Thursday, 8 October 2015

Veneration, homage, devotion are like nutriment to the soul (from Rudolf Steiner)

Whoever seeks higher knowledge must create it for himself. He must instil it into his soul. It cannot be done by study; it can only be done through life.

Whoever, therefore, wishes to become a student of higher knowledge must assiduously cultivate this inner life of devotion. Everywhere in his environment and his experiences he must seek motives of admiration and homage.

If I meet a man and blame him for his shortcomings, I rob myself of power to attain higher knowledge; but if I try to enter lovingly into his merits, I gather such power. The student must continually be intent upon following this advice… 

Man has it in his power to perfect himself and, in time, completely to transform himself. But this transformation must take place in his innermost self, in his thought-life. It is not enough that I show respect only in my outward bearing; I must have this respect in my thoughts.

The student must begin by absorbing this devotion into this thought-life. He must be wary of thoughts of disrespect, of adverse criticism, existing in his consciousness, and he must endeavour straightaway to cultivate thoughts of devotion…

It is not easy, at first, to believe that feelings like reverence and respect have anything to do with cognition. This is due to the fact that we are inclined to set cognition aside as a faculty by itself — one that stands in no relation to what otherwise occurs in the soul. In so thinking we do not bear in mind that it is the soul which exercises the faculty of cognition; and feelings are for the soul what food is for the body.

If we give the body stones in place of bread, its activity will cease. It is the same with the soul.

Veneration, homage, devotion are like nutriment making it healthy and strong, especially strong for the activity of cognition. Disrespect, antipathy, underestimation of what deserves recognition, all exert a paralyzing and withering effect on this faculty of cognition.


  1. It occurs to me, as a slight aside focused on psychotherapy, that the modern psychotherapeutic techniques of 'thought challenging' (or 'cognitive restructuring' as it is labelled in the typically lifeless bureaucratic manner of modern psychology) is not entirely off the mark. Especially when combined with the essential emotional or 'affective' grounding of an approach like Compassion Focused Therapy. These approaches help the uninitiated individual to embark on attempts to challenge their thinking and negative thought content. Of course, the intentions and aims behind these kinds of exercise are of paramount importance, but if done with Christian motivations I wonder if this kind of wisdom may be applied to helping others overcome various neuroses and modern symptoms (symptoms of the deeper problem of existential meaningless, despair and nihilism) including vicious self-criticism, self-hatred and deep personal disrespect; all of which are the most common symptoms I encounter daily working in primary care mental health with depressed and anxious patients. I have found CFT exercises that challenge habitual self-loathing with a kind, warm hearted attitude to be of value, especially when in the form of a "Compassionate letter to oneself" format, which challenges the person to address them selves from a position of deeper internal wisdom or even external (e.g. writing as though a guardian angel or Jesus himself were giving you personal advice on how to make progress with the various trials of life). I wonder what your thoughts are on this Bruce? I know you are largely skeptical of modern psychotherapy but I would like to think that if the motivation and approach is right (I.e. ideally Christian or spiritual in intent to heal the soul) then supportive psychotherapy of this kind has a valuable role for individuals who are seeking a way to overcome the trials of depression or other common mental health disorders.

    The Compassion Focused Therapy exercise I mention and other exercises come from here:

  2. Bruce,

    I don't have anything to add but, I just wanted to chime in and let you know how much I've enjoyed that last couple of posts on Steiner. Very helpful, thanks!

  3. @ads - Glad you find them useful!

  4. @David - I'm afraid that I have come across so many therapies over the years that I am automatically sceptical.

  5. @Bruce - Fair enough. I suppose I'm just trying to justify my own professional existence, but alas, for a while now it has been increasingly difficult to do this. In an ideal world I would have a different way of spending my time anyway :-) I am assuming that as a former psychiatrist there must have been a time when you felt very differently about the value of therapy? There must have been a time when doing therapy was something you considered of sufficient value to devote your working life to it? And you must have felt it had something transformative to offer your patients? It is a shame that our insights in life always seem to lag a sufficiently long time after the actual experience of learning something new. The benefit of hindsight has arrived habitually too late for me it seems on several occasions :-) Anyway, thanks for the post, I can sense immediately that this Steiner fellow has something worth saying based on the link you posted; gripping stuff...