This article was originally published in German on 18th March 2021
One would do better not to listen to the body alone
“The body knows what is good for you.” These words, which circulate like good advice among people in many esoteric and general circles, closely describe the state of consciousness of the materialistic present time. But what really happens if we thoughtlessly obey this verbal formula?
There are certainly numerous needs that the body automatically signals, especially when it has reached a state of deficiency. The desire for drinking, eating, for closeness, affection, for relaxation, peace and calm, for sympathy, well-being or comfort is actually not aroused directly from the physical, because this would be needless; rather it draws into the human interior through the nervous system, which resembles a sensitive receiving apparatus that receives all earthly and also all cosmic currents. Since the nervous system not only functions according to mechanical laws, but has an infinite number of possibilities for learning, it becomes the carrier-force of soul experience or, loosely speaking it becomes the soul itself. But the soul, in turn, should not only be narrowly regarded as an earthly simile, but as a real entity of existence, which originates from the cosmos and has a microcosmic home in human beings. For this reason, the soul, which is organised by the carrier-force of the nervous system, can be described as the so-called astral body. The body as a living organism has, through these animated and highly sensitive faculties, a known instinct for self-preservation, which takes its expression in natural forms of desire.
If human consciousness were reduced to its instincts of self-preservation, without calculating in that higher perspective of possibilities for spiritual development, the formula “Listen to your body because it knows what is good for you” may still be justifiable. On closer inspection, however, the needs that the body signals are very relative, because it could be that tiredness overwhelms it in its limbs, and the head sinks into an almost sleeping heaviness, although there is neither a lack of sleep nor a real exhaustion. This is the case, for example, when moods of aversion predominate. The needs that are reflected into the consciousness, via the body with the help of nervous regulation, rise as if from below upwards or – in other words – actually from the physical, or from a so-called low, submerged drive, into the conscious inner feeling, and simulate to people many false feelings. It is the astral body that carries the most varied forms of desire in itself, and on the one hand can be very closely involved with the body or on the other hand can receive freer, sovereign and light perceptions from a spiritual activity. One can recognise the astral body, in the way it desiringly connects with the aversive, usually by its red or restless hues, or perceive it, when it is exhausted by the aversion, in the sense of tiredness. A real affinity with connection, empathy and interest would generally animate the nervous system and thus delight the astral body in its colour radiations.
Spiritual training aims to purify and organise the astral body and lead it into a universal brotherliness with the greatest possible breadth. Desire, which arises out of the body without conscious control and determines the feelings in one’s being, displaces the truer possibilities for spiritual development and leads the consciousness into that mood which in older writings of yoga was called avidya, ignorance. For this reason, the Bhagavad Gita expresses, in many verses that today seem so incomprehensible for contemporary culture, words like the following:
Tani sarvani samyamaya yukta asita mat-parah.When he has overcome all forms of desire, he can sit opposite me united and devoted.
(Kapitel 2 Vers 61)
These words are spoken by the deity Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Equating the word Krishna with “thought” gives rise to a meaning that is depersonalised and easier to grasp:
When he has overcome all forms of desire, he can sit opposite the thought, united and devoted.
It must be said by way of general interpretation that the thought is a pure form of the spirit, and is not to be confused with the familiar intellectualism of the present day.
Although the body’s needs must be taken seriously, such as hunger and even the need for contact, affection and recognition, a seeker on the path of meditation should not be primarily guided by these. At every moment the waking consciousness rises above these longings of the body, organises them in a meaningful relationship and thereby retains guidance over the body, so that the desire that rises from this body turns into a natural driving force in life and expresses itself in relationship. In this whole process of becoming conscious and ordering the consciousness, the feelings that are stimulated when a deficiency is signalled, such as the need for food in the classical sense, attain a natural integration. For those with some training in their relationship to food and eating, hunger becomes a pleasant feeling. Through conscious management, the desire that rises from the body becomes well integrated. The feeling of hunger, which can amount to burning greed, is actually a form of desire, of a being, a so-called kamarupa figure, which can grow to a particularly high degree when there is a deficiency in the person’s soul.1)For kamarupa see Bhagavad Gita chapter 3, verse 43.
The soul in the world beyond
After the departing of the body, when the soul, and with it the so-called astral body, passes over into the cosmos, this astral body no longer experiences the earthly need which has sprung up during the time of life, for example from the instinct for self-preservation, but rather, quite peculiarly, the soul experiences precisely that form of being which, through lack of courage, through laziness, through gratification of many materialistic needs, or generally through withdrawal, has not been developed. Suppose, for example, there was hunger during an individual’s lifetime through the existence of the body. They were able to endure this painfully, but at the same time the pleasure of eating was also their daily companion. In ordinary life, individuals spend a relatively large amount of time preparing food, cultivating edible plants, shopping, and ultimately, in the last instance, they animate their dreams with needs for gastronomic enjoyment. These needs seem to be given automatically by the desiring nature and the astral part that is intertwined with the body. If individuals were to orient their existence only according to these and similar needs, they could never speak of freedom, and in every case a form of meditation that blossoms in a thought content would be impossible for them. It can therefore be said that the one-sided satisfaction of earthly needs without creating a higher ideality, on the other side starves people spiritually. This problem lies in materialism like an actual kind of hunger epidemic.
In that world beyond, which is free from all physical fixations and emotions, the soul experiences its true and qualitative reality. If it could not continue to develop spiritually according to the requirements, and has omitted many things which in fact should have been done in accordance with development, then it creates a shielding shell for itself, which prevents a circulating of natural light forces. The soul then feels as if closed off and isolated. It is as if lightlessly imprisoned in a single cell and thus suffers from a lack of living spiritual connections and spiritual content. Just as nourishment in earthly life sustains the body, to the same extent the spiritual striving towards higher goals sustains the soul, which dwells in the light.
One can say that from the higher parts that develop in the astral body, the soul literally nourishes itself with light, while precisely through the lower parts, the rising desires, which gloat out of fleshly longing, it puts itself in a poor, isolated and darkening position. Often it therefore happens that the pleasures to which a person succumbs now become forms of suffering in the world beyond, while arduous perseverance with disciplined stamina that often transcends limits, even with some emaciation of the body and a sacrificial struggle for higher development, produce joyful, attractive figures and forms. Existence in this world and the world beyond are usually as fundamentally different as the worlds of day and night in life.
The lack of soul development can already be recognised in earthly life
As a rule, individuals only notice the actual needs that the body signals and completely forget the subtlest pleas in the soul reminding them of the question of development. For example, the body feels exhausted and tired and wants recovery, sleep and rest. How frequently people experience exhaustion especially when there is imbalanced overload and a lack of meaningful activity. The body signals to them more and more the need for retreat and rest. However, the fact that a meaningful activation of the human potential, both of the thinking, of the required feeling, and of the will, could form a way out of this dilemma, is usually not experienced by the individuals.
The experience of recuperative residentials, combined with spiritual study, showed, however, in an astonishing way, that after a few weeks, or at the latest after a few months, the lack in the soul of real activity and mental strength became perceptible. During a period of exhaustion the body demands rest, and signals to the mind the one-sided longing to follow passive inclinations. Only after performing and sustaining the first activity, which was developed and strengthened the soul experience and the ability to relate to others, did practitioners notice that when they were in their exhausted state, they were actually lacking something. Looking back, the old situation with its specific deficit can be recognised.
To exaggerate, we could use a strange example and imagine that human beings did not have a highly organised hand with five fingers, but a kind of animal paw, a bit like a dog. This paw is not very differentiated, not equipped with fingers and sensitive tactile senses. If humans had paws like this, they would never be able to do delicate work and they would be incapable of writing, or sculpting artistically. A person looks at a dog, sees his paws and can think to himself, “Thank God I am not lacking sensitive and sculpting hands.” The dog, however, cannot look up to the person and say to himself: “I am lacking hands.” A person, however, who always had to remain at the stage of paws, could not develop any longing for highly organized hands, as he would not even be able to picture and imagine them. They would be beyond his comprehension and therefore he would not feel deficient in this situation.
He will only feel the lack of sensitivity, dexterity and sculpting ability with his paws when he has hands with sensitive fingers. A deficit can therefore only be perceived if the potential is present in a comparable form.
The essential deficiency today consists in the spiritual meanings given to life, and in the loss of the corresponding organs of perception for real spirituality. Today, individuals can hardly imagine that they have a lack in spirituality, and even a lack in inner experience of the soul. Only after some time, when in learning they train themselves towards growing, spiritual perceptions, subtle feelings and thoughts, and in this discipline create, as it were, instruments of the soul, like a kind of human hand, although not a visible hand, but rather soul abilities and moral competence, which leads to communication, higher perception and wisdomful insights, do they first notice their real lostness, and they can look back with wise reflection, and recognize that without development they actually had lacked an essential possibility.
After death people experience the lacking developmental steps as a deep, essential deficiency
Basically, the crossing of the soul from this world to a world beyond always leads to a view back over the past existence. After some time, as it settles into its cosmic, new and expanded reality, the soul notices the stages of development that it has missed, and it now has to endure the deficiencies like a loss of substance. During earthly existence, the individual possessed a physical body and with this he could feel at home within earthly existence. After the departure of all the physical circumstances, however, there remain the positive developments achieved, and the home which the soul can now relate to is no longer based on the predetermined earthly advantages, but on the achieved knowledge, which has been gained from the earthly world together with experience, learning and spiritual studies. Quite naturally, therefore, every departed person experiences precisely that dimension that could not be adequately experienced in the earthly, namely the spiritual and moral omission. It becomes a feeling of hunger and closes people off from the joyous worlds of light.
“Listen to your body, because it knows what is good for you” is a word formulation that is inclined very much towards attachment. It arises particularly through people’s dependencies on the earthly world, and to a great extent excludes the question of developing the potential spiritual existence. With too intense a listening to the body, the lower parts of the astral body begin to stir and those more subtle influences of a spiritual world, waiting behind the sensual pleasures, remain unheeded. With this word formula, individuals are guided by the so-called motor nerves and lack self-contemplation and real perception towards a greater, universal reality. They are inclined towards egoism. Mostly they feel too deeply into their autonomic systems and tragically overlook how much this whole physical apparatus ought to have to been nourished from the spirit, following a higher and wiser system of governance.2) Those who say, “Listen to your body, because it knows what is good”, experience themselves from the past and not in the development process towards a future. They connect with their own destiny or – in other words – with their karma.
According to their spiritual nature, the Archai are those sovereign powers who sensitively and yet vigorously want to elevate people in all their actions. They bring them to an ascent and to liberation. When Immanuel Kant speaks of the question of enlightenment and describes it as the way out for people, who have to rise out of immaturity and the inability to use their minds without the guidance of others, then this courage for their own thought process would be a force motivated by the spirits of the original beginning.3) See Franz Josef Wetz, Illusion Menschenwuerde, 2005. p. 267.
If we were to look at ourselves in a way that is very unusual, indeed quite unimaginable, but we could hypothetically imagine looking at ourselves from the vantage point of the so-called angel hierarchies, then inevitably we would have to recognise immediately the foolish and insensitive kind of perception that produces a word formula such as “Listen to the body because it knows what is good for you”. Now there are various angels, divided into various hierarchies. They have different perceptions and abilities. Mention should be made, for example, of the so-called Archai,4) The Archai are called the aeons in Greek. In sum they are the spirits of the original beginning. The name is derived from the Greek archē, which means beginning, principle, origin. the archaic forces that wisely govern the human will forces.5)For more background on the spiritual hierarchies, especially on the archai, the angels of the original beginning, see also the book, Verborgene Konstellationen der Seele (not available in English). 6) According to anthroposophical teaching, the first hierarchy, consisting of Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones, is assigned to the human will element. The Archai belong to the third hierarchy, which consists of Angels, Archangels and the Archai. Basically these angels of the original beginning, the Archai, work as an element of will, as they assume control in human existence right into the depths of the body. The will forms the deepest, unconscious nature of man and carries within it the strongest driving force in its centre. These high beings are luminous and light, they are so light that precisely through their lightness they signal a kind of complete freedom in relation to the body. Yet they are endowed with very high wisdom. They know and recognise the most exact will relationships of humans. Resolve and dignity are their deep spiritual element. For example, those who listen in to the depths of their soul will notice in sensitive moments that there is a higher morality, and that through their humanness, in the call of the spirit, they would actually be called upon to comply with this morality with the best, resolute decisions. But people have a series of excuses and can make themselves insensitive and dead to this reality of their own dignity, which they should have in their soul. They can tell themselves, for example, that they are leaving wisdom to the more intelligent people, and in doing this they devalue their own person in its will, and go against the true, deeper intuitions. Thus they casually tell themselves that word formula that is also so well known today: “The way is the goal and I am on the way.” The need to achieve a goal comprehensively for world creation would, however, be the endeavour of the spirits of the original beginning, and would correspond to human dignity.7) “The way is the goal” is the degenerate form of a saying of Confucius, which should read “I bring my will to the way”.
Now, we can let the Arche speak. Through the higher wisdom entrusted to him, he proclaims in the finest way those subtle feelings which, when put into words, say something like the following: “Do not listen to your body and its coaxing or exaggerated emotions, for these are in their sum and in their binding a corruption for the self. Step beyond boundaries and transcend your petty fears that rise out of the organs, sacrifice yourself for a greater idea, have the courage for life in the sense of morality. Strive for the best and noblest goal. You are called to ascend. Waiting for others is idle. If your personal circumstance reflects a trembling in the face of morality and the need for action, then do not listen to this fickleness and your belittled self-image. The body should not despair and has little to say when it comes to high and highest duties. Through wisdom you will find the strength for your actions.”
Meditation prepares people for the spiritual world
By no means should meditation exercises, as they are widely understood today, serve only as an instrument for relaxation or for better balance and well-being for the body and for the sensory world. Every real meditation requires a crossing of boundaries beyond one’s own weakness, exhaustion, feelings of inferiority, emotions and despondency.8) The lack of spirituality leads to physical decline. Spiritual content, higher wisdom and true knowledge want to enter into our previously emaciated existence as real, new forces. They become formed through concentration, and with perseverance become retained in the memory, so that the best ideas finally become practical ideals and ultimately are available as socially capable limbs of the body. Just as the human hand could be completely reorganised from the paw of the animal kingdom into something new and greater, so to the same extent the meditation work should make conscious the deficiency that human beings possess in the soul in the sense of their spiritual life, and make those creative forces available again so that individuals get the feeling that this life in this devastating time has meaning precisely because it can be filled with new forces, aesthetic goals and real spiritual content. When there is no new spiritual beginning and there is no fortifying of human substance in the sense of higher abilities and supersensible organs, people can never recognise the deficiency from which they actually suffer. They are then like people who lie on the sofa every day, taking refuge in their pleasurable bodily world and not even noticing that in reality they are lacking exercise. People will only notice the spiritual deficiency when, over a longer period of time, built up rhythmically, they get to grips with spiritual studies and from this acquire a higher level of overview of themselves and their miserable past.
Actually, we human beings all have a state of spiritual deficiency that we no longer perceive, and that is why materialism is overrunning us with unparalleled dictatorial severity and ruthlessness.
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, from chapter 5, Synthesis:
“The method that we have to pursue, then, is to put our whole conscious being into relation and contact with the Divine and to call Him to transform our whole being into His, so that in a sense God Himself, the real Person in us, becomes the Sādhaka9) Sādhaka = spiritual student of the Sādhanā10) Sādhanā = spiritual practice as well as the Master of the Yoga by whom the lower personality is used as the centre of a divine transfiguration and the instrument of its own perfection. In effect, the pressure of the Tapas,11) Tapas = fire, renunciation the force of consciousness in us dwelling in the Idea of the divine Nature upon that which we are in our entirety, produces its own realisation. The divine and all-knowing and all-effecting descends upon the limited and obscure, progressively illumines and energises the whole lower nature and substitutes its own action for all the terms of the inferior human light and mortal activity.”
Rudolf Steiner from “Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts” (1924/1925) GA 26:61:
“As a being of will, man’s attention is directed not to his own bodily nature, but to the outer world. When he desires to walk he does not ask, ‘What do I feel in my feet?’ but ‘What is the goal out there, which I desire to reach?’ In willing, man forgets his organism. In his will he belongs not to his own nature. He belongs to the spirit-kingdom of the first hierarchy.”
|⇑1||For kamarupa see Bhagavad Gita chapter 3, verse 43.|
|⇑2||Those who say, “Listen to your body, because it knows what is good”, experience themselves from the past and not in the development process towards a future. They connect with their own destiny or – in other words – with their karma.|
|⇑3||See Franz Josef Wetz, Illusion Menschenwuerde, 2005. p. 267.|
|⇑4||The Archai are called the aeons in Greek. In sum they are the spirits of the original beginning. The name is derived from the Greek archē, which means beginning, principle, origin.|
|⇑5||For more background on the spiritual hierarchies, especially on the archai, the angels of the original beginning, see also the book, Verborgene Konstellationen der Seele (not available in English).|
|⇑6||According to anthroposophical teaching, the first hierarchy, consisting of Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones, is assigned to the human will element. The Archai belong to the third hierarchy, which consists of Angels, Archangels and the Archai. Basically these angels of the original beginning, the Archai, work as an element of will, as they assume control in human existence right into the depths of the body.|
|⇑7||“The way is the goal” is the degenerate form of a saying of Confucius, which should read “I bring my will to the way”.|
|⇑8||The lack of spirituality leads to physical decline.|
|⇑9||Sādhaka = spiritual student|
|⇑10||Sādhanā = spiritual practice|
|⇑11||Tapas = fire, renunciation|