Rudolf Steiner – The 6 Fundamental Exercises

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Steiner’s quotes are taken from “Indications for an Esoteric School” (Editrice Antroposofica), from page 15 to page 20. More generally, the reference text is “I 6 Esercizi” (Editrice Antroposofica).

The 6 Fundamental Exercises

The basic conditions for inner growth will be described here. Even with the help of certain measures taken in exterior and interior life, no one can think of progress unless he fulfills these conditions. All exercises of meditation, concentration or other exercises will be worthless and even somewhat harmful if life does not keep to the meaning of these prescriptions. One cannot give faculties to a human being: one can only develop those which already exist in him and which do not develop spontaneously because of the external and internal obstacles which he encounters. The external obstacles are overcome by following the rules of life that follow, but the internal obstacles are overcome through the particular indications given on meditation, concentration, etc.

Exercise 1

[1/a] The first condition is to conquer a perfectly clear thought. For this purpose one must free oneself – at least for a short moment of the day, even for five minutes (but the longer the better) – of thoughts that move like fatuous fires. One must become master of the world of one’s own thoughts. One is not mastered until an external conditioning (profession, any tradition, social conditions, the very fact of belonging to a certain people, the moment of the day, certain gestures that we make) dictates a certain thought and the way it is carried out. During that brief moment which has been said, with a completely free will, we must empty our souls of the habitual and daily course of thoughts and – on our own initiative – place a thought at the centre of our soul. It is not necessary to believe that it should be an exceptional thought or one of particular interest. The inner result that we aim to achieve is best achieved if, at the beginning, we strive to choose a thought that is also uninteresting and as insignificant as possible. The strength of the activity proper to thinking – which is what matters – is most stimulated by this, while a thought that is interesting drags the thinking along by itself. It is preferable to perform this thought control exercise by focusing on a pin rather than Napoleon. One says to oneself: “I am now starting from this thought and on my own initiative I associate everything with it that can be connected objectively”. At the end of the exercise that thought must remain in the soul as alive and colourful as at the beginning. This exercise must be performed every day, at least for a month. One can choose a new thought each day, but also keep the same thought for several days.

[1/b] At the end of such an exercise we must try to become fully aware of the inner feeling of firmness and security that the subtle attention brought to our soul will soon reveal to us.

[1/c] Then you end the exercise by imagining your head and the midline of your back, as if you wanted to pour this feeling into these parts of your body.

Exercise 2

[2/a] After having practiced like this for about a month or so, you should make an additional purpose. Let us try to imagine any action, which according to the usual course of one’s occupations one would certainly never have proposed to perform. Let this action be a daily duty in itself. As an action to be performed, one should choose an action that can be performed each day for as long as possible. Here, too, it is better to begin with an insignificant action, which one must, so to speak, strive to accomplish: for example, one may propose to go water a plant one has purchased at a particular time of day. After a certain period of time, a second action must be added to this first one, then a third, etc., provided that the fulfilment of all the other duties offers the possibility. This exercise must also be performed for one month. During this second month, however, it is necessary to persevere as much as possible in the execution of the first exercise, while not making it an almost exclusive duty as in the first month. One must not lose sight of it: otherwise one would soon realize that the fruits of the first month have been lost and that the usual wandering of uncontrolled thoughts has begun again. Therefore, once these fruits have been acquired, one must take care not to lose them.

[2/b] After having experienced such an action chosen on one’s own initiative and carried out as a second exercise, become aware, through subtle attention, of the feeling of inner impulse towards action, aroused in the soul.

[2/c] and you pour it, so to speak, into your body so that it descends or flows from your head to your heart.

Exercise 3

[3/a] The new exercise that must be placed at the centre of life during the third month is education to a certain equanimity in the face of the oscillations between pleasure and pain, joy and suffering; the contrast “exultant with joy and sad until death” must make way, through conscious effort, for an equanimity of the soul. Let us be careful that no joy makes us lose our heads, that no suffering crushes us, that no experience we have lived drags us towards excitement or immense anger, that no waiting fills us with fear and anguish, that no situation makes us lose our equilibrium, etc.

[3/b] We are not afraid, with this exercise, to make the soul dry up or impoverish; on the contrary, we will notice that thanks to this exercise, instead of what we usually feel, pure qualities arise; above all, through subtle attention, we will be able to discover in ourselves, in our own bodies, a condition of inner calm;

[3/c] this calmness is poured into the body – as in the two previous cases – by making it radiate from the heart to the hands, feet and finally the head. It is clear that, with regard to the latter case, this cannot be done after each exercise, because it is not, after all, an isolated exercise, but rather a constant attention directed towards the inner life. But it is necessary, at least once a day, to evoke this inner calm before the soul and to practice pouring out this feeling from the heart into the hands, then the feet, and finally the head. You will continue to perform the first and second exercises during the third month, just as you continued the first exercise during the second month.

Exercise 4

[4/a] In the fourth month, the “positivity” exercise should be followed as a new exercise. It consists in constantly searching in all beings, in all things, in all experiences, for what is good, beautiful, and excellent contained therein. What best defines this quality of the soul is a Persian legend about Christ Jesus. He was walking along a road with his disciples, when they saw on the side of the road, the corpse of a dog in an already advanced state of decomposition. Faced with this gruesome spectacle, the disciples looked the other way; only the Christ stopped, looked at the dog with a pensive air and said, “What beautiful teeth this animal had! Where the others had seen only a repugnant and unpleasant reality, he saw the beautiful. Thus the disciple of esotericism must strive to seek in every phenomenon and in every being what is positive. He will soon notice that under the blanket of repugnance lies a certain beauty; that under the guise of a criminal lies something good; under the guise of a madman lies somehow a divine soul. This exercise comes close to what is called “refraining from criticism. This should not be interpreted as calling black black the white and white the black. But there is a difference between a judgment that arises only from a personal reaction or personal impression of sympathy or dislike and an entirely different attitude according to which one plunges oneself with love into the phenomenon or being before us, asking oneself each time: “How did he come to be what he is, to do what he has done? This attitude pushes us, quite spontaneously, to strive to help what is imperfect, rather than just blaming or criticizing it. The objection that, in many circumstances of human life, it is necessary to blame and judge is worthless, because in any case these conditions of life are such as to prevent us from following a true occult discipline. There are, in fact, many living conditions that do not allow this discipline to be followed correctly. In this case, one should not, in spite of everything, want to achieve with impatience those advances that can only be made under certain conditions.

[4/b] Anyone who has turned his attention for a whole month to the positive side of all that he encounters will gradually notice that in his interiority a feeling emerges which gives him the impression that his skin is permeable in all directions and that his soul opens up vastly to all those secret and subtle facts which take place around him and which were previously completely escaping his attention. It is precisely a matter of fighting against the lack of attention that exists in everyone in the face of these subtle facts.

[4/c] Once it has been observed that this feeling manifests itself in the soul in the form of happiness, let us try to direct this feeling, as if it were a thought, towards the heart, let it flow from there towards the eyes and from the eyes outwards, into the space in front of and around you. One will notice that one thus acquires an intimate relationship with space. One goes beyond oneself, one dilates oneself, so to speak. You learn to consider a part of your environment as something that is also part of yourself. This exercise requires a good dose of concentration and above all the recognition of a fact: every passionate movement of the soul, every emotional storm, destroys this attitude of the soul from top to bottom. Repeat the exercises already practiced as indicated for the previous months.

Exercise 5

5/a] In the fifth month, try to cultivate in yourself the feeling of “unscrupulous openness” in facing each new experience. Generally the reaction is as follows: “Here is something that I have not yet understood, that I have never seen: I don’t believe it, it is an illusion. The disciple of esotericism must definitely desist from this attitude. He must be ready at all times to accept a new experience. There. that he has previously recognized as normative or that presented itself as possible must not be an obstacle that prevents him from accepting a new truth. If he is told (although this example is a bit forced, it is valid): “Listen, since last night the bell tower of St. XXX has tilted”, the disciple of esotericism must leave the door open to the possibility of believing that the knowledge of the natural laws he has acquired so far can, despite everything, be enriched by a fact of this kind, apparently unheard of.

[5/b] Whoever during the fifth month turns his attention to such a way of being noticed. that a feeling emerges in his soul that gives him the impression that in space – the space of which we have spoken for the exercise of the fourth month – something becomes living, that something in this space is moving. This feeling is extraordinarily subtle and delicate.

[5/c] It is necessary to try to grasp carefully this subtle vibration in the surrounding space and make it, so to speak, penetrate the flow through the five senses, especially through the eyes, ears and skin, to the extent that it possesses a sense of warmth. To this step of the esoteric path, less attention is applied to the impressions aroused by the phenomena on the lower senses, i.e. taste, smell and touch. It is not yet possible, at this step, to discern the positive influences that are encountered in this area from the many negative influences that are mixed in. It is better to postpone this work to a more advanced step.

Exercise 6

[6] In the sixth month, try to do and redo the five exercises in a systematic way, according to a rhythm, a regular alternation. The result will be that little by little a good balance is formed in the soul. It will be noticed above all that the discontent that was felt perhaps in the face of certain facts or certain beings disappears altogether. In us an inner disposition reigns that reconciles all experiences, that harmonizes all events; this disposition has absolutely nothing in common with indifference, on the contrary, it allows us to work in the world to improve and evolve it. In the soul there is a calm understanding of things that were previously completely impenetrable to it. Even man’s gait and gestures are transformed under the influence of these exercises; and if one day one notices that even writing has taken on another style, then one can say that one is . on the point of reaching the first step of the path upwards.

We insist once again on two essential points:

First, that the six exercises just described have the power to paralyze harmful influences that other occult exercises might have, so that not only the favorable elements are preserved;

secondly, that they alone can actually ensure a positive result to the work of meditation and concentration. For the disciple of esotericism, however conscientious he may be, observance of the common morality is not enough, because this morality can be very selfish in the one who says to himself: “I want to be good so that people may think of me as good. The disciple of esotericism does not do good because he wants people to think well of him, but because little by little he recognizes that only good makes evolution proceed, while evil, bad action or disorderly action put obstacles in the way of this evolution.


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