Jalleledin Rumi, the thirteenth century Sufi poet, has become a voice whom many today feel speaks the concerns of their hearts. His spirituality is there in the immediate texture of his thoughts. His wish both to engage with and reach beyond contradictions is in tune with our modern mobility of mind. Perhaps the core contradiction is between inner and outer: what is separation and what is union between me and what is beyond? The ways in which two people meet, and part, is the very heart of this debate. In his own life, Rumi, as a respected scholar, met the much older and disreputable wandering mystic Shams. Each recognised the other as the one they had been seeking. They were together only a short time before Shams disappeared but the meeting nourished and inspired Rumi for nearly thirty years. Shams, his true friend, became one with Rumi’s longing to find the fullness of his own self. Inner and outer reverberate. As well as huge volumes of teaching, Rumi, like Omar Khayyam in the previous century, wrote Rubaiyat, short verses to be sung, which explore this space of contradiction. I will quote three which set the tone for this attempt to capture this flowing, colourful conversation which takes place within the self and between selves. The first is a verse particularly loved by those who practice what is called Nonviolent Communication, about which I will write later in this sequence of essays:
Out beyond ideas of
Wrong doing and right doing
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
The world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase
doesn’t make any sense.
A different quality of space, of relationship, lives in the second verse I choose:
There is a way from your heart to mine
and my heart knows it
because it is clean and pure like water.
When the water is like a mirror
it can behold the Moon.
And yet a third quality, of what is below, comes with my third choice:
Friend, our closeness is this.
Anywhere you put your foot
Feel me in the firmness under you.
How is it with this love,
I see your world
and not you?
I don’t want to comment on these verses except to suggest how close thought is to love in the way his voice speaks to himself and to the one he is seeking.
For now I want to move wider than the meeting between two people, two I-beings who by nature move between centre and periphery. Rudolf Steiner composed a cycle of fifty two weekly verses, which, most easily for us in the Northern Hemisphere, lead you through the changing relationship between the human soul and the inner life of nature, the most telling expression of the interaction between inner and outer which we have in our lives on Earth. One truth which the cycle of verses relies on is the symbiosis between self and world. The verse (numbered 20) for the middle of August speaks of “my life’s reality”, if I try to maintain it in isolation, that it “would bring death upon itself”. A corresponding verse in November (33) sees “the world’s reality” as able to “find only death” if it lacks the communion and creativity of “my soul”. Self and world, in isolation, will die both. Two other verses (7, 46) bring an influx of energy to unite these separate elements and restore them to life. One, in February, celebrates memory as a creative force in the inner life, by which we actively sustain ourselves in the face of all that can overwhelm or “stun” our inner vitality in what comes towards us from the world – demands, impressions, information. Complementary to this verse is one in May (7) which recognises intuition as the power in the soul which can help us to stay centred and not be drawn out and lost (rather than hemmed in and stunned) in all the beauty and stimulation which comes to meet us. Nothing is fixed. Once self and world respond to each other, then there will be movement, rhythm, the pull in one direction then the other. I will return to the significance of intuition. For now notice that it is paired with memory, and that it is a kind of thinking which seeks a light from above, one might say, to keep the self centred – the polar quality to memory which strengthens the self out of the depths of its own being.
I think it would be helpful and interesting at this point to look at how the self appears, comes into being, in the young child, and, as ever, D W Winnicott will be my guide. In the understanding of the self which he develops, creativity becomes an important concept. By creativity he definitely does not mean the ability to produce anything ‘artistic’, but rather “a colouring of the whole attitude to external reality” (P R p 63). He describes it as an impulse that is present when “anyone – baby, child, adolescent, adult, old man or woman – looks in a healthy way at anything or does anything deliberately… It is present as much in the moment-by-moment living of a backward child who is enjoying breathing as it is in the inspiration of an architect who suddenly knows what it is that he wishes to construct” (P R p 69). These descriptions are apparently not telling you much about the content of creativity but the ordinariness of it, and the affinity with breathing are significant. For D W Winnicott, the opposite of creativity is compliance, the sense the individual has of having to meet the world’s demands which at root induces a feeling of futility. Creativity is the natural result of healthy development as the young child is led by a nurturing environment, a mother principally, to be able to cope with and enjoy the boundaries between “me” and “the world”, to be able to play. D W Winnicott begins one paper with a quotation from a poem by Rabindranath Tagore (P R p 95):
On the seashore of endless worlds,
D W Winnicott writes of these words living in him for years before he could catch their meaning for him – which is to do with the powerful paradoxes of the space in which we most truly are alive, the space between inner and outer, a space between different infinities, a space which is outside the individual but is not the objective external world. Creativity is an attitude of reaching out which is not constrained by outer demands. This, for D W Winnicott, is the truest expression of the self, is the true self.
He identifies a quality which he calls formlessness which the individual needs in order to be able to find the creative self. In one paper he describes a kind of dream which one of his patients had about cutting out material, working on a pattern for a dress. He explores this dream both with regard to the pressure one can feel, from the environment, to pattern and cut out the individual into shapes conceived by others, and also with regard to the state of the material before it is cut and shaped. This is formlessness. Can we make sense of this state of being, can we use it? For D W Winnicott this state of formlessness is a stage on the way to the space of play. I separate from my normal acceptance of the demands of the world. However, because this condition of formlessness does not belong to our normal waking consciousness, because we have let go, we will need some kind of reflection, some person or experience which will give just enough recognition or presence to allow this ‘formless’ functioning to be taken into the ongoing awareness of the individual, to allow “the individual to be, to be found; and eventually enables himself or herself to postulate the existence of the self” ( P R, p 64). I believe that the kind of contact which the Alexander Technique is encouraging, both between student and teacher, and also between you and the chair you are sitting on or the floor you are lying on, is this unintrusive reflecting presence, whose essence is trust. Out of this restful presence “the individual can come together and exist as a unit, not as a defence against anxiety, but as an expression of I AM, I am alive, I am myself… From this position everything is creative” (P R, p 56). In the moment we find the unity, find the self, we are then drawn into what he calls “the exciting interweave of subjectivity and objective observation… intermediate between the inner reality of the individual and the shared reality of the world that is external to individuals” ( P R, p 64).
He also uses the word ‘reverberation’ to describe the unforced, trusting interaction which allows the self to come into being. This word, for me, speaks of the active, rhythmical quality of the reflective interaction, and leads into the space of creative living which too is rhythmical, is neither my inner world nor external reality. Those worlds are both fixed, are both, alone, on their way to death. The space of creativity, of actual experience, is variable and dynamic. It lifts us into what I would want to call spiritual experience in that it is allowing a kind of consciousness which is not found in the categories of our sensory experience but which, when we find it, we find something which is beyond our ordinary waking consciousness, yet shapes and substantiates our normal reality. In the meeting with another person, in, you could say, the sight of the face of the other person, there is immediate transcendence, though we do not seek it with too direct attention. Reflection which leads towards creativity requires the difficult skill of attention which does not try too hard, deliberate without too much effort.
There is a striking and oft-quoted passage from one of the series of lectures which Rudolf Steiner gave as the first teachers were preparing to begin work in the original Waldorf School in Stuttgart in 1919. This particular series was concerned more with education and psychology, rather than practical teaching methods. The passage I have in mind occurs in the eighth of the fourteen lectures and is about what happens, in perception and response, when you encounter another person. He uses the idea of vibration to describe what happens on a level beyond normal awareness. He uses very dramatic language in trying to present the activity of meeting, to help his audience to realise that the act of perceiving another person is not a “conclusion… drawn by analogy from myself to the other” (SM, p 117). The knowing of another is not an intellectual inference. It involves the whole of the soul life of the human being – thinking, feeling, willing. He sees the confrontation with another as a process of perception which lives in the vibrating rhythm of sympathy and antipathy, of giving yourself up to the impression which the other is making on you and then, in antipathy, “inwardly warding him off”. The pole of sympathy, of opening to the impression of the other, belongs more with our unconscious life; the antipathy, the separation, is more connected to what we normally think of as knowledge.
This vibrational quality of perceiving another person, this rhythm of sympathy and antipathy, merging and separation is an illustration of the way our inner life is shaped and made manifest in rhythm, in dealing with polarities, in different dimensions of seeking union and seeking separation. On the one hand, the past, our conscious waking minds, our heads, which all serve our need to separate, to resist; on the other hand, the future, our sleeping, and our active limbs which carry different ways of dissolving boundaries. The life of our feelings which might seem to be just the theatre where all these rhythms express themselves and perhaps connect with each other becomes something more. It becomes the field of activity for the self as personality. From that space we can find the life of the physical body, we can find the movements of our consciousness.
The second of the verses of Rumi which I quoted at the beginning of this essay speaks of the “way from your heart to mine” being like still water. That stillness is not inertness; it is thinking working into the rhythms of life which rise towards consciousness out of the life within us.
In Rudolf Steiner’s major early philosophical work, The Philosophy of Freedom, he has the meeting of person with person, of I with I, as a primary focus. If I cultivate my ability to animate my thinking, to direct my attention, then I free myself from external authority or dogma or conventional modes of thinking. Thinking becomes an intimate tool by which I develop both individuality and freedom. This prepares me for the “kind of cognition imparted to us when a human individuality communicates to us its way of viewing the world… the content of a human individuality’s willing”. As I bring my own willing into my thinking, and become a stronger individuality, I can connect with the living being of another. But for this to happen I need to still my own activity: “we must make use of no concept from our own mind if we want to understand that person’s essence. Cognition consists in linking a concept with a percept through thinking. For all other objects the observer must penetrate to the concept by means of his or her own intuition. Understanding a free individuality is exclusively a question of bringing over into our own spirit in a pure form (unmixed with our own conceptual content) those concepts by which the individuality determines itself” (ITSP, p 228-9). I mentioned intuition earlier in this essay as that quality of thinking which keeps the self centred and ready for action, for connecting to the future. If we have stirred ourselves to life in our thinking then our thinking will have something of the quality which Rudolf Steiner describes in The Philosophy of Freedom of “Living thinking – a reality interwoven with light, dipping down warmly into the phenomena of the world. This dipping down occurs with a power that flows forth in the activity of thinking itself – the power of love in spiritual form” (ITSP, p 133).
Because such thinking is filled with will and with feeling, then it can be used, held, directed. It can become attention, and my own individuality becomes that by which I am able to recognise you. The vibrational perception of the other, the unconscious battle of accepting and resisting impressions has been illuminated and warmed by my attention which makes the space into which you make your way. But this will always be a rhythmical process, an active process. We don’t achieve individuality as a finished product. The movement between what is generic, common to all, and what is unique to each of us will always go on, in ourselves and in our response to other people. It is these reverberations which keep us alive, which keep us in this space of creative play.
This is an ancient as well as a modern concern. Of the five Confucian virtues from the China of 500 BCE the most central is Ren (or jen in older transliterations). -The written character for Ren includes the character for the human being and the character for two. It is the virtue of human-heartedness, combining in sense and sound the human being with the idea of relationship to another. Ren was very closely associated with Shu, the virtue of using your feelings as a guide to how you treat others. Shu leads into Ren, into acting in response to the uniqueness of the other person. Karen Armstrong has a lovely example from the Confucian Analects in which a disciple of Confucius laments his inability to grasp Ren: “Something seems to rise up standing over me sharp and clear. Yet though I long to pursue it, I can find no way of getting to it at all”. She goes on to comment, “Ren was not something you ‘got’ but something you gave. Ren was an exciting yet exhilarating way of life. It was itself the transcendence you sought. Living a compassionate, empathetic life took you beyond yourself, and introduced you into another dimension” (GT, p 211). The face to face relationship, the path from one heart to another, relies on this more vertical realisation, of what is “standing over me sharp and clear”. But, again, it is the rhythm which sustains life. In the end such breathing takes in, too, the separation between two individuals. D W Winnicott called the space of creativity “potential space” because it arises out of a unity, the unity of mother and child, and then, out of trust, enables us all to find an autonomy which then enables us to have empathy. We work to create separation, to imagine separation, so that then we can love. As war was breaking out in 1914 Rudolf Steiner gave some meditative verses at what was basically a first-aid course held at the sacred building which was at that time being constructed in Switzerland. Rudolf Steiner repeated the verses during a lecture he gave a fortnight later and spoke of the verse I repeat here in a deeply respectful way. These words, he said, give voice to the wish that “the pain in which another has to live does not leave us aside… We speak them silently within ourselves as often as we can (TT, lecture 1).
So long as thou dost feel the pain
Which I am spared
The Christ unrecognised
is working in the World.
For weak is still the Spirit
While each is only capable of suffering
Through his own body.
Empathy is not an invention, not an imposed virtue. It is through the body we each have that we gain one kind of separation but also an affirmation of connection, as in those words from Rumi I shared at the beginning – “Feel me in the firmness under you”. This is the grounded quality of love, the other pole to the dipping down of living thinking. I relate above and below. I live in my uprightness, my separation. But out of that freedom I seek to know you, to see through your eyes, to feel what pain is yours:
How is it with this love,
I see your world
and not you?