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The Answers of Spiritual Science to the Big Questions of Existence

Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib Document

Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

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The Answers of Spiritual Science to the Big Questions of Existence

Schmidt Number: S-2313

On-line since: 31st August, 2015

The Nature of Sleep

Berlin, 24 November 1910

In the present scientific considerations is little talk of such phenomena to which we want to dedicate this hour. Any human being should still feel that the sleep is something that positions itself in our life phenomena in such a way, as if it gives us the biggest riddles of life. One has probably always felt this mysterious and the important of the sleep when one spoke of the sleep as “the brother of death.” We have now to restrict ourselves at the discussion of the sleep as such, because the following talks still lead us to the consideration of death in certain respects.

All that the human being must count to his soul experience in the immediate sense, all mental pictures, all sensations and feelings that represent the soul drama of the human being, all pains, and sufferings, also the will-impulses sink down as it were in an uncertain darkness if the human being falls asleep. Some philosophers could doubt about themselves, so to speak, if they speak of the being of the soul and spirit, which reveals itself in the human nature, and from which they must admit that it seems to lose itself in nothing within every course of the day — even if it may be conceptualised and investigated ever so well. If we look at the phenomena of the soul life in such a way as one is used to look at them, actually, academically, as well as unprofessionally, we must say, they are extinguished during the sleeping state, they are away. For that who wants to look only at that of the soul, which expresses itself in the bodily, the human being is as it were a riddle if he thinks deeper. For the real bodily functions, bodily activities continue during sleep. Only the mental stops. Now one has to ask oneself only whether one speaks quite correctly about the bodily and the mental if one really encloses this mental in its entirety in that what appears as extinguished with falling asleep. Alternatively, whether already the usual observation of life — refraining now completely from spiritual-scientific or anthroposophic considerations — can show, nevertheless, that this mental is also active and effective when it is enveloped by the sleep. However, if one wanted to gain some clearness about these concepts, one could also say, if one wants to observe the phenomena of life in the right sense in this field, one must have precise concepts.

I would like to mention from the start that also in relation to this issue spiritual science or anthroposophy is not able to speak as in general as one likes it today. If we speak of the nature of sleep, we speak only of the sleep of the human being. For spiritual science knows very well — this has been touched repeatedly in the last talks concerning other fields — that the same outer appearance of various beings can be based on quite different causes within the concerning beings. We have indicated this for the death, for the entire spiritual life and for the arrangement of the spiritual life with the animal and the human being. Today it would lead too far to speak still about the sleep of the animals. Therefore, we want to say in advance that I speak about the sleep of the human being only.

We human beings are able to speak of soul phenomena within ourselves by our consciousness, because we are aware of that what we imagine what we want what we feel. Now the question must arise — and it is exceptionally important just for our today's observations: are we allowed throwing together the concept of consciousness, as we know it as the normal human consciousness in the present, automatically with the concept of the human soul and mind? I would like to use a comparison at first in order to argue about these concepts clearer. A human being can walk around in a room and he is nowhere able to look at something of his face at the different places of the room. At one single place where he is able to look in a mirror, he can see something of his own face. There the figure of his face faces him in the picture. Is it not an immense difference for him whether he walks around only in the room and lives in himself or whether he sees what he lives in such a way also in the mirror? Perhaps, it could be with the human consciousness in a somewhat enlarged scale. The human being could live, so to speak, his soul life, and he would become aware of this soul life — as he lives it — only because it faces him in a kind of mirror. This could be very well. We could say, for example, it is conceivable that the human soul life continues, no matter whether the human being wakes or sleeps. However, in the awake state the human being perceives his soul life by a reflection — we say by a reflection within his physical nature at first — and he cannot perceive it in the sleeping state, because it is not reflected in his corporeality.

Indeed, we would have proved nothing with it; however, we would have obtained two concepts at least. We could differentiate the soul life as such and the awareness of the soul life. We could imagine that for our consciousness, for our knowledge of the soul life, as we stand in the normal human life, everything depends on the fact that we get the soul life reflected by our corporeality because we could know nothing of it if we did not get it reflected. Then we would completely be in a state like in sleep. We try now, after we have obtained these concepts, to imagine the phenomenon of the awake life and sleep.

Someone who is able to observe life really can feel very clear, one would like to say, “behold” how the moment of falling asleep takes place really. He can perceive the mental pictures, the feelings becoming weaker, their brightness and intensity decreasing. However, these are not the very essentials. While the human being wakes, he lives in such a way that he creates order in his whole image life from his self-aware ego, summarises all mental pictures, as it were, with his ego. Since at the moment when we would not summarise our mental pictures with our ego in the awake life, we would not lead a normal soul life. We would have a group of mental pictures that we would call our mental pictures, and another group at which we would look as something strange, as an outside world. Only the human beings who experience a splitting of their ego what is a morbid state for the present human being could have such a splitting of their image life in different groups.

With the normal human being, it is essential that all mental pictures relate to a point in perspective: to the self-conscious ego. At the moment of falling asleep, we feel clearly how, so to speak, the ego is overpowered by the mental pictures at first, even though they become darker. They assert their independence, live an own way of life. Single clouds of mental pictures form, as it were, within the horizon of the consciousness, and the ego loses itself to the images. Then the human being feels the sense-perceptions becoming duller and duller and he feels finally how the will impulses are paralysed. Now we must point to something that few human beings observe quite clearly. In addition, the human being feels that at the moment of falling asleep something makes itself noticeable like an enclosed being in an uncertain fog which works cooling now and again, or becomes noticeable with other feelings at certain places of the body: in the hands, in the joints, in the temples, in the spine et cetera. Someone who falls asleep can observe these feelings. This are — one would like to say — such trivial experiences, as one can do them every evening while falling asleep if one wants.

Such human beings make better experiences already who more exactly observe the moment of falling asleep by a finer education of their soul life. Then they can feel something like waking up in spite of falling asleep. Everybody can observe these things really who gets into the habit of applying some methods because it is a generally human phenomenon. At the moment when the human beings feel something like waking up with falling asleep it is in such a way that one can really say, something wakes up like a spreading conscience, something like the morality of the soul wakes up. This is the case really. It becomes apparent in particular that such persons observe that experience of the preceding day life with which they are satisfied in their conscience. They feel this at this moment of the moral waking up in particular.

At the same time, this feeling is completely contrary to the feeling of the day. The human being falling asleep feels, as if his soul poured out itself about a world that awakes now and which primarily expresses itself as a feeling extending about what the soul can experience by itself like by a spreading out conscience in relation to its moral inwardness. Then there it is a moment of inner bliss, which, however, seems much longer for the falling asleep, when it extends about such things with which the soul can agree and it is often a feeling of deep strife if it has to reproach itself.

Briefly, the moral human being who is pressed down during the day by the stronger sensory impressions expands and feels as something particular when he falls asleep. Everybody who has appropriated a certain method or maybe a sensation only concerning such observations knows that a certain longing awakes at this moment that we can describe possibly in this way: one wants that this moment, actually, may extend in the uncertain that it does not find an end. Then, however, something comes like a jolt, a kind of inner movement. Now this is quite exceptionally difficult to describe for the most human beings. Spiritual research can describe this inner movement to a hair's breadth, of course. It is as it were a demand that the soul makes to itself: you must extend still further; you must pour out yourself even further! However, while it puts this demand to itself, the soul loses itself for the moral life in the surroundings. It is, as if you distribute a droplet of colour in water: at first, you still see the colour if, however, the drop is distributed in the whole water, the colour grows weaker and weaker, and, finally, it disappears.

It is this way if the soul just starts swelling up, living in its moral reflection, there it still feels; but the feeling stops when the jolt, the inner movement occurs as the drop of colour loses itself in the water. This is no theory; one can observe this and it is accessible to everybody as a scientific observation. If we observe falling asleep this way, however, we are able to say, the human being intercepts with falling asleep as it were something that can no longer be in his consciousness afterwards. The human being has — if I may help myself now of the two ideas contrived before — as it were a moment of saying farewell to the mirror of the bodily in which the phenomena of life appeared reflected to him. Because he still has no possibility to let reflect what should be reflected in the body in something else, the possibility stops perceiving what he is.

However, one is also able to perceive the phenomena of the day again in a certain way — if one is not arbitrary and does not want to be obstinate concerning the soul and the effect of that what goes there into an uncertain darkness. In another context, I have already drawn your attention to it that the human being who is forced to memorise this or that, to learn things by heart, manages this much easier if he sleeps on them, and that the biggest enemy of learning by heart is the avoidance of sleep. The possibility and the ability are there again to memorise easier if we have slept on the thing, than to learn something by heart in one go. However, it is this way also with other soul activities.

However, we would be able to convince ourselves quite easily that it is impossible to learn something generally, to acquire something where the soul has to co-operate if we do not always insert the states of sleep in our states of life. One can conclude from such phenomena that our soul needs to withdraw from the body every now and then to get strength from a field that is not within the body because within the bodily the suitable forces are just worn out. We have to imagine if we wake up in the morning, we have brought recovering forces from the state in which we were to develop abilities which we could not develop if we were only always tied up to our body. The effect of sleep appears in our usual being this way if one wants to think straight and does not want to be obstinate.

What appears in general and where one already needs some good will, if one stops in the usual life to hold together the single phenomena, appears in no uncertain manner if the human being goes through developments that can lead him to the real beholding in the spiritual life. I would like to explain here what happens if the human being has developed the forces slumbering in his soul to attain that state where he does not perceive by the senses and understand by the mind. — Further details of that follow in the talk How Does One Attain Knowledge of the Spiritual World? where the methods should be discussed quite comprehensively. — However, some of the experiences should be now emphasised which a human being can do who really goes through such exercises. They provide his soul as it were with spiritual eyes, with spiritual ears by which he is able to behold in the spiritual world that is not an object of speculation, but an object, as the human being perceives the colours and forms, warmth, cold and tones with his physical senses. Already in the former talks, I have explained how one attains true clairvoyance.

This spiritual development, these exercises consist really of the fact that the human being gets out something what he has in himself, attains other cognitive organs, and experiences as it were a jolt in the soul and thereby perceives a world that is always around him he cannot perceive, however, in the normal state. If the human being goes through such exercises, his sleep changes at first. Everybody knows this who has come to real own spiritual researches. Now I want to speak of the very first state of the change of the sleeping life with the actually clairvoyant, spiritual-scientific human being.

The first beginnings of this possibility of spiritual research let the human being appear not very different from the usual, normal state of consciousness. Since, if the human being carries out such exercises that we discuss later, he sleeps completely as well as another person at first and is unconscious exactly the same way as any other human being. Nevertheless, the moment of waking up shows something particular to someone who has gone through spiritual-mental exercises. I want to portray some quite concrete phenomena to you that are facts.

Assuming that a human being who does such exercises thinks very sharply about something that also another human being could think, he tries — because he maybe faces a very hard