February 12, 2022
Dear Members & Friends,
In the free being of humanity
the universe is gathered up.
So, in the free resolve in your heart,
take your own life in hand
and you will find the world.
The spirit of the world
will find itself in you.
As we approach the centenary of the Christmas Conference 1923/4, I realized that I have been alive for 73% of the time that the refounded Society and School for Spiritual Science have been active in the world. Despite this odd way of looking at it, it does provide a perspective on how young the Society and the School are in relation to many other spiritual paths and traditions—young in organization and in practice. Rudolf Steiner intended for anthroposophy to be a source of spiritual insight and renewal for practical work in the world. He exhorted members and anyone listening to his lectures to be interested in the world, to attend to it with a sense for healing. And he articulated a way to follow a path that finds the reciprocal relationship between self-knowledge and knowledge of the world as a spiritual reality.
This spiritual reality carries with it a profound responsibility. To keep this sense of responsibility present requires attention and discipline—especially when the world is reflecting back to us aspects that make us uncomfortable or convey uncertainty. If we are not separate from the world and the world is not separate from us, then what we see before us is also within us. This notion has tremendous implications for where we are with so many contentious issues affecting us in the world today. When we witness so much fear, cynicism, and anger in the world, we have to ask: where are those feelings actually located?
Of course, spiritual freedom is essential; it is a core anthroposophical principle and a condition for self-knowledge. It is also a compromise to the principle of spiritual freedom if any other individual cannot experience it, regardless of whether the cause be cultural, rights, or economic in origin. I know I am not separate from that reality; it is part of my responsibility. Spiritual knowledge is not about power; it is about insight. How might that insight serve the challenges we face today? Might insight derived from spiritual knowing help us move through divisions and patterns of conflict?
Through its practices and applications, Rudolf Steiner intended anthroposophy to serve as a corrective force to the ascendence of scientific materialism along with its attendant, and semi-logically derived, denial of the spiritual reality. This course correction remains a monumental task made harder by the growing attachment to and need for power today. This growth is marked by the canny, manipulative, and sometimes cynical use and proliferation of media toward ends that can be cultural, political, and/or economic.
In a way, we are in a sixty-year build out of what former president Dwight Eisenhower referred to in 1961 as the military-industrial-complex. Though he was speaking primarily about economic forces, those forces have morphed into a technology-identity-complex that is questioning and redefining the very nature of what it means to be a human being even while profiting from it. While there is science in this process, that science is founded in a presumptive system that sees technology as the primary path to perfecting the human being.
Such a belief system denies the spiritual laws and evolutionary significance of reincarnation, laws that have endured not only through anthroposophical knowledge but also through other traditions and across centuries. Singularity, the term applied to this perfection in the transhuman movement, does not in any way equate to Rudolf Steiner’s imagination of individuality. It is just that the transhumanists are aiming to free the human being from the natural limitations of the physical. In opposition to this, Rudolf Steiner characterized one’s physical body as an interim home for one’s evolving individuality. What Rudolf Steiner attempted was to bring an understanding of reincarnation forward as counter to the ever-increasing materialist dialogue. The following from Rudolf Steiner spoken more than a hundred years ago brought home for me the continuing challenge to the reality of reincarnation even in the details our economic practices:
But all external life as it presents itself today is the picture of a social condition which, in its development, has excluded, has indeed refuted, the idea of reincarnation and karma. External life today is organized almost as if there were a deliberate desire to quash any possibility of people being able, through their own inner development, to discover the reality of reincarnation and karma. In point of fact there is, for example, nothing more hostile to a real conviction of reincarnation and karma than the principle that a person must be remunerated, must receive wages corresponding to their actual labor…But people must become alive to the thought that no fundamental conviction of reincarnation can ever flourish in a world order in which it is held that there must be a direct correspondence between wages and labor, in which a person is obliged, through the labor they perform, to obtain the necessities of life.
[From Rudolf Steiner, Reincarnation and Karma: Their Significance in Modern Culture, GA 135]
Rudolf Steiner was a teacher for those seeking a deeper knowledge of themselves and the workings of the cosmos. It was his genius to articulate a path of self-initiation out of his own experience and practices, and then to be able to apply the full breadth of that knowledge not only to those on the meditative path, but also on behalf of those seeking insight and renewal in their respective vocations. Many have benefited from Rudolf Steiner’s encouragement to discipline and his inspiration to call the practice Spiritual Science. That is what it is, but to the current conventional ear it has a quality of impossibility to it. I am often asked how to reconcile the two words being together.
Even within the two apparently distinct world views, materialistic and spiritual, there are more nuanced distinctions. From my observation the indicators of these distinctions are whether they are belief-based or inquiry-based. For example, if I accept reincarnation as a belief then I am disconnected from those who do not accept that belief. On the other hand, if I hold it as a living inquiry—how might I know or recognize when it is evident at any given moment?—then I have to have space in my inquiry for those who have not had that experience. I can accept their denial or disinclination without judging that they are wrong. Such a practice is subtle and opens boundaries. Nonetheless the distinction between belief and inquiry is essential to understand. Otherwise, we fall into all too familiar division and disconnection, and it would be of our own making.
In my lifetime, so much has changed so fast that it feels as if even that which has felt enduring now seems fragile. Foundational ethical practices, such as public respect for one another’s humanity and dignity, the rule of law, and ecological health in the face of climate chaos, seem to be falling away. So much could be surmised from a daily scan of the news. The enduring spiritual and human values which Steiner so beautifully articulated across many volumes, the presence of the Christ-impulse in how we gather, have become more vulnerable to adversarial forces—exacerbated by social isolation and dependence on technology for meeting one another.
The adversarial forces have been patiently biding their time, looking for new avenues to disrupt the rudiments of trust that hold us together. Fear, cynicism, and anger¬¬—each has taken on a life of its own in a way, found its champions, such that an inability to bridge our own divides seems ever more prevalent. Communities of shared values, even within our own Society and in the practical anthroposophical fields, have been at odds over matters of vaccination, masks, the nature of freedom, individual versus social rights, and cultivating justice. Words like dismantling and disrupting are prevalent because they have become actualized intentions showing up in the political, economic, and cultural spheres.
And where is the conversation about what might emerge from and bring coherence to the fragmentation? Bridging such perspectives is really difficult work because to do so would require seeing past one’s own often hard-won perspective. From a view of moving toward social health, the opportunity is present to create new agreements, recognize each other’s freedom, and find a shared imagination of purpose. The principle of spiritual freedom operates in an atmosphere of warmth and love, profound practices that open ways to move through hardened positions and harsh judgments.
So, the world is operating in a fragile condition even in the presence of an enduring spirit. Spiritual battles are won in a field of interest and social warmth. On the other hand, division and polarization are generated by the coldness of judgment. Love is not a right, but rather is experienced out of common recognition of aligned hearts, engaged minds, and compassionate will. The next one hundred years will require this coming together on behalf of the evolution of all humanity and of the spiritual world. If we cannot work toward this level of threefolding in the social world, the future will be guided by those beings who view division and isolation as a victory. This is the moment in which we stand. No doubt, the last two years have been exhausting; and, we are challenged now to cultivate new resolve. There is much renewal to be found within—the sources and practices of anthroposophy, and where there is good manifesting in the world.
Anthroposophical Society in America (US)
|Previous letters from the General Secretary are available at anthroposophy.org/general-secretary/|