THE WISDOM OF THE SOUL
Action and Interaction
of the Human Soul Forces.
ESTERDAY we concluded our psychosophical observations by pointing for
one thing to our surging soul life that can be reduced to two elements,
reasoning, and the inner experiences of love and hate. Then we
referred to the sensations given us by the soul, those that fill our
soul life like the continually rising and falling waves of the sea.
Finally, we indicated one sensation appearing in this restless sea
that is radically different from all other everyday experiences of
the outer world. We experience our sensations while in contact with
the outer world, and they are then transformed within us in such a
way as to enable us to live on with them. But in the midst of this
surge stimulated by the messages of our senses, one perception makes
its appearance totally different in kind from all other perceptions.
All others are instigated by external sense stimuli, are further
worked over within us, and become sensations. They start as
perceptions, then become sensations within perception, and finally
live on in what remains of the sensations in us. The ego perception,
however, is an entirely different matter. The perception of the ego
appears in the midst of the other surging activity; it is omnipresent
and differs from all other sensations by reason of the fact that it
cannot be engendered from without. This condition discloses a sort of
contrast in the soul life, the ego sensation as opposed to all
The mysteries concealed in this contrast will come to
light in the course of these lectures, but it is not too soon to
acquire a feeling for them by keeping the contrast clearly in view.
Into all other experiences we infuse our ego perception, so that even
from a quite abstract consideration of this contrast we can learn
that everything surging in the soul comes from two directions. What
we must do is to envision the contrasting elements of the human soul
life both abstractly, in detail, and concretely, comprehensively,
until we feel it in our soul.
In truth, man's soul life is primarily anything but a
simple entity. It is a dramatic battlefield upon which the contrasts
are constantly in action. A finely attuned feeling harking to the
life of this human psyche will not fail to recognize the dramatic
character of the human soul life, and we cannot but feel a certain
impotence in facing these struggling powers in our souls, a certain
submission to the conflicting elements of life. The most
insignificant among us, as well as the greatest genius, is chained to
this conflict, to this dual nature of soul life.
In order to arouse the feeling within you that even the
greatest genius is subject to the domination of these conflicting
elements, a poem by Goethe was recited at the beginning of
yesterday's lecture. Should any of you have picked up his Goethe
since then and re-read this poem, he must have experienced a strange
sensation — one that should underlie this lecture cycle. It is
not our intention to describe in an abstract way, but rather to
infuse blood, so to speak, into our description of the soul. We want
to enter into the living soul.
If you heard the recitation of the poem, The
Wandering Jew (Der Ewige Jude), that was given yesterday, and
later read it over at home, you must have been struck by the
difference in the two versions. As a matter of fact, something was
done that so-called science would term barbarism; the poem was
specially prepared for the recitation, cuts and alterations were
made, and the whole thing was changed to present an entirely
different picture. Philologists would frown upon such a procedure,
but it is justified by its special purpose of opening up a wider
perspective into the human soul.
The alterations were made for the following reason.
Goethe wrote the poem in his earliest youth, but the content of the
version you heard yesterday is such as the mature soul of his ripe
age could have endorsed. He would have been ashamed, however, of the
portions omitted, would have turned from them. Only one who
approaches Goethe with such profound veneration as I feel for him may
be permitted to speak of one of his poems, upon occasion, as I have
done today of The Wandering Jew.
This poem is the work of Goethe's early youth. Youth
expresses itself here as youth naturally does. Goethe wrote it when
he was a regular good-for-nothing, one from whom surely nothing could
be learned. But may we say this of anything he wrote? We can say
unhesitatingly that at the time he wrote The Wandering Jew he
could not even spell correctly, hence it should be permissible to
point out worthless passages. There is a strong proclivity nowadays
to unearth the earliest works of great men, if possible in their
original form. Now, the youthful soul of Goethe embraced something
that was not himself. Conceptions rumbled there that derived entirely
from his environment, his milieu. The nature of his
environment, to be sure, does not concern us, that concerned only
Goethe, but from all this something fused in his soul, something
composed on the one hand of what was properly psychic in his soul,
and on the other, of its eternal-spiritual content, of a temporal and
an eternal-spiritual element.
The result of all this is something eternal, and it does
concern us. These two aspects, one of which concerns only Goethe and
the other, us as well, these two souls in the youthful Goethe were
separated in yesterday's recitation as by an incision. Whatever
remained in the old Goethe of what had swayed the young Goethe was
retained. All that was present only in his youth was extirpated.
There you can see how two kinds of forces influence a genius: those
proceeding from his environment and those working out of himself
toward the future.
As we contemplate Goethe's soul in his youth it appears
as a battlefield upon which a struggle is in progress between the
Goethe that accompanied him throughout his life and something else —
something he had to fight down. Without this struggle, Goethe would
not have become Goethe. There the antithesis becomes patent. It is
indispensable to the progress of humanity, for were the soul a
unified being it could not progress but would remain stationary.
It is, therefore, important to acquire a feeling for the
polarity, the struggle of contrasting elements in the soul life.
Unless we do so we shall not be able to understand what must be said
concerning the soul life. It is precisely when contemplating such a
typically magnificent soul life as Goethe's that we look upon it as
upon a drama; we seek to approach it in timid veneration, because
this conflict, unrolling as the life of a soul, reveals in a single
incarnation the entire destiny of the soul life.
Another point arises in connection with this soul drama.
Let us recall the contrasts in Goethe's soul, as they were disclosed
in yesterday's recitation, and see what else we can deduce. We find
that in later years Goethe followed but one of the impulses we
discussed yesterday. He embraced in his soul what we disentangled
from the temporal elements that he later discarded. Throughout his
life and involuntarily Goethe, like every man, was subject to these
two powers of his soul life.
By reason of possessing a soul, nobody is altogether his
own master. Man is subject as well to an inner influence that has
power over him, that his knowledge cannot compass at the outset. Had
Goethe at that early age been able to grasp all that was active in
his soul, he could not have written the poem as he actually did. Man
is a vassal of his soul life. Something holds sway and acts there
that presents itself to the soul life as an outer world.
Just as the red rose forces us to visualize it as red,
and as we carry the red color with us as memory, so there lives in us
something that compels us to fulfill the inner drama of our soul life
in a certain definite way. In the matter of all sense perceptions the
outer world masters us, and a similar inner master must be recognized
in our soul life as well if we observe the latter as it progresses in
time from day to day, from year to year, from one life epoch to the
next, and becomes ever richer as it is driven forward by an inner
power. This simple, concrete case alone suffices to show that in our
soul life we must recognize an outer master, the compulsion of sense
perceptions, but also, that we have an inner master as well. Failure
to recognize this inner master leads to illusion.
In so far as we stand at a given point in space, we have
a master in the outer world, and as we progress in our soul life it
is incumbent upon us to observe the dramatic contrast within us, for
thus we will know that there is such a master within us as well, the
master that causes us to lead a different soul life at seven than at
twenty-one, thirty-five, or a still greater age.
In the last analysis this soul drama, so concretely
exemplified in Goethe, is composed of reasoning and the experiences
of love and hate. It was said that reasoning leads to visualization,
and that love and hate have their source in desire. You might object
that the statement, “reasoning leads to visualization,”
contradicts the simple fact that visualizations arise from sense
sensations of the outer world because, when we see a rose, the
visualization “red” arises without our reasoning. Hence,
in this case at least, reasoning does not lead to visualization —
rather the reverse; the visualization would have to be there, and
then the reasoning would follow. But that only appears to be a
contradiction. Keep it firmly in mind, for it is by no means easy to
fathom. We must observe a number of matters if we would find the key
to this seeming contradiction. First of all, you must pay attention
to the fact that visualizations lead a life of their own in the human
soul life. Please grasp that sentence in its full significance.
Visualizations are like parasites, like live beings in the inner
soul, that lead their own existence there.
On the other hand, desire as well leads to an existence
of its own in the soul life, and the latter is actually under the
dominion of these independent visualizations, longings and desires.
You can easily convince yourselves of the independence of
visualizations by remembering that it is not always in your power to
recall them at will. Occasionally they refuse to be recalled, and we
say that we have forgotten, and the possibility of forgetting proves
the presence of a foreign force that opposes the reappearance of
these visualizations. Sometimes those we had but yesterday resist our
greatest efforts to remember them. This conflict is actually a
struggle that takes place between visualization and something else
that is present in our soul in this epoch.
The visualization need not necessarily have vanished for
good. It may return some time without anything having occurred in the
outer world to cause its reappearance. It is simply that a
visualization is a being that may temporarily refuse to appear in our
soul. The adversaries we meet there, the opposing visualizations, act
in different ways with a great variety of results. This conflict
between our own soul forces and the visualizations varies greatly in
different people, to such an extent, in fact, that the distance
between the extremes is terrifying.
There are people, for example, who are never at a loss
to recall their store of conceptions and knowledge, and others so
forgetful, so impotent in this respect as to overstep the bounds of
what is normal and healthy, so that they are rendered unfit for life.
For a genuine psychologist the readiness with which he remembers,
recalls conceptions, is of great importance because it is a measure
of something lying much deeper in his soul life. The proximity or
remoteness of his visualizations is for him an expression of inner
health or sickness. All of us, in fact, can find in this detail a
subtle indication of our constitution, right down to our
corporeality. Judging by the intensity with which man must combat
this resistance of the visualizations, the psychologist can diagnose
his ailment. His gaze penetrates the human soul and observes
something beyond in the soul life.
In addition to this, there is something else to be
considered if you would visualize from another angle how these
conceptions lead a life of their own within us. Our visualizations at
any given age, in their totality, are something we do not wholly
master, something to which we submit. Under certain life conditions
we can realize this as, for example, whether or not we understand a
person speaking to us depends upon our soul life. You, for instance,
understand what I say in my lectures, but if you brought others
unacquainted with my subject, many of them, no matter how well
educated, would understand nothing at all. Why? Because those in
question have for years been accustomed to other conceptions. These
constitute the obstacle to an understanding of the other, more
up-to-date concepts. Thus we find that it is precisely the old
conceptions that combat the new ones approaching them. It is of no
avail whatever to want to understand something unless we have within
us a store of conceptions that will make it possible to understand.
Conceptions are opposed by conceptions and, if you examine your soul
life, you will find that your ego plays a minor role in the process.
Watching or listening to something that interests you
offers the best opportunity to forget your ego, and the more deeply
you are absorbed, the greater is this opportunity. Looking back at
such a moment, you will realize that something was taking place in
you in which your ego had little part. It was as though you had
forgotten your ego; you had lost yourself, entranced. That is what
always occurs when we understand something particularly well. What
happens, though, when we fail to understand something? We oppose our
present store of conceptions to the new ones, and something like a
dramatic conflict takes place in our soul. Conceptions battle with
conceptions, and we ourselves, within the soul, are the battlefield
of the two armies of conceptions.
There is something significant in the soul life that
depends upon our having or not having the conceptions necessary for
understanding a matter. If we listen unprepared to an exposition, for
example, a curious phenomenon comes to light. At the moment when we
fail to understand, something like a demon approaches us, as it were,
from the rear. When we listen understandingly and attentively this
does not occur. What is this demon? It is one's ego, weaving in the
soul, attacking from the rear. As long as we understand and can
remain absorbed it does not put in an appearance, only at the moment
when we fail to understand.
What is the nature of this inability to understand?
Undoubtedly something that weaves its way into the soul life, so to
speak, and engenders an uncomfortable feeling in us. One's own soul
makes itself felt as uneasiness, and an examination of this condition
shows the soul life to be of such a nature that the conceptions
already there are not indifferent to the new ones that approach. The
new ones impart to the old ones a feeling of well-being or the
reverse. Though this feeling of uneasiness is not necessarily
violent, it is nevertheless a force that continues to work in the
soul life, attacking something deeper.
The malaise resulting from failure to understand
can have a detrimental effect even on the body. In diagnosing the
finer shades of sickness or health — those that are connected
with the soul life — it is of great importance to note whether
the patient must frequently cope with matters he does not understand,
or whether he readily comprehends everything with which he has to
deal. Such considerations are far more important than is generally
We have learned that visualizations lead their own life,
that they are like beings within us. Recall, now, those moments of
your soul life during which the outer world gave you nothing; even
when you wished to be stimulated by it, it passed you by, leaving no
impressions. This is another case in which you experience something
in your soul. It is something that in everyday life we call boredom.
In everyday life, boredom is a condition in which the soul longs for
impressions; it develops a desire that remains unsatisfied.
How does boredom arise? If you are observant you will
have noticed something that is not often recognized. Only the human
being can be bored, not animals. Whoever believes that animals can be
bored is a poor observer of nature. People, on the other hand, can
positively be classified according to their capacity for boredom.
Those leading a simple soul life are bored far less than the
so-called educated ones. In general, people are far less bored in the
country than in the city, but to verify this you must there observe
the country people, not city people who are momentarily in the
country. People of the educated strata and classes whose soul life is
complicated are prone to boredom. We find, then, a difference even
among the different classes.
Boredom is by no means something that arises simply of
its own accord in the soul life, but is a result of the independent
life led by our conceptions. It is these old conceptions desiring new
ones, new impressions. The old conceptions crave fructification,
desire new stimuli. For this reason we have no control whatever over
boredom. It is merely a matter of the conceptions having desires
that, unfulfilled, develop longings in us. That is why an
undeveloped, obtuse person with few conceptions is less bored; he has
few visualizations that could develop longings within him. But
neither are those who continually yawn with boredom the ones who have
achieved the highest development of their ego. This is added lest you
might infer that the most highly developed people would be the most
bored. There is a sort of cure for boredom; and in a higher stage of
development boredom again becomes impossible. More of this later.
There is a definite reason why animals are not bored.
When an animal has its eyes open it is continually receiving
impressions from the outer world. External events run their course as
a process of the outer world, and what occurs within the animal keeps
pace in time. The animal has thus finished with one impression by the
time the next one comes along. Outer occurrence and inner experience
coincide. It is man's prerogative, on the other hand, to be able,
within himself, to hold a tempo in the sequence of his soul events
different from the one obtaining in the world process outside. As a
consequence, man is able to close his mind to stimuli that have
repeatedly made an impression on him in the past; he shuts himself
off from the outer course of time. Within him, however, time
continues to pass, but because no impressions reach him from without,
time remains unoccupied, and this time void is permeated by the old
Now, the following can occur. Observe the progress of
the animal's soul life; it parallels the external course of time. The
inner soul life of the animal proceeds in such a way that the animal
is actually subject to the outer passing of time or — which is
the same thing — to the perceptions of its own life and body
(this becomes outer perception too, as in digestion). That is
something that interests the animal tremendously. The animal is
constantly receiving inner stimuli from the outer course of time, and
every moment of its life is interesting. When the outer perceptions
of an animal cease, the passing of time ceases as well.
This is not the case in human beings. For us outer
objects cease to be of interest when we have seen them too often. We
no longer let them enter our soul worlds, yet the external passing of
time continues just the same. Our inner soul life stops, and time
flows on with the soul. What is it, though, that acts upon this void
in time? It is the desire of the old conceptions yearning for the
future. There emanates from the soul, from the old conceptions, the
desire for new impressions, new contents. That is boredom. The
difference between man and animal is that man has the advantage of
conceptions that live on and develop their own lives oriented toward
the future; that means that he has a soul life directed toward the
While animals are continually stimulated from without,
the human being is constantly swayed by the desire of the soul life,
because the old conceptions crave new impressions. Later I shall draw
attention to possible illusions.
As stated above, however, there is a cure for boredom.
It is brought about when the old conceptions persist not merely as
something that excites desire, but when they have a content of their
own, so that through our own incentive we can infuse something into
the time not filled from without. When our conceptions themselves
carry into the future something that interests us, we have the higher
soul development. Whether or not this power plays a part in a man's
development, whether or not his conceptions embrace something that
interests him, satisfies him, constitutes a significant difference.
Beginning, then, at a certain stage of development, the
human being can be bored, but he can cure himself of this by filling
himself with conceptions that will satisfy his soul life in the
future as well. That is the difference between those who are bored
and those who are not. There are people who can be cured of boredom
and others who cannot, and this points to the independent life of our
conceptions, a life we cannot control, a life to which we are
subject. Unless we see to it that our conceptions have content we
must inevitably be bored, but by giving them a content we can for the
future protect ourselves against boredom.
This again is extraordinarily significant for the
psychologist, for our normal life demands a certain balance between
fulfillment of the soul's desires and outer life itself. When this
balance is not maintained, boredom results, and an empty, bored soul
— destined nevertheless to continue living in time — is
poison for the body. Much boredom is a real cause of sickness. The
term “deadly boredom” rests on a true feeling. It acts as
a veritable poison, though one does not exactly die of it. Things of
that sort have an effect far transcending the soul life.
These elucidations may seem pedantic to you at the
moment, but they will enable us later on to shed a wondrous light on
the miracles of the human soul life. Fine distinctions are necessary
if we are to become acquainted with this wonder drama of our soul
life playing around its hero, its ego. Hidden in our soul life is
someone who is really infinitely wiser than we are ourselves; indeed,
the prospect would be black were this not so.
In ordinary life people indulge in the most curious
conceptions regarding the nature of body, soul, and spirit. These
things are jumbled in the wildest ways. What was formerly known by
means of more clairvoyant observation has gradually been forgotten
and eradicated. At that time people analyzed life correctly,
distinguishing between the physical, the psychic and the spiritual
life in which man has his being. Then, in the year 869, the
Ecumenical Council at Constantinople felt impelled to abolish the
spirit and to set up the dogma that man consists of body and soul. A
study of the dogmatism of the Christian Church would reveal to you
the far-reaching consequences of this alteration, this abolition of
the spirit. Anyone still recognizing the spirit became at once a
preposterous heretic in the eyes of the Church.
The aversion to the spirit is based upon a
misinterpretation of the absolute justification for the relation of
body, soul, and spirit. Everything becomes confused as soon as one
ceases to think of body, soul, and spirit, but then, that's the way
people have become; they confuse everything. The result in this case
is that a clear view of the spiritual life has disappeared.
Even though nowadays people habitually fall into the
error of inadequate differentiation, there is a good spirit watching
over them who has kept alive a dim feeling for the truth. This is
brought about by the fact that in man's environment something like
the spirit of speech is active. Speech is really more intelligent
than human beings. True, people abuse speech by regulating and
distorting it, but it is not possible to ruin it altogether. Speech
is more intelligent than human beings themselves, hence the stimuli
it holds for us exert the right influences; whereas, when we bring
our own soul life to bear, we make mistakes. I will show you that we
have the right feeling when we speak, that is, when we yield
ourselves to the soul of speech, not to our own.
Imagine you are in the presence of a tree, a bell, and a
man. You begin to reason from what the outer world has to tell you,
from immediate sense impressions. In other words, you set your soul
life in motion, for reasoning is, of course, something that takes
place in the soul. You look at the tree; the tree is green. The
inference expressed in your verdict, the tree is green, is expressed
in accord with the genius of speech. Now suppose you want to express
something regarding the bell, something to be judged through sense
impressions; the bell rings. The moment the bell rings you will
express your perception in the verdict, the bell rings. Remember all
that while we now turn to the man. This man speaks. You perceive his
speech, and you express outer perception in the words, the man
speaks. Keep in mind the three verdicts — the tree is green,
the bell rings, the man speaks. In all three we are concerned with
sense impressions, but when you compare these with the judgment of
speech you will feel that they reveal themselves as something quite
different. When I say, The tree is green, I express something that is
conditioned by space; the form in which the judgment is expressed
implies this. I express what is true now, what will be true three
hours hence, and so forth; something permanent.
Take the next verdict, the bell rings. Does this express
something spatial? No, that doesn't exist in space; it proceeds in
time, it is in a state of flux, in the process of becoming. Because
the genius of speech is highly intelligent you can never speak of
something fixed in space in the same way as you do of something
proceeding in time. If you examine these verdicts more closely you
will find that in referring to all that is in space speech permits
only the use of an auxiliary verb, not a direct verb: an auxiliary
verb that helps you, in speaking, to live in time. True, we can
employ a verb when we may have something else in mind. We can say,
“The tree greens,” [TRANSLATOR'S
NOTE: A bit far-fetched in English, or at best specifically poetic,
but quite a common form in German.] without the
auxiliary verb, but when we do that we are switching from what is
purely spatial to something that moves in time, that becomes,
to the rise and decline of the greenness. Truly, a genius works in
speech, even though much of it is ruined by man. Speech actually does
not permit the use of a direct verb in connection with a spatial
concept. The purpose of a verb is to indicate something temporal.
The employment of a verb necessarily indicates a state
of becoming. You might object that instead of saying, “The bell
rings,” we could say, “The bell is ringing,” but
think what that would involve! A paraphrase of that sort ruins the
language. [TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: Not the English
language, of course, but in German that particular use of the present
participle is a sort of last resort. It sounds so artificial that one
can simply say that it is not German, though it occasionally appears
in doubtful verse for purposes of rhyme or meter.]
Now we come to the third verdict, the man speaks. There,
too, you use a verb to express sense perception, but consider what a
difference there is. The verdict, the bell rings, tells us what is in
question, the ringing, but in the verdict, the man speaks, something
is told that is not the point at all. The sense stimulus arising from
speech is not the point. We are concerned with something that is not
expressed at all in the verb, namely, the content of what is spoken.
Why does speech stop there? Why do you halt, as it were,
before reaching the point? Because when you say, “The man
speaks,” you wish your own inner being to confront the man's
soul directly. You wish to characterize what confronts you as
something pertaining to the inner life. In the case of the bell, this
quality is inherent in the verb, but when your inner life meets a
living soul you take good care not to intrude thus.
There you see manifest the genius of speech, expressed
in the difference between what relates to the locality (space), to
the process of becoming (time), and to matters of the inner man (the
soul). In describing it we halt as in timid awe before the inner
substance, before the matter that really concerns us. In speaking,
therefore, and halting at the portal, we do homage to the inner soul
activity. In the course of these lectures we will see how important
it is for us to rise to a certain feeling for the matter, a feeling
that will enable us to define the soul life as something enclosing
itself on all sides, something surging to this boundary and there
piling up against it. It is important that you should learn to know
the soul in its true being as a sort of inner realm. You should
understand that what must come from without meets something resisting
from within, so that when sense experiences approach the soul we can
think of the soul as a circle within which everything is in flux.
Sense experiences approach from all directions; within, the soul life
swirls and surges. What we have learned today is the fact that the
soul life is not independent; the soul experiences the independent
life of the visualizations that lead an existence in time.
This life of the visualizations in the bounded soul is
the cause of our greatest bliss and our deepest suffering, in so far
as these originate in the soul. We shall see that the spirit is the
great healer of the ills caused in our souls by sorrow and suffering.
In physical life hunger must be appeased, and this acts beneficially,
but if we overload ourselves beyond the demands of hunger we tend to
undermine our health. In the soul life the case is analogous.
Conceptions demand to be satisfied by other conceptions. New
conceptions entering the soul can also act beneficially or
detrimentally. We shall see how in the spirit we have something that
not only acts beneficially, never the reverse, but prevents and
opposes the overloading of the soul life as well.