Six Basic (Subsidiary) Exercises
The six ‘subsidiary’, or ‘basic’, exercises are part of a system of exercises in the initiation science of Anthroposophy which develop the ‘lotus flowers’ or chakrams of the astral body. They are at the same time the development of moral qualities – an integral feature of the esotericism that Anthroposophy promotes. The six exercises correspond to the development of half of the 12 petaled lotus flower located in the heart region of the astral body. It is these six, this half, that we are called upon to develop in our time with our conscious activity. In other techniques, Rudolf Steiner in places makes clear, the lotus flower is awakened by illicit means, uncontrolled by the neophyte and thus often leading to moral ruin. It is described that as the six ‘petals’ corresponding to the six subsidiary exercises are developed in full consciousness, the remaining six are awakened properly and of their own accord, i.e. indirectly. In like manner, there are eight exercises for the 16 petaled lotus flower and so on, although Steiner’s most explicit instructions are confined to these two. The six exercises also feature prominently in the important further step in occult development of the pupil’s work upon the etheric body where a center in the heart region of the etheric body (different from what Rudolf Steiner terms the “etheric heart”, see GA 161, 1915.5.1) is formed. While various forms of concentration and inner exercises are described throughout Steiner’s work and it is not uncommon for anthroposophical authors to relate them, or conflate them, with the six subsidiary exercises, the present wiki entry constrains itself only to those examples that are clearly meant as descriptions of the six.
[Theosophy also, in its greatly condensed and preliminary description of the path of Initiation, describes the six ‘Qualities’.]
Through the qualities named, the student induces in himself the condition which allows the realities present in the world around him to work upon him without disturbing influences emanating from his own personality. But he has also to fit himself into the surrounding spiritual world in the right way. As a thinking being he is a citizen of the spiritual world. He can be this in a right way only if during mental activity he makes his thoughts move in accordance with the eternal laws of truth, the laws of the “Spiritland.” For only so can that realm work upon him and reveal its facts to him. A man does not reach the truth as long as he gives himself up only to the thoughts continually coursing through his Ego. For if he does, these thoughts take a course imposed on them by the fact that they come into existence within the bodily nature. The thought-world of a man who gives himself up to a mental activity determined primarily by his physical brain appears disorderly and confused. A thought enters it, breaks off, is driven out of the field by another. Anyone who tests this by listening to a conversation between two people, or who observes himself frankly, will gain an idea of this mass of will-o’-the-wisp thoughts. As long as a man devotes himself only to the calls of the life of the senses, the confused course of his thoughts will always be set right again by the facts of reality. I may think ever so confusedly: but in my actions everyday facts force upon me the laws corresponding to the reality. My mental picture of a town may be utterly confused; but if I wish to walk along a certain street in the town I must accommodate myself to existing facts. A mechanic may enter his workshop with a chaotic medley of ideas; but the laws of his machines compel him to adopt the correct procedure in his work. Within the world of the senses facts exercise their continuous corrective on thought. If I think out a false opinion about a physical phenomenon or the shape of a plant, the reality confronts me and sets my thinking right.
It is quite different when I consider my relations to the higher regions of existence. They reveal themselves to me only if I enter them with strictly controlled thinking. There my thinking must give me the right, the sure impulse, otherwise I cannot find the proper paths. For the spiritual laws prevailing in these worlds are not sensibly perceptible, and therefore they do not exert on me the compulsion described above. I am able to obey these laws only when they are allied to my own as those of a thinking being. Here I must be my own sure guide. The student’s thinking must therefore be strictly regulated in itself. His thoughts must by degrees disaccustom themselves entirely from taking the ordinary daily course. They must in their whole sequence take on the inner character of the spiritual world. He must be able constantly to keep watch over himself in this respect and have himself in hand. With him one thought must not link itself arbitrarily with another, but only in the way that corresponds with the actual contents of the thought-world. The transition from one idea to another must correspond with the strict laws of thought. As thinker, the man must be to a certain extent a constant copy of these thought-laws. He must shut out from his train of thought everything that does not flow out of these laws. Should a favourite thought present itself to him, he must put it aside if the right sequence will be disturbed by it. If a personal feeling tries to force upon his thoughts a direction not proper to them, he must suppress it.
Plato required of those who wished to be admitted to his school that they should first have a mathematical training. And mathematics, with its strict laws which are independent of the course taken by sense-phenomena, form a good preparation for the seeker. If he wishes to make progress in the study of mathematics he must get rid of all personal arbitrariness, all elements of disturbance. The student prepares himself for his task by overcoming through his own will all arbitrary thinking. He learns to follow purely the demands of thought. And so too he must learn to do this in all thinking intended to serve spiritual knowledge. This thought-life itself must be a reflection of undisturbed mathematical judgment and inference. He must strive, wherever he goes and wherever he is, to be able to think in this way. Then the laws of the spirit-world flow into him, laws which pass over and through him, without a trace as long as his thinking has the usual, confused character. Regulated thinking leads him from reliable starting-points to the most hidden truths. What has been said, however, must not be understood in a one-sided way. Although mathematics acts as a good discipline, pure, healthy and vital thinking can be achieved without mathematics.
The goal towards which the student must strive for his thinking must also be the same for his actions. He must be able to obey the laws of the nobly beautiful and the eternally true without any disturbing influences from his personality. These laws must be able to guide and direct him. If he begins to do something he has recognised as right and his personal feelings are not satisfied by the action, he must not for that reason abandon the path on which he has entered. But on the other hand he must not persist with it because it gives him joy, if he finds that it is not in harmony with the laws of the eternally Beautiful and True. In everyday life people allow their actions to be determined by what satisfies them personally, by what bears fruit forthemselves. In so doing they force their personality upon the world’s events. They do not bring to realisation the true that is already traced in the laws of the spirit-world, but simply the demands of their self-will. We act in harmony with the spiritual world only when we follow its laws alone. From what is done merely out of the personality, there result no forces which can form a basis for spiritual knowledge. The seeker must not ask only, “What brings me advantages, what will bring me success?” He must also be able to ask: “What have I recognised as the Good?” Renunciation of the fruits of action for his personality, renunciation of all self-will: these are the stern laws that he must prescribe for himself. Then he treads the paths of the spiritual world, his whole being is penetrated by these laws. He becomes free from all compulsion from the world of the senses; his spirit-nature raises itself out of the material sheath. Thus he makes actual progress on the path towards the spiritual and spiritualises his own nature. One cannot say, “Of what use to me are the precepts to follow purely the laws of the True when I am perhaps mistaken as to what is the True?” What matters is the striving and the attitude to it. Even a man who is mistaken has in his very striving after the
True a force which diverts him from the wrong path. If he is mistaken, this force guides him to the right paths. Even the objection, “But I may be mistaken,” is harmful misgiving. It shows that the man has no confidence in the power of the True. For the important point is that he should not presume to decide on his aims and objects in life in accordance with his own egotistical views, but that he should selflessly yield himself up to the guidance of the spirit itself. It is not the self-seeking human will that can prescribe for the True; on the contrary, the True itself must become lord in the man, must penetrate his whole being, make him a mirror-image of the eternal laws of the Spiritland. He must fill himself with these eternal laws in order to let them stream out into life.
The seeker must be able to hold strict guard over both his thinking and his will. Thereby he becomes in all humility — without presumption — a messenger of the world of the True and the Beautiful, and rises to be a participant in the Spirit-World. He rises from stage to stage of development. For one cannot reach the spiritual life by merely beholding it; it has to be attained through actual experience.
If the seeker observes the laws here described, those of his soul-experiences that relate to the spiritual world will take on an entirely new form. He will no longer live merely in them. They will no longer have a significance merely for his personal life. They will develop into inner perceptions of the higher world. In his soul the feelings of pleasure and displeasure, of joy and pain, grow into organs of soul, just as in his body eyes and ears do not lead a life for themselves but selflessly allow external impressions to pass through them. And thereby the seeker gains the inner calmness and assurance that are necessary for investigation in the spirit-world. A great joy will no longer make him merely jubilant, but may be the messenger of qualities in the world which have hitherto escaped him. It will leave him calm: and through the calm, the characteristics of the joy-bringing beings will reveal themselves to him. Suffering will no longer merely oppress him, but will also be able to tell him about the qualities and attributes of the being which causes the suffering. Just as the eye does not desire anything for itself, but shows to man the direction of the path he has to take, so will joy and suffering guide the soul safely along its path. This is the state of balance of soul which the seeker must attain. The less joy and suffering exhaust themselves in the waves which they throw up in his inner life, the more will they form eyes for the supersensible world. As long as a man lives wholly in joy and pain he cannot gain knowledge through them. When he learns how to live through them, when he draws out of them his feeling of self, then they become his organs of perception; then he sees by means of them, cognises by means of them. It is incorrect to think that the seeker becomes a dry, colourless being, incapable of joy or suffering. Joy and suffering are present in him, but — when he investigates in the spiritual world — in a different form; they have become “eyes and ears.”
As long as we live in a personal relationship with the world things reveal only what links them with our personality. But that is the transitory part of them. If we withdraw ourselves from the transitory nature and live with our feeling of self, with our “I,” in our permanent nature, then the transitory parts of our nature become intermediaries; and what reveals itself through them is an Imperishable reality, an Eternal reality in the things. This relationship between his own Eternal nature and the Eternal in the things must be established by the seeker. Even before he begins other exercises of the kind described, and also during them, he should direct his thought to this Imperishable aspect. When I observe a stone, a plant, an animal, a man, I should be able to remember that in each of them an Eternal Reality expresses itself. I should be able to ask myself what is the permanent reality that lives in the transitory stone, in the transitory human being? What will outlast the transitory, physical appearance? It must not be thought that such a directing of the spirit to the Eternal destroys the power of devoted observation and our feeling for the qualities of everyday affairs, and estranges us from the immediate realities. On the contrary. Every leaf, every little insect, will unveil to us innumerable mysteries when not our eyes only, but through the eyes the spirit is directed upon them. Every sparkle, every shade of colour, every cadence, will remain vividly perceptible to the senses; nothing will be lost; an infinitude of new life is gained in addition. Indeed a person who does not understand how to observe with the eye even the tiniest thing will achieve only pale, bloodless thoughts, not spiritual sight.
Everything depends upon our attitude of mind. How far we shall succeed will depend upon our capacities. We have only to do what is right and leave everything else to evolution. It must be enough for us at first to direct our minds to the permanent. If we do this, the knowledge of the permanent will thereby awaken in us. We must wait until it is given. And it is given at the right time to each one who waits with patience — and works. A man soon notices during such exercises what a mighty transformation takes place in him. He learns to consider each thing as important or unimportant only in so far as he recognises it to be related to the Permanent, to the Eternal. His valuation and estimate of the world are different from those he has hitherto held. His feeling takes on a new relationship towards the whole surrounding world. The transitory no longer attracts him merely for its own sake, as formerly; it becomes for him a member, an image of the Eternal. And this Eternal reality that lives in all things, he learns to love. It becomes familiar to him, just as the transitory was formerly familiar to him. Again this does not cause him to be estranged from life; he merely learns to value each thing according to its true significance. Even the trifles of life will not pass him by without trace; but, inasmuch as he is seeking the spiritual, he no longer loses himself in them but recognises them at their worth. He sees them in their true light. Only an inferior seeker would go wandering in the clouds and lose sight of actual fife; a genuine seeker will, from his high summit, with his power of clear survey and his just and healthy feeling for everything, know how to assign to each thing its proper place.
Thus there opens out to the seeker the possibility of ceasing to obey only the incalculable influences of the external world of the senses, which turn his will now here, now there. Through knowledge he has seen the eternal nature in things. Through the transformation of his inner world he has gained the capacity to perceive this eternal nature. For the seeker, the following thoughts have special importance. When he acts from out of himself, he is conscious that he is also acting out of the eternal nature of the things. For the things give utterance in him to this nature of theirs. He is therefore acting in harmony with the eternal World Order when he directs his action from out of the Eternal within him. He knows himself to be no longer merely impelled by the things; he knows that he impels them according to the laws implanted in them which have become the laws of his own being.
This ability to act out of his own inner being can only be an ideal towards which the seeker strives. The attainment of the goal lies in the far distance. But the seeker must have the will clearly to recognise this path. This is his will for freedom. For freedom is action out of one’s own inner being. And only a man who draws his motives from the Eternal may act from out of his inner being. One who does not do this, acts according to motives other than those inherent in the things. Such a man opposes the World Order. And this must then prevail against him. That is to say, what he plans to carry through by his will can, in the last resort, not take place. He cannot become free. The arbitrary will of the individual annihilates itself through the effects of its deeds.
… The organ situated near the heart permits of clairvoyant knowledge of the sentiments and disposition of other souls.
The twelve-petalled lotus situated in the region of the heart is developed in a similar way. Half its petals, too, were already existent and in active use in a remote stage of human evolution. Hence these six petals need not now be especially developed in esoteric training; they appear of themselves and begin to revolve when the student sets to work on the other six. Here again he learns to promote this development by consciously controlling and directing certain inner activities in a special way.
It must be clearly understood that the perceptions of each single organ of soul or sprit bear a different character. The twelve and sixteen-petalled lotus flowers transmit quite different perceptions. The latter perceives forms. The thoughts and mentality of other beings and the laws governing natural phenomena become manifest, through the sixteen-petalled lotus, as figures, not rigid motionless figures but mobile forms filled with life. The clairvoyant in whom this sense is developed can describe, for every mode of thought and for every law of nature, a form which expresses them. A revengeful thought, for example, assumes an arrow-like, pronged form, while a kindly thought is often formed like an opening flower, and so on. Clear-cut, significant thoughts are regular and symmetrical in form, while confused thoughts have wavy outlines. Quite different perceptions are received through the twelve-petalled lotus. These perceptions may, in a sense, be likened to warmth and cold, as applied to the soul. A clairvoyant equipped with this faculty feels this warmth and cold streaming out from the forms discerned by the sixteen-petalled lotus. Had he developed the sixteen and not the twelve-petalled lotus he would only perceive, in the kindly thought, for instance, the figure described above, while a clairvoyant in whom both senses were developed would also notice what can only be described as soul-warmth, flowing from the thought. It would be noted in passing that esoteric training never develops one organ without the other, so that the above-mentioned example may be regarded as a hypothetical case in behalf of clarity. The twelve-petalled lotus, when developed, reveals to the clairvoyant a deep understanding of the processes of nature. Rays of soul-warmth issue from every manifestation of growth and development, while everything in the process of decay, destruction, ruin, gives an impression of cold.
The development of this sense may be furthered in the following manner. To begin with, the student endeavors to regulate his sequence of thought (control of thought). Just as the sixteen-petalled lotus is developed by cultivating thoughts that conform with truth and are significant, so, too, the twelve-petalled lotus is developed by inwardly controlling the trains of thought. Thoughts that dart to and fro like will-o’-the-wisps and follow each other in no logical or rational sequence, but merely by pure chance, destroy its form. The closer thought is made to follow upon thought, and the more strictly everything of illogical nature is avoided, the more suitable will be the form this sense organ develops. If the student hears illogical thoughts he immediately lets the right thoughts pass through his mind. He should not, however, withdraw in a loveless way from what is perhaps an illogical environment in order to further his own development. Neither should he feel himself impelled to correct all the illogical thoughts expressed around him. He should rather silently co-ordinate the thoughts as they pour in upon him, and make them conform to logic and sense, and at the same time endeavor in every case to retain this same method in his own thinking.
An equal consistency in his actions forms the second requirement (control of actions). All inconstancy, all disharmony of action, is baneful for the lotus here in question. When the student performs some action he must see to it that his succeeding action follows in logical sequence, for if he acts from day to day with variable intent he will never develop the faculty here considered.
The third requirement is the cultivation of endurance (perseverance). The student is impervious to all influences which would divert him from the goal he has set himself, as long as he can regard it as the right goal. For him, obstacles contain a challenge that impels him to surmount them, but never a reason for giving up.
The fourth requirement is forbearance (tolerance) toward persons, creatures, and also circumstances. The student suppresses all superfluous criticism of everything that is imperfect, evil and bad, and seeks rather to understand everything that comes under his notice. Even as the sun does not withdraw its light from the bad and the evil, so he, too, does not refuse them an intelligent sympathy. Should some trouble befall him he does not proceed to condemn and criticize, but accepts the inevitable, and endeavors to the best of his ability to give the matter a turn for the best. He does not consider the opinions of others merely from his own standpoint, but seeks to put himself into the other’s position.
The fifth requirement is impartiality toward everything that life brings. In this connection we speak of faith and trust. The student meets every human being and every creature with this trust, and lets it inspire his every action. Upon hearing some information, he never says to himself: “I don’t believe it; it contradicts my present opinions.” He is far rather ready to test and rectify his views and opinions. He ever remains receptive for everything that confronts him, and he trusts in the efficacy of his undertakings. Timidity and skepticism are banished from his being. He harbors a faith in the power of his intentions. A hundred failures cannot rob him of this faith. This is the “faith which can move mountains.”
The sixth requirement is the cultivation of a certain inner balance (equanimity). The student endeavors to retain his composure in the face of joy and sorrow, and eradicates the tendency to fluctuate between the seventh heaven of joy and the depths of despair. Misfortune and danger, fortune and advancement alike find him ready armed.
The reader will recognize in the qualities here described the six attributes which the candidate for initiation strives to acquire. The intention has been to show their connection with the spiritual organ known as the twelve-petalled lotus flower. As before, special instructions can be given to bring this lotus flower to fruition, but here again the perfect symmetry of its form depends on the development of the qualities mentioned, the neglect of which results in this organ being formed into a caricature of its proper shape. In this case, should a certain clairvoyance be attained, the qualities in question may take an evil instead of a good direction. A person may become intolerant, timid, or contentious toward his environment; may, for instance, acquire some feeling for the sentiments of others, and for this reason shun them or hate them. This may even reach the point where, by reason of the inner coldness that overwhelms him when he hears repugnant opinions, he is unable to listen, or he may behave in an objectionable manner.
The development of this organ may be accelerated if, in addition to all that has been stated, certain other injunctions are observed which can only be imparted to the student by word of mouth. Yet the instructions given above do actually lead to genuine esoteric training, and more-over, the regulation of life in the way described can be advantageous to all who cannot or will not undergo esoteric training. For it does not fail to produce an effect upon the organism of the soul, even though slowly. As regards the esoteric student, the observance of these principles is indispensable. Should he attempt esoteric training without conforming to them, this could only result in his entering the higher worlds with inadequate organs, and instead of perceiving the truth he would be subject to deceptions and illusions. He would attain a certain clairvoyance, but for the most part, be the victim of greater blindness than before. Formerly he at least stood firmly within the physical world; now he looks beyond this physical world and grows confused about it before acquiring a firm footing in a higher world. All power of distinguishing truth from error would then perhaps fail him, and he would entirely lose his way in life. It is just for this reason that patience is so necessary in these matters. It must ever be borne in mind that the instructions given in esoteric training may go no further than is compatible with the willing readiness shown to develop the lotus flowers to their regular shape. Should these flowers be brought to fruition before they have quietly attained their correct form, mere caricatures would be the result. Their maturity can be brought about by the special instructions given in esoteric training, but their form is dependent on the method of life described above.
In esoteric training there is question of four attributes which must be acquired on the so-called preparatory path for the attainment of higher knowledge. The first is the faculty of discriminating in thoughts between truth and appearance or mere opinion. The second attribute is the correct estimation of what is inwardly true and real, as against what is merely apparent. The third rests in the practice of the six qualities already mentioned in the preceding pages: thought-control, control of actions, perseverance, tolerance, faith and equanimity. The fourth attribute is the love of inner freedom.
The six virtues of which the third attribute consists have already been dealt with; they are connected with the development of the twelve-petalled lotus in the region of the heart, and, as already indicated, it is to this center that the life-currents of the etheric body must be directed.
…. After some time the pupil’s entry into a new but quite specific state of consciousness is marked by the fact that sounds and words are added to the images. The images speak to him in an intelligible language. They tell him what they are, without any possibility of deception. These are the sounds and speech of Devachan, the Music of the Spheres. Everything speaks forth its own name and its relation to other things. This comes in addition to astral sight, and it marks the seer’s entry into Devachan. Once a man has reached this Devachanic state, the lotus-flowers, the Chakrams or wheels begin to revolve at specific places in the astral body, turning like the hands of a clock from left to right. These are the sense-organs of the astral body, but their mode of perception is an active one. The eye, for example, is at rest; it allows the light to enter and only then perceives it. The lotus-flowers, on the other hand, perceive only when they are in motion and take hold of an object. The vibrations caused by the revolving lotus-flowers bring them into contact with the astral substance, and that is how perception on the astral plane occurs.
What are the forces which activate the lotus-flowers, and where do they come from? We know that during sleep the exhausted forces of the physical and etheric bodies are restored by the astral body; by its inherent regularity it can make up for irregularities in the physical and etheric bodies. It is these forces, normally used for overcoming fatigue, which animate the lotus-flowers. When a man enters on occult development, he is thus really withdrawing certain forces from his physical and etheric bodies. If these forces were to be withdrawn permanently from the physical body, the man would fall ill; he would find himself utterly exhausted. If therefore he does not want to injure himself, morally as well as physically, he must find something to replace these forces.
He must remind himself of the general rule: Rhythm restores power. Here you have an important occult principle. Most people today lead lives devoid of any regular rhythm, especially as regards their thoughts and their behaviour. Anyone who allowed the distractions of the outer world to gain a hold on him would be unable to avoid the dangers to which his physical body would be exposed in the course of his occult development by the withdrawal of these forces of renewal. Hence he has to strive to introduce a rhythmic element into his life. Of course he cannot arrange his days so that each day passes exactly like another. But he can at least pursue certain activities regularly, and indeed anyone who wants to develop on the occult path will have to do this. Thus he should, for example, do certain exercises of meditation and concentration at a chosen time every morning. He can also bring rhythm into his life if in the evening he reviews the events of the day in reverse order. If he can bring in further regularities, so much the better: in that way his life will take its course in harmony with the laws of the world. Everything in the system of nature is rhythmical — the course of the Sun, the passage of the seasons, of day and night, and so on. Plants, too, grow rhythmically. It is true that the higher we go in the kingdoms of nature, the less rhythm we find, but even in animals a certain rhythm can be observed: for instance, animals mate at regular times. Only man now leads an unrhythmical, chaotic life: nature has deserted him.
Man’s task, therefore, is deliberately to infuse some rhythm into this chaotic life, and he has available certain means through which he can bring this harmony and rhythm into his physical and etheric bodies. Both these bodies will then gradually develop such rhythms that they will correct themselves when the astral body withdraws. If they are forced out of their proper rhythm during the day, they will of their own accord regain the right kind of movement when they are at rest.
The means available consist in the following exercises, which must be practised in addition to meditation:
I. Thought control. This means preventing, at least for a short time every day, all sorts of thoughts from drifting through the mind, and bringing a certain ordered tranquillity into the course of thinking. You must take a definite idea, set it in the centre of your thinking, and then logically arrange your further thoughts in such a way that they are all closely linked with the original idea. Even if you do this for only a minute, it can be of great importance for the rhythm of the physical and etheric bodies.
II. Initiative in action. You must compel yourself to some action, however trivial, which owes its origin to your own initiative, to some task you have laid on yourself. Most actions derive not from your own initiative but from your family circumstances, your education, your calling and so on. You must therefore give up a little time to performing actions which derive from yourself alone. They need not be important; quite insignificant actions fulfil the same purpose.
III. Tranquillity. Here the pupil learns to regulate his emotions so that he is not at one moment up in the skies and at the next down in the dumps. Anyone who refuses to do this for fear of losing his originality in action or his artistic sensibility can never go through occult development. Tranquillity means that you are master of yourself in the most intense pleasure and in the deepest grief. Indeed, we become truly receptive to the joys and sorrows of the world only when we do not give ourselves over egotistically to them. The greatest artists owe their greatest achievements precisely to this tranquillity, because through it they have opened their eyes to subtle and inwardly significant impressions.
IV. Freedom from prejudice. This, the fourth characteristic, sees good in everything and looks for the positive element in all things. Relevant to this is a Persian legend told of Christ Jesus. One day Christ Jesus saw a dead dog lying by the wayside; he stopped to look at the animal while those around him turned away in disgust. Then Jesus said: “What beautiful teeth the dog has!” In that hideous corpse he saw not what was ugly or evil but the beauty of the white teeth. If you can acquire this mood, you will look everywhere for the good and the positive, and you will find it everywhere. This has a powerful effect on the physical and etheric bodies.
V. Faith. Next comes faith, which in its occult sense implies something rather different from its ordinary meaning. During occult development you must never allow your judgment of the future to be influenced by the past. Under certain circumstances you must exclude all that you have experienced hitherto, so that you can meet every new experience with new faith. The occultist must do this quite consciously. For instance, if someone comes up to you and tells you that the church steeple is crooked and at an angle of 45 degrees, most people would say that is impossible. The occultist must always leave a way open to believe. He must go so far as to have faith in everything that happens in the world; otherwise he bars the way to new experiences. You must always be open to new experiences; by this means your physical and etheric bodies will be brought into a condition which may be compared with the contented mood of a broody hen.
VI. Inner Balance. This is a natural outcome of the other five qualities. The pupil must keep the six qualities in mind, take his life in hand, and be prepared to progress slowly in the sense of the proverb about drops of water wearing away a stone.
Now if anyone acquires higher powers through some artificial means without attending to all this, he will be in a bad way. In ordinary life today the spiritual and the physical are intermingled, somewhat like a blue and yellow liquid in a glass of water. Occult development sets going a process rather like the work of a chemist who separates the two liquids. Soul and body are separated in a similar way, and the benefits of the mingling are lost. An ordinary person, because the soul stays in close relation to the body, is not subjected to the more grotesque passions. But as a result of the separation I have been talking about, the physical body, with all its attributes, may be left to itself, and this can lead to all manner of excesses. Thus a man who has embarked on occult development, but has not taken care to cultivate moral qualities, may manifest certain traits which as an ordinary man he had long ago ceased to exhibit. He may suddenly become a liar, vengeful, quick to anger; all sorts of characteristics which had previously been toned down may appear in a violent form. This may happen even if someone who has neglected moral development becomes unduly absorbed in the teachings of Theosophy.
We have seen that a man must first pass through the stage of spiritual sight and only then comes to the stage of spiritual hearing. While he is still at the first stage he has of course to learn how the images are related to their objects. He would find himself plunged into the stormy sea of astral experiences if he were left to fend for himself. For this reason he needs a guide who can tell him from the start how these things are related and how to find his bearings in the astral world. Hence the need to find a Guru on whom he can strictly rely. In this connection three different ways of development can be distinguished.
1. The Eastern way, also called Yoga. Here, an initiated man living on the physical plane acts as the Guru of another, who entrusts himself to his Guru completely and in all details. This method will go best if during his occult development the pupil eliminates his own self entirely and hands it over to his Guru, who must even advise him on every action he may take. This absolute surrender of one’s own self suits the Indian character; but there is no place for it in European culture.
2. The Christian way. Here, in place of individual Gurus, there is one great Guru, Christ Jesus Himself, for everyone. The feeling of belonging to Christ Jesus, of being one with Him, can take the place of surrender to an individual Guru. But the pupil has first to be led to Christ by an earthly Guru, so that in a certain sense he still depends on a Guru on the physical plane.
3. The Rosicrucian way, which leaves the pupil with the greatest possible independence. The Guru here is not a leader but an adviser; he gives directions for the necessary inner training. At the same time he takes good care that, parallel with the occult training, there is a definite development of thinking, without which no occult training can be carried through. This is because there is something about thinking which does not apply to anything else. When we are on the physical plane, we perceive with the physical senses only what is to be found on that plane. Astral perceptions are valid for the astral plane; devachanic hearing is valid only in Devachan. Thus each plane has its own specific form of perception. But one activity — logical thinking — goes through all worlds. Logic is the same on all three planes. Thus on the physical plane you can learn something which is valid also for the higher planes; and this is the method followed by Rosicrucian training when on the physical plane it gives primary attention to thinking, and for this purpose uses the means available on the physical plane. A penetrative thinking can be cultivated by studying theosophical truths, or by practising mental exercises. Anyone who wishes further training for the intellect can study books such as Truth and Science, and The Philosophy of Freedom, which are written deliberately in such a way that a thinking trained by them can move with certainty on the highest planes. Even a person who studies these books and knows nothing of Theosophy might find his way about in the higher worlds. But, as I have said, the teachings of Theosophy act in the same way.
Here, then, the Guru is only the friend and adviser of the pupil, for by training his reason the pupil will be training the best Guru for himself. But he will of course still need a Guru to advise him on how to make progress in freedom.
Among Europeans, the Christian way is best suited to those whose feelings are most strongly developed. Those who have more or less broken away from the Church and rely rather on science, but have been led by science into a doubting frame of mind, will do best with the Rosicrucian way.
In Occult Science we find the six exercises described formally and with extensive detail.
In a proper school of spiritual training certain qualities are set forth that require to be cultivated by one who desires to find the path to the higher worlds. First and foremost, the pupil must have control over his thoughts (in their course and sequence.) over his will, and over his feelings. The control has to be acquired by means of exercises , and these are planned with two ends in view. On the one hand, the soul has to become so firm, so secure and balanced that it will retain these qualities when a second self is born. And on the other hand, the pupil has to endow this second self, from the start, with strength and steadfastness.
The quality that thinking needs above all is objectivity. In the world of the physical senses life itself is our great teacher in this respect. Let a man fling his thoughts hither and thither in a purely arbitrary manner, he will find himself obliged to suffer life to correct him if he does not want to come into conflict with it. He must of necessity bring his thinking into correspondence with the facts. But when he turns his attention away from the physical world, this compulsory correction fails him; and if his thinking has not then the ability to be its own corrector, it will inevitably follow will-o’-the-wisps. The pupil of the spirit must therefore undertake exercises in thinking in order that his thinking may be able to mark out its own path and goal. Stability, and the capacity to adhere firmly to a once chosen subject, are what the pupil’s thinking has to acquire. There is therefore no occasion for the exercises to deal with remote or complicated objects, much rather should they have reference to simple objects that are ready to hand. Whoever succeeds in directing his thought, for at least five minutes daily, and for months on end, to some quite commonplace object — say, for example, a needle or a pencil — and in shutting out during those five minutes all thoughts that have no connection with the object, will have made very good progress in this direction. (A fresh object may be chosen each day, or one may be continued for several days.) Even a person who considers himself a trained intellectual thinker should not be too proud to qualify for spiritual training by an exercise of this simple nature. For when we are riveting our thought for a considerable time upon something that is entirely familiar, we may be quite sure that our thinking is in accord with reality. If we ask ourselves: what is a lead pencil made of? How are the different materials prepared? How are they put together? When were lead pencils invented? And so on, we can be more sure of our thoughts being consistent with reality than if we were to ponder the question of the descent of man — or, let us say, of the meaning of life. Simple exercises in thinking are a far better preparation for forming commensurate conceptions of Saturn, Sun and Moon evolution than are complicated and learned ideas. As to our thinking, what is important at this stage is not the object or event to which it is directed, but that it should be strong and vigorous and to the point. If it has been educated to be so in reference so simple physical realities that lie open to view, it will acquire the tendency to be so even when it finds itself no longer under the control of the physical world and its laws. The pupil will find he gets rid in this way of any tendency he had before to loose and extravagant thinking.
As if in the world of thought, so also in the sphere of the will, the self has to become master. Here too, as long as we remain in the world of the physical senses, life itself may be said to be our master. Some vital need asserts itself and the will feels impelled to satisfy the need. But one who undergoes a higher training has to acquire the habit of strict obedience to what he tells himself to do on his own initiative. In learning this he will be less and less inclined to cherish pointless desires. Dissatisfaction and instability in the life of will come from setting one’s heart on some aim, of the realization of which one has formed no clear notion. Dissatisfaction of this kind can bring the whole inner life into disorder at the moment when a higher self is ready to come forth from the soul. A good exercise for the will is, every day for months on end, to give oneself the command: Today you are to do this, at this particular hour. One will gradually manage to fix the hour and the nature of the task so as to render the command perfectly possible to carry out. In this way we rise above that deplorable state of mind which finds expression in words such as: I would like to do this, I wish I could do that — when all the time there is no real expectation of fulfillment. A great poet made a prophetess say: “Him I love who craves for the impossible”2 And the same poet says in his own name: “To live in the Idea is to treat the impossible as thought it were possible.”3 Such words should however not be quoted as refuting the above recommendation. For the demand that Goethe and his prophetess (Manto) are making can only be met by one who has first educated himself in the achievement of desires that are possible of fulfillment — in order then, by dint of his strengthened will, to be able to treat the “impossible” in such a way as to change it by his will into the possible.
Passing on now to the world of feeling, the pupil must succeed in reaching a certain equanimity of soul. For this he will need to have under his control all outward expression of pleasure or pain, of joy or sorrow. Such advice will be certain to meet with prejudice. Surely, if he is not to rejoice over what is joyful, not to sorrow over what is sorrowful, the pupil will become utterly indifferent to the life that is going on around him! But this is not at all what is meant. The pupil shall by all means rejoice over what if joyful and sorrow over what is sorrowful. It is the outward expression of joy and sorrow, of pleasure and pain that he must learn to control. If he honestly tries to attain this, he will soon discover that he does not grow less, but actually more sensitive than before to everything in his environment that can arouse emotions of joy or of pain. If the pupil is really to succeed in cultivating this control it will undoubtedly involve keeping close watch upon himself for a long time. He must not be slow to enter with fullness of feeling into pleasure and pain, but must be able to do so without losing self-control and giving involuntary expression to it. What he has to suppress is not the pain — that is justified — but the involuntary weeping; not the horror at a base action, but the outburst of blind fury; not the caution in face of danger, but the giving way to panic — which does no good whatever.
Only by the practice of an exercise of this kind can the pupil attain the inner poise and quiet that he will have need of when the time comes for the higher self to be born in the soul, and more especially when this higher self becomes active there. Otherwise the soul may lead an unhealthy lie of its own alongside the higher self — like a kind of double. It is important not to fall a victim to self-deception in this manner. It may seem to many a pupil that he already possesses a good measure of equanimity in ordinary life and will not therefore need this exercise. In point of fact, such a one is doubly in need of it. A man may remain perfectly calm and composed in relation to the exigencies of everyday life, and then, when he rises into a higher world, exhibit a sad lack of poise — all the more so indeed, since the tendency to let himself go was there all the time, only suppressed. It must be clearly understood that what a pupil appears to have already of some attribute of the soul is a little account for spiritual training; what is far more important is that he should practice regularly and systematically the exercises he needs. Contradictory as such a statement may sound, it is true nevertheless. Say that life has endowed us with this or that virtue; for spiritual training it is the virtues we ourselves have cultivatedthat are of value. Are we by nature easily excitable, it is for us to rid ourselves of this excitability; are we by nature calm and imperturbable, we must bestir ourselves to bring it about through our own self-education that the impressions we receive from without awake in us the right response. A man who cannot laugh has just ad little control over his life as a man who without self-control is perpetually giving way to laughter.
It will be a further help to the education of his thinking and feeling, if the pupil acquire a virtue that I will call positiveness. A lovely legend is related of Christ Jesus. It tells how He is walking with a few other persons, and they pass by a dead dog. The other turn away from the revolting sight. Christ Jesus speaks admiringly of the beautiful teeth of the animal. One can train oneself to meet the world with the disposition of soul that this legend displays. The spurious, the bad and the ugly should not hinder us from finding, wherever they are present, the true, the good and the beautiful. Positiveness must not be confused lack of discrimination, or with an arbitrary shutting of one’s eyes to what is bad, or false, or “good for nothing.” He who admires the “beautiful teeth” of a dead animal sees also the decaying body. The unsightly corpse does not, however, prevent him from seeing the beautiful teeth. We cannot deem a bad thing good or an error true; but we can take care not to be put off by the bad from seeing the good, nor by the false from seeing the true.
The thinking, and together with it the willing, reaches a certain maturity if one tries never to let past experiences rob one of open-minded receptivity for new ones. To declare in the face of some new experience: “I never heard of such a thing, I don’t believe it!” should make no sense at all to a pupil of the Spirit. Rather let him make the deliberate resolve, during a certain period of time to let every thing or being he encounters tell him something new. A breath of wind, a leaf falling from a tree, the prattle of a little child, can all teach us something, are we but ready to adopt a point of view to which we have perhaps not hitherto been accustomed. One can, it is true, carry this too far. We must not, at whatever age we have reached, put right out of our minds everything we have experienced hitherto. We have most decidedly to base our judgment of what confronts us now upon past experience. That is on the one side of the balance, but on the other there is the need for the pupil of the Spirit to be ready all the time for entirely new experiences; above all, to admit to himself the possibility that the new may contradict the old.
These then are five qualities of soul the pupil has to acquire n the coursed of a right and proper training: control over the direction of his thoughts, control of his impulses of will, equanimity in the face of pleasure and pain, positiveness in his attitude to the world around him, readiness to meet life with an open mind. Lastly, when he has spent consecutive periods of time in training himself for the acquisition of these five qualities, the pupil will need to bring them into harmony in his soul. He will have to practice them in manifold combinations — two by two, three and one at a time, and so on, in order to establish harmony among them.4
These exercises have been assigned a place in spiritual training, because when thoroughly and effectually carried out they have not only their more immediate result in the cultivation of the desired qualities, but indirectly a great deal more will follow from them that is of no less importance for the pupil on his path to the spiritual worlds. Whoever gives sufficient time and care to their practice will, while he is doing them, come up against many blemishes and shortcomings in his soul, and will moreover find in the exercises themselves the means of strengthening and stabilizing his thought life, as well as his life of feeling and indeed his whole character. He will undoubtedly need many more exercises, adapted to his own individual faculties, to his particular character and temperament. These will emerge when the above have been practiced in all thoroughness. One will indeed discover, as time goes on, that these six exercises give one indirectly more than at first appears to be contained in them. Suppose the pupil is lacking in self-confidence. He will after a time begin to notice that, thanks to the exercises, he is gaining the self-confidence of which he stands in need. And it will be the same with other qualities of soul wherein he may be deficient. (Several exercises, described in more detail, will be found in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment.)
It is important that the pupil shall find it possible to go on developing the said six qualities in ever increasing measure. His control over this thoughts and sensations must become great enough to enable him to set aside times of complete inner quiet, when all the joys and sorrows, all the satisfactions and anxieties of everyday life — nay more, even all its tasks and demands are banished from mind and heart. In such times that alone which he himself wills to admit shall be allowed entry to his soul. Here again it is possible that some reader may feel misgiving. Will not the pupil become estranged from daily life and its tasks, if he withdraws from it in this way, banishing it from mind and heart for certain stated times during the day? In reality, however, this is far from being so. One who devotes himself in this way to periods of inner quiet, will find that he grows stronger in many respects for the tasks of daily life, and fulfils them, not only no less well, but decidedly better than before.
GA 245/267 – Esoteric Development/Guidance in Esoteric Training – General Demands Which Every Aspirant For Occult Development Must Put to Himself (Subsidiary Exercises)
And finally, with the publication of the Esoteric School material, we have not only the basic exercises described in detail but also the important second and third parts of each exercise. This was alluded to in Knowledge of Higher Worlds: “The development of this organ may be accelerated if, in addition to all that has been stated, certain other injunctions are observed which can only be imparted to the student by word of mouth” (see above).
In what follows, the conditions which must be the basis for occult development are presented. Let no one think that he can make progress by any measures applied to the outer or the inner life if he does not fulfill these conditions. All meditation, concentration, or other exercises are worthless, indeed in a certain respect actually harmful, if life is not regulated in accordance with these conditions. No forces can actually be given to a human being; it is only possible to bring to development the forces already within him. They do not develop by themselves because outer and inner hindrances obstruct them. The outer hindrances are lessened by the rules of life which follow; the inner hindrances by the special instructions concerning meditation, concentration, and so on.
The first condition is the cultivation of an absolutely clear thinking. For this purpose one must rid oneself of the will-o’-the-wisps of thought, even if only for a very short time during the day — about five minutes (the longer, the better). One must become master in one’s world of thought. One is not master if outer circumstances, occupation, some tradition or other, social relationships, even membership in a particular race, or if the daily round of life, certain activities, and so forth, determine a thought and how one enlarges upon it. Therefore during this brief time, one must, entirely out of free will, empty the soul of the ordinary, everyday course of thoughts, and by one’s own initiative place a thought at the center of the soul. One need not believe that this must be a particularly striking or interesting thought. Indeed it will be all the better for what has to be attained in an occult respect if one strives at first to choose the most uninteresting and insignificant thought. Thinking is then impelled to act out of its own energy, which is the essential thing here, whereas an interesting thought carries the thinking along with it. It is better if this exercise in thought control is undertaken with a pin rather than with Napoleon. The pupil says to himself: Now I start from this thought, and through my own inner initiative I associate with it everything that is pertinent to it. At the end of the period the thought should stand before the soul just as colorfully and vividly as at the beginning. This exercise is repeated day by day for at least a month; a new thought may be taken every day, but the same thought may also be adhered to for several days. At the end of such an exercise one endeavors to become fully conscious of that inner feeling of firmness and security which will soon be noticed by paying subtler attention to one’s own soul; then one concludes the exercise by focusing the thinking upon the head and the middle of the spine (brain and spinal cord), as if one were pouring that feeling of security into this part of the body.
When this exercise has been practiced for about a month, a second requirement should be added. We try to think of some action which in the ordinary course of life we certainly would not be likely to perform. Then we make it a duty to perform this action every day. It will therefore be good to choose an action which can be performed every day and will occupy as long a period of time as possible. Again it is better to begin with some insignificant action which we have to force ourselves to perform; for example, to water at a definite time of day a flower we have bought. After a time a second, similar act should be added to the first; later, a third, and so on — as many as are compatible with the carrying out of all other duties. This exercise should also last for one month. But as far as possible during this second month, too, one should continue the first exercise, although it is a less paramount duty than in the first month. Nevertheless it must not be left unheeded, for otherwise it will quickly be noticed that the fruits of the first month are soon lost and the slovenliness of uncontrolled thinking begins again. Care must be taken that once these fruits have been won, they are never again lost. If, through the second exercise, this initiative of action has been achieved, then, with subtle attentiveness, we become conscious of the feeling of an inner impulse of activity within the soul; we pour this feeling into the body, letting it stream down from the head to a point just above the heart.
In the third month, a new exercise should be moved to the center of life — the cultivation of a certain equanimity towards the fluctuations of joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain; “heights of jubilation” and “depths of despair” should quite consciously be replaced by an equable mood. Care is taken that no pleasure shall carry us away, no sorrow plunge us into the depths, no experience lead to immoderate anger or vexation, no expectation give rise to anxiety or fear, no situation disconcert us, and so on. There need be no fear that such an exercise will make life arid and unproductive; rather one will quickly notice that the moods to which this exercise is applied are replaced by purer qualities of soul. Above all, if subtle attentiveness is maintained, one will discover one day an inner tranquility in the body; as in the two cases above, we pour this feeling into the body, letting it stream from the heart, towards the hands, the feet and, filially, the head. This naturally cannot be done after every single exercise, for here it is not a matter of a single exercise but of a sustained attentiveness to the inner life of the soul. Once every day, at least, one should call up this inner tranquility before the soul and then undertake the exercise of pouring it out from the heart. A connection with the exercises of the first and second months is maintained, as in the second month with the exercise of the first month.
In the fourth month, as a new exercise, one should take up what is sometimes called a “positive attitude” to life. It consists in seeking always for the good, the praiseworthy, the beautiful, and so on, in all beings, all experiences, all things. This quality of soul is best characterized by a Persian legend concerning Christ Jesus. One day as He was walking with His disciples, they saw a dead dog lying by the roadside in a state of advanced decomposition. All the disciples turned away from the repulsive sight; Christ Jesus alone did not move but observed the animal thoughtfully and said: “What beautiful teeth the animal has!” Where the others had seen only the repulsive, the unpleasant, He looked for the beautiful. So must the esoteric pupil strive to seek for the positive in every phenomenon and in every being. He will soon notice that under the mask of something repulsive there is a hidden beauty, that even under the mask of a criminal there is a hidden good, that under the mask of a lunatic the divine soul is somehow concealed.
In a certain respect this exercise is connected with what is called “abstention from criticism.” This is not to be understood in the sense of calling black white and white black. There is, however, a difference between a judgment which, proceeding merely from one’s own personality, is colored with one’s own personal sympathy or antipathy, and an attitude which enters lovingly into the alien phenomenon or being, always asking: How has this other being come to be like this or to act like this? Such an attitude will by its very nature strive more to help what is imperfect than simply to find fault and to criticize.
The objection that the very circumstances of their lives oblige many people to find fault and condemn is not valid here. For in such cases the circumstances are such that the person in question cannot go through a genuine occult training. There are indeed many circumstances in life which make a productive occult schooling impossible. In such a case the person should not impatiently desire, in spite of everything, to make progress which can only be possible under certain conditions.
He who consciously turns his mind, for one month, to the positive aspect of all his experiences will gradually notice a feeling creeping into him as if his skin were becoming porous on all sides, and as if his soul were opening wide to all kinds of secret and subtle processes in his environment, which hitherto entirely escaped his notice. What is important here is that every human being combat a prevalent lack of attentiveness to such subtle things. If one has once noticed that the feeling described expresses itself in the soul as a kind of bliss, one seeks in thought to guide this feeling to the heart and from there to let it stream into the eyes, and thence out into the space in front of and around oneself. One will notice that an intimate relationship to this space is thereby acquired. One grows out of and beyond oneself, as it were. One learns to regard a part of one’s environment as something that belongs to oneself. A great deal of concentration is necessary for this exercise, and, above all, a recognition of the fact that all tumultuous feelings, all passions, all over-exuberant emotions have an absolute destructive effect upon the mood indicated. The exercises of the first months are also repeated, as was suggested for the earlier months.
In the fifth month, one should seek to cultivate in oneself the feeling of confronting every new experience with complete impartiality. The esoteric pupil must break entirely with the attitude of men in which, in the face of something just heard or seen, they say: “I never heard that, or I never saw that before; I don’t believe it — it’s an illusion.” At every moment he must be ready to accept an absolutely new experience. What he has hitherto recognized as being in accordance with natural law, or what has appeared possible to him, must not be a shackle preventing acceptance of a new truth. Although radically expressed, it is absolutely correct that if anyone were to come to the esoteric pupil and say, “Since last night the steeple of such-and-such a church has been tilted right over,” the esotericist should leave a loophole open for possibly believing that his previous knowledge of natural law could somehow be widened by such an apparently unprecedented fact.
He who turns his attention, in the fifth month, to developing this attitude of mind, will notice creeping into his soul a feeling as if something were becoming alive in the space referred to in connection with the exercise for the fourth month, as if something were stirring. This feeling is exceedingly delicate and subtle. One must try to be attentive to this delicate vibration in the environment and to let it stream, as it were, through all five senses, especially through the eyes, the ears, and through the skin, in so far as this last contains the sense of warmth. At this stage of esoteric development, one pays less attention to the impressions made by these stimuli on the other senses of taste, smell, and touch. At this stage it is still not possible to distinguish the numerous bad influences which intermingle with the good influences in this sphere; the pupil therefore leaves this for a later stage.
In the sixth month, one should try to repeat again and again all five exercises, systematically and in a regular alternation. In this way a beautiful equilibrium of soul will gradually develop. One will notice especially that previous dissatisfactions with certain phenomena and beings in the world completely disappear. A mood reconciling all experiences takes possession of the soul, a mood that is by no means one of indifference but, on the contrary, enables one for the first time to work in the world for its genuine progress and improvement. One comes to a tranquil understanding of things which were formerly quite closed to the soul. The very gestures and bearing of a person change under the influence of such exercises, and if, one day, he can actually notice that his handwriting has taken on another character, then he may say to himself that he is just about to reach a first rung on the upward path to comprehension.
Once again, two things must be stressed: First, the six exercises described paralyze the harmful influence other occult exercises can have, so that only what is beneficial remains. Secondly, these exercises alone ensure that efforts in meditation and concentration will have a positive result. The esotericist must not rest content with fulfilling, however conscientiously, the demands of conventional morality, for that morality can be very egotistical, if a man says to himself: I will be good in order that I may be thought good. The esotericist does not do what is good because he wants to be thought good, but because little by little he recognizes that the good alone brings evolution forward, and that evil, stupidity, and ugliness place hindrances along its path.
GA 245 – Guidance in Esoteric Training, Munich, 6 June, 1907
In the following lecture given to members of the esoteric school the exercises are described again, with further details and points of clarification. First is a summary of how the pituitary gland is developed by esoteric exercises – among which the six basic exercises may be counted – “which render our souls receptive to the spiritual sun-rays.” Then:
…The six subsidiary exercises serve as a preparation for the actual occult exercises. Whoever dedicates himself to them with proper seriousness and enthusiasm, will find that they develop in him the fundamental disposition of soul which is necessary to reap the benefit of the occult exercises.
1. Control of one’s thoughts. We should find at least five free minutes every day and contemplate a thought which is as insignificant as possible, which does not hold any interest for us whatsoever: everything which we can possibly think about the topic should be logically ordered and arranged. It is important that it should not be a significant or very interesting theme, for it is precisely the self-discipline we need to concentrate on it for a long time which can awaken the slumbering faculties of the soul. After some time one will notice a feeling of stability and certainty in the soul. We must not imagine, though, that this feeling will suddenly and powerfully come over us. No, it is a very subtle and delicate feeling which we must carefully listen out for. Those who will say that they could find absolutely no trace of this feeling are like somebody who goes out to find a tiny delicate object from amongst many other objects. He searches, it is true, but only generally and superficially, overlooking the tiny object. We must grow very still and listen inwardly, then we will find this feeling: we will become aware of it in the front part of the head. When we sense it there, we should picture it flowing into the brain and then into the spinal cord. Gradually we will then have the feeling that rays are streaming from the forehead down into the spinal column.
2. Initiative in one’s actions. For this one must choose an action which one thinks of oneself. If someone was to try to exercise his initiative by adopting the activity of watering a flower, which is the example given in the relevant instructions, he would be doing something quite pointless. For the action must spring from our own initiative, one must have thought of it oneself. After practicing this exercise for a while we will soon have a feeling which could be expressed as: “I can achieve something”, “I can do more than previously”, “I wish to be active”. One actually feels this in the whole upper part of the body. We then try to let this feeling flow towards the heart.
3. Mastering joy and sorrow. We may feel sometimes an urge to cry. Then it is time to practice this exercise. We force ourselves with all our strength not to cry for once. The same with laughing. We try, on some occasion when we feel laughter rising up, not to laugh but to remain peaceful. That does not mean that we should not laugh any more: but we should be able to take hold of ourselves, be master over laughing and crying. When we have overcome ourselves in this way a few times, we will have a feeling of peace and equanimity. We allow this feeling to flow through the whole body, pouring it out from the heart first of all into the arms and hands, so that it can radiate out from the hands into our actions. Then we let it stream down to the feet and last of all up to the head. This exercise requires earnest self-observation and should take at least a quarter of an hour each day.
4. Positivity. We should know how to find the grain of goodness and beauty in everything bad and ugly, and should also be able to perceive in every criminal the spark of godliness. Then we feel that we are spreading out beyond our skin. It is a similar feeling of enlargement to that which the etheric body has after death. When we sense this feeling we should let it radiate out of ourselves through the eyes, ears and the whole skin, but particularly through the eyes.
5. Lack of prejudice. We should remain flexible, always capable of taking in new information. If someone relates something to us which we think sounds improbable, we must nevertheless always keep a tiny corner of our heart open, in which we say: “He could be right after all.” This does not need to make us completely uncritical, for we can always examine and test such statements. When we practice this, a feeling comes over us as if something was streaming into us from outside. We draw this in through the eyes, ears and the whole skin.
6. Equilibrium. The five previous feelings should now be harmonized with each other by taking notice of them all simultaneously.
These exercises do not have to take exactly one month each. Some indication of time had to be given. What is important though, is that one practices them in the particular order given here. If anyone should practice the second exercise before the first, he would derive absolutely no benefit from it. The order is very important. Some people even believe that they ought to begin with the sixth exercise, the harmonizing one. But nothing can be harmonized which is not already there. Whoever does not practice the exercises in the given order will gain nothing at all from them. To begin with the sixth exercise is as senseless as if one needed to take six steps to cross a bridge and tried to take the sixth step first.
Munich, 6 June, 1907
GA Volumes Referenced – English and German Editions:
English Edition: At the Gates of Spiritual Science, Anthroposophic Press, 1986.
German: Vor dem Tore der Theosophie.
English Edition: Occult Science: An Outline, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1969.
German: Die Geheimwissenschaft im Umriss.
English Edition: Esoteric Development, Anthroposophic Press, 1982. Guidance in Esoteric Training, Anthroposophic Press, 1994.
German: Seelenübungen I