Medicine and Threefoldness
By René de Monchy
“Medicine must take the spiritual life seriously”, or “must sincerely engage with spiritual life”, would be an attempt to translate Rudolf Steiner’s exhortation, “Die Medizin muss Ernst machen mit dem geistigen Leben”, to the young doctors and medical students assembled on 2 January 1924 straight after the Christmas Foundation meeting, and the giving of the Foundation Stone Meditation.
Steiner pointed already in earlier lectures to “Medicine as the sick man in Europe”, stating that in medicine exists a stronger belief in authority than ever, even in religious thinking, and he speaks about “the papacy” of medicine. He predicts that this will become ever stronger, which in fact we are now observing in this time. In fact, Steiner expresses that this is largely due to the general public not taking responsibility and not speaking up (10 November 1908).
This materialistic, and Ahrimanic trend in medicine started with the beginning of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch and seems to be increasingly applicable to the time we live in right now, in which the therapeutic freedom of both patient and therapist is at grave risk. Why is this so? Possibly, or at least associated with it, is the year 869AD, when the Church declared officially that the individual human being comprises only Body and Soul, while the direct experience of the Spirit can only be found via the church.
The inherent threefoldness of each human being, with the physical-etheric Body as the instrument for the Soul, and the Soul as the potential carrier of the individual and unique human ‘I’, connected with the ‘I am’, was thereby reduced to the human being as a polarity of ‘body’ on the one hand and of ‘soul’ on the other hand. This has had enormous ramifications for our (western) thinking and certainly for the practice of medicine right until our age.
There always remains the danger of this reduction into polarity and duality in our thinking, especially when under stress or when in crisis-situations. I witness this in my profession as a psychiatrist, when patients seem to become unable to access the balancing ‘middle-realm” of the rhythmic system, in which the wisdom of our emotional life resides, and thereby finding refuge either within the nerve-sense pole of unbridled thought and sensations (with possible hallucinatory or delusional content) or in excessive limb-metabolic activity (with possible forensic or homicidal content).
An example of over-emphasis of the head-forces is in fact the cover of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, which for many years consisted of a stylized image of the human brain with neurotransmitters, neuronal synapses and neuronal circuits. It depicts that our thinking, our emotions and our volition originate and reside in our physical brain. In fact, we have come to define ‘death’ over the past 50 years, no longer as the time breathing and heart-action stops, but when no longer any brain activity clinically or on EEG is traceable. This has of course consequences for organ transplantations etc.
The modern concept of the ‘headhunter’, a highly remunerated employment agent for corporate executive functions, is not dissimilar, as his/her (profit-directed) thinking is of main importance, relatively irrespective of the moral/ethical emotional human qualities.
This seems a modern extension of Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum” (freely translated as ‘the fact of my thinking is the proof of my existence’).
And yet, intuitively we sense or ‘know’ that this way of thinking in the duality or polarity of ‘either-or’ is not our human path in existence. In fact, it dehumanizes and reduces us to the world of instinct (or digitalization of the yes-no) versus the engagement of free will, creativity and freedom in our thinking originating in the sense of ‘I’. It is the threefoldness of the incarnating Spirit ’I’ via the astral-body and etheric body into the physical body that makes it possible for us to live our human life and karmic tasks and challenges in this dimension of time and space in the physical world as spirit, soul and body.
The threefoldness extends into every aspects of our physical being, as is so clearly expressed in the Foundation Stone Meditation, as a continuous source of renewal in our soul-qualities of thinking, feeling and willing, and their inter-connectedness.
This wonderful capacity that we as human beings were given by the Gods with our physical body to manifest these realms of soul in their threefoldness in all details and organ-structures and physiology.
On the one hand, the extreme of form and symmetry in our sense organs, the clarity of thinking and reflection in the semi-detached enclosure of the skull with the ‘coolness’ of the nerve-sense system enables us to have ‘crystal clear’ thoughts in full-day consciousness, while contributing through our central nervous system to all parts of the body. (An example of how the threefoldness is present everywhere in the body, can be seen for instance within this head structure, where we have also the rhymical system in the middle part/nose and sinuses, and the limb-metabolic manifesting in the mobility of the jaw.)
At the opposite side below the diaphragm reside the continuous fire and regenerative powers in the organs of regeneration, growth, birth, renewal, metabolism and will, with their nocturnal and recuperative-anabolic-forces, largely unconscious and with potential their enormous forces of action and will, expressing as ‘showing backbone’, ‘gut feelings’, and ‘putting one’s foot down’. These recuperative and will forces extend to all parts of the body and to all organs.
And in between the rhythmical system, the heart and lungs with circulation and breathing, quietly, semi-consciously day and night, modestly mediating and pervading all organs and organ-systems.
The ultimate sense-organ, our human heart, sensing and balancing the life-bringing anabolic forces from below with the catabolic forces from our consciousness, in its mysterious and highly individualized rhythm together with the lungs, connecting inside and outside world. The slightly asymmetrical position of the heart manifests its relationship to the limb-metabolic system, whereas the lungs, somewhat more symmetrical realer more to nerve-sense pole of the human body. The feeling life, the deep wisdom of our emotional life finds here its seat: “and as for Mary she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2,19).
When I was working in a mission hospital in Africa, I once held the thickly-callused foot of a kind old woman, probably about age 70, between my hands filling me with an incredible sense of wonder and awe. Later I realized why I had that feeling: I had held in my hands this foot that had probably walked 10 kilometres every day for the past 68 years, and probably never further than 20 kilometres from her village. She must have some walked in all some 248,000 kms, which is more than six times around the world! The words: “take off your sandals, for the place on which you stand is holy ground” (Acts 7.33) suddenly took on a different meaning for me. “Not only the earth is holy ground, but the place where you stand, human being with your own ‘I’, in thinking, feeling and willing, as representative of God, that place is therefore sanctified by you.”
René de Monchy is a consultant psychiatrist and former anthroposophical GP based in Wellington.