SELF-MASTERY: CRISES, CHOICE & SELF EMPOWERMENT
LECTURE TWO from Shaping Citizenship: Spiritual Renewal and Service in the World, 26 September 2014
This is an edited transcript of the second lecture in a series of three given by Nicanor Perlas at the Wellington 2014 New Zealand Anthroposophical Conference.
THE TOPIC FOR THIS LECTURE is self-mastery as the foundation for true citizenship. If we are to engage the world in a true way, something first must happen within us. When we hear about Technological Singularity, the global economic crisis and so on, they seem to be external to us, and yet a fundamental process of cognition means that what we hear or perceive externally then activates our thinking life – what was external has now entered internally, and something starts to happen inside us. The question is, what do we do with something that has been internalised? There are two choices – we can either totally ignore it and continue to live the way we were as if nothing is happening to the world, thereby cutting ourselves off from the world, or we can make an inner response. This inner response is what I would like to focus on in this lecture, looking particularly at the ‘levels’ we respond from. Are we going to respond on the level of what I will be calling the constructed self or are we going to be responding at the level of our essential self?
Our two states of being
The constructed self and the essential self are dual aspects in ourselves. The constructed self is that
within us, which has formed us since we were born – even before we were born – and in the anthroposophical context, even before we were conceived. This constructed self is shaped by forces outside us that we have internalised for better or for worse. There are studies showing that, in the western world, for example, there have been over 10,000 injunctions from parents to their children by the time a child enters adolescence. You often hear parents telling children, “Do this, otherwise that” or “Don’t do that”. This is a form of constructing the real-life thoughts and feelings of a child. And it is a continuous process, not only formed within the home but at school, with friends and teachers, religious groups and the media – which increasingly focuses on young children who are vulnerable because they cannot really process this information. All this forms a constructed self that we carry around with us and that has been called in psychology our persona or personality – from the Latin word for ‘mask’. And it is a mask this persona. It is not who we truly are, the true spark of ourselves – rather, it is constructed from the outside. Of course, it is important if we are born into a specific place to know the language of the place, the customs and the culture, or we would not be able to function cohesively there, but on the other hand, if this becomes our unconscious automatic response to the world, it may not be an adequate response. You see the persona has been created in the past, it is oriented towards the past. Another name for this is our programmed self.
The programmed self, we could say, is unfree and automatic, which is not necessarily bad. The point is to become aware that this self is in us so that, when we meet an external challenge that we want to deal with and internalise, we can have an awareness of whether we are responding to the occasion from our constructed self or from our essential self.
The transforming essential self
Now what is this essential self? The essential self is that part of us that can change and create new beginnings, transforming what already exists – otherwise we could not create the future, we would remain stuck repeating what has been. The essential self is in touch with the future and therefore it is not bound to this world only but has access to other higher aspects of reality. This will be developed further, but here just consider that, if we want to respond creatively to the challenge of Technological Singularity or any other life challenge and if our constructed self has not been adequately prepared for the challenge, we will need to respond at another level – a level that we can access through self-mastery, a level that allows us contact with our true nature, which is our immortal self, our eternal self our essential self.
The phenomenon of ‘fluctuation’
So this is our situation, and I am sure even in the anthroposophical movement, we can feel this to be a reality. This is the real struggle we all experience through the fact that, although sometimes we can access our essential self – especially in moments of meditation – most of the time, we go directly back to acting from our constructed self. This presents a dilemma because people have a notion that the instant you have a moment of insight, a peak experience or a deeply spiritual encounter, your life has thereby changed permanently, but that is an illusion, because what happens is that there is this phenomenon of ‘fluctuation’, which means to say we fluctuate between our essential self and our constructed self. Most of the time, our default self is our constructed self. That is why, in anthroposophical language, the modern science of the Grail, which is Spiritual Science, is essentially concerned with how this constructed self can be thoroughly spiritualised so that the eternal or essential self is constantly acting and moving in the world without constant fluctuation.
If we respond to external challenges simply out of the persona, then we will not be able to do much about them, because we will keep on saying to ourselves, “That is an impossible challenge”, and it will be true. At the level of the persona that has never encountered a similar circumstance before, this easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you say something is impossible, it will be impossible, and you remain stuck there. And I think this is also where there can be a partial danger of reading too much Spiritual Science – reading too many of Steiner’s books – without transforming the knowledge into deeds. I say this because it happened to me. I read many of his writings, and then I began to realise that nothing had really fundamentally changed in me, and I then started becoming very discontented. But in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, there is a short profound statement pointing to the struggle I have mentioned above:
“Every idea that does not become your ideal kills a power in your soul; every idea that becomes an ideal engenders life-forces within you.”
It is a very radical statement, which means, in this context, if you don’t do anything with the spiritual scientific knowledge you take in and transform this knowledge into deeds in the world, you are actually becoming a weaker and weaker person. Even though in your mind you have a lot of knowledge, you are actually laming yourself. Spiritual Science is a map to change the world through your essential self, your eternal self, and so if you say to yourself, “I have all this wonderful knowledge but in the end I am really powerless”, you are really saying that spiritual scientific knowledge has no power to change the world, and therefore you are telling yourself you are worthless faced with these large challenges confronting humanity.
And this is a problem not only within the anthroposophical movement, it is true in respect to all knowledge. It is a human condition in general, because universally, we have a self that is inside a prison, a self that is constructed, for the most part, not by us. As part of our process of growing up, we have all of these default ideas and programmes inside us, and sometimes, perhaps very often, they are conflicting. And then on the other hand, we have our true nature, which is unbounded, unlimited, beyond space and time and capable of incredible powers of transformation. The key is, how do we bring together a coherence between our constructed self and our essential self so that our persona, our personality, becomes a true vessel of our highest intentions? This is what self-mastery is.
State to stage
Today, this fluctuation phenomenon between the constructed self and the essential self is being termed the ‘state to stage challenge’. The term recognises that there is first a state of consciousness that has to move into a stage of consciousness – where the stage offers a kind of permanence of this higher state of consciousness established in our persona. That is how this challenge is understood in the technical language of integral philosophy, integral psychology and integral science. In fact, there are over 5,000 courses in universities around the world that deal with consciousness science. It has become mainstream and includes the concept of the evolution of consciousness, which Steiner first introduced and which people didn’t at that time understand. There are many doctoral dissertations on this topic, and the question arises of how a temporary state of higher consciousness, a beginning experience of the essential self, can be prolonged and lengthened so that it becomes our default stage of consciousness.
Low transaction costs
Before referring to how this development is explained in modern neuroscience, I would just like to cite two movements that are explicitly dealing with this in a mainstream way. And some of these things are going to be really surprising – they certainly surprised me. The first one is the so-called ‘Innovation Ecosystem Movement’. It sounds like something that is very far removed from self-mastery, yet this Innovation Ecosystem Movement is basically an in-depth study of Silicon Valley. The book that summarises this and integrates it in a very powerful way is called The Rain Forest: The Secret of Building the Next Silicon Valley by Victor Hwang and Greg Horowitt. It has become a best seller. The interesting thing in this book is that it is espousing that at the core of the Silicon Valley phenomenon is a certain kind of self-mastery, which has to be there for something like Silicon Valley to function. Now I am not saying Silicon Valley is all good, I am just pointing to the phenomenon that to create this kind of massive wealth-creation hub, there has to be some key ingredient. Silicon Valley represents the eighth largest economy in the world, right there in an area smaller than New Zealand, and it produces wealth that is equivalent to that of the whole United Kingdom. So the Innovation Ecosystem Movement asked the question: “Why did something like a Silicon Valley develop in California and not in Chicago or in the east of the United States where there are schools like Harvard and MIT or in New York with billions of dollars of old wealth sitting in its financial centre?” The University of Chicago has 85 Nobel Prize winners concentrated there and is a world-class university, which gave us the neoliberal economics paradigm that now drives the world economic system. They have billions of dollars in resources and so on but no real innovation such as found in Silicon Valley.
So the authors ask: “Why in Silicon Valley?” And it turns out that the key ingredient is that Silicon Valley has ‘low transaction costs’. A transaction cost is a technical term in economics – Ronald H Coase, who invented it, won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1991 – but in plain language, low transaction costs refer to what helps people really synergise with each other. If in a specific place there is no trust and respect, innovation will not happen. So all the Nobel Prize winners in Chicago were in silos, in other words, they were doing their thing but they were not connecting with others. They did not connect with others, because in the University of Chicago and in the East Coast, they had high transaction costs. The book goes on to explain the phenomenon of the constructed self based on neuroscience and the way the brain has evolved, including how the constructed self often sabotages our best intentions. Essentially, we see concrete external effects in the world emanating from self-mastery, which, if undertaken collectively and in freedom, has tremendous impact.
Silicon Valley and Wisdom 2.0
So the notion that we need self-mastery to be real citizens of the world is not a fringe phenomenon. Rather, it is at the heart of innovation in the world. And now every year in Silicon Valley, the Global Innovation Summit is convened. I was invited to attend there in February 2014 so I was able to see how people from 50 countries were trying to implement this process, developing networks of low transaction costs, mutual respect, trust and the so-called ‘soft’ aspects. It was amazing to see that they took the inner work seriously as an important part of external transformation processes.
The second example is even more surprising and explicit, and for better or worse, it is starting to permeate centres of world power – the global conference called Wisdom 2.0. It is named after the Silicon Valley language for software innovation, version 1.0, version 2.0 and so on. Wisdom 2.0 is saying that there is a certain wisdom in the world that produced the western world’s high-tech society, but now we need to move on to a different kind of wisdom if we are going to survive the impacts of technology. And the interesting, most bizarre thing is that this Wisdom 2.0 is promoted by high-level executives in the high-tech industries of Silicon Valley. It is basically a first practical response to the question: “How do you deal with all the stress experienced in the innovation centres of the world?” And the interesting thing is that they are now bringing some of the world’s top meditators into the picture from different meditation streams. You have the Sufi stream, the Buddhist, the Hindu and so on – including Arthur Zajonc, the physicist who was General-Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in North America. Arthur is the head of a network involving 800 universities that have mainstream meditation as part of higher education. He was the Scientific Director of the Mind and Life Institute until June 2015, which has associations with the Dalai Lama. And so, standing publicly in the stream of Spiritual Science, he is in the middle of orchestrating many of these developments that are a part of Wisdom 2.0.
I am very glad to hear that Arthur Zajonc was invited to partake in Wisdom 2.0 because it had Google as a major sponsor and many other major organisations involved with it – along with their executives, like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams. All these people have attended Wisdom 2.0. I am not saying this is for better or for worse, because on the one hand, some of these corporations are doing something, which from my point of view, is problematic in the area of private security – including allowing some of their data to be used by the intelligence agencies of the United States and changing our settings automatically without our permission – so there may be a disconnection between the meditative activity and the corporate activity in some cases. The question of this disconnection was brought up in Wisdom 2.0, and there was no direct answer. They found it a very difficult question, even though this inner work, this mainstreaming of meditation, is seen as a necessary part of existence in the 21st century.
Buddhism, science and meditation
Many of you have heard of the World Economic Forum, the yearly conference of over 1,000 CEOs of the world’s largest corporations held in Davos, Switzerland, and also attended by heads of state, presidents, prime ministers and the elite of civil society, universities, researchers and so on. It is arguably more powerful than the United Nations. In fact, it has often, in the past, set the agenda of the UN. I had some friends who were insiders there, and they were describing the process to me. They found the level of global planning and control by the corporations astonishing. Corporation executives would say, “This is the next emerging trend, maybe we should do this in Latin America or we should do this in Africa.” They use these meetings for planning, and they involve the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation and the Secretary-General of the UN as implementing agencies of this global agenda. But now the World Economic Forum has discovered meditation in Wisdom 2.0, and the interesting thing here is that the dominant meditative form is Buddhism, because Buddhism is not a religion. It is seen as the highest form of a science of consciousness from the past, and that is why many neuroscientists around the world are starting to do neuroscientific studies of the brain patterns of Buddhist meditators. All of a sudden, there is a huge interest in this area, because it is having an impact all over the place. Researchers are beginning to understand some of the higher brain functions that are being activated through meditation.
Just as a side note, in the lecture series called ‘Background to the Gospel of St Mark’ given in 1910–1911, (GA 124), Steiner makes the very interesting comment that the increasing materialism of the world will be deflected by Buddhism, just as Islam deflected the early hardening of humanity through materialistic science that was going to be introduced around 600 AD. And we can see Buddhism having this effect. Steiner said this over 100 years ago, and it is pretty amazing to observe the wisdom of that comment now.
Meditation as corporate practice
Wisdom 2.0 is happening today on a large scale not only in the World Economic Forum. It is even in the right-wing think-tank of Washington, DC – the Heritage Foundation – and the World Bank and many other such places. Wisdom 2.0 is even in the financial centres in New York, and there is now Wisdom 2.0 Europe. It has become pervasive – but why? Because it is based on science. This is what is attracting all of these institutions. They want scientific proof as to what will happen if you practise mindfulness, which is a major meditative form. Google has a university and a guru teaching mindfulness to all its employees – full-time. Mindfulness has been informed by the work of Daniel Goleman, who wrote the book Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. So real work is being done which is not only affecting the performance of major corporations but also world policy. There have been discussions of the foreign policy implication of mindfulness, and the people discussing this were people responsible for current US foreign policy.
In today’s world, it is no longer ‘soft’ to speak about meditation. For better or for worse, it has now entered into the hard power structures of the world. Maybe some of these executives are just doing this for stress reduction, for better health – there are various reasons – but whatever the reasons, the topic is now mainstream. Wired magazine, the premier high-tech geek magazine of the world, featured an article in respect to this titled “In Silicon Valley, meditation is no fad. It could make your career”. Meditation is now regularly mentioned in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and so on.
Now before I go further, I want to mention that the importance of this topic of fluctuation was also highlighted by a certain phenomenon that emerged around the world in spiritual movements throughout several decades – in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and so on – when spiritual gurus started acting in disastrous and bizarre ways. This arose from the fact that, in such cases, the constructed self had not undergone permanent change to a higher level and so old or abusive patterns emerged because they did not understand the phenomenon of fluctuation. Although they were acting from the constructed self, they believed they were actually ‘there’.
I will give a certain example that I can talk about because it is already cited and is public. How many of you are familiar with Chogyam Trungpa? Chogyam Trungpa was responsible for the rebirth of interest in Buddhism before the Dalai Lama became so prominent. He wrote the book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. When he wrote that book, it became a classic, because he was saying that many people turning to meditation for spirituality are actually spiritual egotists. And then 20 years later, he himself was a victim of spiritual materialism – he became the victim of his own weaknesses in contradiction to his teaching – which has happened to many guru figures. People who had high levels of spiritual insights all of a sudden on the other hand became ordinary people driven by their instincts.
Now there is a very powerful explanation regarding this behaviour both in existing neuroscience and in Steiner’s lectures on the Grail. (See, for example, Lecture 4 of the lecture cycle, “The Mysteries of the East and of Christianity” given on 7 February 1913.) And it is incredible how these two pictures complement each other – one from the side of 21st century neuroscience and the other from a spiritual perspective in terms of the evolution of consciousness. There is also the example of Goethe, who often gets criticised for being “human, all too human” despite his amazing knowledge and high level of development, which is a foundation for Spiritual Science. There were certainly aspects of Goethe that one cannot emulate, but Steiner spoke of how Goethe’s life reflects the condition of modern humanity and illustrates the importance of the struggle to stabilise the fluctuation between our constructed self and our essential self. No one escapes this condition of being and living in a self that is basically enslaved and programmed yet also having an eternal nature simultaneously. That is why there is this fluctuation, and for Goethe, it was after his struggle that he produced some of his most amazing work.
The fourfold brain
In conventional terms, the explanatory framework for this ‘state to stage’ paradigm comes from neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. Neuroscience aims to give an explanation of the struggle or challenge that we all face and that can also explain why somebody of high spirituality can fall suddenly overnight. From the early 1960s, it was explained in terms of the so-called ‘split brain’– the two hemispheres of the brain. Then in the 1970s and 1980s, it was explained in terms of the ‘triune brain’ – the three-part brain. This so-called first or ‘reptilian’ brain is still with us, because in the evolutionary process, our brain was constructed gradually. We didn’t get born and become human all of a sudden. The point is that the reptilian brain developed first, followed by the so-called ‘mammalian brain’ or emotional brain, which is in the centre as it were, and then the ‘neo-mammalian’ brain formed. The neo-mammalian brain, which is the cortex towards the back of the head, is also known as the ‘monkey’ brain. The monkey brain makes its presence known when you start to meditate and you have many, often overwhelming, automatic thoughts that start to enter. More recently, we have the latest fourth level of brain development, which is in the prefrontal cortex. This prefrontal cortex emerged in evolution, according to conventional scientific understanding, about 50,000 years ago, whereas the reptilian brain was already there 600 million years ago, the mammalian brain emerged around 3 million years ago and the monkey brain around 1 million years ago.
So the basic conventional explanation using ideas of neuroscience and evolutionary biology is that the constructed self runs by default out of the three lower brain centres. Why is it that the media, for example, are so fond of negative news? Why does negative news sell? It is a frustrating global phenomenon. So many good things happen but are not covered. Why? Because the negative appeals to the reptilian brain, which, when fed news about murders, rape and violence, responds automatically. This function was useful for survival in the past, because without these brain functions, our physical body would not have survived. But the problem is that these three earlier brains are wired for negativity because the negative is always looking out to protect itself. These three brains – the reptilian brain, the mammalian brain and the neo-mammalian brain – are on autopilot, and they have been driving our behaviour for a long time. That is why it is so difficult to get beyond them, because if you are not conscious, they are there as the default. Only when our fourth brain – the prefrontal cortex – is active is there the power to manage the entire brain and its functions. The prefrontal cortex is connected to all of this systematically and has evolved only in the last 50,000 years or so. It is the latest brain, and the interesting thing is that, when a child is born, the prefrontal cortex is undeveloped, and therefore, it has to be nurtured.
It is very interesting to imagine that, if evolution had hardwired the prefrontal cortex, we would have a really hard time becoming free. By the way, we are making a distinction in this discussion between the brain as an instrument and consciousness, which uses the brain as an instrument. The prefrontal cortex is not active unless we are engaging in higher reflective and other cognitive processes. Nonetheless, the higher thinking processes that Steiner speaks about in the Philosophy of Freedom are not bound to the brain. Living thinking takes place independent of the brain and yet, subsequently, uses the prefrontal cortex so that finished products of spiritual thinking can be etched in the brain of our persona. In the absence of these higher processes, even Steiner himself would say our brain takes over.
Now the constructed self is driven by motives and drives that are hardwired and have been instinctive for millions of years. That is why it is not going to be overnight that you have a high-level consciousness experience and then achieve immediate and permanent change. You simply cannot do this. You now have to find a way to start transforming experience and engaging your prefrontal cortex consciously. It is not surprising, then, that much of the neuroplasticity in the brain takes place in the prefrontal cortex. In my previous lecture, I mentioned neuroplasticity, which refers to the fact that consciousness shapes the way neuronal networks are working in the brain. It is the opposite of being determined by our brain, so as you can see, we are both free and unfree simultaneously. A large part of us is unfree, and the task of self-mastery is to take hold of inner practices that would start incarnating our essential self more strongly into our physical structure. And that is why Wisdom 2.0 goes deeper than the Innovation Ecosystem. The Innovation Ecosystem acknowledges the problems of evolutionary psychology in developing trust in relationships which arise because we are hardwired not to trust other people. That is our basic habit, but on the other hand, if we have such a strong parallel sense of essential self, we can develop trust easily. So it all depends on where we are at in terms of our self-mastery.
Science of the Grail
That is the modern contemporary perspective from neuroscience on the problem of this struggle between our better self and our everyday automatic self. Now how does it look from the perspective of Spiritual Science? Spiritual Science actually paints a remarkable complementary picture, making it deeper and more profound by connecting the problem with the whole evolution of consciousness. At the same time, it recognises how the struggle is built right into the whole search for the Grail. As you know, Steiner describes anthroposophy as the modern science of the Grail. The book An Outline of Occult Science (1909), also known as An Outline of Esoteric Science, is basically the Grail mysteries in modern form. The Grail is the preparer for the mission of earth evolution, but to understand this from a larger context, we have to understand the evolution of consciousness. We can understand the evolution of consciousness by looking at it in three stages – from unconscious participation through to the modern dual consciousness of contemporary experience to fully conscious participation. These ideas now resonate with modern scholarship through the work of Owen Barfield, who is perhaps one of the strongest exponents of the evolution of consciousness and who came to these ideas independently of Steiner through the study of the evolution of English words. It is interesting that, in both unconscious participation and conscious participation, there is none of the modern dual consciousness experience of today. With unconscious participation, the human experience was: “I am in the world and I am one with it” – but then we had no consciousness that was the case. We did not know that we were experiencing oneness with the world – it was unconscious. And then individuation took place, and we came to the point where our default consciousness is: “I am in here, and the world is out there” – so we call this dual consciousness.
The further stage that arises especially in meditative states and about which the Philosophy of Freedom is an amazing guide is conscious participation. Conscious participation is a conscious entry into the deeper spiritual processes of the world, which manifest themselves as actual laws of the world but also at the same time are a creative power that has constructed our physical body and our soul. That is why there are people who, when they have creative experiences, can go for days without really eating, because they are being fed directly from the forces that created the world. Steiner described this in a simple way. In your higher thinking, your living thinking, you get a hold of the world in one corner of the world, and after that, you can see how it connects with other aspects of the world. Put another way, the thought world is a living whole. You cognize an aspect of it from your vantage point. That vantage point can then connect to other vantage points because reality is a seamless unity. The point is that modern humanity has now started on the journey of achieving conscious participation. In Lecture 1 of this series, The World is on Fire, I spoke about evolutionary spirituality and how anthroposophy had actually articulated what it was. Today, it is being articulated in a different more detailed form whereby we know how those creative powers are directing the world, and we can consciously place our free self into the process and be in service to that. That is why, in my previous lecture when I talked about asking ourselves “What is my purpose?”, it cannot be a question that is being asked or answered by your persona because then it will be all about you and nothing about the world process. It will be about your programming, and therefore you are going to get stuck in the past. It is essential to recognise that, when the question is asked “What is my purpose?”, that question is being made or triggered in your persona by your essential self, and the answer should come from the essential self. Then you will not burn out in the process, because when you serve the world in that way, the world is actually in you – not abstractly, but in terms of its creative forces, which are starting to enter into your being.
Epochs of consciousness
A very powerful example of this fluctuation between the constructed and essential self is from early Egyptian times when humans were undergoing the development of the sentient soul body and they had, as an afterflow of the Persian civilisation, a direct participation of reality, albeit unconsciously, and therefore their sensations actually fed and gave them health. This is very important because it wasn’t an abstract world view – it was the formative powers of the world bringing and forming vital, living health to the human being. Then in later Egyptian times, consciousness evolved so this sensation was no longer as direct, and what took its place were images, and these images were inwardly alive and full of content. There was no longer the direct sensation experience but vitalising inner images.
In Greek times, we had the birth of philosophy. This period of time is known in conventional world history as the Axial Age. During this time, around 600–300 BC, there was Confucius in China, Buddha in India, Zoroaster in Persia and Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in Greece. At this time, they experienced the living images in contracted form, which became ideas. That is why, for Plato, ideas were alive – not like today when ideas are dead. That is why the Greek word for theory, theoria, meant a kind of beholding. They beheld not a theory in themselves but an idea that was active in the world. And mathematics was understood then as the crystallisation of these ideas in their proportion, in their rhythm. Because it had art and precision, it could affect the world.
Then of course we know that, when the individual self was born, all of that faded away into greater and greater abstraction, symptomatically expressed in world history as the debate between nominalism and realism. Nominalists said, “Ideas are not real, they are just names that we give to patterns of things in this world,” and the realists responded, “No, no, no, ideas are real, they construct the world, we experience them as real,” until finally today, we reach a stage of almost complete abstraction.
The wound of Amfortas
Now for me, an interesting point that Steiner made is that, while this was going on and we were further distanced from a direct participation in the world, aspects of our soul and aspects of our physical body and our etheric life started to become dead. This dead aspect in ourselves Steiner called the wound of Amfortas, from the Grail story of Parsifal. In the story, Amfortas has a wound that was due to the fact that Amfortas, King of the Grail, had not managed to fully overcome and transform his constructed self, and because the constructed self was so powerful, he was still liable to be under its control, and so he misused his power and was hit in the groin area with a poisoned lance. Basically, the Grail, the symbol of the highest manifestation of spiritualised matter, had been used by Amfortas for selfish reasons. And if you look, all of us have that wound as a direct by-product of becoming aware of ourselves. It is the necessary by-product of having an ‘I’ consciousness.
Now we needed to ‘die’ to a direct unconscious participatory experience of this world, otherwise, as we all know, we could not achieve freedom. The forces of the world would have lived too strongly within us for our own individualised consciousness to be born. Without this individualised consciousness buttressed by thinking, we could never be free. But that freedom came at the cost of now having a kind of inner resistance in us that we have to overcome and vitalise with such strength that our spiritual self is able to enter the Amfortas wound and transform it into a state of blessedness – the Parsifal state of consciousness. The picture of the Parsifal state of consciousness and the wound of Amfortas is deeply connected with what I mentioned in my first lecture. In the very beginning, Steiner was asking everyone in the Anthroposophical Society or Movement to find our karma, to perform our actions in the world out of the ‘cosmic world context’. That was what he was asking for, and now you begin to understand why, because in our previous incarnations, our context, our ‘stage’ of awareness at that time was a direct participation in the world process, a participation that was totally healing and vitalising of our soul and our body. But we have lost this context of our embeddedness in the world process, and we are now so contracted that we can only achieve a very limited sense of self, and we find it difficult to engage in the world. This is a normal human condition now in which we have also suffered a loss of innocence.
Finding a world context
As I have already mentioned, in the ancient days, people had access to a universal world wisdom, albeit through unconscious experience. In the east, they received the power to see that great context and act it out inwardly, and in the west, they were so full of life energy that they developed courage to be in the world. Their life forces were overflowing, and because of that, the west gained an actual reconnection to the very creative forces that made the world.
That is why that, if we today are unable to consciously connect to the widest world context, we will always experience this part of ourselves, the constructed self, as limiting, uncreative and unfulfilling. This is because our higher nature, our essential self, which is universal and eternal, is seeking in our day-to-day experience the broadest possible context for the dignity and true nature of the human being. That is why it is so important today to develop ourselves. We need to be able to carry the largest conception that modern humanity can conceive and act out of that, even in the simplest of circumstances – only then will we begin to see what kind of impact we can have, no matter where we are, no matter where our karma places us. Whether on the world scene, the national scene, a city scene or a community scene, what matters for us as a true human being is to be able to act out of the largest context that we can understand today.
I was suggesting in my first lecture that the modern world has already arrived at this. There are tens of thousands of people around the world, even more, who are practising and advocating evolutionary spirituality, and their context is the whole evolution of the universe, which they understand physically, though not yet on the spiritual level, but enough for them to understand why we are here and why the future of this planet depends on us and how we will act. They are striving to act now in the world. A very interesting term that they are using is the evolutionary self, which can be connected with Spiritual Science. So we have the constructed self and we have essential self, or we may say our lower self and our higher self (whatever you want to call it), but in the middle between the two, people are now starting to identify what they are now calling the evolutionary self. I thought that was the perfect term, because often when we begin to experience this fluctuation in ourselves, the battle between the Parsifal and the Amfortas in us can create confusion, and we don’t know what to do. The evolutionary self, once it understands this journey, begins to see this fluctuation as something good, something that is asking us to move to the next evolutionary stage. Therefore, we can even enjoy it, and not out of masochism but in recognition of it. When the constructed self is overcome through love and dies, that is a painful process because sacrifice is involved. We cannot really avoid sacrifice in the transcending of our egotism, because our higher senses are all constructed to promote sacrifice. Our higher senses, such as our sense of thought, our sense of word or our sense of the ‘I’ of another person, will not function unless we get rid of our own self in the process and be increasingly ‘in the other’. So the evolutionary self, in spiritual scientific language, can be seen, from my perspective, as the overlap between the spiritual self and the consciousness soul – it refers to the increasing penetration of our spiritual self into our consciousness soul. And when that happens consciously, we begin to take on this evolutionary challenge with a totally different perspective. We no longer fear it. It is not easy, but we don’t run away from it, because we understand that we have to go through this if we are to be constructively engaged in the world.
Commitment and free choice
I would like to end by briefly reflecting on two famous verses by WH Murray and Goethe respectively.
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, that providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!
Reflecting on the essence of these verses makes it clear that our failure to recognise an elementary truth can result in countless failures and disappointments, which is that the moment you are committed to take up initiative, in the context of the world process, providence moves too, and then things start to happen that would otherwise not happen if you did not make a move and begin – meetings with people, events and so on. Resources come because you dared to stay in the void, trusting. You can then see that what you are doing in this world is a spiritual partnership – a partnership with the creative powers of the world that made us and have made nature and the universe. So if you have an initiative, do it now!
From this perspective, the word ‘commitment’ is critical, and the best way to understand it is to actually understand Steiner’s Philosophy of Freedom, because you cannot really understand commitment fully if you don’t fully comprehend what a true, free, moral act is in the world. Part 1 of the Philosophy of Freedom is really about knowledge and the wisdom that comes out of being able to go through all the different forms of your programming, even the most subtle ones, and being able to overcome them in the realm of pure thinking. So that’s Part 1, briefly summarised! In Part 2, Steiner looks at how you act in freedom in the world and how love is a power that is behind our thinking, a power behind all the free deeds that formed the world. This is presented very clearly, especially in Chapter 9, and the overarching motif that is implicit in the whole work is ‘commitment’. Between the first part of the Philosophy of Freedom regarding how we arrive at authentic knowledge and the second part, which is about how we act that out in reality, there is a bridge that must be crossed. Acting consciously cannot be an automatic process, otherwise we go back in evolution. We have to have a free choice.
When I am committed, I have the freedom to say, “I am going to put the best of myself in service of the world in accordance with my highest ideal,” and when that commitment is made and something is started, something else happens that now empowers you to realise that in the world. What happens is depicted by the statement of Christ in the New Testament, which says, “Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7: 9-11. Revised Standard Version). In other words, what kind of providence is it if an individual, consciously knowing the world and putting his whole life in its service, is only given a stone by the spiritual world? In reality, it is not like that. In fact, the spiritual world is so near us, asking us to make those free deeds, because only in those free deeds can it then participate in the creation of the future of this world, but they will not interfere or violate the very freedom that took thousands, even millions of years, to develop. So if we are making a mess out of ourselves here on this planet, they are not going to interfere, because it is a useless kind of freedom if in the end they intervene and stop the whole thing. We created this problem, we have to solve it, and that can only be solved if we act in true freedom, and then the spiritual powers that are with us will also come in and become our spiritual partners. This is what they are waiting for.
And it actually works! In my own life, I have experienced this so many times. It is not a theory for me. But there has to be this conscious relationship that you are freely in service to what the spiritual world asks, and you can only do that if you have dealt with your fear and your doubts, especially your fear of an unknown future. Because the future cannot be predicted, no one really knows what the future will be because of this question of freedom. So you don’t know how things will turn out, but if you find an understanding of the world process that you can really support and serve with love, then amazing things will start to happen. Begin it now!