Search by Author
Newly Added Articles and Research  

International/National Links and Networking

Contact Us/Send Comments 

Member's Login: Password Required

  Awakening to Consciousness in the Etheric

<< back

By: Jorgen Smit
Awakening to Conciousness.doc

(Original title: Das Erwachen des Bewusstseins im ^therischen. Record of a lecture published in Jorgen Smit, Der werdende Mmsch. Zur meditativen Vertiefung des Erziehens. 2. Aufl. Stuttgart: Freies Geistesleben 1990. Reprinted in Der Merkurstab 1996; 49:453-62. English by A. R. Meuss, FTL,MTA.)

"Awakening to consciousness in the etheric" is a very special subject. First, we need to define it more clearly. A particular problem in modern life, indeed a pathological situation, is the split people experience between their inner life and the outside world as is seen in material terms. Anything we experience in the material, physical world has an existence of its own, far removed from any spiritual, moral qualities. Conversely, the life of mind and spirit has an inwardness that is partly subjective and does not influence the physical, material world - it stays in isolation. In Anthroposophy, we endeavor to overcome the split by seeking a path of knowledge that leads to the spiritual in man, and from the spiritual in man to the spiritual in the universe.(1) This will only succeed if the spiritual comes alive in us, assuming reality and is taken into the physical realm and made to be active in the physical, material world.

All our thoughts have shadow nature in the conscious mind as inner thoughts although, in reality, they well forward from the etheric world of the spirit (without it, there would be no thoughts).

On the other hand, there is the whole field of sensory perception. This perception originates in the spiritual, essential. It comes from outside but does not come to conscious awareness as something that lives; it dies down into something phantom-like, and all our sensory perceptions are taken up by the conscious mind as something connected with an object. We therefore do not live in spiritual reality inwardly - our thinking lacks the essence of the spirit; and outwardly, we do not perceive the spiritual essence of the world that presents itself through the senses. We are divided between the phantoms of sensory perception and the shadows of thought. Darkness reigns on either side with respect to the full reality. It is glorious to know that we can reach that reality, although this does need effort - we do not "get it for nothing."

We can leave the realm of shadows and phantoms behind only in the search for insight. To our ordinary thinking this does appear shadowy and phantom-like to begin with. In its depths, however, lies something that goes unnoticed although full of life and activity. We must slowly strengthen our inner powers of perception by exercising them, and initially this seems to have no particular effect. This perception does, however, grow stronger until it reaches the border of shadow-land and begins to perceive itself as spiritual reality. This happens first in creative thinking where we no longer merely reflect images but come to a point where the creative process that takes us from fluctuating movement to form and figure is "done."

For example, you sit on a seat in the woods, close your eyes and try to meditate. In the course of this you completely forget that you are sitting on that seat; but when the meditation ends the outside world comes back to your awareness. You then make a discovery relating to sensory perception. There may be leaves rustling in the wind. When you come back from your meditation the rustle is like a roar - for a couple of seconds at most - then it returns to normal. For a brief moment, you lived in immediate sensory perception without phantoms or connection to objects. An experience such as this shows how greatly reduced the quality of sensory perception is in everyday life.

We thus have two aspects: on one hand, rising to active, effective and creative thinking; on the other, rising from the phantoms of sensory perceptions to their source-spring in the living, active elemental world. The two then begin to work together - like breathing. With every step forward in creative thinking comes absorption of the true qualities in the world we perceive and vice versa. The roaring sound that is part of the reality in the world of the senses, the elemental world, will vanish the next moment unless it is absorbed into creative thinking. When the two begin to work together, a new breathing process begins, not in air this time but between thinking and sensory perception, and one enhances the other.(2)

Within this new activity, we initially catch onto only a "snippet," as it were, of the etheric world, our own ether body. This snippet tends to vanish immediately from our conscious awareness unless there is further reinforcement. We are under an illusion if we think we can progress in this field of perception and thinking without making any changes in our personal life. The snippet is connected not just with the ether body of the head, which is the nearest, but with the whole human ether body. It is a time organism and lives in the whole of our biography. We can try and reinforce it by going back through our own life, one situation after the next, year after year, all the way to our childhood. Later, we survey the whole from a higher point of view, not merely rehashing our personal life, as it were, but looking at with the kind of objectivity we would have in looking at another person's life, discerning what is important and what is not. This will gradually make us aware of the true powers that shape our biography. Every time we work on another piece of our life in this way has its repercussion.(3)

Another way to achieve reinforcement is to take hold of the "time organism." Abstract knowledge of this does not take us to the reality. We must gain direct experience of it. Start with what lies nearest: visualize this evening lecture at this moment and hypothetically imagine that it is seven o'clock in the morning. It would be a totally different situation and a totally different lecture, even if I were to use the same words. It would be morning mood - just awakened from sleep, before breakfast - and that would be a different reality. We have now gone through the day, heard lectures, taken part in discussion groups, and are going further into the evening. Then, imagine it is one o'clock in the morning - again a different lecture, a totally different situation.

Everything that happens is the way it is not only because of its present content but also within the time organism. Where am I during the day and the night? What is coming toward me? What lies behind me? We are always within larger and smaller cycles - night and day, a whole month, a whole year. We might also imagine it to be March now, again a totally different situation for this would be a different place in the organism of the year. We may quickly think this and see that it is so and then leave it aside and go on from one moment to the next, not really feeling the reality of the time organism. We must practice a feeling for being continually within greater and smaller cycles of time and realize that the small, momentary only gains significance and value from being part of the greater whole.

We get anxious when we drop out of the time organism or when the I simply lets all the powers of soul, everything alive and active in there -thoughts, feelings, wishes, drives, desires - go their own way. If it does not intervene as required, the astral body grows flaccid and weak. The astral body holds great abundance, but when the I gives no impulses and is not active within it, it grows flaccid. As a result, the astral can no longer inspire the ether body, and this, too, grows flaccid.

What does flaccid mean? Depending on random external influences, it means allergic. Allergy represents a certain weakness in relation to external influences. The stronger we are in ourselves the less are we allergic. A weak ether body loses touch with the physical body, and this "drops out" a little, although not completely for if it did, we would die. When the physical body drops out just a little, anxieties and various diseases develop; the physical begins to twitch. When a power calls out the "developing human being," the ether body is strengthened out of the I, and this power is taken to a higher level. The "snippet" begins to gain in strength; it widens.

Another way of achieving reinforcement is very important. Initially, everyone sees himself as something very small on earth, with an inner life that is wholly subjective and a great universe out there - a world of stars; but one does not have anything to do with it. Even if we progress here in moral terms, the whole world of stars - seen in astrophysical terms - does not relate to this. If we hold onto this idea, we will continue to feel small and weak for we have failed to discover the that this "something" that comes to life in the etheric is not only here with me, it is also at the same time far out on the circumference, at the periphery. In the physical world, objects are next to one another. A physical body can be more or less defined, even if there are no sharp margins as in bodies of heat in the air, etc. This is not the case with the ether body. The world of the stars is present, though unnoticed, when we first wake up in the etheric with creative thinking and perception quickened, even if we do not know of it. The whole is present, though we do not know it. This life lived in the whole must be brought to awareness; it must be practiced. We have to feel ourselves to be within the periphery of stars, the great, arching circumference, just as we feel ourselves to be in our own ether body.

A few lines in a poem by Novalis may initially delight us by their sheer poetry, and suddenly we also see the deep truth that lies in them:

The world of stars shall flow,
be golden wine of life,
and as we drink of it
we shall be shining stars.

It is not merely poetic, it is true. The etheric arch of the circumference comes to conscious awareness, the small becomes a star and lives with the great. This is the reality of awakening in the etheric.

Some ways of gaining reinforcement are: working on biography, experiencing the time organism, the I working on the aspects of the human being, the repercussions of this and, finally, making the connection with the vast periphery of the cosmic circumference.

There is a fourth dimension. This can be a purely abstract matter, where we simply go on counting: fourth, fifth, sixth dimension..., and it is certainly possible to work with it in modern mathematics without attaching any spiritual value to it. We may take the abstract view and say: three dimensions in ordinary space, and then we add time as a fourth coordinate so that we now work with four axes. This is not the kind of fourth dimension I mean. Consider the esoteric significance of the fourth dimension: something very different happens there. Where do we get three dimensions, three coordinates in space? Only in the physical earthly world, where we have the experience of space. It is the only place where this exteriorized aspect of the three dimensions and crystalline, mineral nature is possible. The third dimension is not the primary element, however, but has come down from the highest world of the spirit in three stages. When a solid form arises, it has dropped out of the context of powers of movement and become three dimensional in space, physical and mineral.

"Zero" is the highest world of the spirit - we might also say "point" or "star." In the lower world of the spirit - a line, revelation radiating out in this

field of one dimension. Then the world of etheric life, a planar world of activity, nothing standins still. Finally there is the three-dimensional sphere, the cross. Death is only possible here in the physical, sense-perceptible world. Here we have the progressive descent of creative activity.

Then the line of developing consciousness begins to rise upwards, and we come to the fourth, fifth and sixth dimensions. These are not simply additional coordinates, however, but mark the ascent to higher levels, with one of the previously exteriorized dimensions vanishing at each level. One disappears at the first step, which becomes planar, with image nature. Then another vanishes, and we come to line. Inspiration. Again, a dimension is lost, and we reach the point. Intuition, complete inwardness.

Waking up in the etheric happens when our conscious awareness rises from the 3-dimensional to the next level, where one exteriorization vanishes and "plane" is not the plane on an object but a living, active plane of images. Where do we find this? Rudolf Steiner made a very instructive, stimulating suggestion.(4) Where do Imaginations arise? In the very place where memories also arise - within, as in a plane where one finds oneself at the center, the field or plane of Imagination. These cannot be visions. A vision comes from outside, like a picture, and we merely look at it; all kinds of errors and delusions may come in. When an Imagination arises it is our own activity; we experience ourselves in the activity of creating the image. At the same time, however, the image is also in another place - at an infinite distance, on the great periphery! That is the fourth dimension where we are small and at the same time large.

If we do not consider the world of the stars, the small inner plane of Imagination also vanishes for it can only be grasped if we experience it as the universal power at the periphery. What do we have to do? We have to get out of our small, personal bodies. It does not mean losing oneself, for if it is a free deed, we can always return to the 3-dimensional world and check the connection; we have full, conscious certainty of the link. All kinds of errors may come in if we lose ourselves, and we must always have feedback, going to the point in the 3-dimensional cross. This preserves our individual freedom.

Events that occur before birth and immediately after death also take place at the interface between the second and fourth dimensions. Immediately before we are born we come from the highest world of the spirit through the lower world of the spirit and the elemental world until we are just about to enter the 3-dimensional physical world. Then all the spiritual intentions of the coming life unfold before us in a vast panorama of life. Immediately after death the physical body falls away, and the whole panorama of the life we have lived opens up before us. Thus, there is a panorama before life and one after life. We have the double life panorama on either side, showing our inmost spiritual intentions - and here we must not think of niggling details or believe that all is predestined, for we would be in error. The spiritual intentions and the essence of the spirit stand before us in a vast image after death.(5)

The same is the case every morning when we wake up and every evening when we have gone to sleep - a panorama of the day to come, a panorama of the day that has passed. Here, the peripheral image activity of the essence is around us on a smaller scale. If it is a true image, essence is expressed in a picture. Facial features of the spirit emerge, as it were. It is not an absurd image, cobbled together, it is the face of the essence showing us what is to come and what has been. It does not vanish during the day but lives immediately below the surface shadows and phantoms in the time organism and can be brought to conscious awareness whenever a moment comes when we begin to awaken in the etheric. Where am I now? What is the spiritual goal? A vast image shows the whole of it, and with it I am in the time organism that is moving on.

Anxiety arises when we drop out of the wholeness of the spirit. Anxiety pervades the whole of humanity today because we have dropped out of the time organism of the spirit, lost and cut up into pieces, as it were, with only single droplets in individual bodies. What will happen? Will I perish? Will the whole world be destroyed at any moment? This is anxiety arising from a deep, dark black hole. Anxiety cannot be overcome by suppressing it. Courage is gained by being active in mind and spirit, finding a new relationship within a spiritual reality, with the time organism brought to conscious awareness. You wake up in it.

Even if we make some progress in this direction, we can all too easily lose the connection again. Walking in the street and feeling ourselves to be small in relation to the universe we fall back into the image presented in newspapers and mass media of an entirely mechanical, material universe, with everything that happens on earth utterly meaningless.

The whole astrophysical image of the world is like a large, solid block in the conscious mind. It needs to be set in motion, lifted up into the time organism - not into astrophysical time which is merely a set of coordinates extending to infinity and is merely sequential, hypothetically taken forward or back, always repeating the same, but into a true time organism. Rudolf Steiner's Occult Science shows us where this comes from.(5) We are able to work with this to gain insight into the stages of planetary evolution. Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth - from the most profound ground and origin of spirit and essence, the highest world of the spirit, evolution gradually descended to the point at the center where three dimensions have become possible in dead, crystalline matter; evolution then continues in a great sweep into the future, where everything given as a gift and worked for and developed in the descent is taken forward in a new, transformed way in the developing human being.

The astrophysical view presents a sectional view taken at one moment -for example, in Winter with nothing remembered of the Spring, Summer and Autumn that have passed so that one thinks there is only ice, snow and Winter and knows nothing of the new growth that will come with Spring. This is a sectional view that presents a false picture. It is a half-truth for all the details given of the Winter landscape are true. We cannot undo the lie by saying that ice crystals do not exist. They do, but they must be lifted up into the great time organism, into awareness of the cosmic Spring, Summer and Autumn. We then see the present image of a dying world but also the seeds of next Spring everywhere below the surface. Anxiety is overcome, and the spiritual nature of this great time organism gives us unshakable certainty. This needs practice, however. Thorough study of Rudolf Steiner's Occult Science is a basic requirement if the mind is to awaken in the etheric.

This, then, is taken further and differentiated into periods of civilization. Here, we come to another disease of our present age. It is an age that has no history - that is, we know infinitely much, millions of details concerning the past, often absolutely right, but they are only half-truths because they are not lifted up to the level of the great steps of the seven civilizations: Indian, Persian, Egyptian, Greco-Latin. We are now in the fifth period, with a sixth and a seventh to follow. We are on a road where every detail, every moment, has its full, intrinsic value but only gains meaning in the context of the whole, the complete cycle.

From the great rhythms of time, we move on to the very small ones: our own lives. My own life from birth to death is also a whole, a time organism. At the moment, I am in a particular place. Let us say I am 18 or 70. That extreme emphasis is given to this moment, right down to the physical level. The rest of my life is also there in the background above, below, all around in the periphery, in the plane that lies within me, passing through me and is also active at the far distant periphery. The whole of life is there at any moment, but excessive emphasis is given to particular areas: the 19th year of the young person or the 71st of the old individual. What lies in the background for the young person? Everything that is still to come. It then carries particular emphasis in the rest of the time organism. What lives with particular intensity in the etheric organism of a 70-year-old? The whole of that person's youth.

There is a beautiful passage in Rudolf Steiner's first mystery play.(6) Johannes Thomasius, the painter, is undergoing inner trials. He experiences the zero point of shadows and phantoms where he feels himself to be nothing and slowly comes to wake up in the etheric because he is a seeker in the spirit. He then sees two individuals whom he knows in the physical world as Professor Capesius and young Dr. Strader. But the image opens out for him. He sees the professor, an old man in ordinary life, as a young man and young Dr. Strader as an old man. The complementary image arises because overemphasis on a particular point in physical life strongly evokes the opposite side in the whole time organism. The probation of the I goes through all the phases of this meaningful whole - the developing human being.

This developing human being is most powerful in us when we are very young, learning to walk, talk and think, though we do not know it. For the whole of our life, the developing human being is active beneath the surface in this etheric field of activity, out of the inmost reality of the divine spirit. When we awaken and become conscious in the etheric we therefore see many layers, many fields, and they have a special quality of reinforcing one another. It is magnificent how we then see the great and the small, finding ourselves, discovering the process of becoming, evolving within our own biography, and we find humanity, the evolution of humanity by the example of Occult Science.(5) We find the heart of the matter in our own individual nature, the true essence of the developing human being. It would be a false picture, however, if we saw only this, for the truth is apparent only if it is also seen to live within the great whole.

We also experience the truth of this in the following. The Christ is found within us, in every human individual, yet he is also the cosmic Christ in other humans beings and in the whole of humanity. He cannot be found in one place only. His influence comes from the periphery and, at the same time, from deep down in my heart.

These are some basic indications of how this split between inner and outer reality may be overcome. Quite clearly, the source-springs for the art of education lie here for education is, after all, concerned with the developing human being. How can we help the children if we do not bring the developing human being in us to conscious awareness? Here alone lie the resources that enable us to help and encourage children and young people.

1 Steiner R. Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts (GA 26) No. 1. Tr. G. & M. Adams. London:
Rudolf Steiner Press 1973.
2 Steiner R. The Archangel Michael. His Mission and Ours (in GA 194) 30 Oct. 1919. Tr. Marjorie Spock and others. Hudson: Anthroposophic Press 1994. Also: Steiner R. Boundaries of Natural Science (GA 322). 3 Oct. 1920. Tr. F. Amrine, K. Oberhuber. New York: Anthroposophic Press 1987.
3 Steiner R. Of the Life of the Soul and its Evolution to Imagination and Inspiration (in GA 84). Domach 15 Apr. 1923. MS translation Z 172, RSH Library, London.
4 Steiner R. Die Bedeutung der Anthroposophie im Geistesleben der Gegenwart (GA 82).
5 Steiner R. Occult Science - An Outline (GA 13). Chapter on sleep and death. Tr. G. & M. Adams. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1962.
6 Steiner R. The Portal of Initiation. A Rosicrucian Mystery (in GA 14). Tr. A. Bittleston. New Jersey: Rudolf Steiner Publications 1961.

<< back

Dynamic Content Management by ContentTrakker