Most recorded visionary experiences are expansions of perception – seeing or hearing things that other people cannot. For example William Blake saw angels and conversed with his deceased brother. Often these visions occur in altered states of consciousness – trances, lucid dreams, delirium or intoxication.
These are aspects of what Rudolf Steiner termed Atavistic Clairvoyance implying a throw-back or regression to an early type of consciousness more typical of childhood and tribal societies; and Owen Barfield classified as Original Participation. And in the scheme of evolution of human consciousness the aim is not to go back, but forward to a new state of consciousness that Steiner called the Spiritual Soul and Barfield termed Final Participation.
A visionary of Final Participation would not experience ‘visions’ in the sense of hallucination-like, quasi-sensory, perceptual experiences; but would instead experience imaginative thinking, or direct knowing. To put it simply: the visionary of Original Participation would experience things appearing in one or more of his senses; while the visionary of Final Participation would experience things appearing in his stream of thoughts.
It might be asked why this counts as an evolutionary development in consciousness? The answer would be that the imagination is a direct and unmediated form of knowing truth and reality; whereas perceptual experiences are prone to sensory distortions and require to be interpreted. Furthermore, the visionary experiences of Original Participation often occur in states of altered consciousness when attention, concentration, purposive thinking and memory may all be distorted or impaired; whereas in Final Participation the state of consciousness can be alert, clear and focused.
Finally, thinking is intrinsically capable of complete integration of any and all phenomena. Anything which can be thought about is included in the stream of thoughts, and can be subject to any or all of the analyses and manipulations of thinking.
This is straightforward enough; but of course very few people are aware of, or would endorse, the idea of thinking as a primary way of knowing truth and reality. And one reason for this is that typically thinking is much less powerful and compelling than perception. For example, people say things like ‘seeing is believing’ or ‘I’ll believe that when I see it’ – indicating that perceptual experience seems to overwhelm and impose itself in a way that thinking apparently does not. For instance, most people would be more likely to believe in the reality of ghosts or angels if they saw one than if they thought one (even though they are aware of the distortions and hallucinations to which perception is prone – and they would not necessarily believe in them even if they did see one).
Alternatively, people may only believe things for which they have what they regard as ‘evidence’ – and they will believe such things even when they think or perceive differently, and even when they cannot think it or have never had any confirmatory sensory experience; even when experience and common sense refute it.
In practice, ‘evidence’ is so vaguely defined as to be impossible to define or pin down – for some evidence comes from some trusted or authoritative source; but often enough people don’t know from where they got the ‘evidence’, and it could have been from sources which they do not trust or in fact disbelieve (such as the mass media, novels or fictional movies) but despite not knowing the provenance of their beliefs they nonetheless find themselves compelled to believe. Indeed, it is typical that a great deal of modern mainstream beliefs are false or have zero evidence, but are almost universally and indeed fanatically enforced on a global scale - for example the officially imposed assertions that people can change sex by means of drugs and surgery, or that political policies can control the earth’s climate.
Either way, it is clear that thinking is, in practice, low-rated as a human activity. People regard thinking as less important than action, or doing; less important than perceiving (feeling, seeing or hearing, especially); and less important than whatever is culturally-defined and propagandised. Consequently, people do not think very often, very diligently, very sustainedly about things; and they do not take much notice of the consequences of their own thinking.
It is perhaps regarded as little more than a waste of time, a joke or an excuse for idleness when someone claims to have been thinking. This applies even or especially, in academia; where to be caught thinking ‘in office hours’ would be even more shameful than to be caught reading a book! Thinking does not count as ‘work’.
It could therefore justly be said that – in the mainstream modern world - thinking is a low status activity.
Yet, for those who are – like me – convinced by the philosophical arguments of Owen Barfield (and of his acknowledged master Rudolf Steiner); thinking is the most important human activity and a necessity for the future evolutionary-development of our consciousness. Thinking ought to be our number one priority in life (number one, that is, within the prior, essential frame and context of Christianity).
What seems to be needed is that thinking, including imaginative thinking, become at least as powerful - indeed as overwhelming, as potentially motivating and life-changing - as actions, perceptions, and official/ media propaganda. We need both to know, and to feel, that thinking is real and true knowing.
Barfield therefore referred to the need for ‘strengthening’ thinking, and regarded Steiner as the most successful and advanced exponent of the necessary type of strengthened thinking. But how to do this? Steiner left behind various suggestions, instructions and exercises in how to strengthen thinking. For example to focus attention on some-thing, such as a plant, and try to experience its life as a dynamic historical and unfolding reality. However, my impression is that these exercises seem either not to work very well, perhaps only partially and very slowly; at any rate, extremely few people have apparently got anywhere near Steiner in terms of their ability to think in that visionary fashion which is destined for Final Participation.
So, something stronger and faster than Steiner’s exercises seem to be required. The weakness of Steiner’s exercises is, I think, a consequence of people lacking genuine, internal motivation to do them; which is itself a consequence of the subject matter being arbitrary. While Steiner himself, or Goethe before him, would be passionately interested in a plant, and in understanding a plant – this does not apply to most people. Genuinely motivated interest of the kind that will generate and sustain someone’s best efforts is something that cannot be manufactured to order; it is not arbitrary but is idiosyncratic. Indeed, such motivated interest may be unique and specific to each person; furthermore, many people do not even know what it is that most interests and motivates them in this way – since they have neither reflected nor developed their spontaneous, intrinsic nature (for example; they are instead dominated by the pressures of the social environment, expediency, the wish for immediate distractions and proximate pleasures, status, wealth; and things like envy, revenge, spite etc.).
Yet nothing else is likely to suffice in developing the intensity of thinking than that each person be pursuing his or her own deepest, most naturally arising fascination or perplexity.
So – we need to think in such a way as to strengthen and intensify the act of thinking – to increase its power to change us. But for this to happen we also need to take a step back – indeed the ultimate step back into the most fundamental of all considerations: metaphysics – our most basic assumptions concerning the ultimate nature of reality.
For thinking to be strengthened, our metaphysical framework needs to be one in which thinking (of the right kind) is real and true, and universally valid. If our metaphysical assumptions tell us that thinking is primary then our experience of thinking will be one of greater importance, seriousness and attention. It is the fact that the normal mainstream metaphysics of the modern West regards thinking as secondary, indeed trivial, that we find thinking so feebly impactful, so weakly effective in motivating us, as compared with other phenomena such as perceptions, actions and social conventions.
That thinking is indeed primary to human experience is the core argument of Rudolf Steiner’s early work culminating in the Philosophy of Freedom (1894); and Barfield’s Saving the Appearances (1957) – I refer readers to these books for a careful and compelling justification. However, in the end, metaphysics must be endorsed by our direct intuitions – which requires first that we acknowledge we indeed have primary metaphysical assumptions, then to make these explicit to ourselves. Only then can we evaluate whether or not we really endorse and believe our own assumptions – and if not, we may (indeed should) seek to replace them.
For thinking to take its proper place at the heart of Life; it must be of the greatest possible power, intensity and strength. Thinking should be experience – it should be experienced as much, in fact more-than ‘things that happen to us’. We need to know why and how that thinking which we make happen from our freedom and agency, from our real self (our soul) is not arbitrary nor wish-fulfilment, but on the contrary it is intrinsically and necessarily real, true and universal.
Thus prepared and equipped we can each commence work on the Life Task of intensification and strengthening of our own thinking! What does this entail? If you are already engaged in some spontaneously-arising creative endeavour then this may be straightforward – if you are a real scientist, artist or writer; then what you think about is already-decided – and the main difference is to take seriously, attend to, the actual process of thinking.
For me, a good example is what I have termed The Golden Thread. When I think back through my life, and what is important, there are relatively few things among the mass of dullness and duties – and these things seem to link-up to make a golden thread connecting childhood past with the present. It was taking this seriously, as a reality and truth rather than regarding it as some arbitrary fantasy; which helped me to become a Christian and of the mystical type. It also caused me to revise my subjective autobiography, to reshape my understanding of how my life had developed – including wrong turns, blind alleys, and descents into the pit.
Whatever it is that is your deepest motivation then forms the basis of strengthening your thinking. You will need to recognise (at a fundamental level) that you are dealing with something true, real - and in principle universally so, its truths and realities accessible to anyone competent; not merely a private delusion or day dream.
You may then learn from your experiences of thinking how best to intensify it. For instance you may learn that certain times of day are better for thinking; you may identify supportive attitudes, places or positions; helpful activities (such as reading, writing, doodling, walking, music…).
You will need to develop a habit of seriousness about thinking – so that you talk about thinking respectfully, lay stress on its primacy, refrain from casual denigration and invidious comparisons. It may be helpful to take notes, and to rehearse memories of thinking. A strategic devotion to thinking is the requisite.
You will find that creativity is nothing more or other than a consequence of primary thinking; it is a natural consequence of thinking from your unique and real self. While your true thoughts are in a universal realm, nobody thinks them quite like you do; and you will make discoveries in this realm (probably small discoveries, but personally valuable nonetheless).
You will quite spontaneously think about things beyond your past experience, beyond your senses, outside of this world and your times. This is the ‘visionary’ aspect; because the future visionary is a thinker, nor a see-er.
And with endeavour, and rapidly; your thinking will incrementally become strengthened; increased in power, motivating; rooting-you in the world and enhancing your awareness of everything true; curing the typical modern malaise of feeling cut-off, alienated because everything real and valid will come together and be related and integrated in your thoughts.