Anthroposophy – Not Just On Sundays

A discussion with Gottfried Stockmar on the meaning, possibility and limits of an ‹Anthroposophical method› and where it resides.

We have too little spiritual backbone, which is why we use methods to create a staff for ourselves that we can hold on to. This is nothing other than a divestment, a giving up of what is subjective and personal. Method is a crutch for lame thinkers. Strong minds of noble thinking know no method, but only themselves and the object. For them, nothing comes between the two.

Rudolf Steiner, Treatises and Fragmnets 1882–1924, GA 46, p. 970

With this early quotation from Rudolf Steiner, the two-day conversation for which I had travelled to Hugoldsdorf began. The invitation to consider this topic in conversation came from Gottfried Stockmar in response to a request to participate in our ‹series on method›. Between coffee breaks, splitting wood and flowing transitions to conversations with the others living in the old manor house, we circled around the question, sometimes broadening out, sometimes narrowing in. The ‹interview› here is an attempt to provide an extract of the whole. Gilda Bartel

Does it make sense to ask about an Anthroposophical method?

For me, a method has something mechanical about it. That’s why something in me balks at it. Imagine you were to make a method absolute. I have often experienced that people believe they can crack Anthroposophy with a key. These keys were the various methods. It has always been suspicious to me that people think they can unlock something and then ‹have› Anthroposophy.

There is an extreme way that people navigate Anthroposophy which tends towards dogmatism. Then there is a counter-position, the direction towards science, where they want to create distance from Anthroposophy, not lose themselves in it or merely believe it. There must be something in between, but I haven’t found it yet. Perhaps we would be better off asking: what does Anthroposophy address itself to?

Are you saying that Anthroposophy has no method?

I would say it has very many methods. For Steiner, symptomatology is the method of dealing with history. In the introduction to ‹Goethe’s Theory of Knowledge›, Goethe’s work and life are examined through Schiller’s method. In ‹The Foundations of Human Experience›, the method is designated as follows: We must look at the human being first in terms of their soul (that is, through sympathy, antipathy and states of life), then their spirit (that is, through states of consciousness) and then the human body via states of form. I would say that you have to read each book by Steiner with a different method. And then the method must arise from the material and not be applied externally. Goethe said: «I have a unified worldview and not a uniform one.» He said that we must accord each realm its appropriate cognition. So I can count, measure and weigh what is dead, but that does not help me understand the plant, life or the soul. I have to find an appropriate approach without false loyalties. It must also be possible to say with regard to Steiner that he was mistaken in this or that instance, or that he was out of his depth. There is a translation of Steiner of ‹Anthroposophy› as «the awareness of my full humanity». The dimensions of being human are then opened up by Steiner. There are the works and lectures on one side and myself as the pole which resonates with them on the other. And then something may happen – or not.

You said that we have to find an appropriate method for each individual form. Could we say that Anthroposophy enables us to do this?

You only need two things: common sense and open-mindedness. Common sense is a connection between the mind and life. Common sense is a strange thing. Do we still have it? What is the difference between accuracy and being scientifically analytical? You don’t need anything more than accuracy. It is certainly not harmful to form a cognitive backbone. There is a whole volume called ‹Methodical Foundations of Anthroposophy›. And since the ‹Philosophy of Freedom›, there are two foundations: observing and thinking. Is that in itself a method? You can start anywhere and with anything. I adopted an inner approach for the teacher training seminar. I wanted to give people free access to Anthroposophy because I had the impression that it is no longer free. Their experience is of being lectured at, instructed, and poking around. That is not free access. The students have Anthroposophists in front of them and believe that this is what is written in the books, and no one reads them. But it is not in the books at all. It has to go into a level of engagement at which the whole human being is addressed.

Is there something like an intensification of ‹method›?

In the book ‹Die Mystik im Aufgange …› (GA 7, 1960, p. 99; available in English as ‹Mystics after Modernism›, CW 7, 2000) there is a chapter on Nicholas of Cusa where Steiner speaks about how science changes the human being: it distances the human being from nature, enriches the human being, and then comes to a boundary because the human being loses the sensory world, but nothing new opens up. All kinds of demons lurk on this cliff. Then there remain only three possible paths: either we fall back into a naïve relationship with the world of the senses; or enter the path of despair, where we can move neither forwards nor backwards. Or we find the third path: «the development of our own most profound forces. For this path, we need trust in the world and courage to follow this trust, no matter where it leads us.» There lies the seed for the book ‹How to Know Higher Worlds›. The development of our own most profound forces would be an appropriate description for me, regardless of any kind of method. ‹How to Know Higher Worlds› is a systematic path to arrive at these abilities. But nobody will walk it in a predetermined way. It is a path for everyone and no one. In the Mystery Dramas, we have four people who arrive at this threshold in very different ways.

What, then, is Anthroposophy for you, or does it exist at all as something general?

When you ask the question of what Anthroposophy is, you are asking something very specific. You are asking about the ‹what› – you want concepts. If you ask what it wants, the question is directed somewhere completely different. If you ask how it is doing today, you come to a completely different layer again – closer to life than if I ask about the what. The question about the what aims at death, because it congeals into a concept. Steiner said that development was such that people in the past had unconscious imaginations. Then came the conscious abstraction in which we live today. And now we have to try to come to a conscious imagination; so it is a constant attempt to get from a concept to a picture. This could also be understood as the description of a developmental process. I obtain a direction in which things might continue. In the lecture cycle ‹Initiation, Eternity and the Passing Moment›, Steiner often says: simply look at Anthroposophy as a being that walks alongside you, with whom you can talk. I like to remember a lecture by Jörgen Smit in which he begins by saying that Anthroposophy is very simple and highly complicated. Friedrich Benesch felt it was exhausting. My feeling a few years ago was that it plunged me into the deepest abysses and at the same time brought me out again. According to Steiner, the basic characteristic of his time was that people had to deal with thoughts that could not be humanly managed. Now I could turn this around and say: Anthroposophy is composed of thoughts that can be humanly managed and that shape people, allow them to breathe, and allow them to digest. Perhaps the verb for the method is ‹to walk›. Anthroposophy is a path of cognition! It is not a straight path either. The river wants to meander. In the Greek dictionary, ‹method› means «way of getting to a desired end». «A way towards something.» A way or course. A way of working. This also exists with Steiner: Anthroposophy is the foundation of a new way of working. I remember him describing his path with the book ‹Philosophy of Freedom› to Rosa Mayreder. He didn’t know where it would lead, or that he was walking over cliffs and precipices, unable to look left or right. When you think of method, you immediately think of the most effective way. But I don’t think that is what is meant.

What is the relationship between individual reality and Anthroposophical content?

Steiner had thoroughly read Tolstoy’s book ‹On Life› and had given a lecture on it. His commentary was to the effect that: We live in a time when form has absolute dominion over life. We are only allowed to live a puny life within the form, instead of life giving itself a form. When life has taken form, we should actually start all over again. But we can’t do that. The forms are not let go, nor do they die, but live on as spectres. We have 1923, the crisis year when Steiner realised that the people in the Anthroposophical Society were only making forms and that there was no life left. He said: Anthroposophy must die and be born anew in each individual human being. Internalisation goes as far as digestion, where everything is destroyed and rebuilt. That is again this ‹It must go all the way through me›. In the same lectures, he says that the gravest error of Anthroposophists is that they have taken the forms of expression of Anthroposophy for themselves. Accordingly, a ‹method› for me would be: I must immediately pass through the terminology in order to get to the power.

How can you get to the power if you have to pass through powerful terminology first?

We were recently talking about what an idea is and what an ideal is. We think of ideas as something really big. You have to bring them into reality. An idea would only be a form, like a blossoming plant. But an ideal is a seed that wants to come to life. It does not yet know what the next leaf will look like. It has the power to develop, but not yet create a form. It is a source of strength and life. If it has the right conditions, it grows where it should, according to itself. I also don’t know whether Anthroposophy is to be understood as a source of strength or as a blossom. ‹The Foundations of Human Experience› is a seed, quite fragmentary. It will not be possible to mould it into a definitive form. But that is what many try to do. Steiner started with the seed and continued to develop and mature, which led to certain forms. The question for his work is: how does this become a seed in me? Well – when it has arrived at the will! I understand the work as a direction in which I can go without knowing what will emerge. It would be a premature ageing of Anthroposophy if I were to go only to the content. Young people in particular reject this, they don’t want to become geriatric at an early age. The head generalises, and the will individualises. And the will is a seed. The first part of ‹Philosophy of Freedom› is about the observation of thinking. There is the sentence: «With will, anyone can do it.» That means you can’t stop short of it, you have to will it. By working on concepts or thoughts with the will, they become individualised. They remain general if they are only thought. That would be studying for me: I have to enter into thinking, which in itself always has something general. The will as such? What is that supposed to be? The will, too, must in turn be ‹illuminated› out of a pure source of strength via thought. So we have to do both: free the will from egoism and free thinking from generality; individualise thinking via the will and free the will from its self-reference via thinking. Capitalism is an attempt to bring egoism to its highest flowering in the will. Fraternity in economic life would contradict this – there, I give the will a certain direction.

How have you addressed this in your life?

My experience around the year 2000 in the teacher training seminar was that I lived in blossoms. You have a programme for the year, where at the beginning of the year you already know what you’ll do and when. All the organisational forms were already there. I was not involved in setting them up. My basic experience was: ‹eloquent ineffectiveness›. I felt suffocated. Then I went into a situation, here to Hugoldsdorf, where nothing was clear, but I could touch everything. Relationships and life shape themselves. My experience is that people know this saturation and I don’t know anyone who is happy with it. There is a longing for freedom, but also a fear of being free. And there is even being ashamed of freedom. Steiner reveals something to me, but I unconsciously have the impression that I cannot satisfy it. Here, Steiner says, the shame is unconcealed. The shame of being free protects me from taking a step that has not yet reached maturity. I encounter this all the time. We have to use the same strength as we do to maintain the apparent security in life. Courage is again required there.

Moral intuition is a seed, in moral imagination it begins to grow, and in moral technique, it is developed. Moral intuition is nothing big. It becomes big, but it begins as a seed. In internalising it, I arrive at the source – in the best case. The source is simply small and then it unfolds. Steiner refers to root questions, not blossom questions. The source wants to reach the estuary. In ‹The Foundations of Human Experience›, it becomes even more difficult. There he says: the will is a seed and must be kept as a seed. Because the moment it is formed, there is no longer any will. And then we have to start anew.

How do you interpret the relationship between idealism and Anthroposophy?

During a trip to Thuringia, the cradle of German idealism, words of Steiner’s came to my mind: «The German spirit has not reached completion.» By this, he meant German idealism. Around this time I came across a meditation for a mentally ill Russian. This Russian was a philosopher, an authority on Fichte, whom Steiner met in Paris in 1906. Marie Steiner facilitated and translated. The Russian began to talk about Fichte, but said that the world was bad and evil. «And since I have brought forth the world, I have armed myself and started to shoot at the world.» Steiner agreed with the Russian that the world had come into being from out of the I, but he had to remember how he had done it, how he had actually made the trees, the rivers, the sun, the people, the shoes, the clothes. But he couldn’t do that. Then Steiner got as far as the Russian’s mother, whom he had also created. And he had also made himself. Here, however, was a chance to remember how he made himself. But he had only gone halfway, just as all of German idealism had only gone halfway. He had to go the second half as well. Then he gave the Russian this meditation: In the morning, concentrate on your feet, thinking: «In you, I will.» Then at noon another quarter of an hour focusing on the solar plexus and «In you, I feel.» And in the evening focus on the head and «I am.» If he did this long enough, he would remember how he had created himself. That was in 1906 when physical threefolding did not yet exist, but the seed was there. That is the second half of the path: the study of the human being. Not the science of the human being, but the reality of the human being. The first half is nevertheless correct. The second half is the continuation, that which completes idealism or goes beyond it. There is a line by Schiller: «Ardent for the idea of humanity. Indifferent to my neighbours.» One-sided idealism leads to not finding the real world good, otherwise, we would not speak of ideas or ideals. In this respect, one danger of idealism is contempt for reality. The other side is very difficult. «Every idea that does not become an ideal» is weakening. There is a juxtaposition by Steiner between moral ideals and theoretical ideas and what a great difference there is between them: one is warm, flexible, and creates seeds of life, while the other is cold, rigid, kills, and so on. Then we must ask ourselves, do I have ideas or ideals? A properly experienced ideal is a seed of life. We quickly stoop under an idea. A methodical criterion for me is: nothing must bypass freedom. Steiner also provides certain ‹safeguards› for this when he says that we should take things as hypotheses so that they don’t take away our freedom.

So does Anthroposophy begin with ideals?

Steiner put it this way for teachers: Anthroposophy begins with conviction. With that, we have the what. This conviction becomes a frame of mind. That is the how. But that is not enough. The frame of mind becomes an attitude. And then it is completely there. But if I only have the conviction, I have more than amputated it. Then I have only one-third. But if I only follow instructions on how to act, I have amputated another two-thirds. Is it inherent in it that it wants this path? Anthroposophy begins with science but does not end there; it advances to art and ends in social life. This is an organic connection that Steiner also lived in his biography. The Anthroposophical Society defines itself as a cognitive community, which doesn’t work for me. Because then you leave the practice to the Waldorf teachers, the organic farmers, the practitioners. The path goes from what to how to who. Who is standing in front of me right now? I want to experience them. Not ‹Can you give me a lecture on freedom›, but: ‹Can you be free? Show me.›

Steiner once said: People look to answer problems in their thinking. But thinking only provides the starting point. Problems arise in real life and that is also where they want to be solved. He had not meant thoughts but reality, but we had to express ourselves in thoughts. From my contact with and understanding of Anthroposophy, my impression is that everything is becoming more and more a question of will. For that you require courage. I can change my convictions relatively quickly. But the courage to give up your middle-class existence is quite another matter. At some point, you are faced with this question. In thinking we can do it all, but does it have consequences?

So is it only Anthroposophy when it becomes realized in life?

Shortly after the Christmas Conference, Steiner remarked: «A great many people have already been inspired by Anthroposophy.» For me, the word ‹inspire› has a lot to do with life. He precisely did not say that many people have received an answer to their questions of life through Anthroposophy, but that life is inspired. We get spiritual resilience. Inspiration is more life-enhancing than a ready-made answer. There is the much-quoted first Leading Thought: «Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge to guide the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the cosmos». That is the what. But the second sentence says: «It arises in the human being as a need of the heart and feeling.» That is the how, the longing. But it goes further: human beings have certain questions that are as strong as the need for food and drink. So it goes from the what to the longing and then into the life processes. That again is the ‹all the way through›.

Is feeling a way of internalisation to bridge the separation that thinking can create? After all, it doesn’t say ‹it arises as a need of thought›.

You start first with breathing and not only in the spiritual or in the will. The soul as the centre of the human being is the closest thing. Nietzsche said: «I smell what I read, whether it enhances or obstructs life.» This, after all, goes beyond the pleasurable. With reference to the need for food and drink, he speaks of questions. «Certain questions arise.» Questions are, after all, seeds, not blossoms. And then: Anthroposophy is a path of cognition, not a content of cognition. What drives you? would be a nice question that is more in the nature of a seed.

What was the starting point of your longing, need, search?

In the beginning, two things definitely did: first, to find a ground within myself that is not open to doubt. Then freedom itself. How do I get there and out of the other things? But freedom still has so infinitely many aspects, right down to the physiological. After that, I did very many other things, but freedom remained a central question the whole time. In connection with the Christmas Conference, there is a description by Steiner afterwards where he says something to the effect of: If you regard this conference as something that is self-contained, then you haven’t understood anything. In my own words: this conference wants to live. It was a seed that wants to become effective. A conference is not a conclusion but a starting point. Anthroposophy wants to live, among people. There is a question and then we begin to talk, which necessarily introduces friction. And at some point it comes to life, you get to know each other. That takes time and is a life process for me. My starting point was the ‹Philosophy of Freedom›. At some point, the need arose for something else as well. For example: How does freedom live in social life, or can I only do it alone? Eventually, I ended up asking how high a door has to be for a free person to walk through. I didn’t think that up, it’s just how it happened. That’s why I’m left with the aftertaste that a method is too mechanical. It doesn’t have much to do with a life process. The first Mystery Drama begins after a lecture, about which you don’t hear anything at all, but it starts after the lecture. That is how I imagine it: Anthroposophy wants to enter into life – and not just on Sundays. I did this myself for decades, this ‹Anthroposophy through events›. At some point, I could no longer do it. I often feel the need for engagement with Anthroposophy to become a normal part of everyday life. I begin to live in Anthroposophy and it lives in me. That is quite normal, nothing exaggerated.

About the Pictures

Miriam Wahl studied painting in Alfter (2012-16) and Marburg (2018-21). In between, independent study at the Forschungsstelle Kulturimpuls and the Malerwerkstatt at the Goetheanum (2017/18). Artistic work, teaching and seminar activities in various contexts, interdisciplinary artistic collaboration in the colloquium ‹Bühne heute›.

The watercolours of the Window Paintings series were created from March to July 2021 at her table by the window in Marburg. They are part of an artist’s book that revolves around the window as a place of threshold in image and word. The analogy of image and window is about a kind of looking that is neither a looking out into the world in longing nor a mirroring of oneself in one’s own interior space, but that lingers and dwells at the place of transition, creating consciousness at this threshold between inside and outside. This place can be experienced through active participation in the movement of the surface colours.

Translation Christian von Arnim

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