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A READER'S JOURNAL
The First Class of the Michael School
Recapitulation, Lessons, and Mantras
Preface 1st English Edition by T. H. Meyer 2017
Foreword to the German Edition by Thomas Meyer October 2011
Published by SteinerBooks/MA in 2018
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©qyearq
Chapter: Spiritual Science
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The First Class of the Michael School is a meditation guide for spiritual scientists studying what it means to be a full human being. It is packed with meditation mantras meant to read aloud so that the full impact of both the words (thinking content) and rhythm (feeling content) may be absorbed fully. As a poet myself, I learned a lot about the impact that various metric forms trochaic, iambic, and spondaic have on one listening to a poem read aloud.
As full humans we are beings of thinking, feeling, and will. These functions overlap inside us without our being aware of the overlap. Thinking we are aware of, feeling also, but not will. Steiner explains what would happen to us if we could concentrate on only one of these functions:
[page 14, 15] If we were able to think without will in our physical body for the briefest moment, the power of thought that lives in the universe were to fill us for the merest moment without any power of feeling or will present, we would be totally paralyzed as physical human beings. Were we as physical human beings able to feel without any thinking or will, even for a moment, we would be overcome and cramped, because feeling is something immensely alive. We would have one cramp after another. If we, as physical human beings, were able to use our will without any thinking, even for a moment, we would be devoured by fiery fevers.
Thinking alone would paralyze us; feeling alone would cramp us; and will alone would devour us with fiery fevers. Yet, somehow we merge these three functions without any serious defects. We were born out of the spiritual world into this sense-perceptible world and these three functions, which had been separate from each other, came together within us. When this happened we lost thinking as a living function — it became a corpse, a pointer to the living being that existed before.
[page 15,16] By unfolding thinking within me — by thinking the way we all do as earthly human beings — I have such a corpse before me. All earthly thinking is a corpse — a corpse of thinking that was very much alive before we descended into our earthly existence. Our physical body is the coffin into which our thinking was laid when we descended into the physical sense world.
Our thinking and our will does not become alive again until we pass through the gate of death.
[page 16] Our will is also not alive. It can only live when we have passed through the gate of death. Our will is a seed; thinking in a corpse. Our will is the embryo of what comes into being when we step through the gate of death.
To approach a knowledge of the spiritual world, we must learn to separate thinking, feeling, and will from each other.
[page 16] No knowledge can be obtained unless this is done. And the protection against the dangers of separating thinking, feeling and will from each other can be given human beings through Anthroposophy if they honestly take it up.
Steiner says we must learn that thinking as we know it now is not our true self, just as life cannot be found in a corpse, that "the physical body gives us a thinking that is only dead illusion". (Page 17) Looking back now to my college days when I was focusing on studying physics, I recall I felt this disconnect with my true self whenever I went home. There was no one I could talk to about what I was learning through my physics courses. I had yet to learn that only when I got into my etheric body could I find a kind of thinking that went beyond the semblance of life in my study of physics. This came when I studied Gestalt therapy and other feeling-based psychotherapies. For example in a dream I was driving in an open top sports car up a steep local bridge and a guy on roller skates was blocking me. I could never understand the meaning of this dream on a thinking level, but the therapist asked me to get up and skate around the room in my socks. As I circled the room, it came to me: a feeling of freedom. I had just become a bachelor and living alone for the first time in my entire lifetime at age 36. Always before there were others who depended upon me to take care of them, and now there weren't. I felt like the free spirit on roller skates! My etheric body was communicating to me directly, unblocked any longer by my overwhelming thinking function. I was feeling like an etheric being.
Here is the mantra that Steiner gives us. It contains the words that the Guardian of the Threshold speaks as counsel to us about thinking:
See how thinking weaves in you;
Experience, then, world-illusion.
Selfhood hides itself from you;
Dive down into the semblance.
Ether's essence wafts in you;
Selfhood's being should revere
Guiding beings of your spirit.
To rightly understand these mantras we need to be familiar with three types of metrical feet. The word "stressed" could also be understood as a long syllabic sound and "unstressed" as a short syllabic sound. The power of the mantra, the impact it has on the person speaking or listening to it, comes from yhe type of metrical foot chosen for it.
iambic - unstressed followed by stressed syllable
trochaic - stressed followed by unstressed syllable
spondaic - stressed followed by stressed syllable
In moving from the physical world into the etheric world, one does best to use a trochaic meter or rhythm.
[page 19] If we want to carry these thoughts over from the more robust physical existence — where they are dead — to an existence where they are alive, an existence more delicate than physical existence, we must choose the cadence of this mantra so that each line begins with a long-stressed syllable and then an unstressed syllable, a trochaic meter. . . .
The admonition about thinking, which the Guardian of the Threshold speaks to human beings, must be trochaic.
If you will read aloud the above mantra, you will detect the trochaic cadence at the beginning of each line. Each time you read it or listen to it being read aloud, it can "carry you out of your thinking and up into the spiritual world."
Thinking is illusion, a dead corpse, but it was alive prior to our entering the physical world. Feeling is alive, even though we may seem to dreaming in our feeling, something alive with real being exists in them. Now read the second mantra Steiner gives us containing the attitude of our feeling life. Notice how each line begins with an iambic meter which has the stress on the second syllable. We are led to move from the etheric to the astral plane as these words with their iambic rhythm resound within our being.
Perceive how feeling streams in you;
How semblance mixes there with being.
Your Self to semblance feels inclined;
Immerse yourself in seeming being.
And world soul forces dwell in you;
Your Selfhood, it should deeply ponder
Powers of life within your soul.
Reading the content of the words is not enough, we must feel their rhythm.
[page 22] This is how we must feel the rhythm and make the content of the words very alive in us. We immerse ourselves in feeling in the right way if we do this, as we make progress along the path into the spiritual world. The content of the words alone cannot achieve this for us. We must make our entire soul being receptive to sensing the rhythm in the mantric words.
Next we must absorb the words of the Guardian of the Threshold as we approach the will with the spondaic rhythm (two long stressed syllables). The will is the most unconscious of the three processes of thinking, feeling, and will. We see something we think to reach for and our arm moves automatically. We call this process automatic because it happens immediately and the process of will involved is never brought to our consciousness.
[page 22] We cannot remind ourselves often enough that in our thoughts we make a decision and then see it carried out. We are as unconscious of this transition into the will as we are of what we experience in the spirit between going to sleep and waking up. Just as feeling is immersed in a dreaming state, so is the will immersed in sleep. In this willing we sleep through real existence, the true reality of existence. Just as we must increasingly learn to retrieve our experiences from sleep, we must also learn to retrieve from the will what we experience there.
When we were visiting Dornach in the summer, I found a thornless blackberry vine that was strung on a series of wires. Picking the ripe berries without bending down or avoiding the thorns was a delight and I immediately began thinking how great it would be to have such a vine on the edge our lawn. Problem was this: I had no idea where to buy such a vine. But I began thing of various places I could build a fence of wires to support the vines. If people crossed the north section of our lawn and could hurt themselves on the wires, so that wouldn't work. Still I kept the blackberry vine in my mind. One day my neighbor on the south side of our lawn was working on this bush when I went over to chat with him and I noticed that he had planted a thornless blackberry just like the Dornach one. I saw a nearby sprout of the vine coming up from the ground and asked I could have it. He said, "Sure." Suddenly the first part of vision of the vine had appeared in my world. I put the sprout into a planting pot and asked him if I might plant on our side of their metal fence. He gave me his okay and I spent a year watering the vine and interlacing its leading branches into the wires of the metal fencing. The next year I was picking blackberries as big and delicious as the ones I had earlier picked in garden of the Kloster-Dornach a couple of year earlier. The whole project came together quickly and easily without my having to build a fence or locate someplace to buy the vine. Literally it took only five minutes to plant the vine in its pot (removing the bottom of the pot first) and begin watering and trimming. I had learned to retrieve from my will what I had earlier experienced there. My will had thrust me into the fullness of real existence, completing what I had earlier experienced only in thought and dreamt of in feeling.
[page 23, 24] My dear sisters and brothers, we experience how our blood flows within us, how food satisfies us, that we have thought that are illusions and feelings that are dreams. But in ordinary consciousness, we do not experience how the spirit reigns in us if we follow the third admonition spoken by the Guardian. . . . When we do this, we will be seized by a creative might, leaving behind our separate self-existence within our skin and expanding to become a self of the world, a cosmic self, which we are as human beings who will, as as beings of will. We must learn to stand firm in this. Learn to become a flame of will in the first of the universe: the fire within fire.
It is about this that the Guardian of the Threshold speaks to our will. He speaks of the thrust of will because the will thrusts us into the fullness of real existence:
Let work the impulse of will in you;
It rises up from worlds of illusion
Creative in its very essence.
To this devote all your life,
For filled it is with cosmic spiritual might.(1)
Your very being should now grasp
World creative might in your spiritual "I."
Note how the emphasis at the end of each penultimate line of the three stanza and the last line of each changes (pages 24, 25):
1. thinking revere Guiding beings of your spirit
2. feeling deeply ponder Powers of life within your soul
3. will grasp World creative might
We must move from thinking to reality by first acquiring reverence in our thinking, then by deeply pondering in our feeling, and finally by grasping with our will. In the third mantra on will, we arrive at the spondaic rhythm of two stressed syllables one after another, which you can experience in reading aloud the above stanza.
[page 25] To gain firmness when the Guardian turns to us with the third admonition, we must feel the rhythm as we strongly emphasize the first two syllables of each line.
The three images of the beasts of thinking, feeling, and will stand before us as the Guardian instructs with one last mantra:
Only when you have overcome these three
Will your soul develop wings
To soar across the deep abyss
That severs you from the field of knowledge
Where the dearest longings of your heart
Aspiring to wholeness, wish to consecrate themselves.
Steiner urges us:
[page 26] Take these admonitions from the Guardian of the Threshold into your meditations. It is not I who speak the; I speak them on behalf of the Guardian of the Threshold who wishes to speak these words to you through me, for this School is an institution of spiritual life itself.
We must always keep a humility towards the power of our will, saying "I am not yet a human being. I must become a human being by participating with spiritual powers. I must seek to enliven my thinking, deepen my feeling, and spiritualize my will."
"Know Thyself" was the motto inscribed above the Temple of Apollo. Why is knowing yourself deemed so important? Shouldn't knowing the world be more important? The answer is: through knowing yourself, you come to find the whole world.
[page 52] We will always find in self-knowledge the beginning, middle and end of the world in the form of a story, because the whole world, the entire universe, is expressed and revealed in the human being. That is why self-knowledge is world-knowledge.
---------------------------- Footnotes -----------------------------------------~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Footnote 1. Note the structure of this sentence matches the way Yoda spoke in the Star Wars movies. And the admonition given to Luke to use his will was spoken in a powerful will-aimed spondaic rhythm: "May the Force be with you."Return to text directly before Footnote 1.
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