The ‘Seven Commitments’ The ‘Eightfold Path’ & The ‘Six Accessory Exercises’
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 in 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.
It is from this background that each article in this esoteric section is written and you will find this header in italics on each esoteric article.
The ‘Seven Commitments’
The ‘Eightfold Path’
& The ‘Six Accessory Exercises’
Many paths of spiritual development are available today, some based in far eastern philosophies, some based on mind altering substances, most requiring a Guru, master or teacher to lead you. In this age of independent thought self awakening is more possible than ever before and those who seek a path that remains in harmony with 21st century life may find it useful to take up conscious cultivation of the individual spirit. In describing such a path of development Rudolf Steiner collected and created a range of exercises that help to integrate our personal self with our eternal being bringing our gifts and strengths more into their potential.
The three sets of exercises here bring about an ordering and strengthening of the life of the soul. One set is the ‘Seven Commitments’ that create a foundation for the soul, supporting and ensuring safety in all inner work. The next is a modern version of the Buddha’s ‘Eightfold Path.’ This set has been particularly useful to mothers whose necessary focus on the young child can make more focussed meditations difficult and to anyone who prefers more open rhythms to intensely focussed, silence based meditations. The third set, ‘Six Accessory Exercises’ may be practiced at the same time or independently. All of these are an adjunct to meditation, mantric, presence or any other You may choose to spread these out in weekly or monthly rhythms unless you have the space and focus to run them all at once.
Each of these sets end in a container, thus the Seven Commitments are six steps and a balancing commitment, the Eightfold Path is 7 exercises and a practice that deepens the rest, the ‘Six Accessory Exercises’ are 5 exercises and a commitment to balance them.
The ‘Seven Commitments’ are as much an observation as a practice. Fruition comes from noticing how well we are fulfilling the requirements of each step and we can grow a relationship with them by asking ‘How has my life been affected when I have failed to practice this point?’ they can also be used to asses a given situation. If for example we are faced with a choice we might ask how each option looks in the light of these commitments. Also to review an act or an issue, ask whether what one did or how one responded to a situation fulfilled the seventh commitment to balance the other six. The indications below are a vast reduction on Steiner’s full page on each one which can be found in his book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds.
To begin on the Eightfold Path you might find it helpful to start with the eighth step, right meditation. This can be used in the preparation and review of each step in the way. Use this step to focus on one of the other seven for a week or two until you feel familiar with it, then move on to another and thus through each one before creating a weekly, day by day practice using the eighth step still as preparation and review.
The method of practicing the Six Accessory Exercises is implicit in the description of them. Here, too, five to ten minutes a day should be spent on one of these exercises. Working up each one in turn before adding or moving on to the next one. While it is possible to practice all six concurrently it is sometimes more helpful to do them sequentially for a day, a week or a month at a time.
The Seven Commitments.
- To care for the self. Body, soul and spirit. 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.
- To see the world through another’s eyes. This 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.
- My own experience is true. To take my inner thoughts and feelings as valid and true for me. If the world appears to differ that is also a valid experience but does not make my own experience wrong. It is possible to see things differently to others and still have a valid and important point of view. Having faith in my own experience also means I am able to take another person’s experience seriously, even if it differs from my own. Notice that my inner attitude is as real as anyting outside me and affects others as much as my actions do.
- To stand upright in my own space. Too often I lean forward, be it enthusiasm, helpfulness or anger. Too often I lean back, be it reticence, shyness, fear. Sometimes I equivocate, shifting from side to side rather than standing in my own truth. In this commitment I seek to separate compulsion from attitude, to notice how I impact others and how others impact me and remain gently centred in my own space.
- To noticing the gap between my decisions and my actions. Too often decisions are made that a little reflection would tell me are not actionable. Too often actions are taken that were not according to decisions I made. See also the second step in the six accessory exercises for help on this one.
- To feel gratitude for the all that comes my way. Life is full of good things and even the biggest challenge holds the possibility for development and therefore deserves our gratitude. Doing this I will notice that my heart becomes able to stay open in challenging circumstances and so encourage more of my self to be present.
- To keep these 6 balanced. Not getting too focussed on any one, but holding each one in relation to the others allows my self to be present in every action, including actions towards my own self or the self of another. Taking a little time each day to review or plan things in relation to these commitments
These points are expanded and explored in my article: Freedom and the Pendulum of Awareness
The Eightfold Path.
Right Thinking (Saturday)
Admit only significant ideas and thoughts. Seek to separate the important from the unimportant, the real from the unreal, the eternal from the ephemeral, the true from the false. Listen to what people say with inner quietness, refraining from judgment and criticism. In this way one arrives at the habit of forming opinions that are not influenced by sympathy or antipathy.
Right Resolves (Sunday)
Cultivate steadfastness. Make resolutions only after full consideration of even the most insignificant points. Avoid thoughtless and meaningless acts. Do no needless thing. When convinced of the rightness of a resolve, abide by it.
Right Speaking (Monday)
In speech with others, say only what has sense and meaning. Make your conversation thoughtful. Do not be afraid to be silent often. Try not to use too many or too few words. Avoid talking for the sake of talking, or merely to pass the time.
Right Action (Tuesday)
Make your actions as far as possible harmonious with your surroundings. Weigh your actions carefully so that the eternal may speak through them, so that they may be good for the whole and for the lasting welfare of others.
Right Way of Life (Wednesday)
Bring your life into harmony both with nature and the human spirit. Be neither over hasty nor idle. Look upon life as an opportunity for work and development, and live accordingly. Treat enjoyment as a gateway to spirit in nature and people and not as an end in itself.
Right Endeavour (Thursday)
Do anything that you can do but do not attempt things that are beyond your present abilities. Set yourself high ideals in spiritual and in social life, seeking to realise continually more of your own potential. Seek to be of use to others whenever you rightly can. Apply this step to every aspect of your spiritual path.
Right Remembrance (Friday)
Learn from life wherever you can. All experiences have something to teach. When opportunity offers aim to handle a situation more wisely than previously. Experience is a rich treasure, consult it often. One can learn much from observing others, including children so watch the actions of others comparing these with your ideals (lovingly not critically.) Make this part of your being.
Right Meditation (To accompany each of the above)
Make a habit of reviewing your life and progress, remind yourself of what you’ve learned. Ponder your daily round, consider the aim and true purposes of life, check on what is still to be learned and done, distinguishing what is significant and of lasting value, and renew your resolve to stand fully within your potential.
The Six Exercises.
- Control of Thoughts
Empty the soul, and then take up a simple, thought, for example an everyday object like a pin (simple and uninteresting objects are most effective.) For a moment take in the object then putting it down organise your thoughts to stay in relationship with the object, allowing only thoughts that connect directly, be thy about its genesis, about its role in your life, its purpose and function or anything that remains directly connected to the same object. A different object may be chosen each day, or the same one used. The aim of this exercise is to acquire control of what lives in one’s soul as thought, and not be distracted by the usual associative thinking that scatters the modern mind. Even taken singly this exercise transforms our standing in the world.
- Control of Action (Will)
Choose a simple act not required by normal daily life, and carry it out each day. It is helpful to choose an act that can cover an extended period of time but the task should be relatively insignificant, so that it must be carried out from one’s own initiative and one is not carried along by the interest of the task itself. After a time add a second and a third task. If possible, continue the first exercise as well, so that its fruits do not fade.
- Equanimity in Feeling
Check in regularly with what you are actually feeling. Too often feelings run along beneath our attention and influence things in ways we had not intended. Unattended feelings tend to amplify themselves, joy in feeling joyous, annoyance at being angered, sadness at feeling unhappy build upon the original feeling if we do not check on them. Acceptance and forgiveness of the passing internal weather are valuable towards creating a mood that can then pervade our daily life, increasing peacefulness and centred calm. This is about awareness more than control, about re-discovering and being faithful to our centre.
Seek in all experiences of life the good, the ideal, and the beautiful. Even within the ugly or depraved, something beautiful and good is hidden. This is an exercise for withholding criticism, for finding a standpoint that can enter with love into a person or situation, and asks how they come to be like this, leading to a will to help rather than simply criticize.
- Openness of mind and heart
Try to develop the habit of meeting every new experience without prejudice, with an open mind. Previous experiences and judgments must not obscure recognition of new truths.
- Uniting all five exercises in rhythmic sequence
Practice each exercise in sequence (for example one each day, for a period of time). This gradually brings a strong, harmonizing influence into the soul.
Focussed spiritual development will always uncover darker parts of the soul, so keeping a life emphasis on gentle forgiveness is important. ‘Right Way of Life’ can include time in nature (relating to trees is especially helpful, trees being a counterpart to human consciousness in so many ways) watching the cycle of the year, noticing the rise and fall of sun and moon are all helpful ways alongside the high goals we set ourselves. Storms in our inner weather can be eased by such supplementary exercises as watching sunsets, comparing our inner response to different greens and imaging exercises like this one:
- Touch into your centre of peace, the I AM at the core of your being
- Feeling your body bathed in a flow from over your head, down all your body and out through your feet into the earth below.
- Being aware of the starlight, the moons light and the suns light that flow from above down into your being, informing, sustaining and creating you right down to your sacrum.
- Becoming aware of the sphere around on your body, a skin that is an impermeable membrane and also a sense organ offering protection from and communication with all that is around us.
This works best outdoors. If you are indoors feel the floor as your access to the earth/ground and imagine the ceiling as transparent to the forces that you are connecting with. It can be helpful to repeat this in any moment you feel upset, before any tricky or important engagement and/or after any intense experience.