Extract from a lecture given by Dr Steiner in London on August 28 1924 from “THE HEALING PROCESS”
On the Qualities of the energetic bodies –
The soul’s first new perception is that the human being includes not only a physical body, which can be examined either with the naked eye or with a microscope or other instruments, but also an ether body.
Please do not take exception to the term ether body. The choice of terminology is somewhat arbitrary, but we do need to have a name for this entity. In the human being, we perceive an ether body in addition to the ordinary physical body whose structure can be studied by contemporary anatomy and physiology. The ether body is not identical to the “life force” amateurishly imagined during earlier stages in the development of science. It is truly perceptible, truly visible. I will select one of the numerous qualitative differences between the ether body and the physical body as an example: the human physical body is subject to gravity and tends to move toward the Earth, while the human ether body tends to move outward in all directions toward the periphery of the cosmos. Because modern researchers like to measure weight, they focus on weighty entities. The weighty aspect of the human organism, however, is counteracted by an entity that not only is not heavy but also actively counters the Earth’s ordinary force of gravity and attempts to escape from the Earth. We incorporate not only forces of weight but also forces of levity, forces that move away from the Earth.
The ether body is the first supra sensible body. I could list many more of its etheric characteristics, but I will restrict myself to the one }already mentioned. Each human being comprises not only the first human body, the physical human being, which is centripetally oriented toward the Earth and tends to move toward the Earth, but also a second human body that is centrifugal in its orientation and tends to move away from the Earth. Our life as we know it depends on maintaining the balance between these two aspects of our human constitution, between the heavy physical body that is subject to gravity and the second, etheric body that attempts to move out into the cosmos in all directions.
Think about this configuration of physical and etheric forces. As we have seen, the ether body strives to move outward in all directions. In effect, it always wants to be as big as the entire universe. The physical body, on the other hand, is subject to gravity and heaviness and seeks to move toward the Earth’s center. It restrains the ether body, which imitates the cosmos, so that it conforms to limits imposed by the physical body By considering the balance between the physical body and the ether body, we achieve a truly realistic and penetrating view of the human being.
Now let’s move on. Once we can visualize the centrifugal, etheric forces that attempt to move away from the Earth, we also begin to find them in plants. Minerals alone are exclusively physical, with no trace of centrifugal forces. Minerals are completely subject to gravity, while the physically perceptible forms of plants result from both types of forces.
It becomes apparent, however, that more than two types are required to account for organisms higher on the evolutionary ladder than plants. Each plant has its ether body, but each animal has perceptions. The animal creates its own inner world, alerting us to the need to expand our investigations.
We can indeed develop our consciousness to an even greater extent than is required in order to see the human physical body not only in isolation but also embedded in the ether body as if in a cloud The ether body, however, is not all there is to the human being. Just as we can strengthen our arm muscles through regular exertion, we can also strengthen our soul so that its thoughts encompass ever more reality Having done so, we can move on to an exercise that is more difficult, namely, suppressing the thoughts we made an effort to strengthen.
As you can easily confirm through experimentation, if we gradually eliminate vision, hearing, our other senses, and our thinking from our ordinary consciousness, we fall asleep. But if we first strengthen the soul through thought exercises that train our entire conceptual and emotional activity, we can then suppress this activity When we do so, we enter a state in which we are not asleep but very much awake. In fact, when we cultivate this state, we must be careful not to lose the ability to fall asleep. Proceeding as I describe in my books, however, ensures that we take all the necessary precautions to prevent such disturbances. We manage to be very much awake but without seeing, hearing, or having other sensory perceptions. We also succeed in eliminating ordinary memory, and we confront the world with our consciousness empty but fully awake.
When we have done so, we perceive a third body in the human being. I call this body the astral body, and once again I ask you not to take exception to the terminology Animals also have such a body. This body enables human beings to transcend the level of the etheric body and its centrifugal forces and to develop a real inner life of perception and sensation. This third member of the human constitution is related neither to the depths of the Earth nor the breadth of the cosmos; it is imbued with still different forces. I will tell you about the fourth member later, but first I want to tell you about the third member.
Learning about the third member in the way I have outlined is tremendously illuminating from the scientific standpoint. It is as if the scales suddenly fall from our eyes. Before this moment, any unbiased thinking would have led us to the conclusion that we encounter a sheer impossibility when we observe human growth. We can see how children, whose vital forces are active, grow and grow. But in addition to growing, they also develop consciousness, an internal reflection of the outer world. Can consciousness be derived from growth? Can it come from the forces underlying the processes of nutrition and growth?
In reality, our consciousness is dulled when the organic forces underlying nutrition and growth gain the upper hand in us. That is, our consciousness is dulled immediately when hypertrophy of the growth forces occurs and the forces of nutrition predominate. We need something that counteracts these forces rather than coinciding with them.
We continue to grow and take in nourishment, but the astral body I described constantly suppresses and breaks down our processes of growth and nutrition. In the human being, therefore, we see Earth related and cosmic generative and regenerative effects in the physical
body and ether body, respectively, and ongoing degeneration in the astral body. The astral body constantly deconstructs organic processes, breaking down the activity of our cells, glands, and so on.
This is the secret that explains why the human being has a soul. If we continued to grow like plants, we would have no soul. Growth processes must be broken down because they repel the soul. If growth or regeneration occurred unceasingly in our brains, we would each be incapable of receiving a soul. Evolution never takes place in a straight line but must always regress to make room for a new element. Degeneration is necessary. This is the secret of the human constitution and of every ensouled being.
I would like to present the spiritual physiology and spiritual biology of the human being today and then proceed tomorrow to describe individual diseases and the processes that cure them. As long as we remain on the animal level of organization, we are dealing with the three bodies I already mentioned (physical, etheric, and astral) . If we apply the same degree of soul training to perceiving a human being, however, spiritual perception reveals an additional level of organization.
Spiritual insight into the animal kingdom shows us that thinking, feeling, and willing in animals are not clearly separated. They neutralize each other, so to speak. True insight reveals that animals do not possess separate faculties of thinking, feeling, and willing but only a neutral mixture of these three elements. Human psychology however, is based on the ability to formulate intentions in the quiet of thoughts and then to act or refrain from acting on these intentions. When an animal has an impulse, it acts on it immediately. In contrast, human beings separate their thinking, feeling, and willing. We clearly understand this phenomenon only when we expand our inner soul vision to perceive the fourth member of the human constitution, the I-being. In the human being, therefore, we distinguish a physical body, an etheric body, an astral body (which we have in common with animals), and finally the I itself.
We have just become aware that the astral body breaks down growth processes and retards the forces of nourishment, thus incorporating a slow dying into the human organism. The I-being rescues certain elements from this breakdown and begins rebuilding, using degenerating
substances that have fallen out of the ether body and physical body. This is the secret of the human constitution.
When we observe a human brain, we see that the lighter colored parts lying deeper below the surface are made up of nerve strands corning from the sense organs. To understand this admittedly very complicated structure clearly, we must realize that it is breaking down, although the degenerative process may be too slow to trace by any crude physiological means. In human beings-and this is one aspect distinguishing us from animals-this degenerating structure serves to build up the peripheral brain, which underlies our overall human organization. The central brain, which includes the continuation of the sensory nerves and their connections, is actually the most highly perfected part of the human body, while the outer layer of the brain, which underlies our ordinary human organization, is more closely related to metabolism The I-being rescues this uniquely human peripheral, or frontal, brain from the degeneration it would otherwise undergo. We encounter parallel phenomena throughout the human body. The I rescues certain elements from the decline caused by the astral body and uses them to build the foundations of harmonious coordination
of thinking, feeling, and willing in the human being.
Of course, I can mention these subjects only briefly, but I do want to point out that our spiritual research can indeed proceed as exactly as any science that investigates physical phenomena. Our sense of responsibility constantly forces us to ask whether our spiritual perceptions coincide with the results of physical, empirical research. If they do not, they are assumed to be invalid, at lease in principle. The very structure of the brain points to a fact that is confirmed by spiritual perception, namely, that three of the members of the human constitution-the physical body, ether body, and astral body-are underlain by the I-being, which reconstructs and re enlivens a parasite of sorts out of products of degeneration. Thus the human organism has four members, and these members must be present in very specific proportions in the healthy human body.
Let me use a scientific analogy to illustrate this statement. Water is produced only when we combine hydrogen and oxygen in specific proportions by weight. When the proportions are different, water is not created Water comes about only when the proportion of oxygen to hydrogen is correct. In the parallel phenomenon in the human being, the proportions among physical body, etheric body, astral body, and I are normal. There are not only four proportions that come into question, but four times four, and any one of them can become disturbed The ether body may predominate, for example. Although living matter is distinguished from dead by the presence of a certain balance between the physical and etheric bodies, this balance is unstable. Water simply does not come about if the proportion of oxygen to hydrogen is incorrect, but in the human body an abnormal proportion can develop between the ether body and the physical body, the astral body and the ether body, or the I and any one of the other members. All four members are interconnected in specific proportions. When these proportions are disturbed the organism is diseased.
Although we can determine the correct proportions, they are not the same throughout the entire body but are different in each human organ. Let’s consider the human lungs. In the lungs, the proportions that exist among the physical body, ether body, astral body, and I-being are different than they are in the brain or the liver. The fact that the spiritual and material elements are present in each human organ in different proportions is what makes our human organization so complicated I will go into specifics tomorrow, but I would like to remain on a more general level today. Generally speaking, too much centrality may be present in an organ such as the liver or kidneys. Specific relationships among the physical kidney, the ether body, the astral body, and the I support health in the human organism. It is possible, however, for the astral organization to predominate in the kidneys, or it may be too weak. Both conditions signify disease in the kidneys.
Excessive weakness or strength of the astral organization, however, is defined differently from organ to organ. Once we have achieved a general level of spiritual perception through practice, we must study the human organism. We must observe and recognize sickness and health in each organ just as precisely as physically oriented anatomists and physiologists study the human body’s physical characteristics. Through this study we gradually achieve complete knowledge of the human organism. We cannot understand the human body simply by being familiar with its physical structure; we must take all four of its members into account. And we clearly understand the nature of an illness only when we can state that one of the four members either predominates or is underactive in a particular location. By learning to perceive such phenomena by means of spiritual vision, we arrive at a spiritual diagnosis in addition to the material diagnosis. It is out of the question for the emerging held of anthroposophical medicine to ignore any of the remedies or methods of conventional medicine. On the contrary, this new field supplements conventional medicine with an appraisal of the healthy or sick individual based on insight into the four members of the human constitution.
Spiritual vision can be applied not only to the human being but to the entire natural world, adding a spiritual understanding of nature to our ordinary physical level of understanding. Spiritual insight enables us to discover the connections between the human being and nature and-with regard to medicine-between the human being and remedies derived from nature.