Life within Change and Constancy

Rudolf Steiner explains parts of this process very clearly. He points out that from conception through to death our physical body goes through a process of continuous change. There is never a moment when changes are not going on in the body. Also, part of this change is that physical impressions last for moments only. One impression gives way to another continuously through the day and the years. But as mentioned above, something in our nature builds up a sense of self and meaning from these fleeting experiences. In fact, without these experiences through our senses we would not develop as a person. So in quite a real way our personality, or our soul as it used to be called, feeds on physical experience and develops a defined self from them. This is similar to the way the body builds up its defined shape through the continuous passage of food water and air — physical substance — through it. See: Rudolph Steiner’s Philosophy of Life and Death

So, in both cases, from ever-changing and transitory experiences, something more permanent is built. In the case of our physical self we build a body that has a certain level of constancy during change. With our personality or soul, we similarly build a sense of self from experiences we gained through our shifting physical senses. Again there is a level of constancy during continual change.

It is fairly easy to see that there is yet another level of this within our everyday experience. Our personality or sense of self that we build through our many and changing experiences, and that in itself is also changing, builds up concepts that are more lasting than the shifting sense impressions and ideas it experiences. As humans, in this way we have built up concepts about the physical nature of the world, gravity, music, astronomy and the many other things that can be passed from one person to another as ideas. Such ideas can survive not only during one’s lifetime, but pass from one person to another for immense periods of time. Here again we have constancy during change.

If we are lucky, during our lifetime we can observe that not only our physical experiences lead to the development of our personality; not only does our personality gather understanding from the many separate experiences we meet; but occasionally the concepts we arrive at are seen to gather into a higher synthesis again. At such times we glimpse or experience a universal understanding. We see how the everyday things that we experience, the concepts that arise from them, in some way connect with the universal principles in the cosmos and in life. With wonder we see that the ordinary everyday things and events around us are expressions of processes and human endeavours that flow through our lives from ancient times, perhaps even from the timeless.

This sense of the universal which in some cases is called enlightenment, or cosmic consciousness, is an experience of what has been called the spirit. In other words it is an experience of the constant underlying the ever shifting experiences of our body and our personality. And just as our personality gathers the shifting impressions of our senses into a realisation of its own continuing existence, so the spirit gathers experiences of the personality into its own continuity. This is like the tulip bulb hidden behind the short flowering of the tulip. The question to ask yourself is – What is it that in myself is the constant underlying the shifting experiences of my life?

One way of understanding this might be in saying that just as your genetic material is the gathered experience of thousands of lives, so your personality is the gathered material, the essence of thousands and millions of experiences; and your spirit is the gathered material of the finest realisations and concepts gathered by your personality. It is very likely that the cosmic processes that we experience as humans and see as universal in nature do not stop there, but have yet a higher synthesis.

The difficulty with accepting these ideas is not that we cannot see them working in nature, but some of us fail to grasp personally what our spirit is. Only a few of us have the wonder of a direct experience of it. This is because it is the very thing with which we try to grasp it with. As Laing says in his poem The Bird of Paradise, “The truth I am trying to grasp is the grasp that is trying to grasp it.” Your spirit, the constant within change, is the very foundation of your personal awareness. It is what exists behind the constant shifting sense impressions, thoughts and feelings. It is the blank mirror in which all your personal experiences seem to have existence. Take away all the images of your thoughts and emotions, your sense impressions, and you have the clear beingness of your spirit. Try looking at the mirror of your consciousness instead of the images, thoughts and sense impressions the mirror reflects.

While I was working in Greece I experienced something that puts all this in a more human context. I had led a Seed Group meditation, and then took a turn in being the Seed myself. (See: Meditate). Being a Seed in such a group is often a very strong experience. At that particular time I met death in a way I had never done before. If you have never used the Seed meditation in such a way, it needs to be explained that it is rather like having a very vivid dream while you are awake. In a dream we are convinced that what we are meeting is really happening. We feel all the feelings and experience it as a reality. So what I met was an experience in just that way. It wasn’t a daydream. It wasn’t a sort of, ‘what if’ type of experience.

As I entered into the process I felt my life coming to an end. I met the experience of seeing that everything I had lived for and done was finishing . I felt that I was losing my children and I would be dead to them. I would be dead to everything that I had hoped for, reached for, it was all ending. It was an extraordinary experience to feel myself dying in that way.

I died. The experience carried on, so I was then a bodiless and exterior observer of what was happening. I was a point of awareness watching, and there was my dead body lying on the ground. As I watched I saw my father — who was already dead — approach the dead body and lift it and carry it across a threshold. He placed it in a meadow and stood back. As I watched, the dead body was resurrected. A wonderful change took place in it. The body, no longer physical, was brought to life. I was witness to what brought it to life. It was a wonderful and joyous experience to see the resurrection. What brought life to that dead form was everything that I had given of myself to another person. I may have given an idea; I may have given anger that reached into their being and taught them something. I may have given that person warmth or support. I may have been a parent for them, or given myself in some other way. But I realised as I saw the resurrection that it is not simply the thought of giving something to another person, but it is what reaches into them and is absorbed to become a living part of their nature. It is something that then lives in them. It therefore has life. It may even pass on from them to others and have life in many people.

But I also saw that what I had received from other people, that I had left myself open to receive from others, their ideas, their love, their anger, their personality, their traits, their abilities; whatever I had taken into myself from them was also what gave me a spiritual life after death.

What I understood from the experience was that we only gain a life beyond physical death from what we have given to and received from others. It is only what life itself takes up and absorbs of our nature; it is only what life in us has taken from others that continues our life after death. It is only what exists beyond the boundaries of the personal self that can live on. Just as the flow of food, water and air keeps our body alive, so, as we take in from the life of others, and flow to them, does our spirit keep alive.

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