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Learning to See in the Spiritual World
GA 350

II. The Uses of What Seems Boring: The Spiritual World as the Inverse of the Physical

30 June 1923, Dornach

We will now continue to answer the questions we took up last time. You must be quite clear that the answers to these questions are among the most difficult. I will try to make them as easy as possible. I have already mentioned that, to find a way to spiritual vision, first one must become accustomed to completely independent thinking. Second, one must have the ability to think backward. You must therefore attempt to think backward those things that normally occur in daily life in a 1, 2, 3, sequence. For instance, as I told you last time, when I give a lecture, you should try to think it through backward, from the end to the beginning. These two aspects constitute the absolute first steps.

In connection with the second question I want to explain something else. As you know, a human being can live only within a specific temperature range. When it becomes very hot in the summer, one sweats but can still tolerate it. However, were it to become progressively hotter, a point would be reached when one would no longer be able to live. Similarly, a human being can tolerate a given degree of cold, and if it gets colder than that, one freezes.

The fact is that one cannot see spiritual beings between the two extremes within which the human body lives: i.e., between the cold at which one freezes and the heat that is still barely tolerable. Within these extremes, where human life is possible, we cannot see spiritual beings. It is not surprising therefore that one cannot perceive spiritual beings when one is in the body.

As I told you last time, when we begin to think backward and approach the point of consciously seeing spiritual beings, we often fall asleep. Unless they have trained themselves to stay awake, most people go to sleep.

One can also perceive spiritual beings at temperatures higher than those normally tolerable. One could see spiritual beings at such higher temperatures, but of course one cannot tolerate them. At lower temperatures likewise one could perceive spiritual beings if one could transform oneself into a snow-being, but of course one would freeze in the process. Thus, what seems so unlikely to people is actually a fact: spiritual beings withdraw themselves from the temperatures that are tolerable to humanity in its physical body.

A human being cannot tolerate those temperatures in his body, but he can tolerate them in his soul; but of course the soul goes to sleep. The soul does not freeze, the soul does not burn, the soul goes to sleep.

There are two ways to gain an idea of what it would be like to experience the extreme temperatures outside those one ordinarily lives in. I will give you an example. When one has a fever, one reaches inwardly a temperature that one cannot bear. One does not immediately reach so high a temperature that one dies because the warmth is created from within, one is able to bear it. However, when one's fever enters these higher temperatures one may speak in a way that is not normal on the earth. What people babble in their fever has no relation to what we are used to on earth. Now, the materialist may say: Yes, but there are nevertheless untrue thoughts produced that are cooked up in the heat of fever.

A person, when he enters into a state of high temperature, first of all feels feverish, then speaks nonsense. The soul cannot speak nonsense. Even when the soul is living in a high fever, it cannot speak nonsense. It seems or appears to speak nonsense at higher bodily temperatures because the body is not in order.

You can verify the truth of this by the following example. Let us think about our experience with those glass spheres one sometimes finds in flower gardens—a sphere that is actually a kind of mirror in which the environment is reflected. If you look at yourself in one of these, you will find yourself with a face that you would rather not have n reality. (He sketched this.) You would hate to have that kind of face. You will not say, however, "Oh no! What kind of a thing did I turn into?" You would not believe that this is really your own face, just because it looks changed in the sphere. Similarly, if your soul talks nonsense when you have a fever, you will not say that your soul is talking nonsense; but rather you will assume that whatever is said by your soul seems nonsensical because it is spoken out of a sick brain—just as your face looks distorted and flattened out because it is reflected by a false mirror. So you must say to yourself: When I have a fever and speak nonsense, it is my soul that is speaking through a sick brain. When I see myself reflected in a glass sphere, it is not that I have another face, but that my face appears distorted. In the same way the speech of one sick with a fever appears distorted because it is spoken out of a sick body and a brain that is not working properly.

Now, we might ask why the brain does not work properly? It is because the whole blood circulation is too fast. You can verify this by feeling your pulse when you have a fever. The blood circulation produces warmth which rises to the head—you feel a fever—and your soul now appears reflected as by a distorted mirror.

The opposite can also happen, but this will not happen as a result of lying in the snow and letting oneself freeze, because then one would actually die of freezing. This opposite experience can happen, but only as the result of something spiritual.

We come now to a strange subject. Carefully consider the following: Let's assume one begins to concentrate, to think powerfully about the smallest things (it is better to think about the small things that most people wouldn't even want to give time to)—for example, a triangle. Let us say we have a triangle, and we divide it into four equal parts so that we have four equal triangles. (He draws on the blackboard).

Diagram I

You can see that the whole triangle is greater than the four smaller triangles. From this I can make a general statement and say: The whole is greater than the parts. (He writes the sentence on the blackboard.) But now let's assume that a well-fed stockbroker comes by and I tell him: Hey, just think, the whole is greater than its parts. He will say, No, that is too boring for me. He would say it again if I continued to speak to him and said: the blackboard is a physical body with a given size and extension, the table is also a body with a given size and extension, and I then constructed the general statement: All bodies have extension—are extended in space. (He writes the sentence on the blackboard.)

If a whole conference were given to you, if a lecture was given consisting in the single statement "all bodies have extension," you would walk away, saying, Gosh, that was boring! Let's say I were to come to you and make other obvious remarks like the meadow is green, the rose is red, these things have colors, and yesterday there was a trial in court and the judge passed judgment, the judgment had no color. Then I went to another place and there also was a trial and a judgment, and it had no color either. And therefore I said: judgments have no color. (He writes the sentence on the blackboard.)

Let's assume someone stood in front of you for an hour and told you: judgments have no color. You would think to yourself: I have spent a whole hour listening to someone bore me. This is the ultimate boredom. But why are these statements so boring? I should not be telling them to you humorously; I should be standing before you stiff and severe like a professor, announcing: Gentlemen, today we will consider the statement, "Judgments have no color," and then of course I would have to lecture for a whole hour to prove that judgments have no color; all bodies have extension etc.

I could also give you another instance: draw a line from one point to another; this is a straight line. All others are curved, and when you look at it you would immediately say the straight line is the shortest way; all others are longer. Here again I could write down a general statement: The straight line is the shortest distance between two points. Again, if I were to speak for a whole hour on the subject, you would find it exceedingly boring.


There is a German professor who said that it is quite possible to perceive things of the spiritual world, but that the only things that we can perceive of the spiritual world are what reside in such statements as: the whole is greater than its parts, judgments have no color, bodies are extended, and the straight line is the shortest distance between two points. This, he says, is all one can know of the spiritual world. Of course, most students are extremely bored by his lectures. It is also the case that people today have come to believe that science has to be boring, and therefore many of the students are actually excited by this professor! This, of course, is just an aside.

The real story is the following. Taken by themselves, sentences such as "the whole is greater than its parts" and "the straight line is the shortest distance between two points" cause the back of our head to become cold. This is what usually happens: the temperature drops and the area at the back of one's head becomes cold. When the temperature drops you begin to freeze and you want to get away from such statements—they are so boring. It is a fact—boredom causes a drop in temperature at the back of the head—not the whole body, but just at the back of the head. What cools it down is not snow or ice but something of a spiritual nature, insofar as there are subjects that hold no interest for the human being.

It is of course possible to make fun of these sentences, but the fact remains, that patiently to think such thoughts over and over again means to put oneself, again and again, deliberately into a state of dreadful boredom, and this is a good way to reach in the direction of a true spiritual perception. It is remarkable that the very things men do not want in general are the things they must practice if they wish to have a real look into the spiritual world. Mathematics for many is boring; it causes a drop in temperature at the back of the head; and precisely because it is a cold subject for most, and precisely because they have to work at it, those people who do, have the least trouble reaching into the spiritual world. Those who overcome this resistance and experience again and again the truth of these statements are those who can create artificially a state of boredom in themselves. They have the easiest way into the spiritual world.

I have told you already, when one has a fever one's pulse speeds up. One warms up, and this warmth reaches into one's head and into one's brain, and in this way the warmth causes one to talk nonsense. If, on the other hand, one struggles with such statements as we have mentioned, this causes one's blood to slow down, and there is an accumulation of salts deposited in the back of the brain. Most people react in one of two ways to this. Some get a stomachache and they notice this right away, as soon as they start to think of these statements, and so they stop. One can go on thinking, as for example Nietzsche did. He always tortured himself with such statements when he was a young man, and the salts accumulated in his head, and in his case he suffered dreadful migraines. The objective is to be able to think such thoughts without causing a migraine or a stomachache.

One must find a way to be completely healthy while at the same time artificially producing in oneself a state of boredom. Thus, if someone were to tell you quite honestly how to reach into the spiritual world, he would have to tell you first of all to learn how to create boredom artificially in yourself. Short of this you have no hope of reaching the spiritual world. But look now at our contemporary world. What is it that people want at this time? People today are constantly trying to drive away boredom. Just look at all the things and all the places people run to in order not to be bored. They always want to be amused; but what does that mean, to want to be amused all the time? It means that they really want to run away from the spirit! It has no other meaning; and people today always want to be amused, which makes it clear that wherever anything spiritual might be present people of our time always run away from it immediately. People are not conscious of this, they do it unconsciously, but the fact remains that they want amusement and to run away from the spirit.

Well, gentlemen, only those can reach into the spirit who are not afraid of renouncing amusements and of living in such sentences. When one can manage to live artificially in those sentences without getting a stomachache or a migraine, but can actually tolerate living in such sentences for many hours at a time, then it becomes possible to contemplate the spiritual world.

An additional change must take place in this act of holding oneself consciously in these sentences. One notices, if one has been living with these sentences for a while, that they start to turn around. If I think about the sentence "the large triangle is greater than its parts" for a long time, if I think about it for a very long time, there comes a point when the sentence somehow turns around. It even starts to become interesting, for I start to have the following perception: If I have a triangle here, and I consider one quarter of that triangle and take it out, it somehow begins to grow with me and it no longer remains true that the whole is greater than the parts. Suddenly that quarter part is larger for me, I see that it has grown, so that I now must say: The whole is smaller than the parts! (The sentence is written on the blackboard.) By doing this, I have worked myself into a position where I can see how things work in the spiritual world. Things there are the opposite of the way they are in the physical world.

In the physical world, the whole is always greater than its parts. In the spiritual world, the part is greater than the whole. It is impossible to know a human being without knowing that the part is greater than the whole.

Contemporary science always wants to look at the smallest parts, the components of things. If, for example, we study the liver of a person, we find that it is smaller than the person in the physical realm. But if we start looking at it from a spiritual point of view, we find that it grows and grows to gigantic proportions; it actually becomes a whole world in itself. If one cannot see this, then it is impossible to perceive the liver at all in a spiritual way. Therefore you must first honestly arrive at the statement: the whole is smaller than the part, or the part is greater than the whole.

In the same way, if you think for a long time—long enough—about the statement: All bodies have surfaces, or are extended, then there is a danger that the back of your brain will freeze. If you think upon this sentence in this way, all the bodies shrivel into one; they stop having surfaces—external surfaces—and in the end you arrive at the statement: Bodies do not have surfaces, they are not extended. (The sentence is written on the blackboard.)

Now I will take a funny example, funny for the physical world, but of the highest seriousness in the spiritual world. It could seem that there is nothing more foolish than to say: in Buxtehude there was a trial, and judgment was passed—it has no color. In Trippstrill, judgment was passed in the course of a trial—and this also had no color. But if you think about judgments for a long time, they in fact acquire color. Just as you can say the rose is red, so you can say the judgment in Buxtehude was a kind of dirty yellow, and the judgment in Trippstrill was red. There can even be some judgments that are a beautiful red, although this is rarely the case.

As you begin to understand this, you begin to grow into the sentence: All judgments made by human beings have color. (The sentence is written on the blackboard) Only now does one reach the point of being at all capable of thinking about the spiritual world, because it has the opposite characteristics of the physical world.

The straight line is the shortest path between two points. This is true to such an extent that all geometry is built upon it. It is one of the first statements in geometry. It is as true in the physical world as anything ever can be true in the physical world. But if one thinks about it long enough—if some being goes from village A to village B, and that being is not a physical but a spiritual being, the way will seem very short if he walks in a half circle. The sentence then changes to: The straight line is the longest way between two points.(The sentence is written on the blackboard.)


You must admit there is something here that astonishes you, but the world as a whole does not like these kinds of things, and people will say: If someone says that judgments have color, he must have a fever or he is mad! Of course, the whole point is that one reaches these things in full consciousness without the use of one's body. The spiritual world has characteristics that are the opposite of the physical world and one may come to this realization through the simplest statements, for the simplest statements are the hardest to believe.

As you know, if someone starts telling you interesting things about the spiritual world, everybody starts listening; for instance, if someone starts talking about ghosts. But if someone tells you first that you must get used to creating boredom in yourself artificially—it has to be artificially—this doesn't seem so interesting. If you are just naturally bored by external science, nothing comes of it; it has to be done artificially, through an inner effort that enables you to reach the state of boredom without getting a migraine or a stomachache. The body must not participate in that state of boredom. The moment your body is involved, it is clear that you will get a migraine or a stomachache. Don't listen when people tell you, Do not let professor so and so bore you. Such advice will be of no help, it will not make you see into the spiritual world. What you must do is gradually overcome both migraines and stomachaches.

You see, the student is sitting here—the professor bores him to death—he should be getting a migraine or a stomachache, but he doesn't. What happens in this case is that other organs come into play which do not hurt. People, in fact, do get sick when the physical body is involved in the boredom. If you induce the boredom in the way contemporary science does, it only makes people sick.

If one teaches people in the right way, one gives them the ability to produce, through their own powers, in total freedom, the boredom which, when penetrated, will gradually allow entrance to the spiritual world. One must take hold of absolutely basic judgments in the physical world and see how they are turned upside-down in the spiritual world.

There is one extremely good way in which it is possible to work on oneself. For example: let us say you have experienced something very boring, so boring that you walked away from it because it was so boring, so boring that you could not stand it anymore, (you were so happy when it was over!) In such a case it is important that you start very, very slowly thinking it through again. Let me tell you that I have learned a great deal from this kind of exercise in my life. When I was young, I listened to many dreadfully boring lectures; but before it even started, I would look forward to a boring lecture, because it brought about the kind of result sleep normally does in life. I was very happy. I would tell myself: You are going to listen to a few hours of boring lectures. When the lecture started and the professor started to speak, I often had the feeling: He is talking too much, he is disturbing me in my boredom. But afterward I would think very deeply about every single thing he had said, not that it interested me—it didn't interest me at all—but I relived every single hour. I relived it from the very beginning exactly the way it had been presented. Sometimes I went over it so thoroughly that it would actually take two hours. I would have two hours of artificial boredom. In this process, one can make an extraordinary discovery. This kind of discovery is one that could be made at the end of the nineteenth century. Imagine that you have come out of a lecture by a giant rhinoceros—this can happen!—and that you have been bored to death.

Now you can meditate, as the saying goes, on this boring lecture, bringing everything that was boring back into yourself, into your soul. Then suddenly, behind that giant rhinoceros of a man who was presenting you with all this boring stuff, a higher man, something like a completely spiritual human being, will emerge. The whole lecture hall is thereby transformed for you. I am putting this in a way you can understand rationally. The lecture hall becomes transformed in such a way that behind the professor the spiritual—a truly and deeply intelligent man—appears. I knew many professors of the nineteenth century with whom this was the case; but of course I don't want you to talk about this, because people would think it a terrible thing. For the truth is that humans are not inwardly as unconscious or as stupid as they pretend to be. Often they are quite smart. The dumbest are often quite smart, and the opposite is also true. But they don't know their own intelligence. It is a very deep secret: behind a person there often stands the true nature of his soul and spirit, which he cannot perceive in himself. This is already a way of reaching into the spiritual world.

As you know, at the end of the nineteenth century there existed a materialistic natural science, and people today still adore this materialist science. I must admit however, that this science was tremendously useful to me. What it did, from start to finish, was bring up the most boring statements. It is as if the modern scientist licks his fingers with enjoyment when he thinks he has discovered that all humans descended from apes. But if one thinks about this statement again and again, with complete energy, it changes! It changes into another statement that is spiritually correct. That is to say, humans do not descend from apes but from a spiritual being.

There are different points of view here. A child was once sent to school. There he heard for the first time from his teacher that humanity is descended from apes—too early as it turned out. When he returned home, he said to his father, "Hey, I heard today that humanity is descended from apes. Just think of that!" "Well," said his father indignantly, "You're certainly a stupid fellow. That may be the case for you, if you like, but not for me!" You see, for the father—he took it with reference to the soul—the story was quite unbelievable.

From all that I have told you you will see that one can find one's way into natural scientific thinking in two ways. If you have not studied natural science, as many did in the nineteenth century and indeed still do, instead of simply parroting the conclusions, you can think about them—but think about them in a meditative way. Think them over for hours and hours, and you will find that what is true in the spiritual world comes forward. If you think for a long time about plants and minerals, and you have thought all the things about them that people tell you these days in such a dreadfully materialistic way, then you finally come to the meaning of things like the meaning of the zodiac, the meaning of the stars, all the secrets of the stars.

The surest way to this goal is to start with those simple statements that are taken for granted, and proceed forward from there. The part is greater than the whole, bodies have no extension, judgments have color, the straight line is the longest path between two points. In saying these kinds of sentences you tear yourself away from your physical body. When you have experienced all this, you come to the point where you can use your etheric body instead of your physical body. You can then start thinking with your etheric body—your etheric body thinks everything upside-down, or in the reverse of the way it appears in the physical world. It is the etheric body that gradually brings one into the spiritual world. At precisely this point, however, very often one gets stuck: one must still accustom oneself to one thing more.

You may know that one can read very strange things these days. I was in a small southern Austrian town (which is no longer in Austria) and I found an evening paper. It had a so-called editorial; it was a very interesting story, in all detail—every particular—a political story. There were three columns—it was all very interesting. Then at the end—still on the same page, there was a small disclaimer that said: We are sorry to notify our readers that everything in today's editorial article is based on false information and therefore not a word of it is true! This is the kind of thing that can happen to you today. This of course is rather an extreme case, but whenever you read newspapers it can happen that on every single page there is something that is not true at all. At some later point what one is now reading will be exposed as untrue. My feeling is that most people have become dreadfully insensitive in such matters, and they take in, quite evenhandedly, both truth and lies. The mind has become blunted in this way, so that truth and lies are both taken in the same way. This makes it impossible to reach into the spiritual world.

I told you last time that when someone becomes crazy, only his body is sick; the soul is not sick, it remains healthy. I told you that when someone hallucinates in a fever, it is only his thoughts that become caricatures—for the soul itself is intact. One must get used to these things, if one wants to penetrate the spiritual world. One must get used to feeling pain in one's soul when something is not right, and to finding that something that is correct gives one a spiritual joy. One must rejoice about the truth the way one would if one were to receive a million dollars. One must be happy when one is told some truth. The opposite case is that when something is discovered to be a lie, a suffering is felt in the soul—not in the body—suffering as if one had a dreadful illness. The suffering need not be so severe that the soul has to become sick, but it must be possible for the soul to experience pain and joy just as, when the body is disturbed in a physical way, one feels pain and joy. This means that one must come to the point where one feels the truth in the same way that one experiences happiness, cheerfulness, and general pleasure in the physical world. One must eventually come to the point where one suffers such pain in the face of untruth that one's soul becomes sick—as one can be in a bodily way. If someone heaps lies upon you, you must be able to say inwardly: Damn it, this person has just sold me deadly nightshade. This must be true in an inner way. Now of course, if you look at the current world—for instance, at the newspapers—one eats that deadly nightshade all the time. You must constantly nourish yourself spiritually, for the soul has to remain healthy. You must continually be spitting out what is bad, spiritually, if your spirit is to remain healthy. One has to get used to this fact, because one cannot be without newspapers. Once you come to the spiritual world, you will have to be used to the bad taste of newspapers; and to feeling joy when you read something exceptionally good—the same kind of joy, in my opinion, that you would have when you eat something that tastes very good.

Truth, and the striving for truth, must taste good to you; and lies, once you are conscious of them, must taste bitter and poisonous. You must not only know that judgments have color, but also that printer's ink nowadays is mostly wild cherry juice. You must be able to experience this in all honesty and rectitude, and once you can do so you will be in a state of spiritual transformation. People read these days about alchemy, and believe it in an external way. They believe that they can change copper to gold, and there are charlatans who will tell you all kinds of superstitious variations of this. Of course, in the spiritual world these things are possible; but one must believe in the truth of the spirit. One must be able to tell oneself that the printer's ink used is the same everywhere, materially, whether it has printed a true book or a lying newspaper. In the second case, the printer's ink is really the wild cherry juice, and in the other it is like liquid gold. Things that in the physical world are exactly the same are quite different in the spirit. Of course, if intelligent people today hear the statement "printer's ink can be liquid gold or wild cherry juice" they will tell you that you are only speaking 'metaphorically'. It is only a metaphor! But the meta-phorical must become spiritual reality and one needs to understand how metaphors become spiritual.

I will give you an example—it actually comes out of the history of the Social Democratic party. You probably did not experience this as much in this country. At one point the party split; on one side were those led by Bernstein—happily making all kinds of compromises with the middle class—and on the other side, led by Bebel, were the radicals.5Eduard Bernstein (1850-1932), socialist theoretician, writer, and politician, who rejected revolution and established revisionism as a moderate, evolutionary path for socialism in the 1890's.

August Bebel (1840-1913), co-founder of the Social Democratic Labor Party with William Liebknecht in 1869, writer, politician.
I am sure you have heard about Bebel in books. At one point in Dresden there was a party convention, and Bebel got angry about the others and said he was going to put some order into social democracy. He gave a big angry speech. In the course of it he said: Well, if this or that happens on the other side, it feels like a louse running across my liver. Now everybody would say this is only meant metaphorically. Of course there is no such thing as a louse on his liver! But then one can ask: Why use such an expression? Why is it possible to speak in terms that suggest a louse walked on your liver? For the most part it is extremely unpleasant when people have lice, it is extremely unpleasant; it is actually a distressing feeling.

Not everyone is as lucky as a certain sorry fellow who was always picking lice from his head. Someone asked him once, "How is it that you are so skillful and always manage to find a louse?" He answered, "Its easy. If I miss the one I'm aiming for, I get the one beside it." It does not happen to all of us to aim for a louse and miss and still get one!

Generally, when people have lice, it's terribly unpleasant—a horrible feeling. I remember a case when I was a tutor and one of the boys entrusted to me came home after being out. He had been sitting on all kinds of benches in a big city and he started to have dreadful pains in his eyes. Everyone was wondering which specialist to take him to for his terrible pains but I said, "Why don't we first try a lice-killing cream on his eyebrows?" Indeed, it was then noticed that he was full of lice, and once the cream went to work, his eyes stopped tearing. Now, you should have seen how upset people—the mother and the aunt—looked when they suddenly discovered that he had lice. Their feelings were so intense that they had repercussions in their livers; they had pains in their bellies. They said, "My God, our child has lice, what a terrible thing!" When this happened, the sensation was really as though they had lice running across their livers.

In the case of the Social Democratic party, it was not a matter of people getting lice, but rather of some people doing things that seemed so awful, so repugnant to the others, that the sensation was the same—the same as would have been experienced in earlier times, or would still be experienced in some classes of society, at the thought of having lice on one's liver. So you can see, in the way the expression was formed, it did correspond to a reality. Latterly, however, these expressions have been used in a way that only refers to spiritual matters or matters of the soul. But again, one has consciously, deliberately, to make those connections. One must really be able to experience, not just the sound of the phrase, but the actual sensation that it came from.

Let us say I have a newspaper in front of me: most of the things that are printed in it must be felt by me as if the printer's ink was a somewhat toxic deadly nightshade juice. I wonder what people would do if they truly experienced that these days? Think for a moment how much deadly nightshade juice is used when, for instance, people talk about war guilt—Germany's war guilt in the first World War, or Germany's innocence in the war—and the fact that people, just by reason of belonging to this or that nation, feel comfortable when they claim innocence, using all manner of untruthful statements. They feel good doing this, but not because what they say is actually true.

So, how in today's world can one reach the spirit? One must, first of all, make a firm decision, a very intense commitment, to be very different from these contemporaries—and yet get along with them. For of course it is not going to be very helpful to just stand on a stage and insult people. One way or another, one has to find an avenue for truth. This is extremely difficult, as I have shown you today. Today I had to present difficult things so that you would see that it is not easy to enter the spiritual world. You will see that it is good to work with difficult things. Later on we will come to things that are easier, less strenuous. Next time, I will show you the whole way into the spiritual world.