Reflections On Community Building Part 1

Reflections On Community Building
 (Illustrated Part 1 of 2)
Reflections On Community Building (Illustrated Part 2 of 2)
by Marjorie Spock

Blood Stained Planet
Almost from the start, the earth has been a heart-sore, guilt-ridden, blood-stained planet. And though time and evolution have wrought great changes for the better in most aspects of man's living on the earth, his inhumanity to man has not abated, but continues on, adding ever new forms of suffering to the old. The human ingenuity that places space-ships on the moon and makes it possible to sail for weeks beneath the ice of polar oceans appears unequal to the feat of getting inside our fellows' feelings sufficiently to learn how to do by others as we would be done by.

The forms our inhumanity has taken have been myriad: brothers lifting savage hands against their brothers, child against father, neighbor against neighbor, rulers against their hapless subjects. Regions warring against adjacent regions; religions persecuting religionists of other stripes; ideology battling ideology. All over the globe the values most precious to individual life and communal striving have ever and again been subjected to destruction by those who had another set of values. Even those who banded together to advance a common cause have, in almost every instance, found themselves riven by differences of approach, so that instead of cooperating they have all too often blocked the efforts of their fellows. Nor does there seem to be any prospect of an end to these sunderings which keep on tearing down what men so laboriously build up and render life on earth so much more pitiful and futile than it need be.


Men of heart who have come to the point where they could no longer bear the carnage in which hope was wasted and lofty striving poured out on the sand have again and again tried to change the trend by conceiving and in some cases setting up utopias. These were invariably based on reason and took their appeal to reasonableness in others' minds. 

Nevertheless, not a single one of them has worked, or ever could work. For the light of mere reason cannot penetrate to the deeply buried root of the social problem.

Social Artistry Within The Philosophy Of Freedom

There is only one sure hope, and it has not been tried: to base both our understanding and our practice on esoterics. For esoterics alone makes it possible to see man whole, to discover him in his heavenly as well as in his earthly aspect, and, in the light of that total picture, to recognize what makes him worthy of esteem and love.

Anthroposophy provides that esoteric light. But if it is to be made truly fruitful for the earth, those who receive its beneficence will need to address themselves to the fundamental task of discerning and honoring and helping to bring forth the fruits of the eternal spirits of their fellowmen.

Few who read his Philosophy of Freedom for the first time would think of calling it a book on social artistry. Yet this early work which so signally accomplishes the redemption of the thinking process also celebrates in its picturing of free-man-the-thinker, the man who, because he lives in the spirit with his thinking, loves. And (in Chapter VIII) we find Rudolf Steiner most significantly likening moral phantasy to tact, the practice of the highest art of social feeling. Furthermore, he indicates what will bring an end to warring when he shows (in Chapter IX) how harmonious free men's intuitions are, being taken from one and the same world of ideas. He concludes: "Misunderstanding and conflict simply cannot develop between morally free human beings." It is reasonable also to apply the words with which he ends Chapter IX to esoteric societies as well as to society at large: "Social orders exist for no other purpose than to foster the development of individuals."

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Darkened State
If the human race had never left the spiritual world to take up its evolution in the realm of matter, there could have been no such thing as a social problem. Human souls would have remained light-beings in a world of light where each would have been seen and known and loved for its shining qualities.

But in order that sight and knowledge and love be developed in freedom, men had to be separated from the light-world of their origin and plunged into the darkness of the earth. As a result of that separation, the light within them was "hidden under the bushel" of their bodies. Thus, from the time of man's fabled Fall, walls of matter have shut him away from the gods and from his fellow human beings, cast their shadows deep into his soul, and divided him from his own spirit. The words of the reversed, macrocosmic Lord's Prayer [1] describe the dilemma searingly:

Evil holds sway,
Attendant on the ego's sundering.
The guilt of selfhood not self-incurred,
Tasted in the eating of our daily bread
In that heaven's will no longer prevaileth,
In that man departed from your kingdom
And your names are forgotten,
Ye Fathers in heaven."

At first, the earth seemed alien to these outcasts, their flesh a prison-house they longed to flee. But with time they began to take the earth and fleshly bodies quite for granted. They forgot where they came from and that they had been exiled from the light in order that they re-discover it of their own seeking. More and more they accepted darkness as the normal state. And in their darkened soul-condition it became possible to dislike -- yes, even to hate and despise and to try to destroy -- their fellowmen because of their dark, body-begotten limitations.

Herein lies the true root of the social problem. Man sundered from God is by the same token also sundered from his fellow human being's spirits.

* * * *

Light Being
If, in our conceiving and our seeing, we could discern the light-man through the man of darkness, we would overcome that problem. Most of us are simply not aware that it is the body and the body-shadowed soul rather than the spirit that so irritate us as to prompt rejection and spur us to destroy a fellow being. Therefore, the first task of enlightened social effort must be to recognize and learn to see through the obscuration created by the fact that we are all darkened prisoners of the flesh.

Insight that develops from Rudolf Steiner's comment on the stumbling blocks presented by the body can indeed move us to look compassionately on our fellow strivers, to seek to penetrate to what they are in spirit, to help rather than continue hindering their evolution. Even to know that we would love them if we saw them truly helps us to progress in the direction where we find them unobscured. Social attitudes then become not a vague do-goodism, a generalized Luciferic love of all mankind, but a willingness to work at the hard but rewarding task of seeing through the outer shell of seeming which surrounds those with whom our destiny unites us and to search out the eternal spirit hidden there.

What is the difference between the exoteric and the esoteric way through life if not that the latter awakens the capacity to look behind the veil of seeming with which the former rests content? -- that esoterics everywhere seeks the spiritual reality behind the physical?

* * * *

Genuinely Social Attitudes
There is every indication in Rudolf Steiner's plays and lectures that he expected genuinely social attitudes to flower among the Anthroposophical membership as a result of esoteric striving. When one puzzles why this has not yet generally been the case, it becomes clear that though our minds may take in Anthroposophy as concept, earth-habituation is so deep-ingrained in all but our private meditative moments that we do not see esoterics as an all-permeating way of life, which, if pursued, radically changes social intercourse. Until that time, we remain even as Anthroposophists earth-corrupted natures, with the tendency to follow earth's darkened way in our human dealing.

An example of earth-habituation that stands in the way of esoteric practice is disregard of the fact that attendance at Anthroposophical gatherings is the modern form of attendance at the mysteries. Meetings should therefore be conceived as esoteric functions whose purpose it is to enable the participants to cross the threshold and have a common experience of the spiritual world.

To achieve this goal in the midst of earth-life is of course not easy. It requires a complete and deliberate about-face of the soul from attitudes such as obtain in exoteric living, a turning outside-in, a blotting out of mundane perceptions and concerns in order to ready the inner scene for purely inner soul activity.

Yet on the occasions of such meetings our centers ordinarily lack awareness of the threshold. Before the meeting begins they are indoor street-scenes. This was true even when Rudolf Steiner was the lecturer! People bustle about greeting one another, finding the location of their choice, chatting, catching up on news, seizing the opportunity to iron out some piece of business with members whom they happen to encounter. When the occasion's master of ceremonies mounts the podium, he often has a hard time getting attention to begin the meeting, so wholly has the outside world been carried in, so scattered is the mood. There then ensues a hurried shift of emphasis, so belated, so incomplete, that the first part of the occasion continues to feel the impact of only slowing subsiding waves of exoteric stir.

How different are these social scenes from those in which the meditating soul, alone with itself, worthily prepares to enter spiritual realms! The contrast here is very striking. In his meditative periods, the striver is fully aware of the esoteric nature of his effort and determined to shape himself to its requirements. But in group meetings that understanding and determination are not usually there. Comparing the two, it becomes clear why -- though individuals progress, deepen themselves, and make significant contributions to their time -- the Society as a group fails to keep pace, remaining for the most part riddled with dissension, undifferentiated from more worldly types of groups, and far less fruitful than it might be. It has simply not developed the esoteric character conceived as its reason for existing, nor has it moved in the direction of becoming the model for a modern mystery school.

These facts may weigh more heavily than is generally realized. Though a truly esoteric society based on Anthroposophy could be expected to serve as a potent spiritualizing leaven in the affairs of the Twentieth Century, so long as its life fails to attain that elevation and assume that character, Anthroposophy cannot have due influence upon the time.

* * * *

Light Of Understanding
Rudolf Steiner tells us that the mission of the earth is love.

Anthroposophy directly serves that goal. It does so not by commanding individuals who embrace it to change overnight from darkness-ridden, hating attitudes to love, but by the most painstaking search of reality whereby, little by little, reality's true aspect is uncovered. Anthroposophy's immeasurable contribution is that it shows reality in a light that reveals specifically how the spirit works. And to see it in that illumination is to love it.

Not only is this true in the lesser kingdoms when they are beheld with understanding. It obtains even in the case of the fallen angels, Lucifer and Ahriman, whom Rudolf Steiner has taught us to regard as benefactors richly meriting our gratitude for their sacrifice, dependent for redemption on our efforts. And if we make the light of understanding real, is there not every reason to expect that in its illumination we shall see our fellowmen bravely struggling up out of the darkness with which earth-evolution has obscured their spirits, -- that we shall love their striving and their light-core, and want to support their courageous efforts?

* * * *

Path Of Love
The path of love on which men travel back to the spiritual world carries a twofold obligation with it: to pierce through the bushel to the light in others, and to manifest it in oneself. Christ expressed the latter, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works..." For one who pursues the path of light does deeds of light, illumining the way to it for all; he becomes a shining presence in men's midst, whom they love freely. And through the power of light thus strengthened in himself, he is able to perceive the light in others and to love them.

Two thousand years ago, Christ permeated the dark matter of the body with His spirit's light. Since then, Christ-illumined souls may do the same, and in their efforts become benefactors of the human race.

* * * *

Imprisonment Within A Body
Before one can love one's fellowmen in the sense described by Rudolf Steiner in his Philosophy of Freedom and in the Foundation Stone address, one must have developed some understanding of what freedom is.

Imprisonment in a body plays a vital role in that achievement. For it is paradoxical but true that to become free one must first become a prisoner. Such freedom as one enjoys before becoming aware of one's imprisonment is egoless, irresponsible: a child's freedom rather than an adult's. And while it remains a boundless shapeless feeling, it is not yet the work of art which the gods intend that man should make it. Freedom, to be the soul's creation, must issue shaped from a core of selfhood and re-issue from it in fresh metamorphosis at each new challenge to moral artistry.

The cause of freedom therefore requires men's enclosure in a bodily housing which sets souls apart from one another to develop an ego-sense in isolation.


* * * *

When one is cut off from the world about, one exists at first in a vacuum, a painful emptiness that cries out to be filled. All the rich interest which environment held must be replaced with a new content. This can be drawn only from within. So the interior world becomes all-important.

Such has been the course of human evolution. Fellowship with the gods and with other men and nature waned in proportion to man's ever further immersion in dense matter, and as it did so, self-awareness strengthened and a new inner world of self-concern, of absorbed self-interest, sprang up within it.

We see this evolutionary process repeated with each newborn child. The baby, freshly emerging out of universal spirit into an individual, separate body, at once reflects self-interest in his bodily needs -- though, for some time to come, his soul still overflows with the loving, giving abundance of its cosmic origin. This native generosity can at times so overmaster self-concern as to prompt him, for example, to take the very food from his mouth and present it to others -- though, he may also ask it back again. Gradually, however, self-interest hardens as the incarnating soul falls ever more strongly under the body's influence; the separate selfhood that is being realized through the body fosters egotism. Only after traveling the long road to maturity can the soul again give freely, this time out of the sense of abundance that comes of conscious union with the spirit.

Ego Battles
That maturing may, however, take many incarnations. And until it is accomplished, man's life on earth suffers two major ill-effects of incarnation: First, a staggering proportion of every adult's time, thought, and effort is devoted to caring for the body's needs, as though that were the sole purpose of existence. Second, it lies in the nature of bodily egotism that selves maintain themselves in physical being in fierce competition with other selves who have also exchanged their child-awareness of abundance for an earth-conditioned sense of scarcity. Ego battles nakedly with ego to get and hold its own, which is always conceived materially (though when it comes to those spiritual possessions, thoughts, are not all men typically eager to share what they produce with others?)

Social Impulse
Countering the conflict rampant on the earth, however, is another force: the social impulse.

We flatter ourselves that all such impulses are wholly generous. But the truth is that they too spring from the emptiness and selfishness of young egohood. In all but highly evolved Christ-like souls, the social impulse has its origin in the need to fill hollow spaces deep within us, to relieve the oppressive isolation of the self. The more empty and alone the soul feels, the more frantically it reaches out for fellowship in its search for completion from outside itself. Every ego has been in a position to observe this drive in itself and others. It is the victim of a basic hunger which impels it to "seek whom it may devour."

Unpleasant though it is to face these facts which waken us so rudely from the idealistic dream of ourselves which we fondly nurture, very little progress can be made toward the earth's goal: love and understanding -- unless we see the stumbling blocks that strew our path and start to remove them. And from start to finish that effort is work of an esoteric nature.

Commune With Spiritual World
An individual can perhaps test how far he has advanced along the path that changes him from a taker to a giver by feeling out how long he might conceivably remain content alone with his own thoughts and without material tasks to occupy and distract him. If he can commune with the spiritual world in thought, he is a man who knows how to provide himself with content through giving attention to what is beyond him and infinitely greater than himself. His thoughts are then a form of worship of the spirit.

Such a one proves himself a safe companion for his fellowmen. He is no longer an unwitting vampire preying upon others for soul sustenance.

Until that point is reached, however, social hunger can take many forms. All forms typically wear the guise of selfless love to hide the self-seeking motives underneath them. And superficial souls are completely taken in.

As Christian Morgenstern put it:

"The lamb-vulture is a bird far-famed;
The vulture-lamb is here first named.
It doesn't say 'baa,' it doesn't say 'boo.'
It just gobbles you up while embracing you.
Then it turns pious eyes unto the Lord,
And is by all revered, adored."

The politician is the most obvious example of the vulture-lamb. But almost everybody sees through his protestations of sacrificial love to the self-seeking that possesses him. The self-seeking in his private life is, however, apt to go unrecognized, so accustomed are we to take the devotion of the parent, friend, lover or spouse, the professional man, the joiner of fraternal groups, at his face value, -- to think he loves and serves because he says he does, and assumes the posture. We should pay more attention to the phrase which besotted parents and the lover use: "You're so sweet I could simply eat you up!"-- Psychologists would find few clients had this not actually happened in so many instances.

Vulture-Lamb Relationships
One might ask why the child or the beloved or other victims of devouring impulses submit to being swallowed up; why, indeed, they seem to like it and even to feel grateful. The answer can only be that they were lonely or felt the threat of impending loneliness, as isolated egos do before maturing. Social hunger prompts them to welcome any kind of joining up with other mortals, whether it be as swallower or swallowed.

There is thus a tacit bargain, usually entered into all unconsciously, between partners in vulture-lamb relationships, an "I'll-scratch-your-back-where-it-needs-it-if-you-scratch-mine" agreement which, though it may never be mentioned, is nonetheless generally adhered to in practice. Many groups have this sort of understanding with their members. It is an agreement founded on the principle that makes tribal belonging and insurance companies work out so successfully: "Our social (or financial) protection for your loyalty (or premium)." Indeed, some churches even trade the protection of the fold and the promise of eternal bliss for the communicant's surrender of free conscience. They have, in short, swallowed him and he has found it expedient to consent.

Such bargains have a negative basis of relationship. This is clearly evidenced in their underlying "we two (or we ten, or we ten million) against the world" hostility of attitude, which causes them to cling together to compete with or resist or attack other groups. In all such, the spirit of separateness lives on; the separate units merely include more than one ego in each body social.

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Attitude Shock Waves
One of the most dismaying aspects of this separateness is that intelligence seems powerless to overcome it -- for would it not have done so long ago if that were possible? Has it not been more than amply demonstrated that war, whether between nations or private personalities, never pays off? For both sides it is a losing proposition, unrelieved destruction with the combatants lucky to come out of it alive. And at war's end they face a future that will long be overshadowed by their losses.

Nor is this true only of warfare on the physical plane. Everyone who quarrels with another or thinks of him negatively sets in motion a widening spiral of destruction that affects the whole world, and himself with it. Those who observe themselves at such a moment can discern how their own stature shrinks in hostility, feel the shock waves of cold attitudes freezing the soul-ground where fruitful developments might otherwise be taking place, and sense what deprivation, what spiritual starvation, sets in when loving-kindness is withheld.

And this deplorable state of affairs, this incapacity to meet a basic daily challenge, seems to have to occur in the most vital area of human life! In the fields of mouse-trap making or mattress manufacture, such a situation would not long prevail. For those engaged in making articles of use such as mouse-traps and mattresses recognize the fact that they are in that field to make the thing work, and they go on studying to improve it until it reaches near perfection. But human beings are on earth (are they not?) for no other reason than to make love work. Why are we not more aware of this and studying our assignment day and night? Why do we go on putting almost everything else before our true business, to our own and the world's obvious detriment?

Trained Moral Eye
If it were as easy to see what is happening in the soul-world as it is to be clear on the working of a mouse-trap, we would surely make swift improvements in the social sphere. But without a trained moral eye we do not notice how another's being withers when subjected to the cold wind of our adverse attitudes. We are oblivious of soul-carnage. We do not see soul-starvation all around us. We fail to do with seed-potentialities on the soul-plane what every farmer and gardener does with physical seeds: look upon them as potential burgeoning, and plant and tend them.

Must we not say, then, that we are as blind materialists as other men? That the world of soul and spirit is for us as yet only theoretically primary reality? That we have still to conceive and adopt genuinely esoteric attitudes in the all important realm of social intercourse?

Though the physical world does indeed obscure man's reality as spirit, the vital fact about the human race remains that it is a hierarchy of the spiritual world. Man's and earth's salvation hangs on that fact being recognized and made the basis of our earth relationships.

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Overcoming Sympathy And Antipathy
Again and again Rudolf Steiner emphasizes how essential it is for the esoteric striver to overcome sympathy and antipathy. In fact, he makes their overcoming a foremost goal of esoteric effort.

Among the many reason why he does so, one stands out particularly. It is that to get beyond sympathy and antipathy means achieving a profundity of inner quiet without which the spiritual world can neither be approached nor known.

Is this not the very same quiet that must be attained before meditation can fruitfully be engaged in and that was called above an indispensable prerequisite to esoteric meetings?

It must be obvious that any and all confrontation with the spiritual world requires complete inner quiet as the basis for perceiving what is being sought there. How, then, can one approach the spirit of a fellow man with the hope of finding his reality in any but the mood of quietness in which sympathy and antipathy are silenced? A state of soul so readied is a sentient mirror, its reflective power undisturbed by the agitation that possesses a self impelled toward another to satisfy its social hunger or withdrawing from it to avoid unwanted contact. Rather is the soul poised, emptied of self and of all self-seeking, conscious of the threshold, ready to experience what lies beyond it.

Only so prepared can one perceive the spirit of another man.

* * * *

The benefits that would accrue to an esoteric movement from a really rigorous exclusion of sympathetic and antipathetic attitudes are beyond estimating. Two may be singled out below in illustration.

First, it would mean an advance from uncontrolled, unconscious and hence childish reactions to conscious, controlled, truly adult responses. Surely no other single change could be more promising for esoteric schooling?

Second, the harm done by lionizing, which is sympathy-gone-overboard, would be eliminated. And that would be a boon indeed to all involved: to the lionized, the unlionized and the lionizers. For to lionize means to form a Luciferic claque around supposedly special personalities. This not only tends to cut off those so venerated from non-claque members, thus lessening their fruitfulness: it swells heads much better left life-sized while at the same time reducing the claque's members to non-entities. Furthermore, it works strongly counter to the greatly-needed insight that all human beings have unique personalities which deserve and require developing. To fail to develop them leads to waste more wanton than any human enterprise can allow itself and still entertain the hope of prospering. Lionizing is thus in all three aspects illness -- illness moving toward a fatal outcome in that it gradually drains away the strength of the organism, while certain of its parts suffer from gigantism. Is this not cancer of the body social?

...continued at  REFLECTIONS ON COMMUNITY BUILDING (Illustrated Part 2 of 2)

© Tom Last 2017