In Joyous Celebration of the Soul Art and Music of Discipleship
– a moderately serious introductory sketch unveiling
a mostly American way of understanding the New Thinking –
first some necessary context
Recently in the News for Members of the Anthroposophical Society in America (late 2005), was published a wonderful lecture given by Dennis Klocek (author of Climate: Soul of the Earth), elaborating the alchemical foundations living in Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual scientific work. The essay below means to be something from just one voice out of another of the streams that seeks to find its home within the Anthroposophical Society and Movement – the stream of discipleship, of those who are karmically related to the original Twelve and the direct participation in certain aspects of the Mystery of Golgotha. [See the essay above (The Meaning…) for why I write this way]
In this essay that follows next, it might help the reader to understand that it is mostly written for, and out of, the American Soul. About this Soul, Rudolf Steiner spoke in different places and in the following ways, which I will paraphrase: The American comes to Anthroposophy naturally. English speakers are instinctively in the Consciousness Soul in their Life of Rights. There is a hidden and unique form of Anthroposophy that is to develop in America in the future, and one should look to Emerson and his circle of friends as instinctive forerunners of this gift.
The reader, of whatever Soul background and gesture, who would seek inner stimulation from actively engaging this essay, should understand that for the American Soul much of what is described below is already instinctively present. This instinctive relationship to the art and music of discipleship appears first in the American Soul in the dominant tendency to be directed outwardly toward the world, fully engaged in social reality, and sometimes (often more frequently than appears on the Evening News) seeking to heal the social world’s wounds. Part of the hidden mystery of this Soul is that it is possible to take what is so present instinctively, and awaken it by gradual degrees into full consciousness. This task may turn out to be far easier for the American Soul, than has so far been imagined within Anthroposophical circles.
To fully inaugurate this gradual awakening, however, does require turning from the outer world and its worries and wonders for a bit, and to look within – to practice introspection. When looking within becomes a normal part of soul life, American anthroposophists (natural and otherwise) should not be surprised to find that they already live instinctively in their wills in ways with considerable kinship with the path of discipleship – the path of moral action in the world through renunciation and love. With the addition of this introspective looking within, we add to the thinking we already do about the field of outer-world social moral action, a complementary and much needed thinking about the soul-field of inner moral action (the kingdom of heaven is inside you – Luke). Outer world thinking and action are enhanced by everything we learn from the practice of looking, thinking and acting within.
By the way, it is not the point of this essay to encourage any divisive distinction, such as might be assumed because of the emphasis on matters American. Nor is it being suggested here, for example, that Americans are any better at Anthroposophy in any way. On the contrary, we are just different. Each Soul gesture in the Threefold World has unique gifts to offer, and this essay means to serve the potential freeing of those yet untapped American gifts from a kind of child-like imitation of things European. This tendency, to model our soul practices on a kind of European anthroposophical idealism of the soul, was a natural impulse connected to our admiration of the work of our European brothers and sisters. It is time to grow past this however, to discover our far more earthly and pragmatic way to the Spirit. And, to do this not only for the benefit of the American Soul Itself, but also for the benefit of the Anthroposophical Movement world-wide as well as world-culture.
There are then two themes, which while related are also quite separate. The relationship of the Alchemical stream and the Discipleship stream is one theme, and the relationship of the American Soul to the wider world is another. The point of intersection, between the Discipleship stream and the instinctive capacities of the American Soul, shows only that the Rosicrucian and Manichean streams of the Old World, and their connection to Initiation, does not quite have the same meaning for the American Soul as does the natural Christ Impulse inspired in Americans, and revealed by their relationship to the outer world of social need (in part a consequence of the fact, that due to its rampant individualism, the Consciousness Soul is developing faster here – See Ben-Aharon’s America’s Global Responsibility: individualism, initiation and threefolding).
The Alchemical stream is a stream of studied spiritual knowledge and of initiation. It is more of the Kings and of Gnosis than of the Shepherds and of Faith. The Discipleship stream is more related to that moral work in life that comes from following the Teachings of Christ, and thus is more of the Shepherds than of the Kings. The disciples, who were meant to be fishers and shepherds of human beings, were not (in general) of the old mystery streams as were the Kings. The Shepherds belong to what was being newly created – to the future Mysteries that are to arise from the social commons. These future Mysteries are not to flow out of the old, now impotent and dysfunctional hierarchically organized Mystery Centers, but from finely and homeopathically distributed Branches and Discussion Groups – that is the New Mysteries are to be born out of and in ordinary social life where groups of individuals draw together (wherever two or more are gathered…).
At the same time, while the America Soul is more naturally of the Shepherd stream, – of the discipleship stream, because of its orientation to outer world moral action, it can by turning inward and seeking a pragmatic introspective life, begin to draw from the wisdom-well of renewed European spiritual life. Rudolf Steiner, in his works on objective philosophical introspection (A Theory of Knowledge Implicit In Goethe’s World Conception; Truth and Knowledge; and The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity) gives us a quite useful generalized map to this introspectively investigated inner territory – a territory that for the American Soul has many different and unique characteristics. With Emerson, we get a similar map, not as exact and scientifically rigorous, but one which nonetheless is more in harmony with the actual rich and complex landscape of the American Soul.
We can then read Steiner to initiate us into our introspective soul voyages, in the most objective and scientific fashion; and, read Emerson for that travelogue, which is more attuned to the unique scenic beauty to be actually found there, given that the American Soul, like the other soul-gestures of the Threefold world, is differently oriented in its fundamental nature.
I have tried here to distinguish two problems that ought not to be confused. This article is not saying that the American Soul and the Discipleship stream are identical, only that there is a definite kinship. What is also being said is that for those in this discipleship stream (of which there are no doubt many – Americans and otherwise – within and without the Society and Movement, and for whom this article also aims to provide greater self-understanding), they will tend to be less attracted to exercises aimed at spiritual development, and more called to moral action in life, which incidental to its true deeds, produces the after effect called: character development.
“For every one step in spiritual development, there must be three steps in character development“. Rudolf Steiner: Knowledge of Higher Worlds and How to Attain It.
[Keep in mind, when thinking about character development, this question: To what aspect of character development do we relate a good sense of humor, laughter, foolishness and dance? Please also note that at one time the word silly meant to be possessed by the sacred.]
This is not to suggest that specific spiritual developmental exercises are unimportant, but rather just to point out that if the moral (character) development lags behind, it more and more becomes a danger that spiritual experience will come toward us in a one-sided way. Further, we need to understand that true heart thinking is almost entirely a consequence of the extent to which the will to do the Good (that is to be moral) is the foundation for all feeling and thinking activities.
To make some of this a little more concrete, we might notice that it would not be uncommon for those drawn to the Discipleship stream to find that their biography involves a need to encounter the 12 Steps of AA, or to have to undertake some similar deep moral-Trial work. Challenges to character development are common in biographies with a strong kinship with the discipleship stream. Which thought then leads us to the essential point. Moral or character development does not result from spiritual exercises, but only from inner and outer actions in the biography, and their related moral dilemmas. The practice of exercises builds capacities in the Soul, while moral actions, both inward and outward, apply these capacities in life (which then purifies the Soul). Christ puts it this way: Blind Pharisee, wash out the inside of the cup and saucer first, if you want the outside to end up clean [for the whole theme, see Matthew 23: 25-28]
Let us review a bit: From a certain point of view, the Alchemical stream is very European, and thus has a tendency to put forward the incarnation of an Ideal as a goal, leading to the emphasis on spiritual exercises, knowledge and initiation. Americans, on the other hand, tend to face the social as a problem to be solved through moral action. This is very pragmatic, for it is not the purity of an ideal that matters as much as being able to do something to help others. In this sense, the stream of Discipleship is more natural to Americans because, in harmony with our engagement with and in the world, as social helpers, discipleship is rooted in moral action – in doing the Good (“…and crown thy Good, with Brotherhood...”).
[Isn’t this Brotherhood also partly related to our ability to help each other experience the katharsis of laughter, especially under dire circumstances. Conversation does have a higher function than light, but then what about a well encouraged giggle? The Shadow cannot abide humor, and runs away when we make fun of it.]
In a sense, the idealism of the European anthroposophist has blinded the American anthroposophist, first by suggesting there is only one way to be anthroposophical (a European soul idealism), and second by failing to appreciate that the American Soul is considerably different. The result is that instead of coming to true self knowledge, we (in America) have been pursuing what is at best a temporary illusion (a goal we really can’t achieve), instead of our developing, more consciously, the earthly (including humorous and joyous), socially oriented and pragmatic instinct that is our given nature.
I hope the above has not been too confusing. Mostly I just wanted to point out certain contextual themes, and leave to the reader’s own thinking precisely what to make of these ideas. In what comes next, where we get more deeply into the pragmatic and the concrete, I hope then that these contextual matters will, as we proceed, begin to make a more practical, and a less abstract, sense.
[a brief biographical note: My interest in introspection began around 35 years ago, in 1971, as a result of a kind of spontaneous awakening in my 31st year. I didn’t call it introspection at that time, but I had become quite awake inwardly, and was only able to orient myself to these experiences using the Gospels. Seven years later, in 1978, I met the work of Rudolf Steiner, and gravitated to his writings on philosophy, particularly A Theory of Knowledge…, and The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. I also became very interested in Goethean Science, projective geometry and all the Steiner material on the social problem, which was my own main outer-world interest. It was over 25 years later, in 1997, that I wrote my first effort at describing what I had learned about the moral nature of the Soul under these two influences: the Gospels and Steiner’s writings on objective philosophical introspection. That essay was called pragmatic moral psychology and can be found on my website . At that time, however, I did not yet know enough about the Shadow, and only now, almost 10 years later, can I write the immediately below with some confidence in my appreciation of the intricacies of these problems in the light of an intimate experience of the threefold double-complex.]
substance, or better yet,
selling water by the river*
*[The river of the soul lies inward in everyone. To teach, as it were, about the soul, is to sell water by the river, to give to someone something that is already right in front of their own true face. In spite of all that exists, for example in our home libraries of Steiner texts etc., there are really only two essential books for the study of the soul: the Book of Life, and the Book of our Own Soul. Learn to read those, and you’ll know the core of what you need to know. A text, even this text, can at best be a word-map describing a territory you’ll only really know by direct experience, however many other books you ever read. The reality of matters spiritual is, however, not found in reading, but only in action. We can acquire a lot of concepts by reading, but we need experience (the consequences of action) more.]
We should keep in mind as we begin, that what is described below is essentially very human and very ordinary. It is one possible descriptive word-map, as it were, of the soul engaged in the dynamics of inner awakening via the path of discipleship. As a map, it will be somewhat abstract and defined. The actual territory is something else altogether – human, messy, inconstant, prone to emotional ups and downs – that is all the wonders of ordinary consciousness. All a word-map tries to do is to point out various significant features. Look out for these mountains, notice those valleys. Here is a pure spring, there is a hard and dangerous rock wall. It is my hope that the reader will find below some guidelines which will help them to chart their own path through the pristine forests and dark swamplands of the soul. Keep in mind it takes courage to explore there, but at the same time there is no other adventure quite like it.
Recall then what Dennis Klocek gave in his lecture to the 2005 AGM, and then published shortly thereafter in the News for Members (or if you didn’t hear or read it, try to find a copy as soon as you can): On the blackboard a mandala: a circle, expressing a series of alchemical relationships: earth (freedom); water (phenomenology); air (silent practice) and fire (dialog). The circle form suggests a return to earth (freedom) at some new or higher kind of level. But before considering that, first some deep background.
If, from a certain point of view, we think of the above four elements in Dennis Klocek’s lecture as notes in a rising scale, we could also find that in between each note is an interval. While the note is in itself more of a step in spiritual development supported by spiritual exercises, the use in life (the interval) of the acquired spiritual skill/capacity is more of a moral act – an aspect of the process of character development. The soul is fallen – it is an out of tune instrument, yet we hunger to return, to rise up and to experience reintegration, and to give voice to the joy of coming Home, which the Story of the Return of the Prodigal Son tells us leads to celebration and feasting.
Because the spiritual development exercises are so well known, and so completely covered elsewhere in Steiner’s basic books, as well as Dennis Klocek’s books, I will not be discussing them here. This essay assumes a general knowledge of that work, and some practice in their use. Here we are looking at the development of the Soul solely with regard to its struggles with the so very messy, personal and human moral questions of the biography.
In case there is some confusion here, in Steiner’s Knowledge of Higher Worlds, the moral is approached mostly through a series of admonitions, encouraging the student to orient him or her self in life in certain ideal ways. Only in The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, with the discussions of moral imagination, moral intuition and moral technique, did Steiner confront the moral problem directly and exactly.
The details that follow I have derived from my own (naturally messy and human, stupid and silly, and when I really get serious – pretentious) introspective investigations of the moral dimensions of the soul, but it should be kept in mind that while it is prudent to describe these phases and Trials as if separated in time in the soul, they are much more likely to be layered over each other – and often simultaneous in a variety of ways. It also needs to be clear that what is to follow wishes only to add another dimension – another view from a different direction – to what Dennis Klocek gave, and not to contradict it in any way whatsoever.
It is particularly crucial to note here that we are mostly discussing those moral acts that take place in the Soul, not those in the outer biography. There is a relationship to be sure, but it will help to understand that we are moral in both worlds: the outer world of our biographies, and the inner world of Soul practice and art.
I emphasize the word Trial to add another quality to our understanding. Moral development takes place in the biography through Trials. These challenges to the life of soul and spirit are meant to be difficult. We become deeply engaged in our karma of wounds with others in these Trials. Moreover, these are called Trials precisely because there is great pain, suffering and effort (as well as not enough fun) connected to them, and because the Shadow plays such an important and often decisive role. Furthermore, various aspects of the Seven Stages of the Passion of Christ (as described in the John Gospel) are enacted in the Soul via these biographical Trials: the Washing of the Feet, the Scourging, the Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, the Crucifixion, the Entombment, and the Resurrection. There is nothing abstract about these difficult processes of soul transformation, and this should be kept in mind as we go forward, namely that: every time I use the word Trial I am speaking of quite human, difficult and sometimes years long life-crises.
There is, in this regard, something of a kind of spiritual law involved. Just as the world of the senses has its laws of gravity and color, so the soul world has its laws. The ones to keep in mind here are the karma of wounds in the outer biography, as well as the outer and inner moral Trials to be faced there, which bear an exact and direct interrelationship. To face a challenge in life, to face a Trial, means to engage in just that personal teaching which belongs specifically to what our individuality most needs for the development of our character.
Consider a marriage for example, or the children to be raised there. These relationships are not trivial distractions to any spiritual development, but rather are precisely those riddles and mysteries of life belonging particularly to our own ego’s character developmental needs. One can read all kinds of spiritual books, practice all manner of spiritual exercises, and still not advance because the biographical tasks are ignored. To begin to awaken within, and to appreciate that we are surrounded in our biography with just those moral tasks and Trials we individually need, is to recognize just how precisely and miraculously has Christ, as the Artist of our karma of wounds, woven us into the world of personal relationships. So when Christ advises that unless we become again as little children, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, He is, among other matters, telling us precisely who our deepest spiritual teachers in life often are.
This world of personal relationships, and their corresponding moral Trials, whether of family or work, or even wider world challenges, is also very elastic in a sense. We are quite free in it, and it has a quality that can respond rather exactly to only those tasks which we choose to take up. Part of true Faith is to accept what comes to us as challenges, yet at the same time to recognize that our freedom also allows us to choose at every juncture, which way to turn, what burden to carry and when to laugh at ourselves.
For example, the interval from earth (freedom) to water (phenomenology) involves the skill: thinking about. This skill we receive as a natural aspect of living in this age, in that we are inwardly free to decide what to think; and, in accord with the Age of the Consciousness Soul, we are also becoming more and more able to form individual free moral ideas as well.
The Consciousness Soul really just means that if we inwardly wish to know the Good, in any particular moment of moral demand, crisis or need, we can in fact know what the Good is. Yet, in order to have this knowledge, we first have to ask, seek and knock. We have to inwardly form the question, and struggle there to let ourselves answer from the higher nature of our ego. The Good is what we make it to be, and as this essay proceeds, we will get deeper and deeper into this Mystery. This is why my book the Way of the Fool calls this capacity to know the Good: Moral Grace.
[As an aside, for those more familiar with Steiner’s terminology, you should keep in mind that by necessity he was required to cognitively form his research and understanding into the language of the Intellectual Soul, as that was the condition of his audiences. In this book we are writing out of the language of the Consciousness Soul itself (something toward which American’s are instinctively gifted). So, for example, when in the opening lecture of the book The Challenge of the Times Steiner speaks of the need for people to work out of an experience of the threshold, he is using Intellectual Soul terminology. In the essay above, where I have elaborated carefully on the Second Ethereal Eucharist experience, this has been a quite concrete and exact picture of human intercourse across the threshold in the language of the Consciousness Soul. I also mean to suggest here that it is quite possible to take many of Steiner’s works and translate them from Intellectual Soul language into Consciousness Soul language. The attentive reader of this text, who takes to heart the suggested practices, will in fact eventually find themselves able to do this translation process themselves. Once able to do this, the reader will be able to confirm not only their own experience, but all that is written here in Steiner themselves, for nothing here is contrary to what Steiner offered.]
Now in this thinking-about there is the object of our interest, in relationship to which we are the subject. As subject, we think about this object. This thinking is also essentially (and initially) discursive to our inner experience. We appear to inwardly talk to ourselves. Our spirit seems to inwardly speak that which our soul then hears.
It is with the skill thinking-about that we first enter on the problem of the Water Trial of phenomenology. Thinking-about naturally contains something of the shadow forces of the soul, in that our feeling life is, in the beginning, dominated by antipathies and sympathies. These natural likes and dislikes of our individualized soul color all that we think about. Through them what we think about acquires an individualized (non-objective) meaning for the spirit – the i-AM, in the soul.
[The use of this form of the term “i-AM”, is meant to lessen the emphasis on the being nature of the ego – its noun-like aspect, and to place more emphasis on the action nature – on the verb-like aspect of the ego. The being nature of the ego tends to be more related to the teachings of the Buddha, while the action nature of the ego tends to be more related to the teachings of Christ.]
In the light of Steiner’s The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, the experience (the percept) is, in the beginning, distorted in its meaning (the thought, the concept) by the shadow elements lingering in the yet unredeemed antipathies and sympathies. By the way, the reader should be clear that only their own personal introspective observations can adequately discern what is going on within ones own soul. We have little business believing we can make such determinations about, or for, another.
Noticing these excessive and unredeemed aspects of antipathy and sympathy will give us our first vague perceptions of the work of the threefold double-complex, the Shadow in the Soul. Thought is a flower rooted in the soul-soil of feeling, and filled from within by the blossoming life of the will-in-thinking. Where an excess of unconsciousness infects this soil and this life, the Shadow is given free play.
In order to progress properly through the life passages that comprise the Water Trial, we have to learn to renounce the unredeemed antipathy and sympathy. This is the central moral act that makes possible the transformation via the Water Trial from thinking about to thinking with. We enter the Water Trial knowing how to think about, and we can leave the Water Trial knowing how to think with. The essential moral nature of this Trial is outlined in the Gospels in the Sermon on the Mount, in the teaching concerning the mote and the beam. In the biography, when we learn to struggle with the covering over (or painting in thought via the unconscious Shadow driven creation of mental pictures) of the persons that we meet with our individual unredeemed antipathies and sympathies, we are learning about the beam in our own eye. We see not the person, but our own soul as that lives in our projected sympathies and antipathies. To learn to see past the beam, to meet the true phenomena of the other, to learn to think with them rather than about them, this is the moral craft to be discovered during the Water Trial.
The biography gives us just those experiences that challenge this learning. The spouse, the child, the co-worker, the boss, the neighbor, the relative, or the stranger-other, all will evoke the beam, the unredeemed mental pictures. We must learn how not to paint our experience with this already unconsciously given thought-content, and instead learn to let the experience itself speak into the soul, and to become consciously active as a creator of the free thought in relationship to the experience.
Again, one way to banish the Shadow influence here (when we discover our thinking to be possessed by the beam) is to laugh at ourselves – to see the essential silliness of our dark inner depictions of others, as well as those depictions which are too sympathetic (that is where we raise another up to the level of a kind of minor deity, such as how too many view Rudolf Steiner – and others – out of a soul mood of ungrounded and unrealistic admiration).
Sobriety, for all its virtues, must be balanced with play, otherwise the soul becomes an arid desert.
So, for example, when we look at another person and recognize that they are, in themselves, not just that which we observe in the moment, but rather that they are their whole history – their whole biography (in fact a sequence of biographies), and when we learn to consciously set aside the reactive feelings of antipathy and sympathy, only then can we start to think with who they truly are, and not just about them. Our folk wisdom calls this learning to walk in another’s shoes.
This thinking-with can of course be applied to anything living, anything that has a life element to its nature, not just human beings, plants or animals. This includes the history (the story) of a social form, such as a family, or even an Anthroposophical Branch. When we recreate in the imagination, free of antipathy and sympathy, the story-picture of something, we are then learning to think with the object of our thought.
Goethe taught himself to think with the plant, and to this organic way of thinking Rudolf Steiner later gave the name: Goetheanism, which is a thinking that leaves behind the discursive aspect of thinking about, and replaces that with a thinking-with – a qualitative characterizing picture thinking (Tomberg’s formulation). We do this by learning to make inner images (mental pictures) consciously. We still retain the ability to think discursively about these inner images – thinking-about does not disappear, but remains a skill which can be applied when we choose and where we feel it is appropriate (which is why I wrote earlier of the layered nature of these soul phenomena).
Two additional aspects of soul phenomena need to be understood here – the attention and the intention and their relationship. The moral act of renunciation is more related to those actions of the will-in-thinking that determines on which particular object we focus our attention. When we are lost to the beam in our own eye, part of our attention is unconsciously focused on our own soul’s reactive feelings of antipathy and sympathy. To the act of renunciation of these semi-conscious interfering aspects of our attention, we need to join the intention to love the object of this phenomenological (story-picture) thinking. After subduing the impulse to live imprisoned and in the thrall of the beam in our own eye (reactive feelings of antipathy and sympathy), we use our first stage (necessarily awkward and tentative) understanding of how to love the other in such a way so as to redeem them in thought. We consciously create a new picture to replace the old unconscious and reactive one.
As part of the Water Trial, we don’t just set aside the reactive feelings, but we learn how to create in the soul cultivated feelings. We create freely chosen cultivated moods of soul – that is intended feelings of reverence, wonder and so forth, which then have a salutary effect on the thought content that is to be produced according to where we let our attention come to rest. This is an example of where the exercises bear fruit. If we have practiced these exercises, this will be a great help when we then need to apply the newly learned ability to form cultivated moods of soul, as a prelude and foundation for thinking with someone in a new way.
With a cultivated feeling we transform the soul-soil from which the thought is born and then flowers (which is also why the ideal is sometimes expressed as: thinking with the heart).
In a certain sense, what is renounced, love replaces. What is given up, becomes transformed. What is dark, is turned to gold. What is evil – our dark habits rooted in the unconscious fear and mistrust of the other – the Thou, are beginning to be transformed into love. And, best of all, what is too sober, particularly in our Self, can – as is necessary – be made silly.
The renunciation of unredeemed antipathy and sympathy does not, however, mean their elimination. The will acquires the capacity to master this somewhat base song of the soul. We cease attending to it unconsciously, and turn that attention (and the related intention) elsewhere. We master the unconscious soul gesture that leads antipathies and sympathies into the forefront of the soul, and like a good choir director, silence it so that we can concentrate on other instruments of soul potential, other voices. Transformed and conscious feelings of antipathy and sympathy become a valid means of discernment. But we need to be awake to the arising and becoming of these feelings, if we wish not to give the shadow element free play.
The will-in-thinking (an awake and more and more morally pure intention and attention) fills the thought with life (which is why I add to the ideal of thinking with the heart, the ideal also to: will the good).
In this way we also refine the gold that is latent in antipathy and sympathy – their capacities for discernment and truth are enhanced, because we apply them with more consciousness – a more awake attention and intention. In the teaching on the beam and the mote, Christ, in Matthew 7:5, ends it this way: You fake, first get the log out of your own eye and then you can see about getting the splinter out of your brother’s eye.
Again, one of the best ways to eliminate the log is to learn to laugh at it. The log arises from the Shadow side of soul life, and in the light and warmth of our learning to laugh at ourselves, the Shadow’s hold dissolves.
In Steiner’s The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, we are taught the importance of the moral basis for our actions, whether outwardly in the sense world, or inwardly in the soul. Only that action, which is preceded by a self-determined moral reason (intention), is truly free. Even so, no one should be surprised to discover that they are already trying to do these activities in some fashion or another. Emerson said this: In self trust all virtues are comprehended. The purpose of this essay – this word-map – is to help us raise out of the realm of instinct, step by step into full consciousness, our already existing natural goodness.
[Another brief biographical note: As I shared previously, I underwent a kind of spontaneous awakening at age 31, and one of the by-products of this inner infusion of light, was that I became hyper-aware of judging people. I could see myself putting them into various boxes and categories, and being now awake to this beam in my own eye, I could also see that this was not right – it violated conscience, so that I struggled to learn how to not do it. That said, learning how not to do it, does not mean that we always apply this newly learned moral craft. On the contrary, I often fell back into old ways many times over the years, although there did slowly dawn a kind of sensitivity, that let me see that I had been again in thrall of the beam. Stepping outside the prison of the beam does not become automatic – a habit, but must always be applied, in the moment, consciously, with intention and attention (the will-in-thinking).]
After we have learned to renounce (consciously and for specific and individually freely chosen moral reasons) our soul gestures of yet unredeemed antipathy and sympathy, in order to learn how to think with that object of thinking which we are learning to love, do we then move out of the Water Trial, via more necessity, to the life passages of the Air Trial. This movement from water (phenomenology) to air (silent practice), which before (at the entrance to the Water Trial) began with thinking-about, now begins with the newly learned craft of thinking-with. We start with that which we have now discovered as a spiritual development in the course of the Water Trial, and then apply that new level of moral craft (capacity of the will) of renunciation and love to the Air Trial. The will-in thinking, which has learned to master the unredeemed aspects of feelings of antipathy and sympathy, and to replace these with thoughts born out of cultivated moods of soul, is now strengthened. It is this strength that then lends itself to the life lessons of the Air Trial.
Dennis Klocek described the Air Trial as a learning to think backwards – of unraveling, or unrolling, the thought content produced by thinking with. The Discipleship stream sees it from a slightly different direction, one which, however, is not in opposition, but which instead is once more intended to be complementary.
Via the Water Trial we have learned how to think with, and that has produced a thought content in the soul. It is this content that must now be renounced in the Air Trial. When Steiner wrote of this he called it: sacrifice of thoughts. We learn how, again in meeting people, to not have a thought content at all. We become inwardly silent. Strong forces of will are needed in order to subdue the already achieved thought content, which we have wrapped around another person (or any other object of thinking), even if this content now lives free of unredeemed antipathies and sympathies. We can also renounce, during the life passages of major aspects of the Air Trial, those thoughts produced only by thinking about.
Further, in the feeling life there live attachments to the thought content. We have, after all, produced it. It is our creation, and we like it (most of the time – where the Shadow has unconsciously produced the thought content, we can learn to relate to this soul phenomena out of a healthy antipathetic discernment – we can come to not liking it that we have such a thought). Sometimes, however, we can’t even separate our own sense of self from this thought content. Nonetheless, to traverse the Air Trial we need to renounce our collection of mental pictures (thoughts). Remember, the self development that accompanies the sequence of alchemical Trials is not just related to spiritual exercises, but also to moral or character development; the chief features of which are acts of sacrifice – acts of renunciation, and acts of love (the beginnings of: Not I, but Christ in me).
Steiner also calls this attachment to our thought content, in certain circumstances: being in bondage to the concept “One must be able to confront an idea and experience it; otherwise one will fall into its bondage” (The Philosophy of Freedom, last sentence of the original Preface). It can be a savage inner struggle – this Air Trial – to learn to forcefully set aside our favorite pictures of the world, a seemingly negative artistic act, sometimes taking months to accomplish. At the same time, their essential nature does not disappear, for the very same qualitative aspects of our true nature – our true i-AM – can once again call them forth. Thought does not disappear, it only becomes latent and goes into a kind of pralaya (the state of being uncreated, unformed). The will-in-thinking is strengthened by this act of renunciation, and when we choose to think again concerning this same object of our thought, the penetrating new powers of the will-in-thinking (attention and intention) can call forth from this pralaya an ever deeper understanding of the underlying meaning and truth of that about which we have chosen to think.
[another biographical note: I first explored this process during my many long years of the Water Trial, which really began when I discovered that I had become captured by a psychological paradigm, or world picture. I had come to view everyone, after a time, through the lens of this psychologically based world picture. I discovered that the best way to become inwardly free of this capture, was to undo any relationship to this paradigm, an activity that took several months. A year or so later, I let myself be captured by a similar world picture, this one connected to Tibetan Buddhism. Again, many months were needed to become inwardly free – to break the chains of the teaching – to be able to only experience these thoughts when and if I consciously called them forth. Subsequently, upon encountering Anthroposophy, I gave myself wholly to it – became intoxicated with it in a way, and spent three years drinking in all that I could manage, eventually once more finding myself inwardly lacking the spiritual freedom before the concept that I knew by then was essential.
Only after many months of work at sacrifice of thoughts, was I able to stand in relationship to the massive and marvelous thought content of Spiritual Science, inwardly free. Through this activity of sacrifice of thoughts, I eventually stood in relationship to concepts, acquired from Steiner, in such manner that they only appeared in my consciousness when called forth. From this free perspective (which I was then able to survey as a whole), I then could see that Anthroposophy was not a thought content at all, but rather just the method of awake, and fully conscious (intended and attended) free thinking I had been instinctively seeking for many years.]
As the shadow elements (unredeemed antipathies and sympathies – Water Trial, and emotional attachments to our self-created thought content – Air Trial) are being let go, we now begin to have another experience connected to the Gospels. This is again related to the Sermon on the Mount, specifically the beatitude: “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven“.
The rolling back, the sacrifice of, the renouncing of the previously created thought content, makes the soul inwardly poor in spirit. As we empty out the soul, we begin to learn a new spiritual activity, which might be called thinking-within. The Air Trial passages of life are taking us from thinking-with toward thinking-within. This opens us to the delicate first stages of the conscious experience of the kingdom of heaven as It begins to appear with greater clarity out of the general background noise of the soul, and on the wings of our natural instinct for the embryonic New Thinking. The Air Trial is developing that which is meant to take us upward and onward to the Fire Trial, or dialog. When we are poor in spirit, empty of the previously given thought content (and master of silent practice), then we can, to a degree, experience directly the inside of the object of our thought. In personal relationships, this is the capacity for the beginnings of true empathy.
In a sense, the base elements of unredeemed antipathy and sympathy are a foundation in the soul. They are of the earth. In the Water Trial, we rise to a more subtle and plastic condition in the soul. To think with, to know the phenomenology of the object of thought, is to bring the thinking into movement with its object. The earth aspect is more solid and crystallized, while the water aspect more fluid and more mobile. The discursively produced thought is dead (the instinctive living element necessary for any thought remains in the unconscious), while the consciously created picture-thought is more living. With the air element, the soul becomes more expansive. Thought that is renounced in the Air Trial dissipates, disperses and dissolves into the general spiritual background of the soul – the previously noted pralaya (uncreated, unformed) condition. The will-in-thinking does not any longer call it forth, nor does it let the thought call itself forth. When we are in bondage to an idea, it calls itself forth, and the Air Trial teaches us to break the chains by which we have let our unconscious feeling attachment tie us to the concept/idea. We break these chains of feeling by dissolving them, and Dennis Klocek’s metaphor of rolling back the thought is quite apt. We untie it from its attachment to the soul, and without doubt the practice of the spiritual exercise of the Ruskshau* is a great help here.
*[the Ruskshau is an exercise Steiner taught where he encouraged people at the end of their day, before falling asleep, to remember the day backwards. Details can be discovered in his works.]
Only then, when we are truly empty, can thought, in the sense that it is the true inside of our object of thinking, come toward us. The true idea of the object moves toward us, as we learn to open ourselves to it, such that it then thinks in us. As Christ says in Luke 17: 20-21 “Asked by the Pharisees when the the kingdom of God was coming he answered: “The kingdom of God doesn’t come with the watching like a hawk, and they don’t say, Here it is, or There it is, because, you know what? the kingdom of God is inside you.”
Steiner writes at age 25, in The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe’s World Conception, published in 1886, that: What takes place in human consciousness is the interpretation of Nature to itself. Thought is the last member in the series of processes whereby Nature is formed.
While Emerson writes at age 33 in the essay Nature, published in 1836, 50 years before Steiner wrote the above: Nature is the incarnation of a thought, and turns to a thought again, as ice becomes water and gas. The world is mind precipitated, and the volatile essence is forever escaping again into the state of free thought.
Thus, having mastered (to a degree) silent practice (learned how to be poor in spirit), we are at the beginning of the Fire Trial, and similar in kind to our previous renunciations, the soul now begins to discover how thinking can be in deepest kinship with its object, by abandoning the Self – by no longer seeing ourselves as the center of the universe. Instead we begin to love the object of thinking more than we love ourselves. This deepening intention to love, in that our own i-AM learns to stand out of the way, allows the i-AM of the other more room in the soul – we begin to see them not just from their inside – true empathy or thinking within, but as them, united with them. Again, anything living that can be thought empathically, can also be even more deeply known when we learn to unite with it in thought. But this requires more than our own action. The art of true empathy, or thinking within, now, as we let go our own centrality of being, becomes the chalice in which It can think in us – and the life passage of Fire Trial begins to unfold.
This is the fruit of the Air Trial now carried further – the spiritual developmental capacity to have dialog with the realm of the invisibles, for true empathy free of self importance and rooted in inner silence, now lets the inner being of the other – the Thou – speak. Having understood how we become in bondage to the concept, and emotionally attached to it, we no longer repeat those actions, with the result that thought tends not to come to rest in the soul, to coagulate there. Instead, thought now passes through the soul – flows like a living stream.
[In 1999, seven years ago, I wrote this: My method basically now consists (when life circumstances allow it) of sitting at my desk and writing descriptive passages of social and political realities. Inwardly the experience is analogous to looking at a clear stream. The surface of the stream results from my inner activity in sacrifice of thoughts, fact gathering, picture forming and artistic expression (more or less done simultaneously). At the same time as my thinking sees this clear surface, I can perceive that there arises, on the other side of that surface, activity which does not belong to my own will, but which appears there spontaneously of its own accord. The clear surface is then a product of two activities acting in concert. With my writing I record what appears there.]
With this art (thinking-within), which was earlier merely a skill (thinking-about) and then a craft (thinking-with), we now are in the midst of the Fire Trial. But before discussing this Trial more deeply from the point of view of Discipleship, we need to look ahead a bit and understand what lies on the other side of the Fire Trial. We need to have a picture of what happens in between – in the moral interval between fire (dialog) and the new earth (new freedom), as the circle gesture spirals around in a kind of completion, before moving on to a new level of experience.
[a bit more biography: the material next to be presented, regarding what can happen after the life passage of the Fire Trial, is a little bit speculative on my part. While I have had quite definite experiences of the kind named by Steiner: Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition (mostly by Grace from Above), I am neither naturally clairvoyant nor an initiate. I am not even sure most of us need anymore to strongly seek such a goal, at least certainly not in a single lifetime. When I get deeper into the Fire Trial material itself (below), especially given the layered nature of the soul capacities and experiences of all the Trials, and as well the true mystery nature of ordinary consciousness, why I encourage a consideration of the more modest goal of a kind of sacramental thinking (as against initiation) especially for Americans, will be made more plain.]
This culmination of the Fire Trial is described in Steiner’s John Gospel lectures, in lecture twelve, as: The Nature of the Virgin Sophia and of the Holy Spirit (when reading this lecture, keep in mind that it was addressed to the Intellectual Soul, not the Consciousness Soul). The previous spiritual developmental tasks, interwoven with the moral and character developmental intervals, or Trials, produces a katharsis, or purification of the astral body, such that the Rite of Initiation may now be enacted, and the seed organs of clairvoyance may now be impressed on the etheric body. I emphasize the term may, because while a great deal of the development leading to this stage is rooted in our own actions – our own will-in-thinking, as the Fire Trial progresses we become more and more interdependent with the will activity of the invisibles.
We do not, as I understand it, so much initiate ourselves, but instead are initiated in a cooperative dance necessarily involving Another.
On the other side of the Fire Trial, if initiation is to be the result, we have acquired new faculties of perception. The spiritual world is now there to be experienced directly, and the soul has fully developed that spiritual freedom, which The Philosophy of Freedom (or Spiritual Activity) contemplates, for we have renounced unredeemed antipathy and sympathy, we have renounced our emotional attachments to a given thought content and we have renounced even the significance of our own i-AM in relationship to others; all the while learning to love ever more deeply the objects of our perception (beholding) and thinking.
[From this point onward, I will be often using the term beholding instead of perception (in certain cases) and for this nuance I am grateful to Clifford Monks, who provided this in a recent conversation between the two of us.]
Now before us stand new objects of inward beholding. The world of Imaginations is faced with this new freedom, but it stands inwardly over there, as it were, such that once more we have something which we think about, only this time it is not a sense object but a spiritual object. Moreover, the perceptual element of an Imagination has required our co-participation; and, the thought content produced by our cognitive capacity, during the experience of the supersensible, arises simultaneously with the experience. Contrary to a sense object, which has as an aspect of its nature what Steiner called the necessary given, a spiritual Imagination as an object of clairvoyant beholding does not exist independently of our own will-on-fire in thinking. We have authored and sourced (for this language, grateful thanks to Harvey Bornfield) it in cooperation with spiritual beings.
Our new thinking about has participated in the creation of the Imagination. We experience the Imagination in infinite internal space (ethereal and peripheral space) as an object, whose existence comes about because our own activity is coupled with the by Grace activity of higher beings. The intention and attention are involved in a Parsifal question* to which the Imagination is an answer (producing a kind of wordless knowledge). Subsequent in time to this wordless knowing experience (which includes a conceptual element), cognition then produces the word forms, either written or spoken, in which the living Imagination dies into a crystallized word-picture, such as what is given to us in many of Steiner’s lectures and writings. When we actively (not passively) read these word-pictures, recreating them in our own picture-thinking, the soul harmonizes with the Imaginative aspect of the world of spirit, creating out of this harmony a rudimentary chalice in which later spiritual experiences can arise.
[*A Parsifal question is a question that if we didn’t ask it when we could have, we may have to wait a long time to later receive an answer.]
So we begin then to repeat at a higher level the previous Trials, but this time facing experiences we have never before had. We travel once more around the mandala of the circling spiral of soul metamorphosis, learning in new ways to think-about (Imaginations), then on to new thinking-with (Inspirations) and finally to new thinking-within (Intuitions). [There would seem to be here a great mystery, about which I have not (yet) any experience, but at the same time a great curiosity: do angels etc. tell jokes or laugh and dance?]
This full new thinking, however, is itself at a higher stage. It is thinking transformed into willed creative and participatory beholding. The normal thought content, which we know as an aspect of our original state of consciousness (earth and freedom, in discursive thinking about), only arises in the soul after the clairvoyant thinking perceiving/beholding. This thought content falls out, as it were, during the period of time the spiritual experience is fading away. The spiritual experience does not continue in earthly memory, but at the same time, the thought content produced (that is, how the experience was initially cognized as it fades away) does remain in earthly memory.
Let us now return to a deeper appreciation of the life passages we are calling: the Fire Trial.
All the work we do, through the various Trials and passages of our biography, more and more purifies the soul, making it ready for clairvoyant spiritual perception. At the same time, there is constant spiritual music in the soul – the song of the wind and of the breath – even as far back as when we are only being newly born out of the first Trial of earth and freedom.
Ordinary consciousness is already full of spirit. Our problem is how do we pick the gold out of the dark shadowy and leaden dross of the soul, normal to its given fallen state of earth and freedom. Two factors are clues. These are discovered during the early stages of introspection in the idea of needs and the idea of choices. The wind – the breath – the living river of thought – blows through the soul constantly, but always in accord with need and most often in accord with other-need, that is the needs not of the Self, but of the Thou. To live into this Grace given always present intuition-like breath, we need to choose. When we do choose service to other-need, then true, good and beautiful intuitions flow on the wind of Grace into the soul, even in its ordinary and fallen state of consciousness.
How else are we to understand the natural and harmonious state of grace always potential in such relationships as: mother and child, comrades at arms and lovers.
Other-need also helps keep our ambitions in check. One of the temptations that the Shadow offers to us is to let us believe we can, for example, out of reading a Steiner text speak with authority about matters concerning which we have had no other experience than the text. Absent the real experience – the percept – true thought (the concept) cannot arise. Only in conjunction with actual clairvoyant experience can we, in full conscience, speak of such matters with the same confidence as did our Teacher, Rudolf Steiner. Yet, in the face of other-need, and our choice to devote ourselves to this need, spiritual contact (experience) does appear in the soul. The spiritual percept (experience) arises within the soul as a response to the Parsifal question which our intention and attention have created out of our relationship to other-need; and, the modest nature of our choice to serve this need makes our soul a suitable chalice to receive that thought content which then serves this need.
For example, we have no need (besides a vain curiosity) to know who was the 20th Century Bodhisattva incarnation of the future Maitreya Buddha. Yet, on the other hand, there is a deep need to know how to love those intimate others in our biography, so that we can learn to heal our shared karma of wounds.
With this in mind (and also keep in mind the layered nature of soul development, as against the one-sided idea that it is a mere linear progression) let us look at the Fire Trial, which Dennis Klocek has described also as: dialog; and which he related to meeting with the dead, who come to us through our encounters with others. From the standpoint of the Discipleship stream, this is once more perceived a bit differently, yet again in a complementary fashion.
Having passed through the previous Trials, our will-in-thinking now possesses certain capacities, certain inner arts, the essence of which are moral in nature. The self development spiritual exercises are secondary to, but supportive of, the character (moral) developments. We have learned in the Water Trial to renounce unredeemed antipathies and sympathies and to replace those with a redeemed thought-content produced in a chalice of freely chosen cultivated feelings – that is we have learned to think with the object of thought. In the Air Trial we have renounced as well even this self-produced thought-content, in order to live in the silence, that is poor in spirit – thus beginning the experience we have been calling: thinking-within.
In Fire Trial, which begins with its capacity of thinking-within won in the Air Trial, we now enter into dialog on the wings of a renunciation of self importance. That which is not-Self is to become more important than that which is Self. Love of the other fills the attention and intention, and the work toward Not I, but Christ in me matures. In this case, the dialog element for the Discipleship stream is more accurately characterized as Steiner’s “it thinks in me“, albeit this form of expression is lacking a certain artistry (Intellectual Soul, not Consciousness Soul). A more beautiful phrase would be: the delicate and subtle presence of Fullness and fullness of Presence (Holy Breath).
[another biographical note: I learned, over many years of hard experience, that the essential matter was the Parsifal question – the deeply felt question, coupled with the absence of personal ambition in this question. The knowledge I seek must be consciously intended to serve others, not to serve my vain curiosity. In fact, my success in my researches into the social (see other essays in this book), seems to have been entirely related to my renunciation of the possibility of initiation in order to more deeply be led to an understanding of the social, an act which occupied my prayer life for a number of years in the mid-’80’s. As a consequence, I began to experience this wind, this delicate and subtle presence of Fullness and fullness of Presence in response to my Parsifal questions concerning an understanding of the social, which I had sought in order to serve other-need. My biography led me to working, from my mid-thirties onward, as a member of the working poor. I cleaned toilets, washed dishes in restaurants, worked in mental hospitals, and the last three years of my work life (age 59-62), I worked in a factory. This led me to not only a personal, but a shared experience of the suffering in the world due to the Age of Materialism, which has led the i-AM not to appreciate itself or the causes of its suffering, and which gave me such pain of soul that the only way I could think to alleviate this was to seek, via the New Thinking, the ability to tell a new story of the world and of human meaning. This was my Parsifal question in its broadest form, and the wind would come at anytime It choose as I lived out these experiences, so that I had to learn to be sensitive to this wind, and to serve It, even by pulling off the road when driving and taking notes, or getting up from bed at night and writing when called. The success of this inner work also made me on more than one occasion, an obnoxious moral nut case, filled with excessive moments of grand hubris – my own Shadow intoxicated and inflamed. Fortunately, the Trials would knock me down whenever I got too drunk with the seriousness of any luciferic fantasies of having a mission.]
The moral art of thought not only comes to the truth of the object of thinking, but also knows its goodness and its beauty. In intimate relationships, where we learn to love the will of the other – the Thou, and to see the beauty, not of their physical appearance, but of their deeds – in this selfless perception we then start to live in their true Fullness and Presence.
Thinking-within, as it traverses the Fire Trial, begins to experience the spiritual world as a thought world, via a pure thinking, which is a cooperative art – Grace will be present. This purity is three-fold. It is pure in the sense that it is only thought – that is it is sense free. The attention is so focused only on thought, that the outer sense world recedes far into the background of consciousness. That is one aspect. The second kind of purity is moral in nature. The soul is pure in its intention and attention. The intention and attention are chaste, as it were. Modest, or moderate. Without ambition of any kind. Not even seeking initiation or enlightenment. Insight increases in the soul, but each time as a surprise – as a wonder.
The third kind of purity is as regards the thought – the concept itself. It is only pure concept or idea and in this it is thought as Being, as Presence and Fullness. Our earthy grasping of the thought, which in the beginning tends to render it into mere mental pictures or generalized concepts, has been gone beyond. We have sensed thought unconsciously in this beginning, and caused it to fall into our earthly and darkened consciousness from out of its original living environment. When we learn how to return thought to its true realm and nature, then our sense-free thinking, and the purity of our intention and attention now lets the pure nature of the Being of the Thought think in us (dialog).
At the same time, this conversation has what seems at first blush an odd quality to it, in the sense of our freedom. As discussed in the essay above, on The Meaning of Earth Existence in the Age of the Consciousness Soul, just as Christ gives his Being to our need for knowledge of the Good as an act of Grace in such a way that the thought of the Good is entirely ours to shape, so also that which thinks in us does not answer our knock with any authority whatsoever. This Holy Spirit (the wind in the soul spends (exhausts) Its will into us in a way. Its participation with our i-AM in the nature of the thought’s form is such that, while the Holy Spirit elevates our perception of truth, we remain the final author and source. The Holy Spirit’s participation is also a gift and becomes the wind to the wings of our soul. Borne on this wind we see from whatever height, depth or breadth that must be there for other-need. We serve the Thou and the Holy Spirit serves us both.
The soul is now grateful for whatever wills to dialog with it, and has no need for anything other than the occasional, but profoundly nourishing, experiences of Grace, all of which it had already begun to know, even coming in the beginning in the wonderful mystery of ordinary consciousness, and in accord with other-need and choice.
Yet, in this same beginning, the karma of wounds, and the unredeemed aspects of the astral or desire body move us forward in life, and we are guided by the Shadow into and toward our necessary biographical experiences. In the processes of the Fire Trial, we learn to let go these drives, to move with and within the stream of Providence in Life. The soul now tends to want only to be content and at rest, no longer driven. We love the necessity that Providence brings us, and devote ourselves to that task, recognizing that the Great Whole of Life is in Other and far more competent Hands (Christ’s Love).
There can be, by the way, either (or both) an outer necessity and an inner necessity. Self observation, with an evocation of conscience applied to the question of whether we are being truthful to ourselves, will reveal whether an inner necessity is to have the same weight as an outer one. This essay, in fact, was very much produced out of an inner necessity in connection with the delicate and subtle presence of Fullness and fullness of Presence, brought into the stream of Time, because of a Parsifal question that occurred to me regarding the pending conference on Ben Franklin (August 18-19, 2006), where I lived in Fair Oaks, California. Yet, even in this work, I encountered Fire Trial elements, for latent and unredeemed ambitions limited and distorted my first versions of this essay. Only after I had recognized these ambitions and laughed at myself for them, did matters begin to acquire a satisfactory to conscience moral clarity.
We need to keep in mind that we remain of the earth, even when the wind – the kingdom of heaven – is blowing through the soul. In our earthly dialogs, one with the other, we need to learn to just listen and not to always impose our own opinions upon the others freedom of thought (for parents of children and others in a teaching necessity, this will be different, sometimes). We can let the soul rest in wonder at what the Thou will say and do. So also with the invisible other-presence in the soul. In this way the outer biography and the inner biography more and more consciously harmonize their naturally interwoven music.
Life itself – the biography – will demand of ordinary layered consciousness, and in harmony with the necessities of our karma of wounds, those experiences to be faced in which other-need and choice appear. If we think with the heart and will the good, Grace will come in the form of those other-needed intuitions – the deepening consciousness of what other-presence wants to say into our inwardness, in concordance with our slowly growing and developing capacities, as is necessary for service to the Thou.
This is the essence of the Fire Trial – a burning away purification of self for other. Just as in the Air Trial we set aside attachment to a given thought content, so in the Fire Trial we give away our attachments to our own meaning – we dissolve the self descriptive concepts with which we previously adorned our i-AM, as if wearing a costume. Instead, we just are. In all our actions and choices, we are (if we think on it) always: “In the Beginning…“.
We no longer are this or that, but just are (i-AM). Each favorite self-name: father, mother, anthroposophist, alchemist, lawyer, ditch digger – all these names of self are let go, using the craft and art acquired in the Air Trial. We do this in order to get ready for the first part of Not I, but Christ in me – the Not I part. We burn away the I concepts, which by their very nature are limiting and mark us as not-free and are a beam in our own eye-inside, directed at ourselves.
We don’t have to think of ourselves as a father or mother, for example, since the necessity of the biography places those tasks before us already. The inner biography too, with its ambitions, hopes, dreams and wishes, pulls us forward as well.
There is as yet no traditional clairvoyant spiritual perception – the astral body is still being purified during the Fire Trial. What was the lower ego, or that which begins its path accompanied by the Shadow or threefold double-complex, has more and more merged and identified itself with the higher ego – the self-participated aspect of conscience.
When we live purely in Parsifal questions (that is, poor in spirit), in the artistic mastery of our antipathies and sympathies, having set aside self-importance and attending to the object of thinking with the intention to love, then thinking is meet with other-presence, as needed. This is the quite definite inner experience of the delicate and subtle presence of Fullness and fullness of Presence, which is described in the John Gospel as follows: What’s born of the flesh is flesh, and what’s born of the breath is breath. Don’t be amazed because I told you you have to be born again. The wind blows where it will and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes; it’s the same with everyone born of the breath John 3: 6-8
This Fire Trial is all the more painful, because we have become exposed via the previous layers (stages) of spiritual and character development, to a much deeper introspective understanding of our own desire body – our own astral body. We can now not only think within the other – the Thou, but also we can now think much deeper within our own soul – we are naked before our own introspective clarity of perception. That which remains unredeemed, and still yet outside the full and completed Fire Trial of purification, lies inwardly exposed to us. The descending conscience (like the descent of the dove in the Gospels) meets the rising lower ego, both seeking union and marriage; and this light from above, a kind of deep moral Grace, illuminates and warms all that is yet shadow in the soul. Emerson has put the bare bones of it like this in his lecture, The American Scholar: “For the instinct is sure, that prompts him to tell his brother what he thinks. He then learns that in going down into the secrets of his own mind he has descended into the secrets of all minds…“
Just as we learned to think about, with and within the other – the Thou, so we learn to think about, with and within ones own soul. Each skill, craft and art of thinking emerges from its corresponding Trial. The Earth Trial is a given, it is where most of us start. The Water Trial requires our first struggles with renunciation and the beginning, and delicate, expressions of love. The Air Trial takes us even further, to the abandonment of our favorite thoughts. Then we also renounce our excessive sense of Self, in the process of facing the Fire Trial. There we are also most exposed to our own other-Self, – the Shadow – which is now fully illuminated – no secrets whatsoever.
Let us consider, briefly, some hints on the encounter with the Shadow, from the point of view of the Discipleship stream.
When Valentin Tomberg was writing as an anthroposophist, he described in his book Inner Development, three aspects to the Shadow: a luciferic double, an ahrimanic double and a human double. Later, in his profoundly Christian Meditations on the Tarot: a Journey into Christian Hermeticism he wrote of the tempter, the prosecutor and of egregores – that is of self-created psychic parasites in the soul (Steiner called these latter creatures, in Man as Symphony of the Creative Word: cancers or tumors of the soul).
When we think discursively – talk inwardly to ourselves, the unconscious works into the soul. That is, both the higher and the lower unconscious are present. No true thought, for example, can arise in the soul except for its having come to us via the living stream of thought (see Kuhlewind here). But, because in ordinary and fallen soul consciousness, we are bound (intentionally by the Gods so as to give us true freedom on the earth) into an inner darkness of spirit, we only can know thought as it falls out and down into the soul from its original living element. In discursive thought the living element has died.
Conscience, another higher element of the unconscious, also speaks into the soul via discursive thought, as that whispering still small voice.
At the same time, the Shadow is active here as well. When we struggle with our own temptation or tempt others (the luciferic double), or when we hurt ourselves, or others (prosecute ourselves) with mean thoughts (the ahrimanic double), these too come from the unconscious into discursive thinking. When we fall, over and over again into temptation such as addiction or alcoholism, part of the soul becomes excessively free of the ego, for the ego is weak in many ways. This part can be called an egregore or a tumor of soul.
However, since all manner of bad habits (an ill temper, an abusive tongue) are also connected to tiny tumors of soul, I have began to feel that this language lacks what art and a sense of beauty needs to give to our conceptions, so above I wrote only of wounds, of our karma of wounds. In the case of egregores or serious tumors or cancers of the soul, we can call these self-generated wounds.
What the life passages of the Trials give to us is ever greater consciousness. We draw out of the unconscious, through a more and more awake intention and attention, not only its lower elements, the Shadow and darkly cold side of temptations, prosecutions and wounds, but also the Light and heart warmed side, the stream of living thought and participated conscience.
So, in facing the Water Trial of the mote and the beam we begin the work of discipleship, the work of seeking reintegration and reunion with the Divine Mystery Itself. So also with the Air Trial and the Fire Trial. Bit by bit we perceive and then let go what is dark in the unconscious, thereby separating and drawing into the light the gold of our growing will-in-thinking.
The fruit of each Trial remains with us, and at each passage becomes deeper. The soul becomes a rich texture of layers of inner song and music in the form of ever unfolding capacities of will, in the corresponding creative cultivation of sublime elements in the feeling life, all interwoven with the arising and passing away of the breath-stream of living thought.
The purified will (an appropriately moral intention and attention) creates heart warmth in the soul-soil of feeling, out of which the light and life filled flower of thought is born. And, because we are first born into this process out of the Earth Trial of freedom, our whole passage in these Life Trials goes forward in freedom. It all evolves out of our choices. Recall Emerson: In self trust all virtues are comprehended.
Nothing renounced has disappeared, but rather the soul becomes an instrument, which the i-AM in freedom learns to play. The notes and intervals become primal dynamic expressions of soul forces and capacities, many generated out of spiritual exercises. Just as we must practice the use of a material musical instrument, so we must practice the capacities of the soul. At the same time, many forces and capacities (if not more) have a quality that comes only from the moral tone of the soul. We purify the instrument of the soul as much as we learn how to use it. Both are needed, both are necessary. The spiritual exercises, that is the how as in technique, has more kinship with the teachings of the true Alchemists – the stream of the Kings, while the moral purity of the soul has more kinship with the teachings of Christ – the stream of the Shepherds.
Steiner’s The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity is the modern transformation of the Christ-in-me moral essence of the John Gospel, while Knowledge of Higher Worlds is the modern transformation of the Rosicrucian Ideals of spiritual developmental exercises. While the latter has more kinship with the soul nature of Central Europe – the seeking to incarnate the Ideal, the former has more kinship with the soul nature of the American – the need to act morally in the world. Both are present everywhere in the world, it is just the mix and their proportions that vary from one soul gesture to another, in the wonder and mystery of the Threefold World.
Let us now seek to make a whole.
We become more and more inwardly free as we renounce and transform sympathies and antipathies, then as well the very thought content itself, until finally we sacrifice our own importance. Each act of renunciation is accompanied by a corresponding and deeper capacity to love. Each act of love, beginning with the most simple appreciation of the other – the Thou, creates inner purity: inner light and warmth. We are in the process of learning to make of the soul a temple, and to fill it with created and cultivated feelings of reverence and wonder at not only the world of nature, but also the world of social community – the stream of karmic wounds and free destiny meetings with our companions in life.
Ultimately, this inner and outer moral work leads us to becoming fully inwardly naked to ourselves in the Fire Trial (where there is no longer the possibility of escaping the Shadow), and as well fully and consciously naked to the other-Presence (the kingdom of heaven is within you). But even in the face of the other-Presence we are nevertheless completely free. The nature of the breath (the other-Presence) is to bring not only a new depth of comprehension, but ever more freedom, for we never stop being the principle willful agent of the thought-content that arises in the soul. Overtime we become even freer and more creative – a true artist in thought.
The creation of a human thought content is the sole province of the 10th Hierarchy. Only in us, and through our love, does the Cosmos know Itself in the beauty of human thought. We were told this as long ago as Genesis 2:19-20, with the symbolic picture that unto Adam is given the power of naming every living creature. We name the world, give it its human meaning, with every thought we source and author.
Here we can now come to understand more deeply the truth, beauty and goodness hidden in Christ’s comments in response to the question of what is the most important commandment: He said to them, “You are to love your lord God with all your heart and all your spirit and all your mind. That is the important and first commandment. [love other-Presence] The second one is similar: You are to love those close to you as you love yourself. [love the Thou, the companions in life] All the law and the prophets hang from these two commands” . Matthew 22: 37-40.
What we really learn is to participate sacramentally in the arrival of the thought-content in the soul, which becomes then ever new each time we truly think. We are, in this, inwardly born again and again and again. This living thinking is a perpetual rebirth of thought, which comes into being and dies away – a constant dying and becoming. We learn to unite with this living stream of thought, the living stream of breath within. We give ourselves over to it, in a participatory Rite – an artistic soul dance of sacred-heart thinking, and then discover the true secret of the Fire Trial, which has been hidden out in the open in the Gospels, just in this: Now I bathe you in the water to change hearts, but the one coming after me is stronger than me: I’m not big enough to carry his shoes. He will bathe you in holy breath and fire. John the Baptist: Matthew 3:11
leading us, through His Grace (holy breath within)
and His Love (as Artistic arranger of the Karma
of the Fire of Trials in our biographies), to:
Not I, but Christ in me.