General Secretary’s Letter:From the World Society – On What We Will

General Secretary’s Letter:From the World Society – On What We Will

Red Window (part)

Dear Members and Friends of the Anthroposophical Society in Canada, 

All about us life has pressed out of winter’s bondage. With a power impossible to fully comprehend, Nature has broken through the grip that would hold her back. Death and life have battled, and Life has once again championed. We take this triumph for granted, trusting in the capacity for all of nature to gather the forces needed for this mighty struggle. To truly grasp the immensity of this ever-repeating process is beyond our capacities as human beings.

Consider the strength needed for the first dicotyledon to bend its back against its seed’s shell, breaking it open, pressing upward through the earth’s resistance to reach for the light. To feel this effort for life in the single seed and then to imagine this taking place in the uncountable seeds buried within winter’s earth, is overwhelming. We can cultivate the feeling for this struggle in the single seed but do not have the abilities to extend our imaginations to encompass all the earth’s entombed seeds.

To this we can add the extraordinary will needed by the chick to break out of its shell, the calf and its mother to go through the threshold into life, the newly hatched turtle digging its way through the sand to find the sea. With wonder we can ponder the forces needed by the leaf to burst through its bud case, and then to feel this in every tree across the measureless forests of our country. Awe overwhelms us when we turn to the immensity of this Will to Life, the Will of Nature, of Natura, to manifest herself.

We can ask, in the presence of such immense power, does this Will to Life cause harm? Does the leaf’s unbinding harm the chick’s breaking through? Does the reaching of the seed’s first sprout harm the calf’s birth?

As individual human beings, as the body of humanity, we have been pressed into a long winter’s sleep. Immense challenges have faced us. The ever-increasing pressure of life being bound, being constricted, has surrounded us in the hard shell of isolation. Step by step, our natural gregariousness has been circumscribed. The ever-shifting tides of what we can understand have left us on unstable ground. All that we have taken as ‘known’, as what we can depend upon, as what we can recognize as common agreements, common understanding, have all unravelled. The fabric of our human communities has fallen into shreds. At first, we experienced this binding, this encasing, as coming from ‘the world’.

But this process of imprisonment has also penetrated into our own inner experience. We have learned to face each other with care that verges on reluctance. We pull back. We have cultivated a scrutinizing vigilance toward each other, and this hesitation affects us deeply. We feel cut off from each other, and from all that is familiar, that gives life meaning.

We are now in the midst of the pandemic’s spring thaw. All of the patterns of relationship that have been destabilized are now trying to re-form themselves. But unanticipated effects of these past years are now appearing. While nature has turned to this breaking through into life, a process without harm – humanity, human beings, have struggled to re-find life. Unlike nature, this human struggle has brought with it forces of dis-harmony. At the heart of this process, this struggle to reawaken, is the vulnerable presence of the self – my self, your self, our collective ‘selves’. Over these pandemic years as the process of closing ourselves off has increased, has intensified, our experience is that this has increasingly impinged upon our experience of ‘self’. We have come to experience this impingement infringing upon our ‘person’. The measures that we have been asked to take, collectively, have seemed to go through an imperceptible metamorphosis. Increasingly the sense is that what had been a collective effort has become personal. What had been carried by us all, has been transferred onto the individual. This process has brought us as members of this Society, and members of our shared human community, to a significant threshold. The tension between my self and your self, or ourselves, has been thrown into a stark light, a light that only seems to reveal and not illuminate.

‘Freedom’ has become the signature for this great challenge we stand before, as individuals, as members of this Society, as human beings. The immense challenge of this call for freedom is that only ‘I’ can experience it for myself. Of course, we cannot deny the reality of all forms of imprisonment imposed upon us by society. All forms of inequality, of discrimination, of culturally applied judgments and limitations all impede the ability for the individual to be ‘free’ in the world. There are countless ways that the individual is made un-free in our human communities.

Much more significant is the inner experience, the soul experience of being made un-free. This inner binding wounds profoundly, deeply. The quest for this inner freedom is the essential journey that ‘I’ undertake in incarnation. Outer circumstances do not determine the contours of this inner journey. Outer conditions can attempt to impinge upon this quest for our essential human being, but they cannot determine it. The prisoner can experience this ‘being free’, and there are many examples of those under extreme duress who have this experience of inner freedom. It can also be that the one who has no outer limitations, no restrictions, can feel inwardly imprisoned, lost, in despair – filled with anger.

These are the powerful moods-of-soul that have insinuated themselves into humanity. Wherever we turn our gaze, anger in many forms presents itself. From irritation and frustration with each other to violent confrontation this ‘anger’ manifests itself. Looking into our world situation these manifestations of ‘soul dissonance’ show themselves everywhere. As individuals and as the human family, we feel, we unconsciously experience, this pervading soul disturbance. A dis-ease has become the sub-current of our lives. Yet we find it difficult to clearly identify where the sources of this collective inner tension lay.

Looking into the world we can also see that humanity longs to find new pathways into the future that do not simply return to what has been. This quest, this seeking for more than what has been, sounds as a deep base tone beneath our collective hopes, our collective aspirations for what can arise in the future. What would we intend, what would we will, into our shared future?

It is here that we are confronted by a fundamental challenge. To go into the future I must act, I must take initiative. Yet, because of the inner vulnerability that our time has pressed into us, our actions have lost their sensitivity. It is as if we have lost our capacity to engage with each other with a ‘maturity of will’. The inability to engage with the world, engage with each other, in a way that is unencumbered has left us unprepared. The pianist has been hindered from practice and so lost the ability to create music. The actor, unable to perform, has lost his voice. With the world in such need what do we ‘will’?

How can we approach this question? Thought is our familiar path toward contemplating action. Trying to find our way out of the pandemic, our great challenge is that thinking now often leads us astray. As we have felt an increasing impingement on what we take to be ‘my freedom’, what I think, what you think, becomes ever more charged and confrontational. We feel vulnerable when our thoughts are questioned. Discourse all too easily descends into argument, and our ability to engage with one another in a way that does not wound has become difficult. We fall silent. Constructive exchange ceases.

At the core of our intentions as students of anthroposophy is a will to bring healing into our human community, into our meetings with one another. We seek to engage with each other, with the world, in such a way that our actions bring about what is good. We cannot think the good, we can only recognize the effects of our actions as good.

With the Foundation Stone, Rudolf Steiner leads us through this seeming darkness. Though recent years have accentuated the challenges we have of taking initiative in ways that heal and do not harm, this call is at the core of all that we strive for as contemporary human beings. We can marvel at the wisdom of how Rudolf Steiner guides us in how to take healing action. He asks that we grasp the significance of our actions having their origins in our hearts rather than in our heads.

He asks that we turn to the other, that we turn to the world, in such a way that we cultivate a feeling for what brings about healing in the present moment, in the immediate situation. He asks us to continuously step into what is unknown. We cannot pre-determine what will bring healing between us. It is only in the heart’s intuitions that guidance can come. Attending to this voice of the heart is what we are called to do. The heart’s language is not one of opinion or points-of-view. It is the language that speaks to us beyond our individual vulnerabilities. This ‘hearing the heart’s language’ does not come to us from the past. It is a new capacity we are called to cultivate in order to transform our future. It is a practice, not yet a capacity.

The great challenges of these past few years both confronts us and offers us the opportunity to cultivate a perception of the heart’s capacity for discernment. Then the quiet reflection of thought can help guide this perceptivity, bringing it into relationship with what we ‘will’, that our willing brings good, brings healing into life.

That Good may become

What from our hearts

We are founding

What from our heads

We direct

With focused will

With warm regards, 

Bert Chase

General Secretary for Canada