During the weekend of August 17-18, Bodo von Plato, a member of the Executive Committee at the Gœtheanum, gave a workshop on meditation in Montreal. The event was attended by close to 80 participants from Quebec and Ontario. The following reflections come to me as I look back on the gathering.
Several years ago, a friend of mine gave me a fragment of a meteorite as a present. It is something I cherish dearly. Nearly spherical in shape, the rock’s outer shell is brownish in colour. When it hit the earth, it split open, thus revealing its inner structure. Inside the stone one can see a star-shaped crystal formation – a star of a thousand points gleaming with a clear metallic sheen which recalls its luminous trajectory through the earth’s atmosphere.
At the end of August nature is already announcing summer’s end; the days become shorter, yellow-hued flowers become more prevalent, the leaves as well begin to turn yellow. And as we gaze up into the night sky shooting stars appear. In his Michaelmas imagination of October 15, 1923, Rudolf Steiner describes how meteorites carrying cosmic iron burst into flame and burn up in the atmosphere. In human blood we find this same process on a microcosmic scale. With each breath the iron in the blood undergoes a process of combustion causing the red corpuscles to “light up”. What a majestic image: as we breathe, the iron contained in our blood lights up like a shooting star!
Cosmic iron becomes more and more present as autumn approaches, providing an antidote to the sulphuric ahrimanic forces of summer. This is a call to the human being to learn to know his essential self as a being of spirit. Michaelmas is a festival that honours the true individuality – not the ordinary “I” but the cosmic, universal “I”.
We can take this image as a subject for meditation, and, especially during the time of Michaelmas, perhaps actually feel this spiritualized iron guiding us when we take up a new task with enthusiasm, experiencing it as an act of will carried by a new impulse. Which brings us to the subject of meditation. As anthroposophists, after a certain time spent studying Rudolf Steiner’s works alone or in a group, we may come to a point where we feel the necessity to begin meditating. Meditation then becomes a way of bringing us to a higher level of consciousness. There are many books, lectures and indications that describe meditation exercises and give practical advice on how to meditate.
During Rudolf Steiner’s lifetime, his pupils could receive advice and personal attention directly from him. Today, we are left to our own devices and have total freedom with respect to the way we choose to go about this inner work and “build our own hut.” (c.f. Knowledge of Higher Worlds, VI: The Transformation of Dream Life.) This freedom brings with it a multitude of questions. Why should I meditate? Which exercise should I choose? Am I meditating in the right way? Even individuals with years of experience have questions from time to time. This can induce us to go back to the source; for example taking up Knowledge of Higher Worlds once again. Or we may choose to share personal meditative experiences with friends.
The Four Stages
Bodo von Plato first called our attention to the importance of inner preparation. One traditionally speaks of the four stages of meditation:
- Comprehension (understanding what we are going to do – the content)
- Concentration (how to direct one’s attention)
- Contemplation (I connect myself with the content of my thoughts and my feelings)
- The meditation proper (I unite my being with the previous stages in order to become a whole). (c.f. H. Zimmermann and Robin Schmidt as well as the book by Arthur Zajonc).*
In his workshop, Bodo had us do exercises aimed at making us aware of how we experience reverence and gratitude. Referring to Knowledge of Higher Worlds, Bodo emphasized the importance of creating the right mood for beginning and ending one’s meditative activity. We can establish an adequate mood for the beginning of the meditation by recalling moments when we experienced a feeling of reverence for a person, a work of art, or an event in our lives. This attitude of reverence becomes the key for opening the meditative space by producing a mood of inner peace.
Gratitude is a conscious awareness of something we have received, and as such serves as a closing for the whole process. It is gratitude towards other beings that allows us to receive the benefits of the act of meditation.
The Seven Conditions
In the second part of his workshop, Bodo recalled the seven conditions for inner work required to develop a healthy inner life. These seven conditions can be shown to be related to the seven components which make up the human being. Rudolf Steiner describes them in detail in Knowledge of Higher Worlds under the heading The Conditions of Esoteric Training. Technically speaking, these are not really exercises but rather soul qualities: achieving balance in the life of both body and soul; feeling oneself part of and connected to the entire world; being aware of the thoughts we have regarding others; recognizing the other’s spirit essence; practicing perseverance with respect to the decisions one makes; feeling gratitude for everything that comes one’s way; and finally, working to bring all of the previous soul qualities together into a coherent whole.
It is truly a gift to be able to experience a workshop event like this one, because it gives us the opportunity to take stock of our own inner work. When one undertakes meditative work, the challenges are many. The first of these is to find a moment in one’s day when the necessary withdrawal from daily life is possible. The second is to establish a rhythm; rhythm is the fundamental requirement for all meditative activity. Perseverance is also a challenge, because it may be a very long time before any results at all can be noticed. Then of course there is the matter of choosing the content for the meditation. We can decide to concentrate on a work of art, a geometric figure, or perhaps choose a mantric verse. Rudolf Steiner gave many such verses, some general in nature, others intended more specifically for those working in various walks of life.
The Foundation Stone
It is my belief that the Foundation Stone Meditation remains the quintessential meditative verse for members of the Society – even though we may too often tend to forget this fact. Through this verse we can form a connection to the impulse of the Christmas Conference and thus to the very essence of anthroposophy itself. It also indicates the path leading towards the discovery of our higher “I”. In several of his works, Sergei Prokofieff emphasizes the importance of the Christmas Conference and our need to understand the Foundation Stone verse. Although this meditation is often recited in part or in its entirety during members’ meetings, I have frequently asked myself how many people actually practice this meditation on a regular basis. Perhaps some do so only from time to time, or practice meditating its seven rhythms as given by Rudolf Steiner in December of 1923.
This Stone carries a Michaelic impulse and can provide an inexhaustible source of insights for inner research. Members who work with this meditation on a regular basis, inspired by the indications given during the Christmas Conference, weave an invisible spiritual fabric. Others could certainly join in as well.
The following mantric verse is the one Rudolf Steiner gave with the Imagination for Michaelmas (October 15, 1923). It speaks of how iron in its earthly form must be spiritualized by human beings.
Thou mouldest it to thy service,
Thou revealest it according to the value of its substance
In many of thy works.
Yet it will only bring thee healing,
When to thee is revealed
The lofty power of its Spirit.
Michaelmas is the festival of the spiritual individuality, whose gaze is turned towards the future, above and beyond all national and geographical boundaries. Each one of us can, in complete freedom, work towards forging our own “cosmic iron” through free personal initiative. Meditation becomes an essential tool in this process. When we meditate we do so for ourselves but also for others.
I wish you all a wonderful Michaelmas,
Arie van Ameringen,
*) Heinz Zimmermann and Robin Schmidt, Meditation, 2010 (in German, not yet translated)
Arthur Zajonc, Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry, 2009