Philosophy of Freedom Exercises

In April 1922, Walter Johannes Stein asked Rudolf Steiner: “What will remain of your work thousands of years from now?”  He replied: “Nothing but The Philosophy of Freedom.”

Rudolf Steiner wrote and spoke repeatedly throughout his life about the importance of the Philosophy of Freedom.  For example, in the introduction to Occult Science he wrote, “…The path leading through acquaintanceship with spiritual-scientific truths to sense-free thinking is completely reliable.  But there is another even more dependable and, above all, more exact, though for some people it may prove more difficult.  It is described in my books, The Theory of Knowledge Based on the Goethean World Conception and The Philosophy of Freedom.  These books point out what human thought achieves when thinking becomes absorbed in self-activity instead of working on impressions of the physical sense world…. A person who allows these books to work upon his entire being is already experiencing the spiritual world, although he perceives it only as a world of thought.”

The Philosophy of Freedom is a treasure map.  In general, we can work with the map in two ways.  Firstly, we can study the map.  We can read it, make notes, meet in study groups to discuss and deepen our understanding.  This first approach to the work is a necessary and essential precursor to the second approach, which is to set out to find the treasure, to tread the path of knowledge.

The following exercises came about through a conversation with the Philosophy of Freedom.  The ever present question for me as I read the text was, “What guidance for the path of knowledge is implicit in these words?”  I tested and refined the individual exercises personally and through the work of an Exercise Advisory Group, whose members generously gave of their time, working with the exercises and providing feedback.  The group exercises evolved through trial and error and were especially a collective effort.

The Individual exercises can help us…

  • bring thinking to life, through an intensification of will activity
  • discover the rich sources of our lives of feeling
  • actively commence the process of becoming free, through moral imaginative thinking.

Download a PDF of the Individual Exercises to View or Print

Surprisingly – because of the acute efforts which the individual exercises can require – they become strikingly fruitful when we take them up in groups.  Working together with the exercises we can get to know each other with a depth which is typically reserved for our closest friends.  We grow to understand – with awe and reverence – how our colleagues think, what they feel, how they struggle with ethical questions.

Download a PDF of the Individual and Group Exercises to View or Print

Please bear in mind that these Individual Exercises remain experiments.  You may wish to modify them or simply to employ them as inspirations for creating your own exercises.  That goes for the Group Exercises as well.  You might consider taking them up in a study group; then after a few sessions decide to work differently, to experiment with new forms.  The exercises also lend themselves to weekend work in the form of a conference.  Indeed, we worked with many of these exercises over the course of two weekend conferences in Toronto in 2015 and 2016.

Download Background and History of this Initiative

When we set out to observe our thinking, we discover a realm of experience which differs from all other forms of consciousness in life, a realm which Steiner characterizes in chapter three of the Philosophy of Freedom as a kind of “exceptional state”.  In this exceptional state we encounter in the living mobility of thinking an activity which comes into being through our own efforts and is at the same time a universal, objective process.  Through it, we gain strength and certainty for new beginnings, for exploring ourselves and exploring the world.

On the one hand, the process is simple… First, we observe something.  Then we think about it.  Then we observe the thinking we have done.  The thing to observe at the outset can be whatever we choose, for example:

  • a physical phenomena
  • a feeling
  • a verse for meditation

On the other hand, it is a trial, an intense process of creative engagement and discovery which draws upon our deepest resources.  The first transition – from observing to thinking – requires an exertion of will.  The second transition – from thinking to observing the thinking – requires a higher magnitude exertion of will.  And yet, with good will every healthy person is capable of entering this exceptional state and practically benefiting from the health-bringing forces which the activity engenders.

A woman observes something.  A question arises and she seeks an answer, an explanation for what she has observed.

Two bouquets of flowers are taken from the same shrub.  Petals fall from one bouquet when it is placed in a vase.  Why does the other bouquet drop no petals?

A man has a feeling.  He observes the feeling – recognizing that he is vexed – and then investigates the quality and form of that vexation.  He examines the outer event which caused it.  And he asks what in his personality brought about such a feeling, when perhaps another person might have felt differently.

Even a verse upon which a person meditates must be brought into motion through the activity of thinking.  Perhaps the meaning of part of the verse is not immediately clear and a question arises which may be answered through a deeper exploration of other parts of the verse.

Typically, this is as far as we go with our thinking and we are content if we have uncovered an explanation, gained a new insight.  But we can go farther.  We can turn around and observe the thinking in which we have just engaged.

And when we do so, something immediately changes.  Before, we were exploring with our thinking something which was separate from us.  The flowers, the feeling, even, to begin with, the verse – were all outside us, part of the given world.  When we now observe the thinking itself, we explore an activity which we know intimately and immediately, which we brought into being through our own exertions.  The separation, the gulf between world and self now disappears.  We experience the powerful, objective, active reality of thinking.

Our thinking becomes more vibrant, more alive.  And now we have a choice about how to proceed.  One direction would be to more deeply explore – with our enlivened thinking – the question with which we started.  We experience this as a turning away from the observation of thinking, in order to repair or enhance or enlarge the thinking in which we were initially engaged.  New insights appear to us, insights richer and more complete than those we initially uncovered. They appear with lightning speed, creative leaps and that joyfulness we experience when we really penetrate with our thinking into the depth of a question.

The other direction is to continue to work within the exceptional state. But nothing is static in this state.     To move forward requires a further increase in will activity.  The temporal distance between the thinking and the observation of thinking narrows, approaching simultaneity.  There are many different ways to proceed at this point.  In forging our individual pathways we live our way directly into the creative being of thinking.

In The Riddles of Philosophy, Steiner writes, “A world conception must express itself in thoughts, but thought only then endows the soul with the power for which it searches by means of a world conception in the modern age, when it experiences this thought in its process of birth in the soul.  When thought is born, when it has turned into a philosophical system, it has already lost its magical power over the soul.  For this reason, the power of thought and the philosophical world conception are so often underestimated.  This is done by all those who know only the thought that is suggested to them from without, a thought that they are supposed to believe, to which they are supposed to pledge allegiance.  The real power of thought is known only to one who experiences it in the process of its formation.”

The path of knowledge which Steiner depicts in so many ways becomes a co-creative activity as soon as we take it up.  There are many new exercises which could be designed, shaped through active engagement with the Philosophy of Freedom.  The exercises provided below remain experiments.  Try them, improve upon them or dispense with them and create your own.

Timothy Nadelle, March 18, 2018