Submitted by Tom Last on Wed, 09/12/2007 - 8:33pm.

by Marjorie Spock

Ear The Basis For A New Art Of Listening

Esoterics could be said to be the practice of a more than usual degree of attentiveness that leads to more than usual awareness, -- to seeing the thing meant in the thing seen or hearing the thing meant in the thing heard.

The ear comes more easily to such awareness than the eye does. For the eye is very much a surface organ, set closer to material reality and answering to the light that renders that reality visible, whereas the ear's placement makes for inwardness. It is not, like the eye, up front and curving positively out into the physical, but rather largely negative space, a system of hollows and tunnels penetrating deep into the head and set well back where physical form is less articulated. The ear seems to retreat from, rather than advance into externality, inviting impressions to follow it indoors into the soul realm. In a lecture given in Stuttgart on December 9, 1922, Rudolf Steiner spoke of the ear as a filter that separates physical sound from the sound's soul content. It is thus far readier for esoteric use than is the eye.

We have only to consider the eye's tendency to remain superficial to confirm this. Its perception of a human being is first and foremost of that person's body; its attention is prone to become caught up in bodily externalities such as skin texture, or the way the hairline runs or an eyebrow curves, unless it is consciously held to conveying more soul-like aspects of the physiognomy it is studying, to attending to that nebulous thing called an expression. Whereas the ear is not so easily beguiled; it tends to go at once to the heart of a matter and has an immediate, whole impression of the inwardness that lives and moves behind an utterance.

The ear is thus the sense organ readiest for use in esoteric schooling. And where esoterics widens to include joint efforts of communities, the ear's cultivation as an esoteric tool becomes doubly vital in that it forms the basis for a new art of listening.

Pointing to eurythmy's social mission, Rudolf Steiner once commented that listening has become a lost art in the present. So isolated is the ego when incarnated that we are all as though spiritually deaf. Or, put perhaps more accurately, the ear no longer invites impressions to follow it indoors; it lets them stay outside where they cannot be understood, while it turns all its real attention to the self. Nor is this true only when we listen to a voice abstractedly. How often do we not fail to hear a thought in reading and have to read it over and over again to get it! We were simply not listening. And if one asks why, self-observation makes it obvious that we were attending exclusively to our own thoughts, engaged in a running dialogue between the soul and ego. At such times, one resembles that other category of non-listeners: individuals so egotistical that they never stop talking to hear what other egos have to say -- the harsh fact being that no one else's inwardness really holds much interest for them.

Nowadays we blame lack of communication on semantic difficulties. But the problem is of deeper origin, and it will require some effort in its curing: nothing less than the development of a sixth sense in the ear.


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LISTENING PERCEPTIVELY has social consequences beyond estimating.

Attention On Speaker
First, there is what it does to the soul of the listener. A miracle of self-overcoming takes place within him whenever he really lends an ear to others. If he is to understand the person speaking, he must withdraw his attention from his own concerns and make a present of it to the speaker; he clears his inner scene like one who for a time gives up his home for others' use while himself remaining only in the role of servant. Listeners quite literally entertain a speaker's thought. "Not I, but Christ in me" is made real in every such act of genuine listening.

Growth Of Idea
Second, there is what happens to the speaker when he is fortunate enough to be listened to perceptively. Another kind of miracle takes place in him, perhaps best described as a springtime burgeoning (grow and flourish). Before his idea was expressed to a listener, it lived in his soul as potential only; it resembled a seed force lying fallow in the winter earth. To be listened to with real interest acts upon this seed like sun and warmth and rain and other cosmic elements that provide growth-impetus: the soul-ground in which the idea is embedded comes magically alive. Under such benign influences, thoughts grow full cycle and fulfill their promise. Moreover, they confer fertility upon the ground through the simple fact of having lived there. Further ideas will be the more readily received into such a soil and spring the more vigorously for its life-attunement. And the soul that harbors them begins to be the creative force in evolution for which it was intended by the gods.

One understands how grave sins of omission can be when one considers the potential fruitfulness that is lost to man and the universe through every failure to let the sunlight of our interest shine on the souls of our fellow earthlings. Neglect of such gardens of the spirit means for all of us a greater scarcity of nutriment and beauty than there need be, and at the same time an encouraging of weeds, which spring up rankly in all empty ground.

Cosmic Fullness
Not only do ideas burgeon in response to listening: when groups reflect and entertain them, they take on the many-sided, cosmic fullness that belongs to thoughts as universals.

And there is at least one further miracle attendant on listening, one akin to the miracle of loaves and fishes, in that the proliferating seed of living thoughts falls on the soul-ground of the hearers, as many as are truly listening, and begins in each a fresh evolutionary cycle.

Finally, groups that foster the fundamental social art of listening create a common higher consciousness, able like a Grail cup to receive and dispense the magically quickening lifeblood of the spiritual world. Nor will those who harken perceptively to living men fail to sensitize their listening also to the unseen dead and to those other hosts of heaven who may be seeking to inspire them.


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Conversational Art Of Shaping
If listening is the art of opening oneself to what lives in another's spirit, dialogue or conversation on the same high level adds the communal art of shaping the life evoked by listening and, through group effort, bringing out its fuller possibilities. Conversing in the Goethean sense is a modelling of the light that lives in heads.

Is this not also love in practice?

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Nowhere, however, is there a more stringent need to rise above the level of sympathy and antipathy than in listening and conversing. We cannot perceive the spirits of our fellowmen if we allow clouds of subjectivity to hang between them and our understanding. That space must be cleared of all obscuration so that we may become -- like the disembodied -- tremendously knowledgeable, -- able to see with whom we are dealing and what love requires our doing in the situation.

Manichean Deed Of Cleansing
One thing that love requires our doing is to digest not just what is spoken, but the speaker also.

But how different this act is from those in which one hungry ego devours another! It may be called a Manichean deed of cleansing, wherein the sacrificial spirit of the listener blots up, or, as it were, absorbs the speaker's imperfections; it is as though the latter's dross were purged away by the manner of his friend's listening. Then what is eternal in his being stands out clearly and can be mirrored back to him for his self-knowledge.

The Manichean service indicated is one not often met with in our time, nor does it come naturally to modern egohood. Yet it has something in common with parental nurture of the highest order. A wise mother performs it for her children when, almost wordlessly, she soothes them in an upset mood and restores them to serenity. She has, as it were, absorbed the weaknesses that made them vulnerable to upset, and, in digesting these, transmuted them into her own strength, balance, steadfastness. This product of her spirit's work she then rays back, and it becomes therapy for her environment.

Would forgiveness not remain an empty gesture and change absolutely nothing for the better if it did not imply helping to lighten the dead weight of unacceptable qualities with which every one of us is burdened? We speak of bearing with each other. But bearing with is more than passive toleration. It means actively taking up and carrying what the other carries: always a heavy load of unregeneracy. Forgiving, like all deeds of love, has this active quality that transforms both forgiver and forgiven.

It is, moreover, a direct following in the footsteps of the Christ, of whom we are told that he brought salvation by "taking the sins of the world upon himself," that is, digesting them in deeds of Manichean love on a cosmic scale. He "made straight" the path of forgiveness since traveled by those who would be esoteric Christians.

And there is a second service love requires of listeners which even the least tainting by sympathy or antipathy undermines and can render dangerous. That is the group task of reflecting back the speaker to himself as from a mirror.

There need be only a slight flaw in a mirror for it to falsify what it reflects; it must be flawless to produce objective images. Furthermore, unless it is held absolutely motionless, images cannot be brought to focus in it.

Sympathy and antipathy intrude distorting flaws into the mirroring activity of groups, while the stillness needed to focus images is shattered by the movement inherent in these soul reactions.

With proper effort, sympathy's and antipathy's involuntary motions can be eliminated by a circle that feels its responsibility for disciplining itself and fostering self-knowledge in its members. But the effort must be communal as well as individual. To succeed in it, all those present will need to join forces to build a common consciousness of "Christ in me".

This may seem an impossibly high goal to work for. It is certainly not easy to achieve. But genuine esoteric group life is inconceivable without it. It is as much the sine qua non of group accomplishment as meditation is in the esoteric life of individuals. Indeed, it is meditation in its purest form: selfless, deliberate, fully conscious inner action which brings souls to experience the spiritual world as it lives in and through the human spirit.

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Disciplining Feeling
The above proposals for deepening of social life are read from the need of modern times to lift all living from a sentient to a conscious level. The forward push that brought mankind out of the Dark Ages into the Enlightenment advanced only part of the human make-up: the intellect, leaving feeling still almost entirely in the realm of instinct. There is a clearly discernible rift running through every man of the time that splits mind and impulse wide apart unless he takes deliberate measures for its healing and schools his relations with his fellowmen.

This means making feeling capable of the same largeness of approach, the same objectivity, the same devotion to clarity to which thought advanced when it grew up. At a given moment in man's spiritual history, thinking set itself to eschew prejudice. Now the time has come for feeling to cease indulging sympathy and antipathy and to achieve a maturer basis of relationship.

To take deliberate steps in that direction is to set foot on the esoteric path, and in the way most called for by the period we live in. Anthroposophy confirms this and demonstrates its timeliness by the constant gentle emphasis it lays on disciplining feeling.

It does so in a variety of ways.

First, there is the fact that Christianity forms the very heart of Anthroposophy, all of whose teaching stands in relation to the Christ Event as the central happening in cosmic history. Which is to say that redemptive love, in whose benign presence sympathy and antipathy cannot live on, is shown to be the great gift to -- as it is the goal of -- earth evolution.

Secondly, there is Rudolf Steiner's picturing of what thinking can be when it transcends intellectuality and comes to full development as intuition. We quote from the Philosophy of Freedom, the work in which he most poignantly describes it: "... He who explores thinking in its living essence will find in it both will and feeling and both of these in their deepest reality." (cf. Chap.8)

Thirdly, there is Anthroposophy's nurture of the arts. Not only does it seek to transform the earth by lifting matter above the level of its merely natural ordering that it may receive baptism by the spirit: the Anthroposophically-oriented arts call for the artist's rising to an exceptional height of objectivity as he searches out the shape behind his inspiration. One might say that not he but the spirit of the medium he uses is his guide here. Yet it works through feeling rather than through will or thinking, and this requires a purifying, a making conscious of the feeling life such as really measures up to the time's need.

To sum up, one might say that Anthroposophical schooling sets itself the goal of advancing the student's inner life from mere sentience and intellectuality to the consciousness-soul development suited to the age, and that the Michaelic thought it fosters is as much made up of a pure fire of feeling as it is of clarity.

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Predestined Sympathies And Antipathies
When people use the term body social, they are referring to something obviously pictured as a single organism, no matter how many separate individuals comprise it.

Considering the difficulty human beings have when they attempt to pull together, the term body social may seem to overstate the case for social unity. Can and does society ever act with the single-mindedness normally underlying the behavior of an organism? Even the smallest body social, the family, is constantly riven by differences, so that it very rarely acts as one. What, then, justifies thinking of much larger clusters: nations, races, devotees of the various religions or philosophies and the like, as organisms?

Anthroposophical research has revealed a most important fact: that feeling has the unifying function in many's soul life. It is feeling that weaves the opposites of will and thinking into one soul organism which reflects its oneness in a single body. And if we explore the element that builds up the organism called the body social, we will find it to be a community of feeling. So, to take the smallest social unit, it is common to speak of family feeling as of a real force which, to some degree at least, overcomes the splintering effects of thought and will that tend to divide family members from each other. And larger groups than families find themselves contained within a single feeling network that is the family feeling of a race or nation, or perhaps of a profession, or, again, of a shared inclination to some particular approach to truth.

These networks in which we find ourselves caught up are woven by spiritual beings, most notably the Zeitgeist, the folk-soul, and our angels. And each of us belongs to them by destiny. But a chief means Karma uses to involve us in them is the sentient-soul with its blind impulses, which take the form of predestined sympathies and antipathies. The push and pull us into karmic situations where what we need to learn and do can be worked out.

Two questions arise here. The first may be occasioned by surprise that antipathy is lumped in with sympathy as involvement, -- for how could repulsion draw us to another? Self-observation makes it clear, however, that antipathetic feelings fasten our attention on a fellowman fully as compellingly as love or liking.

The second question leads into depths of esoteric fact which only Rudolf Steiner could illuminate. It is: if sympathy and antipathy must be overcome, yet Karma functions largely through their agency, how are we to be guided to our destiny?

Rudolf Steiner gave the answer in a sublime perspective on the future when he indicated that Karma can be superseded by the man who lets himself be Christ-inspired to deeds of love. Then he performs -- with love's and freedom's special grace -- the very acts which karmic necessity would have had him carry out, had he waited to be manipulated by it; he travels, seeing and conscious, the same path over which he would otherwise have stumbled, blind and awkward.

If the community building here envisioned has been described as an art of relating, it is because it lifts itself deliberately to the height of love, and wherever love is, there is artistry.

Perhaps it is clear that the social artistry which bases its practice on moral intuition (cf. The Philosophy of Freedom) builds a very different body social from that begotten by antipathy and sympathy. It is, in short, a body which man shares with heavenly hierarchies.

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Life Begetting Sun - Moon Polarity
From the founding days of the Anthroposophical Society, members have been wrestling with the problem of how to shape the time they spend together. And they have tried everything: lectures, joint reading and study of a Steiner book, panel discussions, artistic presentations, and even the intellectual free-for-all of the forum.

None of these practices has yet been generally or finally adopted. Should the fact that the matter is still unresolved not be taken to indicate that the perfect answer -- if there is one -- has not been found? And does the question not then become "Have we been looking in the right direction?"

Surely the purpose of any gathering, whether it be worldly or esoteric, is to generate more life (in a professional group, greater life of insight) than one can generate alone; otherwise people would save themselves the wear and tear of going out and use the time alone to better purpose. But how is life generated? What develops it most strongly in the body social? Must it be left to chance or grace? Or can it be planned, as a farmer takes measures to assure a harvest?

The cosmos has not left the development of life to chance; it has planned it, setting a sun and moon into the sky as polarities through and between which (cf. Rudolf Steiner's lecture Das Tor Der Sonne und Das Tor Des Mondes) forces of the planetary system enter into life-begetting, life-enhancing interchange -- a process without which life of any kind is unthinkable.

In the human soul, too, polarity serves as the life-engendering element. And esotericists discern a sun and moon pole in man's life as spirit as he alternates between active doing and reflective thinking.

What may be learned for the shaping of esoteric social life from such considerations? Is it not that interchange is all-important? That too great dependence on the lecture form -- which makes the lecturer the sun pole, his audience the moon -- scants a balanced life of soul in the listeners and hence in the society? Does our society not suffer drastically from insufficient life through having failed to take a course that would have developed life more vigorously in the rank and file? Could there, indeed, be a rank and file if we had based group practice on the recognition that every member is a unique spiritual being, a unique treasure house of humanness, from which the common life might be enriched?

Some individuals to whom such questions have been put have shown themselves so fixed in the lecture concept that they have countered, "But you can't have everybody lecturing!" Others have felt that the discussion groups which they mistakenly imagined to be the proposed substitute for lectures are not only too everyday for esoteric life, but encourage the expression of immature ideas, and tend to subject meetings to domination by neurotic individuals with an urge to talk incessantly. Furthermore, they say, the shy personalities would still not participate, but merely listen, moon-like, as they always do. And finally, "We are not there to say what we think but to study what those have said who really know."

Conversation As Shared Meditation
These may be perfectly cogent arguments against having discussion groups on esoteric subject matter. But no such mistaken course has been proposed. For by its very nature, discussion remains an intellectual exercise, and as such takes place on this side of the threshold. It is therefore entirely unsuited to esoteric interchange, which has as its goal crossing the threshold and entering together into spiritual life. What is proposed here is, rather, dialogue in the sense of Goethean conversation.

Conversations of the kind Goethe had in mind would almost certainly be made the modus vivendi of esoteric group life if the difference between them and discussions were better understood. They are actually a form of shared meditation in which the group as a whole consciously seeks to make itself a vessel for spiritual truth.

To do that, members of the group must know what it is to experience thoughts as living beings. And, indeed, idiom reflects wide awareness of the fact that ideas can be living organisms, for we call getting an idea conceiving. Everyone who has ever had a living thought knows how apt the term is. He has experienced that fact that thinking begins with the soul's impregnation by a germinal idea. One is aware from the start that it is present there and growing, though perhaps not at first of its shape or fullness. Then it gradually takes on form and substance. Only after an interval of ripening is the child of this spiritual begetting ready to be born as full-fledged insight.

When we speak of thought-activity as brooding, we also reflect a feeling for it as an evolutionary process, -- even, indeed, awareness of the fact that a thought evolves through warmth of interest and is to be found growing in our consciousness.

That we ourselves are changed as a result of having harbored or nurtured spiritual progeny: ideas, and brought them into realization must be obvious. And that the spiritual world also changes through thus sharing its creative purpose with us is most likely. "For that we came": -- that just such changes might be brought about.

Groups engaging in Goethean conversations become ever more conscious of the maturing role time plays in a thought-being's evolution. They will find, for example, that it is neither desirable nor possible for ideas to spring full-fledged from the spirits of their members on the very day of their conceiving. Insight can grow only gradually and organically from small beginnings. And the group working patiently with an idea knows this. It recognizes that it is participating in the life-process of the moral universe. All the group's members find themselves caught up in its fruitfulness. A mood of confidence awakens in which even the shyest, no longer dreading to expose intellectual shortcomings, finds himself able to contribute.

The germinal ideas that become the focus of group meditation are given to the group by destiny exactly as a child comes to its parents. They begin their life-course as questions that have taken root in the souls of members, and are then brought to the group for fostering.

Here, too, time plays a vital role. There is no unnatural rush, as with a lecture, to get an idea across to listeners who may not have entertained prior interest in the subject, -- a process similar to plumping one's child down in another's lap and saying, "Here, take it; it's all yours now." In such a course there is a great chance that hearers may not accept or will do little with it. Whereas in the slow-ripening group-nurture process outlined here, ideas are tenderly received as presents from on high and become the whole group's common nursling.

Study Group Preparation
The query "Where is Rudolf Steiner in this?" must be answered "Everywhere, from start to finish." It is he to whom we owe our knowledge that a spiritual world exists and owe any capacity we have to be at home there. It is he, the study of whose works awakens such a wealth of germinal questions in us that life can never again seem poor or uninteresting. It is he who has mapped the landscape in which the answers to our questions will be found. And though group meeting time may not be spent reading out his lectures, that same lecture material provides a large part of the substance of the meeting. For it is assumed that books or lectures bearing on the subject matter have been carefully studied (not merely read) by the members prior to the meeting. When the group regathers, it thus surrounds Dr. Steiner's thought with the additional life which that thought has generated in each student. Something becomes of his contribution which could never have grown out of a one-time common reading of a lecture. For lectures allow no time either for ripening or for an exchange of ripened spiritual life. Those who accustom themselves to the conversation form of meeting and to its requirement that members be prepared and active, feel increasingly what a superficial, wasteful use of spiritual substance is entailed in a one-time hearing or reading out of lectures. In fact, the latter method even comes to seem disrespectful to the lecturer, whose germinal ideas fall on largely unprepared and thus largely unresponsive ground.

Conversation Form Of Meeting
It may be objected that Rudolf Steiner himself chose the lecture and book form of presentation. But we might remember, first, that this was the beginning phase of Anthroposophy, when it was needful to endow the earth with a great spiritual treasure that could be drawn upon for centuries, and that none of the listeners was able at that time to contribute much more than a receptive consciousness. Secondly, that since Rudolf Steiner's death we have been in a quite different phase, in that none who have followed him have possessed like stature and a like mission to use their fellowmen as sounding boards for mightiest truth. Thirdly, that the spiritual activity to which he sought unceasingly to rouse us would seem to be best served in the present phase by a form of effort that evokes maximum participation in the members, -- a criterion which the lecture form cannot satisfy.

And do we not show a lack of confidence in Anthroposophy and in its power to bring human souls to burgeoning when we mistrust the conversation form of meeting? Are we not saying in effect that growth is possible to some, but not in significant degree to others? Anthroposophy makes it clear that all mankind is involved in a cosmic growth-process, and that every soul brings unique substance to that evolution. Are we in practice really making use of what each individual offers and providing him with the full stimulus of our interest in his further growth?

That growth and evolution come about through the interchange of two kinds of influences: the cosmic and the earthly. Anthroposophy supplies the cosmic element; it is sunlight to souls rightly rooted in the earth. But an earth must be there. And the earth in which the soul takes root is society, associations large and small that feel concern and will accept responsibility for the soul's development. No matter how much the sun streams down upon it, the soul cannot flourish if the earth provides too meager nutriment.

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Leaderless Society
Most of us are so habituated to what has always been done that we find it impossible to conceive of a leaderless society. Nor do we want one; it seems a condition fraught with far too many dangers. So when a leader goes, we look at once for new ones to arise who will rescue us from our confusion, dispel our nightmares, put the world to rights with their superior capacities, exactly as good parents do for their small children.

But to yearn for leaders is dependence, -- the same trend that makes the lecture form hang on. Of course it is easier to be shown the way than to find it oneself with independent effort, to let oneself be lifted toward the heights than to take part in the strenuous work of lifting. But the challenge of the times is to adequacy, adequacy such as free and loving men develop through their interest. The esoteric path cannot be for children tied as it were to parental leading strings, but for adults who deliberately fit themselves for mature, creative spiritual action.

There can scarcely be a better training for it than conversations. In such activity, the leader -- if there may be said to be one -- is not a person, but the theme, the spiritual fact under exploration.

Grail Cup Fashioned
Here again, it is vital to distinguish between discussions and conversations. Intellects active in discussion typically make straight for the mark of a conclusion; they penetrate fact as though with mental arrows, unaware that the fact may be a living thing that dies when so approached and becomes nothing more than a taxidermist's specimen. Whereas those who engage in conversations see their function as a group-process of inviting truth exactly as they would invite a human guest, and making the atmosphere receptive to it.

But they do not expect thoughts to come to them in the physical world. They must go out to the world of thought to see and shape their understanding to the shape of truth. It is as though they take themselves to the border of the country where the truth lives and there make of their souls a dwelling suited to receive and entertain the question. Or it could be said that a Grail cup is fashioned in a communal exercise of intuition and held up to receive the precious essence of the living thought.

Esoteric groups that approach their task -- as they must -- intuitively (i.e., in the meaning given the term in the Philosophy of Freedom) have neither need nor use for leaders. For, to say it once again, they meet for inspiration not on this side of the threshold, but beyond it, in a realm where the world spirit is their guide and leader.

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