How do we Think the Truth? the Mystery of Thinking
How do we Think the Truth? The Mystery of Thinking
As part of my contemplative essays for the season of Lent, I am writing about the three archetypal powers of our soul in our lives on earth: thinking, feeling and will. There are movements afoot (I am thinking here of groups like the “trans-humanists”) who would completely marry the human being to the computer. My deepest values, as expressed in my work as a eurythmist, focus constantly on the sacred relationship between the human spirit and the human body. There, where they interact, the human soul comes to birth, in thinking, feeling and willing. There, we are inspired by the three virtues of truth, beauty and goodness.
I will resume where I left off in my last essay.
“not in utter nakedness, and not entire forgetfulness,William Wordsworth
but trailing clouds of glory do we come,
from God, who is our home.”
The newborn on the earth is not initially accustomed to using the body.
Newly arrived from another, distant state of being, we have to learn, step by step, what it means to deal with the material world.
Before birth, when we wear no body, all our impressions are brought to us through non-material states of consciousness. I imagine our existence to be in a field of being, and our knowing to be a kind of cosmic “atune-ment.”
In the womb, we entered softly in a world of substance. We were bathed in water, rocked in the womb-movements of the mother.
It was at birth that we first felt skin-touch and taste and the impact of noises and light. The more gentle these were, the gentler was the landing in the world of matter.
The first tasks of the very young child are profound: learning to live into and use the human body. They begin with learning to absorb food into the very tender metabolism, and put it to use in building up the inner organs, which are still in a nascent, imperfect state. There follow the tasks of learning to move arms and legs, to balance, to walk, to talk.
And so we arrive only gradually on the earth. We are in fact slow-bloomers, creatures who take many years to fully mature on the earth. (This in contrast to other mammals, such as sheep and cows, who jump to their feet within the first hour after birth!) We lay the foundation as we develop our natural, bodily skills.
But as human beings, we have to do more, for we are “multi-dimensional beings, ” beings of body, soul and spirit. As we mature, we grow not only physically, but also etherically, astrally, and individually. In doing so, we develop higher capacities and faculties in the mind, the heart, the body.
So, now imagine the interaction that ensued between your spirit, born out of infinity, and your body. Imagine yourself, oh, so gently, feeling yourself into this world of matter, so different from the world of pure being-ness that you came from. Imagine stretching your tentacles of consciousness into your sense organs, and gradually integrating all of the input that came into you.
That infinity of being where we used to exist is now contracted into a point. We must now look at the world from “inside-out.” The spirit exchanges the bliss of eternity for the vividness of the present, point-centered consciousness.
And so the individuated soul is born. We are each entrusted with our own small part of eternity, and it is our sacred task to develop it as best we can, even as we are woven into the material world .
What next? How does the child’s mind develop? How do we learn to think? How is our adult thinking related to the child’s thinking?
“Heaven lies about us in our infancy.
But chains of the prison house begin to close around the growing child.”
Level 1: The most fundamental things that we think about are stimulated through our senses. The outer world impinges on our inner world through the gates of the senses. But at this point, an impression is not yet a thought: it is only an sensation.
What we call our “sentient body” receives the impressions, and our soul then experiences (or “reads”) the impression in its field. This activity is reflected in the brain, but still has not become a thought. Here another step is necessary, for the soul must also stretch its tentacles back into the spiritual world to find an archetype that corresponds to the object in the sense world that is impinging on it. That is to say: just as we “sense into” the outer world, we “sense into” the archetypal world. When the image and the archetype are matched, then a thoughtful understanding arises in the soul. (Truly, no one could possibly assert that the brain itself is “secreting” thoughts. The thought is what arises in the soul in perceiving what is happening in or to the body.)
We can now understand that the sages of ancient days taught that this sense world is a world of maya, of illusion. From a spiritual perspective, the world that we perceive through our body senses is but an image of the great living archetypes that created it.
As the child’s consciousness matures, s/he must be able to hold onto these thought-archetypes. They are imprinted upon the etheric body (also called the life-body or chi-body), and there become memories. The young child can have impressions but not yet independently master the way these are held in memory until after about age seven. But that time, enough etheric forces have been freed from their initial task of body-building that they can be put at the service of holding on to memory-pictures. From that age on, we begin to build our bodies of thoughts.
And what a world of thoughts we live in! All the impressions we have shape and mold our freed etheric forces. Most of them fall deeply below the level of our conscious awareness. These contribute towards building the unconscious patterns of our opinions. Many, however, rise into our consciousness, and when we process them, we build our understanding of the world.
Level 2: In time, we can learn to reflect upon our own reflections. We can think about the things that we have met through our senses, even if they aren’t actually present any longer. This marks the unfolding of a higher, less materialistic capacity of our soul.
Level 3: The soul begins, however, to awaken to its own spiritual nature when it turns its attention towards the non-material activity of moving through the world of thoughts itself. This is the process that is cultivated in what is known as “spiritual research,” or “sense-free thinking.” This is also the starting point for anthroposophically-directed meditative practice. In this activity, the self is awakening to its own true dimension, its spiritual nature.
What, then, is truth?
To move accurately through this world of spiritual beings, we must have learned to eliminate from our own selves any self-serving desires or impulses. Anything that is polluted by our impure senses, our attachments, our egoism prevents us from seeing things as they truly are.
Level 1: As we learn from our interactions with this world of senses, we can practice seeing things accurately, by observing with loving, active attention. The more we see, the richer the harvest of thoughts will be that we garner.
Level 2:As we move through our own inner worlds, remembering things and experiences we have had, or imagining possible futures things we want to accomplish, we can practice purifying our own memories and desires without imposing wishes upon them.
Level 3: Then we will be prepared to move into realms of pure thinking, to be able to see into the world of thinking with complete honesty.
This will open the door to what we can call true spiritual communion.
I offer these thoughts at part of my contemplation at Easter, in consideration of what it means for a spiritual being to “die into” the grave of the physical body, and from there to awaken to spiritual self-awakening. This is the great, over-arching reality of our lives on earth, and it is a long, hard and beautiful unfolding.
Educators in Waldorf schools know that thinking is the first of the three gifts that unfold in the young child. Through a carefully guided education, the tools for very clear observations and perceptions are laid in the young child. The goal is that the child will be able—for their whole life—to observe clearly and to have living thoughts. These are thoughts that are able to grow and evolve through a person’s whole life, and a person experiences more and more. These thoughts are not limited by narrow definitions or memorized answers: they are trained through creative practices, and become richer and deeper through the course of a person’s biography.
Essential, too, is that the child have as many experiences as possible drawn from real-life situations. The Waldorf community thus deliberately minimizes early computer exposure for children, so the children are learning from multi-dimensional real-life sense impressions, and not by synthetic reality. The value of real, nutritious food drawn from healthy plants (and animals) and real toys and textures drawn as much as possible from the natural world and not the synthetic world is also emphasized. We hope that children who are raised in this way will have the tools to contribute in the best possible way to a future worthy of the great gifts of life we have been given!
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