Die and Become
- the future of Anthroposophy in America -
by Joel A. Wendt
It is the purpose of this essay to make a contribution to the current discussions involving the leadership changes being contemplated in the Anthroposophical Society in America. Even if that goal is not fully realized, perhaps what is offered here will at some time be of practical use for the new leadership as they contemplate their responsibilities for the new millennium.
This is not the first time I have used the above title. My very first anthroposophical lecture, given almost 14 years ago in Wilton, NH in 1989, had this very name.
Sometimes, when we are caught up in events, it is very difficult to see them with the needed objectivity. With the following thoughts it is my hope to shed some light on the situation in which we find ourselves. Let us begin such an examination by considering these remarks of Jesaiah Ben-Aharon, contained in his article: The Global Social Situation at the end of the 20th Century [ - ] Emerging of a Threefold Global Society And a Future Social Task for the Anthroposophical Movement [ - ].
However, what most anthroposophists seem to be unaware of is a central spiritual-scientific fact of evolution, that must be applied also to the anthroposophical society and the practical movements springing out of Anthroposophy. We must see that this "horizontal" spiritual transmitting of what Rudolf Steiner gave physically is bound to become weaker from one generation to another, and that this is occurring notwithstanding the question of the significance of any individual contribution offered along the way. This is so because of the operation of an important spiritual law that governs the natural spiritual decline in the vitality and fertility of any spiritual inheritance in the physical world.This law works in such a way that a spiritual impulse on the physical plane can only maintain its- already declining- inner vitality only in the course of three generations. After three times 33- a century- the physical ability to transmit a spiritual impulse ceases entirely. Then any spiritual movement stands at a crossroads: It has only two possibilities before it. Either it becomes purely traditional, carrying forward things past in an old and hence increasingly irrelevant form, or is able to breakthrough to the at present living supersensible sources out of which its inspiration came in the first place.
It is also possible to understand this from out of a goethean sensibility regarding social matters. By goethean sensibility, I mean to suggest a disciplined thinking that gathers social facts in a phenomenological fashion, before raising them into inward pictures.
We live in a time when social form is not able to maintain itself against two kinds of forces* - those involving our growing tendencies to individuate ourselves from each other, and those rapid changes in social existence arising because of increasingly excessive oscillations in economic conditions, which we can everywhere observe today. In the face of these social forces, social forms, such as institutional organizations, are more and more unable to keep to their past ways of functioning.
[*I have had to use the word forces occasionally, with, however, a certain amount of reluctance. I want to avoid borrowing the abstract meaning with which forces is used in natural science, yet need a term for indicating cumulative (and organized) effects of individual acts of will as these work within the social organism. It is this last which the reader should have in mind when the word forces is used in this essay.]
Moreover, as we understand from Spiritual Science, thinking in our time is by its nature anti-social. In addition, finding a community of meaning and purpose is extremely difficult given the individualization of mental pictures natural to our current stage of the evolution of consciousness.
If we look at what is happening in the American Anthroposophical Society in the present we will find a confirmation of all of the foregoing, appearing as symptoms. The financial situation is unable to sustain the needs and hopes of the current leadership, and cutbacks have been necessary (and may well worsen). Membership, while growing, is not growing rapidly enough so as to support the necessary institutional structures, in the sense of capital building needs, and staff support needs. The present special issue of the News for Members reveals the difficulty of finding the needed community of mental pictures and common sense of purpose.
The social chaos, clearly emerging everywhere in the world in our time, is not passing by the Anthroposophical Movement and Society.
I have used the image Die and Become on the basis that the social has very definite qualities such that we may properly speak of the life-sphere of the social organism. Life processes occur in this sphere, which are quite analogous to those we observe elsewhere.
As Goethe described with respect to the Plant, there occurs in its life path three different periods of dying and becoming . These changes, characterized by different types of metamorphosis, involve various kinds of indicative phenomena. Similar matters can be observed in the life of institutions and organizations, both small and large.
In the social life-sphere, much that is to happen in the future depends upon our coming to a conscious awareness of the real dynamic processes so as to be able to understand how to act. Like the human being (which is the archetype for the social organism), the social life-sphere is inter penetrated by other higher members. When we can understand how this works in practice, then just as there is a kind of therapeutic knowledge possible with regards to the human organism, so also is there a healing knowledge obtainable as regards our social conditions.
However, before we can open ourselves to such possibilities, we have to be honest as regards the nature of the meaning of what the observed social phenomena reveal. If the Anthroposophical Society remains in denial of the presence of death forces, there will be no chance at any kind of healing or rebirth. The institutional forms will become increasingly rigid and the whole will fail to become a potential receptacle for future spiritual inspiration.
It is the nature of social form that it is participated . It has no qualities that are not given it through human thinking, feeling and willing. The real question, especially in our time, is how conscious we wish to be as regards how this functions in a practical sense. The death forces are organic to the situation, that is they belong to it in a most natural way, and the problem becomes whether we will consciously participate in what they bring, or whether we will be in denial and ignorance, i.e. leaving matters to those impulses arising from the unconscious.
For healing and rebirth to be possible we need to begin by increasing our conscious participation in the death processes - in the ending of that which we otherwise might be tempted to try to sustain. If we can see the necessity of this participation, then certain questions arise: What is it that must die, and how do we, in a pragmatic sense, go with the flow, so to speak.
Each of us, and therefore the community which we hold so dear, has within our souls various kinds of mental pictures of the nature of what is anthroposophy, what is the relationship of Rudolf Steiner to anthroposophy and/or ourselves, and how should the society and movement relate to the current conditions of modern social and political life. As individuals, and as a social group, we have created these mental pictures over many years of life and experience.
It is out of this complex of mental pictures, and how we feel and what we will, that the social form arises. Much (too much in fact) is mere habit. We basically don't think about this aspect of things, as the Anthroposophical Society has yet to develop a language adequate to social realities, either within the Movement or outside it.
Nevertheless, this current crisis does offer the opportunity to begin work in this direction.
What might possibly bind us to a future with a rigid social form, unable to free itself from habit and tradition, lives in this complex of mental pictures we hold as individuals, and which we infect each other with through our community processes (Newsletters, lectures, conversations etc.). Having now introduced the idea of a kind of social infection through shared mental pictures , it very much now needs elaboration.
Social groups tend to develop forms of speech and language special to their view of themselves and their nature. All of us understand that the Anthroposophical Society and Movement does this. The question is whether this process should be left in the realm of habit, or whether it needs to become especially conscious. Common ways of phrasing things do have a kind of social efficiency, but for anthroposophists (at least) there is a problem.
Rudolf Steiner based his approach to the spirit upon a very detailed and exact epistemological foundation. Thinking (cognition) was to be the new path to the spirit, but in order for that to work it was necessary for individuals to cease to sleep as regards the nature of this act. Moreover, the current phase of the evolution of consciousness - the Consciousness Soul Age - has quite specific goals and means for coming into being. Central to this is the development of independent moral, and world view, capacities - independent in the sense that what is to happen has to arise from the forces of the individual I am , and only from those forces. The group must have nothing to do with the thought content the individual is to form, or the moral judgments the individual is to make.
Against this ideal, the social reality is that groups have a natural tendency to form a community of concepts and values. The I am in such a situation is conflicted, between its need for social acceptance and its emerging desire for spiritual autonomy. Yet, in our groups we are still learning how to balance these various values, between the ideal of spiritual freedom and what are fundamentally group soul social processes.
What makes a place socially healthy is the sense of being met , and the sense of finding a home . We do not yet know how to do this, however. Instead, we take the embryonic Consciousness Soul I am and give it dozens of books to read, lectures to attend and all manner of ideas that, while they may have been valid at the beginning of the Century, need to be questioned at the end - at this time of reduced vitality and death of the original impulse. When we add to this the effect of the social environment on the thinking processes of the newcomers, we have a situation where the dead and dying social matrix of the Anthroposophical Society is frequently (but not always) a source of infection with respect to the moral sensibilities and world conceptions of individuals who are really in need of getting support for their own self discoveries of spiritual freedom.
So as to make this somewhat more concrete, let me imagine a couple of forms of speech as examples. We could say to someone: You know, I found reading The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception to be very helpful. However, I suspect that you have come to anthroposophy for your own needs and reasons. What are those, and how can I help you further your own search?
Unfortunately, what is often said is more on the order of: You really have to spend a lot of time studying before you can understand anthroposophy. It is very difficult. Here is a list of the basic books which you must first learn to master.
How often do we approach each other as if there was a real and fixed content to the term (mental picture) anthroposophist , to which everyone need conform, instead seeing each other as an unfolding and quite individual mystery. In the Society the most important event that needs to happen is not the study of spiritual science (which clearly we can do on our own, as Steiner often pointed out), but the celebration of the meeting of the individual I ams .
This is a very important idea. Because of this I am going to come at it again from a slightly different direction.
Between Central Europeans and Americans there are quite distinct general characteristics of soul. With regard to the Consciousness Soul Steiner was quite clear in his lectures published under the title: The Challenge of the Times - there are differences. For English speaking people there is an instinct for the consciousness soul, living in the political-legal life; while for the German people, the consciousness soul is born by their becoming intellectual (this is clearly an oversimplification, but the point is really only that how one comes to the consciousness soul varies according to many factors, and we can under no circumstances treat each other's path to this experience as essentially the same).
Now it is not my point to make some kind of hard and fast rule, derived from Steiner's indications, but rather simply to note that he pointed toward significant differences, differences which we can observe for ourselves if we are careful. This last is more essential than depending upon Steiner, by the way.
Now what has happened, at the social level, is that how anthroposophy was taught by Steiner to Central Europeans, that is as a kind of system of knowledge appealing and depending upon the development of intellectual faculties, has been transmitted and imitated in America without consideration for the obvious and clear differences in the nature of general soul characteristics.
In America we teach anthroposophy as if the American had a soul similar to the Central European. This is a grave error, and is no doubt responsible for so few being able to take an interest in it.
The American is not met as an individual instinctively on the path of the consciousness soul, nor offered a home for the heart-felt striving which is natural to his nature as regards impulses for social and political healing. On the contrary, we teach anthroposophy as this very heavy and involved intellectual attainment.
Some are beginning to realize that if Steiner had given birth to anthroposophy in America, his model would have been Emerson, not Goethe. So when Emerson says (in his American Scholar lecture): In self trust all virtues are comprehended - we might begin to understand that for the American anthroposophist the path followed by Central Europeans needs to be distinguished, and then set aside from that form of the path the American needs to discover in him/herself.
It is no wonder then that a certain natural vitality belonging to the original impulses instilled by Steiner in Central Europe becomes eventually exhausted and sterile on the shores of America.
Now what has just been written is not pointed out for the purpose being believed. Rather the point is to aid the reader in the first requirement for a true participation in the dying process. The purpose of suggesting ideas contrary to the prevailing habits of thought is to show how important it is to let go the past semi-conscious conceptions by which one views our work. They are meant as an aid in considering the possibility that a rethinking of who we are, and why we do what we do is clearly in order.
In fact, one of the disciplines that Steiner gave to us is called: sacrifice of thoughts . If we can accept that it is time for the old to give way to the possibility of the new, and if we can accept that the traditional social forms are held together by habits in our thought structures, then perhaps we can see that the path to participation in the death forces is by letting go - by sacrificing - the old way we see ourselves as anthroposophists, and how we think we should be organized.
This needs to be done on a very individual basis, as an act of inner discipline. After all, the idea complex lives in our own souls, not somewhere outside ourselves. If we want to renew it, we first need to let it die, fully confident that through this process we have made a place in the soul for the new. The first essential thing is the inner activity of our own I am , and the second essential thing is the encouragement and support for this in our communities.
It is only through a consciously participated death process that we will really make possible the becoming from which we need and hope the future will be built. Remember, we are moving from an instinctive understanding of social processes to one more conscious. In order to do this we have to appreciate the dynamics of the social life-sphere, and find our individual (and communal) ways to be active within it.
As to this practice of sacrifice of thoughts, I can speak from many years of experience. It is not an act to be feared - to clear out from the soul life specific aspects of its existing thought content. It is true that through our natural egoism, we frequently become attached to favorite ideas (as well as feelings), sometimes even confusing the boundaries between our I am and the habitual content of the soul. Yet, we can have faith that when we allow to die any such habits - when we discover for ourselves our own version of the practice of sacrifice of thoughts - we can depend upon our next act (the act of rethinking the situation) bringing us to new and important places in the world of thought we could not otherwise have imagined.
For example, we in America have taken up certain ideals as regards how we conceive the goals of our groups and institutions. Yet, it is really from Central Europe that we have the ideal of the initiate - it is not a term really descriptive of the Mysteries of the Americas. We then proceed as if this was the prime way to arrive at a connection between us and the world of the spirit - as individual meditators and spiritual researchers. In fact, we are releasing from his duties our current General Secretary in order to support his work on this level.
Yet, Steiner taught of another way, a way that has fallen into a kind of abyss of forgetfulness - the reverse cultus. One can frequently find today anthroposophists who have never heard of this idea.
Further, it is important to note that this process - the reverse cultus - was spoken of in lectures called Awakening to Community. If we pay careful attention here, we just might realize that something in the social that could not be done at the beginning of the 20th Century might well be more possible at its end. That which could not take root (for which no one is to be seen at fault) within the Central European soul forces, might well be quite possible within the American Soul at the dawn of the new millennium.
The Central European, needing to come to the consciousness soul through intellectual activity, necessarily was engaged in a process which supported the anti-social nature of thinking. In a way, it was a kind of trap, what we now call a catch-22 . For our European brothers and sisters the path to the consciousness soul and the path of the reverse cultus were incompatible.
For the America, different conditions exist. The American is already highly individualized given the demands of living in the most material culture in the world. At the same time, special abilities regarding the social - regarding community - exist within this Soul. There is no accident to the fact that the genius of history brings all the world's peoples to this land where the development of brotherhood is to occur.
In the German language there are two forms of the word you: sie and du . This is because there is a stage of social intimacy which needs a second more intimate form of you in their speech. For the American such matters are different. We are often spoken of as having our hearts on our sleeves . We have a natural social intimacy that is not as deep so as to require the use of a du , yet which is clearly more intimate than the more formal sie.
The American Soul might be seen as having in its instinctive tendency to the consciousness soul an impulse to will the good and think with the heart. This impulse is found symptomatically in the generosity characteristic of the American as a social being. We need to distinguish this instinctive consciousness soul-being from that cold and calculating thinking encouraged by the materialism in our education, however. Instead, we should conceive it more in the nature of a capacity that sleeps and dreams, but which can come awake in the right circumstances (and which we can observe coming awake in all manner of social phenomena connected to how that social impulse called civil society unfolds here).
The tragedy for the American Anthroposophical Society is that the differences between general soul characteristics has not been brought into consciousness, especially on the level of the social. For example, I have seen social impulses of the American actually rejected at meetings by European leaders, without either soul gesture understanding what prompts the real (and hidden) difficulty. That social intimacy natural for the America is not natural for the Central European (who adopts a certain formalism - the sie mode - in general social conditions, retaining the more intimate way - the du mode - for much more personal situations), and this has confused relations in all manner of ways. Bringing these problems into consciousness and healing their past social effects will not be easy. At the same time it is very necessary if we are to have a socially vital future.
This has been a necessary digression, but I would like now to return to the reverse cultus.
The idea of the reverse cultus is that it is possible for a group to rise up together into the spiritual. This is different from individual spiritual inspiration coming through personal meditation. It is more of a socially intimate practice of the realization of: wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there also I am.
The odd thing for me is that I recently experienced this in a social context where the other members of the group really didn't understand that we were having a shared spiritual experience.
I was with three other American men, discussing our most heart-felt concerns regarding social and political matters. We had begun our meeting with some very inspirational input over the phone from another member who could not be physically present, but who directed our thinking in certain directions regarding the spiritual nature of America and something we were calling the slow development of citizen governance . I won't go into details, but I clearly experienced our conversation leading into the realm of presence, something I had previously only experienced a couple of times in anthroposophical study groups. The others were aware that something had happened, but as most readers will know, without the relevant concepts, the perceptual element - the percept (experience) - of the spirit can be missed.
It is not the point of this last to define the reverse cultus, but rather only to suggest that the becoming of the Anthroposophical Society in American, that might follow a participated dying could have certain very special qualities at the level of the social - that is within the life-sphere of the social organism as that grows into the future. The more we participate consciously our social existence, the more we find an awake community path to the spirit. Conversation can become ethereal experience for each individual I am. What a grace filled blessing this would be were the Anthroposophical Society in America to find its way to the profound mystery of this social-spiritual rite.
We are, after all, individuals. What community we have - what Society - that we accomplish together. But most especially, we now enter a time when the Higher Beings are saying clearly, through the circumstances of our lives: You are on your own now in very definite ways. We will help, but much that is to be, you must determine - you must create. Understand, we do not grant this trust lightly, or in jest. You have been given great gifts. Put them to use. At the same time, do not doubt, for it is our Faith that you will, out of yourselves, do all that is needed.
In the season of Pentecost, 2002
Joel A. Wendt