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We all share the same name. We say ‘I Am’ Jane or ‘I Am’ John. We say ‘I’ before our given name. It is the most intimate part of us, the centre of who we are, yet at the same time the most universal. What is this quality of the ‘I’ that goes beyond family, race or bloodline? We are all brothers and sisters, individuals, yet, at the same time, one.
To supersensible perception this foundational energetic quality is seen as a central column of light within the human being. Someone can have a weak ‘I’ constitution or a strong one, the size of this column varies accordingly. Through inner development and meditation it can be strengthened to a normal size if weak, or expanded beyond the radius of the body if already strong. The three aspects of the human being, thinking, feeling and will are in a normal human being held together with our ‘I’ and kept in balance by cosmic forces. Through following a conscious path of inner development and meditation someone can strengthen their ‘I’ and develop themselves to the point where they can hold these three elements in balance by themselves.
“Higher consciousness, now detached completely from physical conditions, regulates their relations. As a result, our organs of thinking, feeling and willing have become instruments under the control of the soul, which exercises its rulership from the supersensible realms.” – Rudolf Steiner How to Know Higher Worlds
“Indwelling outside of the physical body and returning to the physical body in order to become a messenger of divine mysteries is Initiation”– Rudolf Steiner GA 139 7
In what does the activity consist by means of which it is possible for the astral body to have organs moulded into it? It might be thought that a person must first have the body in front of him before he can work the organs into it. He might say: If I could take out the astral body and have it in front of me, I could then mould the organs into it. – That would not be the right way, and above all it is not the way for modern initiation. Certainly an initiate who is able to live in the spiritual worlds could mould the organs like a sculptor, when during the night the astral body is outside. But that would entail doing something of which the person concerned is not conscious; it would mean interfering in his sphere of freedom, with the exclusion of his consciousness. We shall see why this has not been allowed to happen for a long time past, and particularly not at the present time. For this reason even in esoteric schools such as the Pythagorean or old Egyptian, everything had to be avoided whereby the initiates would work from outside upon the astral body which was taken out of the physical and etheric bodies of the neophyte. This had to be avoided from the very outset. The first step towards initiation had to be undertaken with man in the ordinary physical world, in the same world where he perceives with his physical senses. But how can this be done ? For it is exactly through physical perception coming into earthly evolution that a veil was drawn over the spiritual world formerly perceived by man, although his consciousness was dull. How can one work from the physical world upon the astral body ?
Here it is necessary that we should consider what happens with regard to our ordinary daytime sense perceptions. What happens when man perceives during the day ? Think of your daily life, follow it step by step. At every step the impressions of the outer world press in upon you, you perceive them ; you see, hear, smell, and so on. When you are doing your work impressions storm in upon you all day long and you work upon these impressions with your intellect. The poet who is not an inspired poet permeates them with his imagination. All this is true. But it cannot, to begin with, lead man to the consciousness of the supersensible spiritual which lies behind the sensible and material. Why does it not come to his consciousness ? Because all this activity which man exercises with respect to the surrounding world does not correspond with the essential nature of the human astral body as it exists today. When in the primeval past the astral body proper to man saw the pictures of the astral perceptions rise up – those pictures of joy and sorrow, of sympathy and antipathy – inner spiritual impulses were present, causing something to rise in man which formed organs. These were killed when man attained the ability to allow all the influences from outside to stream in upon him, and at the present time it is impossible for anything to remain in the astral body from all the impressions received during the day which could mould or shape it.
The process of perception is as follows: All day long we are subjected to the impressions of the external world. These work through the physical senses upon the etheric and astral bodies, until the ego becomes conscious of them. The result of what affects the physical body is expressed in the astral body. When the eyes receive impressions of light, these influence the etheric and astral bodies and the ego becomes conscious of them. So, too, with the impressions made upon the ears and other senses. Thus the whole of one’s daily life affects the astral body throughout the day. The astral body is continually active under the influence of the outer world. Then in the evening it withdraws from the physical body. It now has no power in itself to become conscious of the impressions in its present environment. The ancient perceptive forces of the distant past were killed with the first perception of the present sense-world. During the night it has no power because the entire life of the day is not suited to leaving anything in the astral body which could work formatively upon it. All the things you see around you produce effects as far as into the astral body, but what then takes place is unable to create forms capable of becoming astral organs. It must be the first step of initiation to allow a person to do something during the life of the day, to allow something to play into his soul, which continues during the night when the astral body is withdrawn from the physical and etheric bodies. Imagine that – speaking pictorially – something is given to a person while he is fully conscious, which he has to do, which he has to allow to happen, and which is so chosen, so constructed that it does not cease working when the day is over. Imagine this activity as a sound, which continues when the astral body is withdrawn; this resounding would then constitute the force which works to mould the astral body, as at one time external forces have worked upon the physical body. This was always the first step of initiation – to give a person something to do during the life of the day which has an after-effect in the life of the night. What is called meditation, concentration, and other exercises which a person undertakes during his daily life are nothing but activities of the soul, the effects of which do not die away when the astral body withdraws, but which reverberate, and then in the night become constructive forces in the astral body.
This is called the purification of the astral body, purification from all that is unnatural to it. This was the first step, which was also called catharsis, purification. It did not yet constitute activity in supersensible worlds; it consisted in exercises of the soul which the pupil performed during the day as a training of the soul. It consisted in adopting certain forms of life, certain attitudes to life, a certain way of treating life, so that it could continue to sound; and this worked upon the astral body until it had been transformed, until organs had developed in it.
When the pupil had progressed so far that these organs had developed in the astral body, the next thing was that everything which had been formed there should be imprinted in the etheric body. Just as the characters on a seal are imprinted in sealing-wax, so must everything which has been formed in the astral body be imprinted in the etheric body. This imprinting is the next stage of initiation; it was called illumination. For it brought with it an important stage in initiation. A spiritual world then appeared around the pupil, just as formerly the sense-world was around him. This stage is also characterized by the fact that the events of the outer spiritual world do not express themselves as physical objects do, but in pictures. At this stage of illumination the spiritual world at first expresses itself in pictures. The pupil sees pictures. Think of the ancient initiate I referred to yesterday who saw the group-soul of a people. When he had progressed to this stage, he at first saw this group-soul in pictures. Imagine an initiate such as Ezekiel, who, when his illumination began, became aware of spiritual beings as folk-souls, group-souls; he felt himself in their midst; he saw group-souls in the form of four symbolic beasts.
So to begin with, the spiritual world appeared to the pupil in significant pictures – that was the first stage. Then followed a further penetration into the etheric body. What at first was present like the impression of a seal was followed by a further penetration into the etheric body. Then there began to be added to the pictures what was known as the music of the spheres. The higher spiritual world is perceived as sound. The higher initiate, having through illumination perceived the spiritual world in pictures, begins spiritually to listen to those sounds which are perceptible to the spiritual ear. Then he comes to the later transformation of the etheric body, and afterwards in a still higher sphere something else approaches him. If, for example, there is a screen here and behind it a man is speaking whom you cannot see, yet you may hear sounds. It is somewhat similar with the spiritual world. At first it appears in pictures, then sounds are heard, and then the last veil falls away – as if we were to take away the screen behind which the man is standing and speaking. We see the man himself – we see the spiritual world itself, the beings of the spiritual world. First we perceive the pictures, then the sounds, then the beings, and lastly the life of these beings. It is indeed only possible to give a hint of what exists as pictures in the so-called Imaginative world by making use, as symbols, of pictures from the sense world. One can only give an idea of the harmony of the spheres by comparing it with ordinary music. Now what may be compared with the impressions of the beings at the third stage? It is comparable alone with what today constitutes the inmost being of man, his acting in accordance with the divine universal will. If the pupil works according to the will of the spiritual beings who are helping the world onwards, the being within him will then become similar to these beings and he will perceive in this sphere. He perceives that the element within him which opposes the evolution of the world, which retards its progress, is something which must be thrown off in this world, something which must fall away like a last covering.
The Three Pillars that form the path towards Initiation
Knowledge regarding the nature of non-physical reality from other Initiates is one of the three elements that form the path towards initiation. The conditions found in ‘How to Know Higher Worlds’ and meditations form the Masters form the other two pillars.
The subsidiary (Found in How To Know Higher Worlds) and the retrospect exercises can be practised alongside the ‘I’ Strengthening and Main exercise. The ‘I’ strengthening exercise is a good place to start and will help build the inner strength needed to overcome the many hurdles that life presents that can easily keep us from forming the rhythmical practice needed for success. Quietness is also foundational and can be practiced before the meditations or in its own right.
**Here we have one of the great problems which may arise when truths relating to the non-physical world are presented. Yet the answer always has to be that it is simply necessary to present these truths today. We must not forget that truths relating to the non-physical world cannot be received in the same frame of mind as truths relating to the physical world. To take them in we must slightly loosen the etheric and astral bodies; otherwise we shall only hear words. The state of mind has to be such — and with reference to the phenomena of the subjective inner life it merely is a state of mind — that for any real understanding of the things of the spirit one has to loosen the etheric and astral bodies a little. This loosening should only be a means of gaining understanding of the world of the spirit. It must not become an end in itself; this would be a very serious matter. – Rudolf Steiner