowledge of the spiritual. And nothing can lead more positively to realisation of the spiritual than the study of karma.

When we picture how the forming of karma proceeds from sleep, how again it passes into and through sleep, how the normal forming of karma impels a man to action, makes his action again subject to karma and how he thus lives out the ordinary karma of life—from all this we see how karma works. When again we see how the life of an individual is shortened and he dies at an early age, indicating that karma has inflated his astral body and must make strong demands upon it as the result of past deeds, thus contributing to illness—everywhere the working of karma is in evidence. Or let us suppose a man has an accident and is ill as a result; then, under certain circumstances, such an accident—which is possibly, but not necessarily, determined by karma—can continue to be a factor in the further course of karma through the following lives on Earth. Illness may also be the beginning of karma and then it will be found that such illnesses make going to sleep an unwelcome and difficult process. But when illnesses are the beginning of karma they have something consoling about them.

In the case of many illnesses the following must be said: illnesses that are a fulfilment of karma, that make waking unpleasant, point to previous experiences; illnesses that are an augury of future karma and make going to sleep an unwelcome and difficult process are the beginning of good karma. For there will be compensation for what is suffered in such an illness. We have the pain now and afterwards the compensation for the pain, the uplifting, joyous experience. A great deal in life looks different when viewed from the spiritual and not from the physical standpoint. It is sometimes a thoroughly painful physical experience not to be able to sleep, but true observation of the spiritual aspect can be comforting. And if we do not value the momentary physical effect above the spiritual life we can actually say: Thank goodness that I so often have difficulty in going to sleep, for that is a sign that I shall experience much that will be uplifting in my future earthly life; a great deal from my present life will pass into the next one.

Sleeplessness can sometimes be a good comforter and if it were not karmically beneficial in its spiritual aspect, it would be much more harmful than it actually is. Many people tell one such legends about their long bouts of sleeplessness that from the medical point of view one might well ask how comes it that they are still alive! Normal sleep is essential for normal life. People tell one for how long they have not slept; one can only wonder that they are still alive for they really ought to be dead and yet they are not! But in such circumstances the vivifying spiritual element contained in the ego penetrates into life as compensation. To a brief survey of life it is obvious that really restful sleep after hard struggles and hard work is also at times desirable. But to lie in complete restfulness without sleeping and to pass the night quietly and fully awake is nevertheless the more desirable because when it is done of set purpose a person then becomes more and more aware of the Eternal. But the will must be in operation; the condition must not, in essentials at least, be due to physiological causes. Nevertheless there is karmic consolation for difficulty in going to sleep and in sleeplessness, for this really points to future karma, points to the future in certain respects.