a small meditation on the spiritual path
pioneered by Ralph Waldo Emerson,
 including a report of some practical applications

delivered on the occasion of Emerson's 200 birthday,
May 25th, 2003, at the Alcott School of Philosophy
in Concord, Massachusetts

I am not a scholar of Emerson, and have read only a small part of his works.  Yet, what I have read has made clear to me that for the last 30 years I have walked in a land in which he walked before me.  We are forced, mostly by the current limits of language, to use such words as soul and spirit and inner life to point toward this land, but none of these words serve as more than a mere hint of this world, so different in nature and kind from the world we know through our senses.

I first became aware of this inner landscape through the discipline of psychology in the early 1970's in Berkeley California.   Shortly after my initial encounter with what was literally a magical territory,  I studied briefly a multitude of various maps to this land, most of them traditional in one way or another - such as Zen Buddhism, Sufism, Tibetan Buddhism, the magic path of Franz Bardon, the remarkable teaching stories of the Plains Indians, coming eventually to the work of a man named Rudolf Steiner, the founder of what is called Anthroposophy or Spiritual Science.

It was through Rudolf Steiner that I was introduced to an objective study of thinking, principally through his works on epistemology.   I very much needed this practical work, because my main interest at that time, and since, has been in trying to understand the nature of the social and political existence of humanity, particularly in relationship to our divine nature.  It was already by then clear to me through experience that we are spiritual beings, living in a material world, and it was important to me to understand society in relationship to this and yet remain within the scientific spirit of the age.  Rudolf Steiner set before me the means to do this, particularly in what he called the practice of Goetheanism.

Goetheanism in this sense is a kind of training of observation and thinking, and has some relationship to what others call phenomenology.  What is done is that thinking remains within the appearances, rather than to invent theories or seemings behind them.  For Nature, this disciplined thinking produces a remarkable understanding.  What I tried to do was to translate this same discipline into an examination of the social and political.  I approached the basic phenomena of our shared existence as if in how it simply was - without adding or subtracting anything - this given reality was all that I needed to know.

This work was not easily done by the way, although much was obvious right from the beginning.  It took many years to bring to thinking and observing our social existence the needed discipline, and to eliminate from my own inner life, conditions of prejudice and assumption that frequently stood like a dark cloud in between my thinking-observation and the phenomena of social reality.

I was also aware that I kept adjusting what I was doing in directions away from Steiner's work and what I knew of Goethe.  I felt comfortable in these adjustments, particularly since I would find confirmation in the improved results of my research.  Nonetheless, I made changes away from what I thought of as pure Anthroposophy and Goetheanism.

Let me also be honest in another way, for this work was produced in many fits and starts.   I was not an academic, but a family man.  I worked at whatever jobs I could find, for example, for the last three years I worked in a factory, and the ten years before that a mental hospital.  I mostly raised children and lived life with all the successes and failures one ordinarily finds.

Now I have had the great fortune for the last 16 years to become a friend of Stuart Weeks, and through him to find a connection to the Transcendentalists, particularly Emerson.  At the same time these last 16 years have not been scholarship of the bookish kind, so I didn't read a lot of Emerson.  I mostly worked at developing my thinking and my observational skills, and at gathering what might be called all the basic facts and experiences that I could.

I had discovered over time that it was important to love the object of one's thinking.  I don't mean by this to become overly sympathetic, but rather to have an intention willed into the thinking such that we care and honor and trust those matters which we want to understand.  In this way the essence of the object of our interest, and our own essence,  these two essences draw nearer to each other.

This meant, for example, that I watch a lot of television, and a lot of movies, and partake of all that could be called American Culture with a kind of relish.  Obviously this Culture isn't representative of the whole of human social and political existences, but it was the nearest at hand, and I drank deeply of its nature.  You might say that I read this Culture in much the same way one learns to read a book.  And, of course, watching television and going to movies wasn't all that I did - its just an example of where the intention to love can lead someone.

Now to return to Emerson for a moment, before going on to some of the results of my own work.  A couple of years ago I read for the first time his The American Scholar lecture.  This was really a wonderful experience, for in this lecture I saw, not only a reflection of Emerson's path to inner discovery, but what was essentially an exact description of my own path.  All those ways, in which I had instinctively adjusted what had been initially work that emulated Steiner and Goethe, were here described by Emerson.

Now this is, at first blush, a curious thing.  Not having studied Emerson, how did I come to follow where he had gone before.  Well, the explanation is simply enough.  We both read the same instructional text, which is not out there in the world, but inside ourselves, within our own inner life.  And because we are both Americans, we share something, for Peoples are not the same all over the world, but have inner differences of no little import.

So when Emerson writes, as he did in The American Scholar, that: "In self trust all virtues are comprehended", I knew this because I had been there and done that.  And when he says in his essay Intellect: "You have first an instinct, then an opinion, then knowledge, as the plant has root, bud and fruit.  Trust the instinct though you can render no reason.  It is vain to hurry it.  By trusting to the end it shall ripen into truth and you shall know what you believe."   This too I understood, for it was where I had walked.

You might recall that I said above: "This work was not easily done by the way, although much was obvious right in the beginning."  Here you see was my instinct, things I sensed right in the beginning, but to fully realize them I had to keep at it for a long time, to let it ripen inside, until there it finally was - as truth.

Now I'd like to speak of my research into the social and political.  By the way, there is no possibility of more than hinting at this work, so that if you want details and more, you should just do a Google search for my name and this will lead you to my websites.

The essential aspect of social and political existence is not in the stream of events, what we tend to call history such as the recent war or the current political troubles in America, but rather in the individual biography.  The individual biography is the rooted axis around which all else turns, because it is only the experiences acquired by the "I am", within its life path, that endures.

All the rest passes away over time - governments, social ideals, legal systems, religions, even spiritual paths, but the "I am" or spirit endures and during its biography acquires those transforming experiences that become an aspect of its Eternal nature.

Our social life does have a great deal of order to it, however, but this order comes to it from within the biography outward.   Our social existence is fully determined by the individual and common elements of our human nature, not unlike the way a piece of just melted wax receives an impression from a signet ring.  Our nature is expressed onto the social organism, giving it all its essential qualities.  This means that we learn as much from the study of ourselves as we learn from the study of the social.

You might notice that I just used the term organism, for that which we ordinarily speak of as social existence and form, that is civilizations, kinds of governments, types of communities, the nature of families, these are all aspects of a whole which is quite alive.  How could it be otherwise, given that all the component parts, are individual living human beings?

It is possible then, through a disciplined thinking and observation, to learn to see with the thinking, how it is that life processes move though our shared social existence, giving us all the dynamic life conditions, and more, that we know from biology, such as birth and death, growth, development, reproduction, and even metamorphosis.  We discover how to know this  by learning to move the thinking in a way that it follows inwardly how it is that social form changes over time.  We don't just look at any social condition in its static present state, but need to learn to think it in terms of its own biography.  For example, the family has changed considerably since the 14th Century and the whole of these subtle developing changes have to be thought, exactly as they unfolded in time.

Not just that, but we also have to think any particular stream of changes in such a way that we don't take it out of its context.  To continue the example, families are embedded in communities, which in turn are embedded in nations, which themselves are embedded in languages and cultures, while the whole ultimately is embedded in something we call Civilizations.  My major work, by the way, a book not yet finished, is called: Strange Fire: the Death, and the Resurrection, of Modern Civilization. [no longer the case as of 2006 ed.]

Once we can see this, then we know that part of the difficulty of understanding our own Age, is due to the fact that we are within a metamorphosis-like social crisis wherein Western Civilization is passing away, and something is being created that will replace it.  It is almost impossibly difficult to appreciate something like this when we are so intimately connected to it while it unfolds.  Yet, if we want to forge a more human future, this is the very matter we need most to understand.

Part of our problem is that we can't, using the scientific thinking of our Time, take hold of the living, because this scientific thinking has limited itself to the countable and the sensible.  The living, whether it is a simple biological organism, or, to put a crude name to it, the Life Sphere of the Social Organism, these can't be thought on the basis of what is merely seen and allows itself to be calculated.

The driving impulses of social existence, fear of death, joy in life, - all the virtues and the vices that inhabit human beings - these are invisible, and none of them can be reduced to merely physical causes without killing the very thing we want, and desperately need, to learn to understand.

Rudolf Steiner, in a quite remarkable book called: A Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception, wrote: "What takes place in human consciousness is the interpretation of Nature to itself.  Thought is the last member in the series of processes whereby Nature is formed.", while Emerson wrote in his essay Nature: "Nature is a thought incarnate and turns to a thought again as ice becomes water and gas.  The world is mind precipitated and the volatile essence is forever escaping into the state of free thought."

What happens when we learn to properly discipline our thinking and observing capacities is that the Ideas, which are the outer garment of the Beings who are the essence of what we lovingly seek to know, these Ideas - this outer garment - appears spontaneously within our consciousness as part of a cooperative Art in which the Creator Being of the World Himself participates.  We ask and seek and knock, after which we are given, and find and all is opened to us.

Where this leads is to an understanding that knows that human social and political existence, which in the cultural East has often been called Maya, is better understood in the Cultural West as the Creative Activity of the Word come to living equilibrium.   As it says in Genesis: "God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he rested from all his work of creation."

That, my friends, is where we live, and have lived and will live as long as our Eternal spirit needs incarnate existence - within the living being of the Seventh Day.  God has rested, having given us a most remarkable gift - not just outer Nature, but something much much more, of which the heart of it is the dynamic and enveloping womb of our social and communal existence  - a living and self evolving growth environment for the human individuality, Itself ever changing and becoming as our needs and wants themselves change and grow.

The human biography, with all its ups and downs, tragedies and joys, is always held within the loving embrace of a great and wise Intelligence, and if we pay careful attention to our own lives, to all that lives and breaths there, we will learn to see this for ourselves.

In the beginning of such a journey we might have to overcome something.   For mostly we tend to think in this Age along the lines that science has developed, wherein all the accidents and chance encounters in life are just that - moments without meaning, happening for no intelligence reason whatsoever.

Yet, there is a counter-image to that, an impression that the Ancients spoke of when they used the ideas of Fate and Destiny and Karma - ideas that still might be true.  The intriguing thing is that we don't have to go backward and abandon reason to discover the truth here.  Rather we just have to heighten the degree to which we pay attention - to change the quality of the nature of our observation.  Then we think about it, in our own personal Emersonian way, trusting more to our own instincts,  than to what we have been taught and told to think.  We free our thinking from the binding assumptions of culture and religion and ask ourselves - what is true here?  Is there wisdom enfolding my life?  What is its nature?  How does it work?  If I look back in my biography, what has been there as a gift that helped me become who I am today?  What about tomorrow - is there some surprise of special meaning?  What about this moment, right now?  How do I contribute?  What is the meaning of evil?  How do I understand freedom in this context?

So many wonderful questions - each one filled with life, for when we really start to see and think here on our own, in that same inner land walked years ago by Emerson, all the mundane ways of past thinking that have blinded us to the endless treasures of each day start to fall away, and we find once again - as we did first in childhood - that the world is filled with magic and with love.

Thank you.

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