On the Practicalities of Communicating

the Ideal to the American Soul


Joel A. Wendt

There seems to be a growing awareness of the unconsciously participated relationship, in the American Anthroposophical Society, between the forces of the Central European Soul and the American Soul. These two Soul orientations exist side by side within the Anthroposophical Movement in America, but almost never is the nature of their mutual interaction discussed or written about in a practical fashion. It may now be appropriate to suggest some pragmatic considerations about how and why that working together could and should be carried out more consciously.

In what follows, it is the author's intention only to open a dialogue. No attempt is being made here to come to any final conclusions. The author considers these matters to be of utmost importance for the furtherance of anthroposophical work in America, especially considering the demands of the Age of the Consciousness Soul, and for that reason only wishes to begin a conversation, not to start an argument.


In another context (Waking the Sleeping Giant: the Mission of Anthroposophy in America, self published 1995) I have written about the differences between these two soul gestures as follows:

"The gesture of the American Soul is to see problems, to seek through the will to live on the Earth, and the intuitions of the thought life follow this will impulse. The need to accomplish the deed, brings in its train, the service of the active thinking, or any other conscious use of the inner life. The solving of the needs of the world as it is, becomes the cause by which the inner world is molded in the service of this will impulse.

"The gesture of the Middle European Soul life is to live inwardly in the ideal, to will in that realm first and often to rest in the achievement of results in this realm alone. This in itself is seen as a significant accomplishment. Later, an attempt may be made to conform earthly existence to appropriate elements of this ideally realized inner world. The outer world is then worked on in accord with what it ought to be, as that ought is conceptualized by the inner activity."

This hardly exhausts what could be said. For example, Valentin Tomberg, in his Early Writings, suggests that in lecturing to the American, one would have to speak about what had been done, about accomplished deeds. The Rudolf Steiner library in New York, on its list of Steiner references to America, at one time quoted Steiner as saying that Americans "come to anthroposophy naturally". In Steiner's, Challenge of the Times, he refers to the English speaking peoples as instinctively in the consciousness soul in their political life. There are many mysteries here - regarding the soul life of Americans and its relationship to other soul configurations, and I have often wondered why these remain so superficially explored within the circles of anthroposophical work in America.

As an American, who has read a number of writings of middle Europeans, and heard an equal number of lectures grounded in the same soul forces, I would not have any difficulty saying that the Central European Soul gesture is capable of creating the most beautiful and thoughtful word pictures. There is expressed out of this Soul an extraordinary capacity for presenting, in speech and writing, deep and penetrating pictures, not only of the natural world but of the ideal world as well.

Nevertheless, there is a subtle but significant difficulty with this.

As an American, when I experience these writings and lectures, in far to many instances my soul is made to turn away from the earthly world. If I give over the attention of my soul to such presentations, I am pulled up off the earth into a realm of ideas which seems luciferic, relative to its usual orientation. When the presentation is over, and my soul returns to its normal relationship to earthly existence, the after echo of the beautiful word pictures is unable to sink into my will. I've had a wonderful experience but I cannot translate it into deeds.

Further, I am tempted (in the absence of a conscious understanding of these facts and processes) to assume that this practice, the creation of beautiful word pictures, is an example of how one is anthroposophical, i.e. that the practice of anthroposophy is well represented by the ability to create these highly abstract, ideal, word pictures.

The truth is otherwise. As an American, I cannot unmake my soul, any more than I can unmake my temperament. To the extent that I assume that the ideal practice of anthroposophy is to follow, or to try to imitate the gesture of the Central European Soul, I lose my relationship to my own soul forces and to the Earth. This is true (that I am ill advised to imitate it) both, for the Central European Soul's speaking and writing, as well as its orientation for the practice of meditation. When such meditation practices are recommended to the American Soul, this latter soul is directed away from its own nature.

Some of the woeful conditions of the anthroposophical movement in America are due to this infection within the American Soul, i.e. the cooperated (both Souls are complicit in the unconsciousness of their relationship) imposition of forms of activity not suitable for it. Because the co-working of these two soul gestures has been allowed to proceed unconsciously, for many many years, the America Soul is unable to be fully present within anthroposophical work in America. The American Soul presently lives more strongly in the imitation of its Central European example, then it lives in its own forces.

What can be done?

Let us consider this problem as something which could be suitably discussed using the analogy of music - we are looking at different instruments and the problem of harmonizing their play. The two soul gestures are two kinds of instruments that can be played in an individual way, or together, and in this play they may consider the same theme or music or meaning.

There are very many questions. If the activity takes place in America, who chooses the music; that is, which soul's will originates the initiative the leads to the activity? If a Central European comes to America and inaugurates an initiative, will that result in the same kind of harmony, as if the originating will impulse came from the American Soul, and as part of its activity invited the Central European to participate in the mutual play?

What is the significance of various anthroposophical institutions in America having been lead for many years by Central Europeans? Can such soul forces actually bring their ideal impulse into the realm of the Earth here? Might not the earth forces here, the upward flowing forces from out of the center of the earth, push such impulses up into the luciferic, ungrounding them? What is the effect of these earth forces on the double of the Central European?

To perhaps better appreciate the importance of these questions, we would do well to imagine the reverse - that the American went to Europe and behaved the same way there that the Central European Soul has so often behaved here. In suggesting this imagination, I do not mean for just a passing moment; but instead to seriously enter into a contemplation of what such behavior would mean and how it would be received in Central Europe were the same activities, which have been carried out here, were to be carried out there

Out of the contemplation of these questions I have reached the broad, and admittedly over-general, conclusion, that only the American Soul should inaugurate impulses and lead institutions in America. Otherwise a disharmony will arise right in the very beginning. I believe such disharmonies have been the normal consequence for all those years that the relationship of these two soul gestures has remained unconscious.

How can these two gestures work in harmony? The first element required is, I believe, for those, who come to America from another folk, to approach their working here in a particular way, that is to realize that they stand before a Mystery. To assume, for example, as has no doubt often been done, that one has knowledge of anthroposophy which one could teach, is to confuse two very different qualities.

Deep self knowledge does not necessarily prepare one for entering into the soul life of another human being, particularly if that person or group is from a significantly different folk. Anthroposophy is grown from inner work, and one, who is not conversant with the soul workings of another people, should not presume to teach that people how their own soul functions, or how it will best take up its own development.

Rudolf Steiner more nearly represented the universally human then most men or women of this century, but that quality is not conferred through the mere study of anthroposophy. It is as difficult to obtain as it is to reach the level of Steiner's researches into the supersensible. For us, more ordinary seekers, we need to first plumb the hidden depths of our own folk soul, before moving beyond it into the universally human.

Nor should we confuse this problem with the impulse to nationalism. Nationalism places one or more idealized image of a particular folk in a position of relative greater importance. The idea of the nation, or the place, or the culture is idolized. To enter more deeply into my soul, recognizing its particular folk characteristics, is simply to practice self knowledge, exactly as esotericism requires. Just as self knowledge requires that I appreciate my temperament and all that that implies, so does the path of self knowledge require that I bring to consciousness those characteristics of my soul life that I share in common with the folk of whom I am a member.

This does not mean that the Central European Soul has nothing to say or do in America. The question is more subtle. Initiatives belong to the folk of the place. Only such impulses connected to place will be grounded in the soul climate living there. But that does not mean, those gifts belonging to another folk have no role to play. However, they must have the self disciplined patience to wait to be included, much the way a guest in one's home, does not suddenly take over the running of the kitchen; and, even if asked, they must appreciate their limitations, and be awake to when they need to consult with their hosts as to what should be done next.

To the extent that these gifts of another folk are granted in the service of the folk of the place, the harmonizing process can begin. In this way nothing foreign is imposed from the outside. But we cannot serve out of our own initiative. Only the stranger-other can guide us to his or her true needs.

Can such service be performed in leading one or another anthroposophical institution, even if asked? The history of the Movement in America is full of such examples: Central Europeans have been given the task of running many activities here.

Certainly what's done is done. Has there been a price? If I constantly give over my own thinking to another individual to perform, I will never develop my own judgment. The cost of the mutually unconscious presumption, that the gesture of the Central European Soul could suitably lead institutions in America, has been a corresponding lack of development of those American souls who might have carried these tasks themselves; as well as, the failure to discover those modes of practice and objectives of work which would be indigenous to the American Soul.

It is this last which has become the most tragic consequence. By and large anthroposophical work in America is imitative of that work originally began in the once-called daughter movements in Europe, e.g. Waldorf Schools, bio-dynamics, and so forth. Only in the striving for a renewed star wisdom (astrosophy) and its reaching for a new cosmogony, does an impulse belonging to the unique relationship, which the American Soul has to Anthroposophia, come to a more visible expression. Almost all the impulses belonging to the great spiritual awakening in America, which occurred in the sixties and seventies, have been left outside the anthroposophical movement here. As I said to one enlightened European friend in the eighties: "When I go to an anthroposophical meeting, I must check my American Soul at the door.".

This is not to suggest, by the way, that there is no American Work going on, for that is certainly not the case. Rather what has happened, is that this work is marginalized and presumed inferior in import, when the opposite is true. The true practice of anthroposophy ought to bring to the fore these latent gifts of each unique people and make the development of these talents the central mission of anthroposophical work within each folk who take it up. I can find nothing in Rudolf Steiner's work suggesting that each folk should become the spiritual clones of Central European cultural life.

When this absent development is added to the impulse to imitate the foreign soul gesture in speaking and writing, by assuming it represents true anthroposophical practice, then these two, in combination, lame the anthroposophical impulse in America, and drive out the deeper potential gifts of the America Soul.

Even though these facts may make some individuals uncomfortable, they must nevertheless be directly faced, otherwise their continuance will be fatal for anthroposophy in America, and prevent the American Soul's natural genius from coming to serve the world-wide anthroposophical impulse.

Moreover, it is not as if we did something wrong! We acted unconsciously, with those natural results that come from unconsciousness. Now it is time to reflect and to wake up. We are, after all, in the age of the Consciousness Soul, and we have no reason for expecting any other kind of process: Sleep, leading to pain, leading to an awakening.


Considering the future and what might be done, I can only offer a few small suggestions. Everyone really has to work out these things for, and among, themselves.

Is it possible for the Central European Soul to present word pictures that can be taken up by the will of the American Soul? I think so, but to make such an encounter work would require some effort and awakening.

Let's deal with a practical example. In a fairly recent issue of the Newsletter there is a very beautiful ideal contemplation, written by Friedemann Schwarzkopf, called, Spiritual Communion. This is a wonderful example of all that one can wish for out of the Central European Soul.

It is very difficult to read, however. In a way the problem is a matter of spiritual breath, of soul respiration. My American soul has hard time maintaining its contact with this ideal realm continuously. Because I am more naturally related to the earthly and the concrete, to live in the ideal, requires of my soul a kind of holding of its breath. It can be done, yet I question if it ought to be done. In order to actually bring it into myself, in a healthy way, I need to take the ideal in small amounts and then withdraw.

I rise up, I behold, I withdraw, then I assimilate and make concrete. The four stages of breathing - movement, pause, movement, pause. Because the writing itself remains constantly in contact with the ideal it can't support my natural rhythm. Suppose the writing followed this rhythmical form, which corresponds to my soul life: That is, it begins in the concrete and rises up into the ideal, pauses and contemplates, then withdraws and descends again into the concrete and comes to rest there, before repeating itself.

In this way I am aided in my struggle to come to terms with what has been written. With this help, what lives in the writer/speaker's soul approaches me as I am, and I can reach up to meet it, taking it in deeply, the way one takes in deeply a breath of fresh air, or gets carried to places in the soul unreachable without the inspiration of the symphony. The theme, the meaning, has been written for me.

If I were to write or speak to the Central European Soul, would not the same process work, if only I invert the rhythm? I need to begin in the ideal, then move to the concrete, the earthly, pausing there to unveil my understanding of its nature. Then rising again, I return to the ideal, creating a space of rest, so that what I have pointed to in the concrete can be taken in, savored and digested.

What about meditation practice? Without doubt the American Soul should practice meditation, but we should not assume that is sufficient. Certain alchemical transformations of the American Soul can only occur in connection with its activity in the outer world. These same transformations would be accomplished by the Central European Soul by its working on itself during meditation.

The American Soul is lead by the call its will feels to respond to the needs of the world. Transformation requires action, requires giving heed to this call, following it. Following this will impulse the American Soul awakens. Only following this will can soul phenomena arise of which the American Soul needs to become conscious. These soul phenomena are not present in the absence of this striving willing. They cannot be found in contemplation or meditation.

Rather than an emphasis on meditation practice, inner development in the American Soul can best be fostered by working to take that small step implied by the idea that Americans are natural anthroposophists and that English speaking people are instinctively within the consciousness soul in their political life (see references above). This step is made by realizing that not meditation is called for, but rather the metamorphosis of thinking, especially as regards that thinking which the concrete needs of the Earth call forth in the service of the willed response of the America Soul to those needs.

In support of the reader's exploration of these matters I can only give what has evolved out of my own practice, which I have come to call: sacramental thinking. In this style of thinking are two aspects: first the objective, as called forth by the willed response to the needs of the Earth, which determines what I need to think about; followed by, second, the process, by which I carry out this thinking in a fully conscious (consciousness soul) way.

In what follows are only the barest indications. The reader very much needs to experience their own activity and its consequences, forming their own conclusions as to which objectives and what processes are most suitable for them.

a) Preparation: these are exercises, such as those practices in control of thoughts, developing inner quite (meditation practice plays a role here) and so forth. Its like the stretching one must do before beginning serious physical exercise.

b) Sacrifice of thoughts: letting go preconceptions; overcoming habitual patterns. Nothing will prevent new thoughts from arising, as easily as already believing one knows the answer.

c) Refining the question: the moral atmosphere, why do we want to know; fact gathering and picture forming. It is an artistic activity. What moral color do I paint my soul, what factual materials do I gather as I prepare to form an image - i.e. think in all that that act can imply.

d) Offering the question: acknowledging Presence, and not needing an answer. Tomberg urges us to learn to think on our knees.

e) Thinking as a spiritual Eucharist: receiving and grace. We do not think alone. It thinks in and with me (Steiner).

f) Attitude: sobriety and play.


In writing this essay it has not been my intention to criticize the quite complicated history of the interaction in America of these two soul gestures. Rather, it is my desire that we no longer sleep in the face of these realities, and, further, that over time a healthy dialogue manifest itself between the Central European and the America (as well as other folk gestures as well) concerning the differences in orientation and how they may be brought into harmony with each other.

Rudolf Steiner has advised us that much that can be done, in the world, will depend upon the East, the Center and the West learning to work together, recognizing their individual genius and capacities, and finding out how to bring them into harmony in mutually supportive activity. In the above, which I conceive of only as the bare beginning of a much overdue co-operative reflection on the co-working of the various soul gestures, nothing yet has been said concerning that near-divine music which is sure to result when that Soul instrument, which lives in the East, can enter into this mutual play as well.

Joel A. Wendt, St. John's Tide, 1997

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