STUDY DIARIES: A Tale of Two Polarities

There is something very special about Attention.

Have you ever noticed how the world around you changes when you give it your full attention? It is so very easy to go through our lives without really seeing. But what is really happening when we give the world such attention?

There is an inner dynamic to this process that Steiner talks about as a movement between a ‘going to sleep in the other’ and a ‘lighting up’ of our own thoughts, a movement that is central to understanding Steiner’s epistemology.

Next time you have a deep conversation with someone, notice how your thinking moves from a listening – where you need to subdue your own thoughts in order to think ‘into’ the other person – to a waking up in order to marshal your own thoughts so you can express them in a way related to what has already been said.

The going to ‘sleep’ in the other is an active sleep, perhaps more of an actively held dream-like state. We need to subdue our own thinking, yet keep our attention on the other person. When this process is working well we can actually think the same thought that the other person is thinking. Because of this we can come to know the world around us, rather than falling into the skeptic’s fallacy of thinking we cannot truly know anything.

I have always found the extreme skeptic attitude a self-contradictory stance: If I am told that we can never know anything about the world, how can I take such a pronouncement seriously? The statement is self-defeating by definition! Of course that is not to say that we should go to the other extreme and just take everything at face value, or on belief. As ever there is a balanced middle ground where we need to exercise judgement and fit what we perceive into our own views.

This balancing between two polarities is a major recurring theme in Steiner’s work and is a corollary of the presence of a boundary.

Once we understand this ‘thinking in’ to the other, the ‘other’ can be anything. It is relevant to all we experience, whether it be a beautiful sunset, being with a loved one, or trying to understand someone we experience as difficult. Can we develop the self-awareness to really live into what is around us, seeing it for what it is, and yet maintain our own integrity?

There is a link here to egoism, a subject that I referred to in my last post.

Egoism is an important stage in our development and to put it in very simple terms, we can identify a number of stages in the development of an ego boundary:

  1. Lack of ego boundary.
  2. A present ego boundary, or self.
  3. An awareness of our ego boundary.
  4. A conscious control of the permeability of our ego boundary.

As you might notice, the last stage characterizes what is happening when we are conversing in the way I have been describing above, and needless to say requires that we have developed the necessary self-awareness.

Boundaries can be either given, as in for instance our bodily boundary, or defined, as in when we characterize the world about us, or indeed, our own ego.

The Art comes in how we move around a given boundary, an activity that requires our very special Attention as we enter the conversation between Self and Other. This will be a theme I will return to as our study progresses.

Since my last post, Paul, my study colleague, and I have been thinking about how to précis some of the study work we have been doing over the past years. In the end we have decided this is an impossible and fruitless task. It is better that readers find their own path through Steiner’s material and let me shine a light on some possible signposts on the way that Paul and I have found useful in our own study. Additionally, given the dynamic nature of a true living thinking, it is the process as much as the content that is the important item.

I think it is more useful for me to précis our study experience from here on in and let you form your own pictures ‘organically’ through your own experience. Of course – as I have done in previous posts – I will give links to online resources of Steiner’s material as relevant.

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