There are basically two types of human experience: The sense impression and our response to it. Sense impressions arise through our body, and are the essential ingredient of being aware – from the centre – of a world outside of us. This is the signature of embodied life. Our response to this experience is to form images of what we are perceiving through the senses, and to think about them. This is the signature of ensouled life.
Each of the different types of sense impression touch our awareness in different ways, and each one gives rise to a response within us. Way below our normal awareness, responses arise to each and every sense impression. Many of these responses never reach our day-consciousness at all, if they all did we would find it extremely hard to function in the workaday world. What does reach our consciousness is typically our emotional response to a secondary response that arises following a judgment-reaction to a concept. Rudolf Steiner describes this very beautifully in ‘Man as Symphony of the Creative Word’ using the images of Eagle, Bull, Lion and Butterfly to bring our attention to the unconsciousness of our percept-concept response to sense impressions. Close attention to this process in the soul reveals that ‘butterfly’ is an ideal final stage and that different insect-archetypes actually follow on to the heart-awareness arising from our body’s after image, depending on our habitual emotional response to the type of experience engendered. These emotional responses arise in the lower astral body, slowly making their way up to higher regions, if our conscious spiritual engagement with them allows that. Importantly the original after image arises in the etheric body and is available for our direct perception if we slow down and drop into ourselves enough to allow that.
The question that our incarnate self asks again and again, yet rarely reaching the level of conscious questioning is:
“What is actually real?”
This rhythm of sense impression and inner response, this systole-diastole of our breathing-in the physical-etheric world, offers us a first firm experience. This is real. My experience is real. Whatever philosophy tells me about any (un)reality of the sense-world or any (un)reality of the spiritual world, my experience in this moment (and this moment…) is an ongoing reality.
Appearing in my sense impressions and in my responses to them is you. In whatever form you appear, there you are. The next question that comes up deep within me as part of my butterfly-awareness is “who are you?” Now we have a wider rhythm, a longer swing on the pendulum of experience as my question “Who are you” reflects in me as “If that Being is, then who am I”
All this is already plunging deep into the mystery of incarnate being and draws attention in us to an aspect of our awareness that lies almost outside of experience as such. That is the point of awareness itself. This completes the triangle of the troilist* world view. We only find that point when we ask: Who is seeing all this? Who is watching my sense perceptions arrive and who is aware of the various levels of response within me. With this question we approach the deepest mysteries of existence. Rudolf Steiner finished one lecture cycle by offering this. > “There is no more esoteric statement that I can give you than this: The Christ is seeing you.”
In other places Rudolf Steiner is equally clear that this Being known as the Cosmic Christ is equally well called ‘the I AM of all humanity’ or the ‘Sun Centre of Being.’ This is what St. John calls ‘Logos,’ the forming purpose of our existence. Thus we come to the experience: I am is seeing I am.
At every point in our inner being, neither deep nor high, neither in the past nor in the future, neither ‘Him’ nor ‘Me,’ something, deep, wide, tiny-spaceless, consciousness is aware of every little thing that passes. I AM is being me. That ancient awareness: I AM the I AM
Wonder, wide open wonder, close focussed questioning-wonder is the key to opening each gate of spiritual awareness yet from this baseline there are innumerable steps that empower our arising. In his Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, the most fundamental set of exercises that Steiner suggests, is, like wonder, offered as something to do before beginning a path. And yet, in the way that all things spiritual are timeless, practicing their continued presence is extremely helpful, (like feeding the roots of an established plant.) So in this article I would like to refresh the vision of these 7 conditions in the light of the two aspects of human experience. ‘Conditions’ is a word with two meanings and before you might assume that any entry to spiritual awareness is conditional on you accepting or practicing these steps let me assure you that what is actually happening here is the conditioning of your finer senses/finer bodies, to create easier, safer conditions for the growth of your subtle awareness. Grounding yourself in these practices makes it easier for your soul-conditions to support spiritual-mental-emotional health, as you venture into the uncharted waters of your own Being and into the space between the Cosmic Christ as he appears in you and in other beings.
As a first condition the caring that you give to yourself, to your body, your soul and your spirit create a ground of safety, a home to come to, a rooting for your spiritual growth. Every tool you have and use to care for others can be applied to the self. We all need care: Warmth, shelter, good food, clean air, time alone, to be listened to and loved. To receive compassion and forgiveness. Apply all this to your own self. Yes, all of this.
How does the world look through the eyes of the person in front of me? Whether this person be friend or foe, be supporting my position or opposing it seeing things through their eyes offers me a perfect complement to the self-care I have now put in place. This second step does not mean adopting their perspective, it does mean understanding their view of any situation with head and heart. When I see the world and the other person from their own point of view I acknowledge also myself in my differences, my uniqueness, I acknowledge the boundary between me and other. In discovering this I raise myself out of my personality, see myself within the global community of conscious beings, and get closer to the Cosmic Christ.
Accepting that my own experience is true returns me from any tendency to fall into believing that another person’s opinion, however well-reasoned, is more important than my own. Ideally this third step gives us a chance to practice the fundamental base-line of being, the ongoing reality of experience in this moment. This is about practicing a firm, gentle standing in experience, it says nothing about any opinions we may hold or conclusions we may have drawn, it is about the truth of my ongoing reality of experience, my foundation in being me. Within this reality we can also begin to recognise that my inner life relfects in the world around me. What I do, feel, think, within me has a real affect in the world just as much as what I say or how I act outwardly. Becoming aware of this is integral to the third step.
Learning to notice my uprightness in this, my inner space is also crucial. Checking this fourth point allows me to notice if I am leaning forward in anger or enthusiasm, leaning back in fear or shyness, or dodging the experiences coming at me by side-to-side equivocation. Standing upright in myself is a spiritual act that helps me to remain attentive to my actual experience and makes me present and visible to other beings. Being upright balances the inner experience and the outer so that one is not a reaction to the other.
This fourth point is also about responsibility. What we do within ourselves affects the world. Whether I manage to be upright or whether I am ruled by my patterns changes the environment for other people as much as it does for me. Accpeting responsibility for the reality of my own inner life and inner attitudes is a key element of this stage.
In this way the pendulum that swings from experience to response, from discovering me in the world to discovering me in myself is honoured in its reality and balanced in its activity. Without such practices on some level, the pendulum will tend to swing more and more widely. What these exercises do up to this point and on through the next three is bring our conscious attention to activities of the soul that live in the social life and in our upbringing – if either of these are healthy. Through the attention paid to what is happening anyway we can bring harmony to our lives.
Having brought us closer to the centre our next, fifth practice is to notice decision and action, two aspects of our personal will-force. These also need to be brought into harmony. Often, a little reflection on decisions we make would tell us they are not actionable. This may be because we are setting ourselves ideals instead of our measuring ourselves by our genuine experience, or it may be because the decision is a reaction and does not come from our uprightness. Then again we may make actionable decisions but let them float off into the dream, and not carry them through. It also happens that we take actions we never meant to. There again resting in these exercises can help us to slow down and review impulses that arise, weighing them in heart and head, bringing harmony into the relationship between decision and action.
Gratitude for life can also help us to find our place as a sixth step in these exercises. Gratitude and its cultivation are powerful spiritual helpers. Questioning attitudes in us, that are upset with life, upset with our own genuine experience, and do not want to give in to gratitude is a pleasant and effective way of removing the sting of negative judgement. Life is full of good things and even the biggest challenge holds the possibility for development and therefore deserves our gratitude. Cultivating Gratitude as a sixth exercise helps me to keep my heart open in challenging circumstances and so encourage more of my Self to be present.
Bringing stillness and awareness to the pendulum of experience lies also in balancing these six steps. I can take it as a seventh point of practice that my desire to care for myself does not impinge on my willingness to see your point of view, that this second does not break up my acceptance of my own experience and so on through the six. In reviewing how we are doing in this balancing exercise we may easily give in to feelings of ‘failure’ in some degree. This offers an opportunity to develop forgiveness. Forgiveness is a key door-way to learning, as things we hide from ourselves out of shame or fear will reveal themselves when we create an atmosphere of forgiveness. This new learning also softens the soul towards the failures of others that can assist with exercises 2, 4 and 5. This seventh practice of balancing and integrating the set allows our point of awareness to become more firmly connected to our daily experience. Strengthens the presence of the I Am of all Humanity within us, notices that we are His incarnate becoming.
*Note: Troilist is a natural romantic-root extension from the term ‘dualism.’ – Rudolf Steiner’s step forward from dualism, and the non-dual world view that came before, is more familiarly translated from the German as ‘three-fold’ or three-folding. Troilism is a word available in the English that I prefer to adopt as more natural to our language.
For a short talk on this see Tobias in discussion with Mike Puskas here
For an hour-long dive into this see Tobias presenting a Steiner-House seminar.
This grounding-exercise forms part of the “Centre and Periphery” course running on Zoom from September
Beyond these grounding exercises there is a structure of inner development available through Steiner’s work that can empower you to achieve your life goals, harmonize your family life, and deepen your ability to be present and relaxed in the everyday world. No retreat-from-the-world is necessary in order to awaken. The western path has always been through engagement – Enlightenment through Love in Action.
Tobias runs groups locally, in south Devon, UK and online.
Support for your own awakening process through 1:1 sessions is also available.
The simple philosophy behind the Sounding Bowls is one of Presence.
If one is truly Present to what goes on the world blossoms under one’s hand and eye.
By practicing Presence to the wood and the moment of this cut, Awareness of the meaningful flow of this curve, Mindfulness of the purpose behind Sounding Bowls and in front of this particular one (what/who it is being made for) we can watch how the purposeful nature of existence flowers into a potential that is held in the form and the substance of the instrumental/sculptures we make.
Behind and beyond this there is a philosophy of the nature of existence that seeks to go further, look deeper than modern science has yet travelled. While physics has now got to the point of realising that there is no-thing there, that subatomic particles are more like waves yet are not truly waves either and that identifying the nature of the structure of substance is like watching minute events unfold only to disappear again, not traceable in location unless unknown in size, not traceable in mass/energy/effect unless unplaceable in space, but it has not answered the ages old question of how we perceive solid matter when both it and our bodies are known to be more space than particle and even the particles turn out to be events.
Against this background other meaningful questions remain: Why does music move us so powerfully? Where do we go when we sleep, or die? What is the nature of Love?… Only turning to a spiritual world-view begins to address these questions, yet most spiritual world-views fall down on explaining why matter behaves as it does. Within a spiritual world view is the assumption that the human being, indeed consciousness in all forms, is based outside of the time-space continuum and manifests within it with deliberate purpose. The nature of that purpose, and how we may most fruitfully regulate ourselves within, remain the important ingredients that distinguish one spiritual philosophy from another.
It has been my own path to pursue these questions. Having been brought up in a family inspired by Rudolf Steiner and practicing bio-dynamic/organic farming, Waldorf education and other life-ways inspired from a spiritual world view I have sought out and studied a variety of world views from Rosicrucian to Shamanic, from Buddhist to Scientology, from non-dual through dualist to troilist and returned again and again to Rudolf Steiner’s deep and loving philosophy whose complex nature covers cosmology, the nature of perception and matter, Ways of enlightenment and ways of serving the essential nature of being human in others as in oneself. During this path I have been through the predictable tunnel of darkness and been re-born or awakened on the other side to a whole new level of service, a whole new level of learning that is, as it was on the one side, ongoing. The only difference now is that the learning happens more easily with slightly less resistance from the personality.