Background Post from 2006Sept. 2010
RE: Steiner and thinking
To XXXX, who wrote:
>>As some of you know I am new to this group. I have an aborted attempt at Steiner's POF because after about three quarters of the book I found I was reading it like any other book, and not working through it in the way Steiner suggested. To anyone who has read it, or some of the other related books, is there a concrete new way of thinking that you can describe to me that you gained from Steiner's and Goethe's World Concept? That is, did reading POF cause you to begin to think in the new way that Steiner describes? I often feel like I am still very much stuck in my old ways of thinking, but have experienced some strange moments where I push past it and things seem more connected - at any rate it is hard for me to describe this. Let me know what you think!<<
(I'm running behind as usual; this is a response to your original message, not taking into account what has been said on this list since then.)
We have discussed similar questions before, and, since you seem to be getting "stuck", perhaps my previous comments haven't helped as much as I had hoped. You seem to be asking about our own experiences, so, instead of trying to re-state what I have already said, I'll try a different tack: I'll try to speak more from my personal experience, but with this *caveat*. -- I may make some suggestions based on my experience, but I wouldn't presume to make recommendations in the sense that I would try to be saying exactly what is best for you to do. I may be doing some things "wrong", but even if I were doing everything "right" for me, this wouldn't imply that "my" way would be the right way for you. I think we have discussed before on this list how the Anthro Path has certain general principles that apply to everyone, but that the "right" paths for all particular individuals will not be exactly the same in all the details. One might be struck by the lack of specific instructions in *KoHW* and *OS*; Steiner does suggest many exercises, but he does not state exactly when to practice each one, how long to practice, which ones are crucial and which may be omitted, etc., etc. Again, there are some general principles, certain attributes that the student must acquire, but Steiner does not say *exactly* how the student must practice these principles and acquire these attributes.
I wouldn't say that "reading POF" *caused* me "to begin to think in the new way that Steiner describes", but this reading surely was part of a long process through which I have gained the ability so to "think" (as I understand Steiner's descriptions). As Palmer says, the *PoF* can be taken as a "training manual", and a training manual is misused if it is only read; it is meant to be taken as a guide for action. Reading is fine, up to a point; but the point does come when it is time to get down to it and do it. And when one has some experience of this "doing" under one's belt, then the reading will likely make more sense.
And I take it that you are making some efforts at such *doing*, but that you are "stuck in [your] old ways of thinking", perhaps with the exceptions of some "moments". -- Well, I would say that these "moments" shouldn't be underestimated; they should be cherished and intensified. And I hope that you don't "beat yourself up" because perhaps most of the time you think in your "old ways". I surely don't practice "*PoF* thinking" 24/7; sometimes my "level of consciousness" is distressingly low, even when I am (more or less) awake. Maybe Steiner was on a high level of consciousness 24/7, but I don't think that many of the rest of us are.
I'd say that the way one reaches an habitually higher level of consciousness is the same way that one gets to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. I "practice" (in part) by taking times apart from the daily outer routine to intensify and expand "moments" of real thinking, as one would practice "meditation". I try to find time to be quiet and alone, without distractions, for at least ten or fifteen minutes at a time. (For me, ten minutes seems to be about my minimum [usually] for an effective "session", though if I'm in a "bad" state of mind, even more than ten isn't enough. For people who are really good at concentrating, perhaps less than ten would be enough.) If I can extend a session for more than fifteen minutes, that's usually even better.
A lot could be said about the *PoF* thinking (and has been said by others), but here I'll try to pay special attention to what I consider to be the one essential thing. (In *PoF* Steiner [really his translators] uses the terms *genuine thinking*, *living thinking*, *pure thinking*. In *KoHW* he says *self-sustaining life in pure thought*. In *OS* he says *sense- free thinking*.) If one learns to do this one essential thing, then the way forward is open; if one doesn't, then one will likely be stuck on "square one" for a long time.
Most of the time, in our ordinary (so-called) "thinking" our thoughts just "come to us". If the mind is just "wandering", the thoughts will be disjointed, haphazard, probably illogical. If one is concentrating, the thoughts will be more connected, relevant, logical. But in either case the thoughts appear in the consciousness as finished products; we are not aware of the process of their creation; we don't know how they came into our awareness or why they assumed the form that they did. But it is possible, in "living thinking", to become conscious of the process of the creation of the thoughts, to bring the thinking into the "present". (This is the theme that Kühlewind discusses in the first chapter of the book I mentioned previously. You might want to re- read it.)
But to get to this "presentness" we must first *get control of our runaway minds*. This is the essential first step, and probably for most of us it is the hardest. And in our present "civilization" it seems to be getting harder and harder. Even conventional medicine has taken notice of the epidemic of "Attention Deficit Disorder", though the conventional treatment (Ritalin) is an atrocious "cure" worse than the disease. (In the interest of full disclosure, I'll say that I probably would be considered to be a victim of ADD. I have never been formally diagnosed, but I pretty much fit the description. If I were in public school today, I would very likely be dosed with Ritalin. The public schools in "my day", years ago, surely had their defects, but at least they didn't dope kids with Ritalin. Lucky for me.)
The healthy way to stop our minds from running away is to exercise the muscles of our thinking-will, to practice, repeatedly, putting our *inner effort* into concentrating our thinking, into forcing our thoughts to follow a logical, meaningful, consistent sequence. (Of course such health is opposed by many [and increasing] factors in our ordinary lives: the food, the water, the noise, the "entertainment", the "music", etc., etc. One can try, swimming upstream through thick mud, to put these factors of our daily lives on a more healthful basis.) Steiner says that real thinking is willed thinking; true thinking is suffused with "will" (and feeling).
Just as is the case for our physical muscles, the way to strengthen our mental muscles is through regular exercise, of repeatedly working against resistance. I would suggest getting on a regimen of mental exercise, of concentrated, logical thinking (if you haven't already done so); you could call this exercise *meditation* if you wish. One will try and fail, and try and fail again and again, but I don't know of any cure for such failure but to keep trying. Eventually the successes will come, and even though they might be fleeting at first, they will be so sweet that one will know that one is on the right course. And it is important not to beat oneself up over the failures; one can rightly pat oneself on the back for the successes. The glass if half full, not half empty.
What do I mean by *logical thinking*? -- I'm not talking about working out a sequence of thought following the "rules of logic" perhaps read in a textbook. The rules of logic have been worked out and written down only because thinking is, in its own nature, inherently logical in the first place. Real thinking does not mechanically follow formal rules, but springs from the same source from which the rules have been derived. (But of course learning and working with the formal rules might well be a useful and necessary experience that enables one to get a "feel" for logical thinking.) -- Another essential thing is that real thinking has its own, internal, inherent necessity, its "inner energy". Real thinking is not subject to our whims, our wishes; if we try to force thinking to produce certain results that we "want" it to, we immediately falsify it. This "inner energy" works toward the unfolding of "insights", of the understanding of meanings. This "unfolding life of meanings" is the inner, inherent necessity in thinking, and it is "above" us; it is not subject to our personal preferences.
Thus there is a "will" in the thinking, a will that is not our own. But our thinking does not follow its own "will" unless we put our own personal will into our effort to think. -- This may seem to be a contradiction, but it is not. Experience proves that it is not. If we don't put our willpower into our effort to think, the thinking becomes pseudo-thinking, it runs out of control and becomes haphazard and illogical. Yet we cannot "will" our thinking to take the exact course that we might "want" it to take according to our personal wishes. When I am paying my bills, I might wish that two plus two equals three, but I cannot make my thinking come to that result. If I try to force my thinking to conform to my wish, I immediately falsify it and enter into unreality.
In an "exercise session" of concentrated thinking wishes are deadly enemies, especially the wish to attain "higher consciousness" or some such. Such a wish might bring us to the point of starting the exercise, but once we are *in* the exercise all wishes are poison. The only "energy" ("energy is the capacity to do work") that can rightly determine the thoughts is the "life of meanings", the unfolding of understandings of meanings. You surely know the experience of "seeing the meaning", of "getting it", of "insight". This experience, concentrated and extended, is the experience of "living in pure thinking".
So, the first essential requirement is to stop one's mind from running away, to concentrate one's course of thoughts on a logical, consistent theme. (Probably the simpler the theme, the better -- at least for the beginner. Though I do break this rule sometimes, and fruitfully, so it seems to me.) To do such coherent, thematic thinking one must exert one's willpower, put one's effort into the thinking. As one does this, (with practice) one can intensify one's concentration, pay closer attention to what one is *doing*. (Paying attention this way usually slows down the thinking, and the thoughts become very simple, so that they would be trivial or even boring if reviewed later.) As this attention increases, the process of the creating of the thoughts comes gradually out of the past into the present; one comes to "live in" the thinking. -- All this might sound somewhat "abstract", and maybe it is in a way; words are poor instruments to convey an unexperienced experience. But once one has had the experience one can see that to which the words were pointing, however inadequately. And this experience is just as real and distinct as is the experience of waking up from sleep; one knows that one has entered into a different form of consciousness.
-- I have used the word *concentration*, and it is the right word in a sense, but in a way it might be somewhat misleading. It is correct in the sense of keeping one's thinking to a consistent, coherent theme, but it derives from a spatial metaphor, and the spatial connotations might nudge one in the wrong direction if one is not alert. Our ordinary waking experience of space is point-centered; we are as it were "concentrated" at a point, looking out in all directions toward the wide spaces. But as one increases one's mental "concentration" to the intensity of "living thinking", then one's (this is my experience anyway) point-centered spatial experience changes; one becomes, as it were, "expanded" or "spread out". One is then not concentrated at a point and looking out in all directions; one is rather (as though) spread out over a space and looking inward from a "periphery".
I'll try to clarify. -- In my experience (generalized and simplified, of course) of "pure thinking" I come into a different relation to my body. (In a way, it might be called an "out of body experience", though it is not as though I were floating by the ceiling and looking back at my body below.) Steiner says that thinking suppresses the organic bodily processes and replaces them. With the practice of pure thinking this saying becomes a real experience; I notice (if I pay attention) that the processes of the body gradually become "deadened". The breathing slows; the "currents" become restricted; tensions may "work themselves out" with vibrations or shuddering before calming down; the muscles may stiffen; there may even almost be a kind of "death rattle". But all this is, in a way, more and more separated from "me". I, as it were, become "expanded", "spread out" over a space. I may visualize this space as being like the dome of the sky, and I am as though looking down, or inward, from the outer surface of this sky-dome toward the plane of the earth. And the feeling of gravity disappears; the feeling is more like "lightness", of being borne up. (In my own understanding, I relate this experience to what Steiner says about real thinking being done with the ethereal body rather than with the physical brain. The ethers [over-generalizing again] are expressed with "peripheral", inward-working forces, in contrast to the "earth-bound" point-centered gravitational forces of our ordinary spatial experience.)
-- So far I have spoken mainly of logical- conceptual (verbal or quasi-verbal) thinking. Steiner also recommends visual-picture "thinking" exercises. I am more naturally a "left-brained" verbal thinker than a "right- brained" visual thinker, though I do work to overcome my "one-sidedness" in this regard. You, as an engineer, might be more visually oriented; if so, it might be easier for you to take the visual route to "sense-free thinking". But if you have difficulty with visualization, perhaps you might try a method that seems to work for me: I can practice concentrated logical-conceptual thinking until I am well- "expanded", and then I can visualize "inward" and/or "downward" from the archetypal sky-dome to the archetypal earth-plane and "see", for instance, the Rose-Cross from all sides (or as it were, I were revolving around all sides). -- Also perhaps helpful would be to make a practice in life of noticing and experiencing colors, perhaps even of working with the Anthroposophical "veil-painting" watercolor technique. Visualization is more "alive", the more vividly colors are inwardly pictured.
-- In *PoF* Steiner says that "the power of love in its spiritual form" flows through the activity of thinking. And again, through practice this saying becomes a real experience. I would say that when one reaches the experience of "expansion" (if not before) one will most likely come to understand what Steiner was talking about. It might at first seem grotesque to suggest that dull, prosaic, logical thinking might have anything to do with love, but experience proves that it does, very much so. Pure, living thinking surely *feels* like love; it is joyous, balmy, healing, warm, radiant. Work may be necessary to "get there", but once one has "gotten there", it's not "work" at all (in the usual sense of an onerous burden). It is "happy", and when one experiences such happiness, one cannot keep such happiness for oneself; such happiness must be for everyone, for all beings. One naturally wishes to "radiate" such joy to all beings, and in fact it does effectively radiate. Steiner admonishes the student that he should come to the realization that his thoughts are at least as important for the world as is his outer work. He says elsewhere that one person meditating can change the "atmosphere" of a whole town. -- Our thoughts, their quality and their purity, are important not only for ourselves but for the whole world. When the rose adorns itself it does truly adorn the garden.
-- Much more could be said, but I'll stop here for now. I have perhaps over-generalized and simplified, smearing over many exceptions, details, and nuances for the sake of brevity. But I hope that I am ringing some bells with you. If so, tell me how; or if not, tell me why not, and perhaps we could carry the conversation forward (slowly, of course) from there, if you wish.
May you experience "the power of love in its spiritual form",
Robert Mason>> Back to Top