by Eileen Bristol
This meditation, practiced by many on an anthroposophical path, is described in detail in Chapter V of Rudolf Steiner's
Outline of Esoteric Science. Steiner offers this meditation as an archetype of a way of working with symbols in meditation. In Microcosm and Macrocosm, lecture VIII, as well as in Outline of Esoteric
Science, he gives additional suggestions for meditative content along these lines. An excellent description is also found in Jörgen Smit's Meditation: Bringing Change into Your Life. In my own work
with this meditation I have referred to both of these excellent books and I recommend you also refer to these descriptions for a fuller elaboration of what is provided here.
As Mr. Smit emphasizes, this meditation has 4 distinct stages. As a prelude to the meditation, it is also important to create a quiet inner soul mood in which to place your spiritual striving. Once you have awakened this inner calm, begin with these thoughts and pictures:
Stage I Picture a plant in your mind, think of it growing in its natural environment, perhaps a firmly rooted grass or a juniper tree, some plant with which you are personally familiar. Remember to include the entire plant in your picturing, the leaves, stem, root, etc. Reflect on the fact that it stays in one place its whole life, unless moved by outside forces. It does not oppose its environment and remains at rest in its place in stormy weather or blazing sun.
Now think of a human being. Imagine someone walking around, perhaps beginning to do something and then changing their mind and going in a different direction, or creating a work of art or solving an engineering problem. Consider how much more potential the human has. Next think of the "other side" of human nature, the destructive aspects that can enter into our passions. Picture someone who is expressing rage or jealousy, or experiencing deep fear, lying, or striking someone.
This additional difference between humans and plants is also expressed in the green sap of the plant and the red blood of the human. Dedicate some time during your meditation to experience both qualities and the contrasting moods that arise: a mood of quiet harmony with the plant and one of soberness as you contemplate the potential for free activity as well as the capacity for destruction in the human.
Now recognize the capacity to make decisions that we have as humans. Hold the mood of "decision" in your soul that arises to some extent even when weighing "small" choices in daily life. Consider how we can also begin to work on our drives and passions out of a free choice to transform them and cleanse them of destructive qualities. Think of how the nature of the blood can change to become the expression of a purified soul life.
Once you have built up this consideration, turn again to the world of the plants and picture a rose. The red petals of the rose are as pure as the green leaves. Therefore we can let the rose symbolize for us the blood in a purified state after all destructive aspects of our passions have died away.
How can we represent this dying away? Rudolf Steiner suggests a black wooden cross. The black wood that is left behind when the plant dies and is lignified symbolizes the vanquished lower nature.
Now allow seven red roses, symbolizing our purified, transformed blood, to spring forth in a circle, a wreath around the intersection point of the wooden cross. An uplifting mood can arise as the roses shine forth, the now complete image of the rose cross representing the victory of the higher, purified nature over the lower.
At every step of building up this image the feelings that accompany the thoughts and images are of primary importance. If you develop the image in a dry, detached way it will not have the same effect as when you live into it strongly with your feelings.
Stage II Now you devote some time to a total immersion in the image you have built up. If you feel yourself tensing your body as you concentrate, let the tension dissolve and relax. Thoughts fall away and you live totally in the picture. If your picture is dim and colorless, nevertheless, let the "idea" of what is represented resound in your soul in a "wordless" way. The image may appear close or far away, it may move or shift. The inner effort is what matters. Eventually you will be able to feel at one with it.
Stage III Now let the image dissolve and focus all your attention on the powers that created the image. This is not easy, but if you regularly put strong effort into stages I and II, you will eventually experience some moments of awareness of these inner powers. You may experience them as inner movements.
Stage IV The final stage is to extinguish also this awareness of the image creating powers and focus on the spiritual entity that gave rise to those powers. Ask yourself, "Who is doing it?" In this way you can draw close to the innermost core of your being.
While Steiner does not include these last two stages specifically when he describes the meditation in Outline of Esoteric Science, in Seeing with the Soul (April 8, 1911) he offers the following: "By sharply concentrating on the soul life which arises in him through the use of symbols, the spiritual investigator must be able to completely remove the content of the symbols from his consciousness. What he must then grasp within his consciousness is the process to which his soul life was subject while he devoted himself to the symbols. In a kind of real abstraction, the content of the symbol-imagining must be cast off, and only the form of one's experience with the symbols must remain in one's consciousness. In this way the unreal, symbolic character of mental-imaging (significant only for a transitional stage of soul development) is removed, and the consciousness makes the inner weaving of the soul content into an object of meditation. The weaving in the soul content achieved this way may be called real self-observation. In doing this, our human inner life learns to know itself not merely by reflection about itself as the carrier of sense impressions and as the intellectual elaborator of the same. The self learns to know itself as it is, without reference to a sense-perceptible content. It experiences itself in itself as a suppressible reality. This experience is not like the one the "I” has when, in ordinary self-observation, attention is withdrawn from what it is knowing about the things of the environment and reflects on its own knowing self. In this case the content of consciousness shrinks, as it were, ever more into the point of the "I.” In real self-perception by the spiritual investigator, this is not the case. In it, the soul content becomes ever richer in the course of the exercises. The soul content consists of a life in lawful connections, and the self does not feel (as it does with the laws of nature that are abstracted from phenomena of the environment) that it is outside the web of laws, but that it is within this web; it experiences itself to be one with this web."
Final thoughts: This meditation is one you can work with for many years. It is important to fully develop each of the first two stages as a strong foundation before you move to stages III and IV. If you rush forward to create the complete image without living into the building up of it, the meditation will not have the same effect. Regular, repeated, rhythmic work with this meditation is strongly recommended to allow the reserves of strength needed for the additional steps to build up. Success also depends largely on the degree to which you can attain calmness of soul and isolation of your soul life with the symbols. You will begin to be able to withdraw into a region of inner existence that was a void, or imperceptible, before you undertook a path of meditation. In this way you can develop an awareness of your higher self.
Work with this meditation should be accompanied by other spiritual practices to balance your esoteric training, such as the protective exercises from Outline of Esoteric Science, biographical reflection, development of inner soul qualities as described in How to Know Higher Worlds, and the arts.
(Seeing with the Soul: The Foundation and Scientific Validity of Anthroposophy is available from Mercury Press; the other titles mentioned are available from Steiner Books and the APO Library.)