20 Apr From the World Society: On Cultivating Soul’s Life
Dear Members and Friends of the Anthroposophical Society in Canada,
In joining this, our Anthroposophical Society, we have connected ourselves to a community of individuals who share what appears to be a simple intention, to cultivate the life of soul both in ourselves and in humanity. This is our Society’s purpose. How do we understand this intention, and how do we try to realize it now, a century later?
Over the past two years, when our ability to come together has been hindered, what is it that has been interrupted? How can we understand what has been taken from us? We have all experienced the sense of loss in this absence from one another. We have sought for alternatives that would enable some form of continuation. As we reflect on our personal experience over these past years, is there something essential that this tension between absence and connection seeks to reveal to us? How can we apprehend, not as thought but as experience, this process of cultivation? What is the ground we seek to till, the seeds we tend?
In trying to hold this tension, what can confront us is whether we recognize the essential characteristics of this universe of soul. Do we experience ‘soul’ as a living reality within ourselves and in the world? Or does the experience elude us when we seek it?
As this Society for the Cultivation of the Life of Soul was being established, Rudolf Steiner accompanied it with guidance for understanding this ‘mystery of soul’. The Foundation Stone asks us to behold, to turn attention to the world in its fullest sense. To no longer look only into ourselves, but into the whole of the Cosmos if we are to seek this Universe of Soul. We are called to recognize that what lives within our limbs, what lives within the rhythms of heart and breath, within the stillness of the head as my thinking, my feeling, my volition, are but the embodied revelations of divine presence, spirit presence not only in us as individuals but within us as the Body of Humanity. These are mighty revelations that can continuously inspire us; call us. But how do we ‘live’ it, and why do we need each other as fellow members within this community in order to find our way?
If we truly consider what is being asked of us, we realize that this call is fundamentally different from what we have cultivated as our individual experience. The fruits of the past epoch of human development are that we experience these capacities as ‘mine’. We identify these soul capacities as my thinking, my feeling, my willing. The great challenge that humanity faces is that these faculties have become bound to our experience of our ‘self’. These capacities that would link our self experience to the other, whether that be our fellow human beings or the ‘other’ in the cosmos, has become individualized, has become ‘selfish’. The very capacities that would enable us to cultivate a perception of the inner nature of the world, have become imprisoned by that part of us engaged with our daily lives, that aspect of ourselves that experiences anxiety and fear when surrounded by change and discontinuity.
These pandemic years have surrounded us with instability. All that has given our sense of self its orientation to the world has fallen into disorder. We engage all of the capacities available to us to restore form into our lives. The undefined sense of unease, of threat, narrows and focuses our soul activity, as if looking through a telescope backward. Our thinking becomes ever more constricted, concentrating on thoughts that reinforce our pre-existing assumptions. In order to protect itself, our sense of self so narrows our thinking that what would be an illuminating capacity now leads us astray. Rather than open reflection, thought fragments itself, desperately needing to justify pre-established conclusion.
This same narrowing constriction, has insinuated itself into our life of feeling. What should be a capacity for expansion into the world – an empathetic outward turning – draws into a protective sheath in order to shield itself. To meet the world with an openness of heart is to make oneself vulnerable. World trauma has become so intense that the delicate sensing activity of feeling retreats, closes in on itself.
Perhaps most challenging is the inability to bring our souls into a positive active engagement with the world, what we experience as the activity of our volition, our will. The force that wells up within us, that would bring us into relationship with the world, is filled with power. This force, this intense power, cannot be restrained. In its need to manifest itself it can seek to realize what is good. It equally has the capacity for great destruction, devastation, evil. It is this power of will that reveals the true nature of the self that engages it, for it is our ‘self’ that is the consciousness directing the potential for illumination, empathetic engagement, the will for the good. In like manner it is our ‘self’ that can direct these same capacities toward the inner darkness of illusion and distortion, hatred, and destruction. It is the journey from one self to another that stands between these two, the self burdened with egoity and the self that turns to its higher reality.
This is our current world situation. All that is taking place in the world, all that unfolds in our individual lives, reveals where we are on this journey as individuals, as the human community. Anthroposophy provides the possibility for cultivating the sight and the language for seeing and comprehending where we are on this journey from egoism to selflessness.
When we are able to sit together, to live with anthroposophy together, what is it that is taking place that nurtures us so deeply? It is this ‘something’ that we have been cut off from. Have we taken this ‘something’ for granted because we have not had to consider its absence before?
As beings who enjoy the company of others, we appreciate the social aspect of being together. But the social absence of the pandemic has affected all aspects of our lives. In a similar manner we can appreciate our study of anthroposophy together. Here too, although the Society can support us, we all take up this study in our own way.
Pondering this, what can gradually dawn for us is the realization that, when we are with each other, we are within the ‘universe of anthroposophy’. Intuitively we understand that this is a universe of experience, and there is something essential in being with each other that makes it possible to apprehend what we are experiencing. We might say that the surface of this ‘experiencing of anthroposophy’ is our thoughts about anthroposophy. In sharing our thoughts, we help each other develop the ability to see the effect of what anthroposophy reveals to us working in the world. It is as if we stand on the shore of our familiar world and point out to each other what we see of the waves moving across the surface of this ‘other’ universe. In sharing we help each other see more.
But we can also help each other go beyond seeing, to a feeling-sensing of what we see. We help each other cultivate an understanding of the meaning concealed in our lives and in the world. With careful attention, we recognize that this ‘experience of meaning’ lives in us, while simultaneously providing an invaluable orientation to our familiar world. In all of the trauma of our current world situation, rather than drawing in upon ourselves, empathy for each other, for the world, can blossom within us.
So it is that when we sit together ‘within anthroposophy’, sharing what we see, we are tilling the inner substance within which meaning flourishes. We cannot underestimate the power of this awakening of meaning within ourselves, for it enables us to stand within our familiar world with ever-evolving and maturing soul faculties. As meaning grows within us we gradually take responsibility for our interrelationships with each other, with the world. Meaning becomes a beacon that can illuminate thinking, can quicken and clarify our feelings, can more clearly direct how we engage ourselves with the world – how we elaborate our will.
With this threefold process we help each other move from a reactive relationship to our lives to a meaning-filled engagement with our world. This is the journey that leads the soul from being enmeshed within our material existence, to actively living in such a way that this universe of anthroposophy, filled with meaning, gradually finds its way into relationship with our current human situation through what we cultivate together.
In 1924 Rudolf Steiner spoke of this Society for the Cultivation of the Life of Soul as a society of those who take initiative. Our world situation is one in which many individuals are continuously undertaking initiatives. They are fully utilizing their soul capacity all too often out of egotistic impulses.
Rudolf Steiner’s call to us stands in contrast to this world situation. He asks us to come together that we help each other along this difficult journey. In so doing we cultivate our life of soul in such a way that what permeates it, what calls it into life, is forever seeking to unite itself with all that leads humanity into a future that arises out of a clarity, out of an active intention to develop an interrelationship with those spiritual beings who nurture and cultivate soul in us, in the world, in the cosmos.