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The I-feeling or self-feeling, usually called ego-feeling, arises primarily from the fact that the soul, in which the I lives, experiences itself during the earthly incarnation within the physical body. The term "I-feeling" is not commonly used in English, but seems necessary from an anthroposophical point of view to emphasise the fundamental difference between "I" and "ego". The "I" is the spiritual core of the human being, the "ego", on the other hand, is only its reflection in daytime consciousness. We thereby learn to grasp ourselves as an earthly personality.

After death, the function of the I-feeling is taken over by the memory of the physical body:

„Let us only consider this fact quite carefully, that we are stuck here in the physical body with our I and our astral body; also in the etheric body, but let us now remain with the physical body. When we sleep, when we go out, we are not stuck inside, as I have often described. But then we also lose our I-consciousness, even the consciousness of the astral body in the normal state. And we only regain it when we press ourselves, as it were, into the physical body. This pressing into the physical body has the effect, between birth and death, that we actually feel ourselves as a soul, I could also say that we feel ourselves as an I-penetrated soul. At death the physical body dissolves into earthly matter. This is now significant. When we are asleep, the desire to return to the physical body lives in us constantly - I have already mentioned this several times. This desire dominates us from the moment we fall asleep until the moment we wake up; in a way, we long for the physical body again. If we have discarded it in death, then we cannot long to return to it, we cannot press ourselves back into it. But from this it follows that we cannot develop this desire to return to the physical body. This desire, which we have from the time we fall asleep until we wake up, is now gone. Something else takes the place of this desire. It is replaced by the thought of our physical body that arises in our astral body and especially in our I. We now look at our physical body. It lives in our consciousness. It becomes a content of our consciousness. And the dissolution of our physical body into its elements causes us to carry the consciousness of our physical body through the time that passes between death and a new birth.

Through this, however, we know ourselves, as it were remembering our physical body, as an I the whole time between death and a new birth. Thus the knowledge of the physical body takes the place of the possession of the physical body. A state of consciousness, an appearance of consciousness takes its place. This whole feeling of the physical body, which we have from birth to death, is replaced after death by the consciousness of our physical body. And through this consciousness, that is, through a purely spiritual state, we are further sufficiently connected with life on earth.“ (Lit.:GA 163, p. 124f)

We owe the awakening of the I-feeling to a great extent to language; in particular, the name is an expression of our earthly personality. Even the Egyptians felt that the name, Ren, was part of the being itself and was thus also an important component of the cult of the dead, because only those whose name is pronounced live on after death. The name was seen in close relation to the Ka, the etheric body of the human being, which is the bearer of memory.

„With the name itself one understood - one only compares this with the old Sanskrit meanings - the entity as it expresses itself, as it reveals itself outwardly, just as man reveals himself in his body.“ (Lit.:GA 325, p. 41)

„We owe a great deal in our I-feeling, that we feel ourselves to be a personality, precisely to language. And the feeling can even rise in the human being to something like a mood of prayer: I hear speaking in the language around me, the power of the I flows into me through language! - If you have this feeling of the sacredness of the calling of the I through language, then you will also be able to awaken it in the children through the various measures. And then you will not awaken the I-feeling in the children in an egoistic way, but in a different way. For the I-feeling can be awakened in the child in two ways. If one awakens it wrongly, it works precisely to kindle egoism; if one awakens it rightly, it works to kindle the will, precisely to selflessness, precisely to life with the outer world.“ (Lit.:GA 294, p. 65f)

The effect of the I-feeling in the etheric body

„When in the correctly developed human spiritual vision the awakening in the supersensible world occurs, the memory of the soul's experiences in the sense world remains present. This memory must remain present, otherwise other beings and processes would be present in the clairvoyant consciousness, but not one's own being. One would then have no knowledge of oneself; one would not live spiritually oneself; the other entities and processes would live in the soul. Bearing this in mind, one will understand that correctly developed clairvoyance must attach great importance to the formation of a strong "I-feeling". In this "I-feeling" one does not develop with clairvoyance something which only comes into the soul through clairvoyance; one learns to recognise only that which is always present in the depths of the soul, but which remains unconscious to the ordinary life of the soul in the world of the senses.

The strong "I-feeling" is not present through the etheric body as such, but through the soul, which experiences itself in the physical-sensuous body. If the soul does not bring it with it from its experience in the sense world into the clairvoyant state, it will show that it is not sufficiently equipped for experience in the elementary world.

It is essential to human consciousness within the sense world that the soul's self-feeling (its I-experience), although it must be present, is dampened. This enables the soul to experience the training for the noblest moral power, for compassion, within the sense world. If the strong I-feeling interfered with the conscious experiences of the soul within the sense world, the moral instincts and ideas could not develop in the right way. They could not produce the fruit of love. Devotion, this natural instinct of the elementary world, is not to be regarded as equal to what is called love in human experience. Elementary devotion is based on experiencing oneself in the other being or process; love is experiencing the other in one's own soul. In order to bring this experience to fruition, a veil must, as it were, be drawn in the soul over the self-feeling (I-experience) existing in its depths; and in the soul, which is damped down in relation to its own powers, there arises thereby the in-itself-feeling of the sufferings and joys of the other being; love germinates, from which genuine morality in human life grows. For man, love is the most significant fruit of experience in the world of the senses. If one penetrates the essence of love and compassion, one finds in them the way in which the spiritual in the sense world lives out its truth. It has been said here that it belongs to the nature of the supersensible to transform itself into another. When the spiritual in the sensory-physical living human being transforms itself in such a way that it dampens the I-feeling and comes to life as love, then this spiritual remains true to its own elementary laws. One can say that with supersensible consciousness the human soul awakens in the spiritual world; but one must also say that in love the spiritual awakens within the sense world. Where love, where compassion is stirred in life, one hears the magic breath of the spirit penetrating the senses far and wide. - That is why correctly developed clairvoyance can never dull compassion and love. The more correctly the soul settles into the spiritual worlds, the more it feels the lack of love, the lack of compassion as a denial of the spirit itself.

The experiences of the consciousness that is becoming visual show very special peculiarities in relation to what has been said above. While the I-feeling - which is necessary for the experience in the supersensible worlds - is easily damped down, often behaving like a weak, fading memory thought, feelings of hatred, of unkindness, immoral urges become strong soul experiences just after entering the supersensible world; they present themselves before the soul like reproaches that have come to life, become ghastly-looking images. In order not to be tormented by these images, the supersensible consciousness often resorts to the means of seeking spiritual powers which soften the impressions of these images. In this way, however, the soul permeates itself with these forces, which have a corrupting effect on the acquired clairvoyance. They drive it away from the good areas of the spiritual world and steer it towards the bad ones.

On the other hand, true love, the right goodwill of the soul are also such soul-experiences which strengthen the powers of consciousness in the sense necessary for the entrance into clairvoyance. When it is said that the soul needs preparation before it can have experiences in the supersensible world, it may be added that the manifold means of preparation also include the true capacity for love, the inclination for genuine human benevolence and compassion.

An excessively developed ego-feeling in the world of the senses works against morality. An I-feeling which is too weakly developed causes the soul, which is actually battered by the storms of elementary sympathies and antipathies, to lack inner security and unity. These can only exist if a sufficiently strong I-feeling from the sensuous-physical experience works its way into the etheric body, which remains unconscious to ordinary life. For the development of a genuinely moral mood of soul, however, it is necessary that this I-feeling, although it must be present, should nevertheless be damped down by the tendencies to sympathy and love.“ (Lit.:GA 17, p. 57ff)

„In order to understand the relationship between the different worlds, it is necessary to realise that a force which in one world must have an effect in accordance with the order of the world, can then be directed against this order of the world when it is developed in another world. Thus it is necessary for the being of the human being that the two counter-forces are present in his etheric body: the ability to transform into other beings and the strong sense of self. Both of these forces of the human soul cannot be brought to development in the sense being without attenuation by the soul. In the elementary world they are present in such a way that through their mutual balance they make human beinghood possible, just as sleep and waking in the sense world make human life possible. The relationship between two such opposing forces could never be such that one annihilates the other, but must be such that both come to development and have a balancing effect on each other. - Now, I-feeling and the ability to transform can only work on each other in the elementary world in the way indicated; into the sense-world only that can work in the sense of the world-order which results from both forces in their mutual relationship and co-operation. If the degree of transformability which a human being must have in his etheric body were to have an effect in the sense of being, then the human being would feel himself to be something in his soul which he is not in accordance with his physical body. The physical body gives the human being a firm imprint in the world of the senses, through which he is placed in this world as a certain personal being. Thus he is not placed with his etheric body in the elementary world. In this world he must, in order to be able to be a human being in the fullest sense, be able to assume the most manifold forms. If this were impossible for him, he would be condemned to complete loneliness in the elementary world; he could know nothing of anything but himself; he would feel himself related to no being and no process. For this world, however, this would mean that the corresponding beings and processes would not exist for such a man. - If, however, the human soul were to develop in the world of the senses the capacity for transformation necessary for the elementary world, it would lose its personal beingness. Such a soul would live in contradiction with itself. For the physical world, the ability to transform must be a power resting in the depths of the soul; a power which gives the soul its basic mood, but which does not unfold in the sense world. - Supersensible consciousness must live itself into the capacity for transformation; if it were unable to do so, it could make no observations in the elementary world. Thus the supersensible consciousness acquires an ability which it should only use as long as it knows itself in the elementary world, but which it must suppress as soon as it returns to the sense world. The supersensible consciousness must always observe the boundary of the two worlds; it must not use faculties appropriate to a supersensible world in the sense world.

If the soul, when it knows itself in the sense-world, were to perpetuate the transforming capacity of its etheric body, the ordinary consciousness would be filled with conceptions which do not correspond to any entity in the sense-world. The soul would enter into the confusion of the life of the imagination. The observance of the boundary between the worlds is a necessary prerequisite for the correct effect of the supersensible consciousness. - He who wishes to attain supersensible consciousness must be careful that nothing disturbing creeps into his ordinary consciousness through the knowledge of supersensible worlds. - If one becomes acquainted with the "Guardian of the Threshold", one knows how the soul stands in the sense world, how strong it is to banish from the sensual-physical consciousness that which must not be effective in it from the powers and abilities of the supersensible worlds. If one enters the supersensible world without the self-knowledge mediated by the "guardian of the threshold", one can be overwhelmed by the experiences of this world. These experiences can force themselves into the physical-sensual consciousness as illusionary images. They then take on the character of sensory perceptions; and the necessary consequence of this is that the soul takes them for reality, which they are not. Correctly developed clairvoyance will never take the images of the elementary world for reality in the same sense as the physical-sensuous consciousness must take the experiences of the sense world for reality. The images of the elementary world are only brought into the right connection with the reality to which they correspond through the soul's ability to transform.

The second force necessary to the etheric body - the strong I-feeling - must also not project into the life of the soul within the sense world as it is appropriate to the elementary world. If it does, it becomes the source of immoral inclinations in the sense world, insofar as these are connected with egoism. - At this point in its view of the world, spiritual science finds the origin of "evil" in human action. It would be to misjudge the world order if one were to believe that this world order could exist without the forces which form the source of evil. If these forces were not present, the etheric being of man could not develop in the elementary world. These forces are perfectly good forces if they only become effective in the elementary world; they bring about evil in that they do not remain at rest in the depths of the soul and there regulate man's relationship to the elementary world, but that they are transferred into the soul's experience within the sense world and thereby transform themselves into drives of egoism. They then counteract the ability to love and become, precisely because of this, the origins of immoral action.

If the strong I-feeling passes from the etheric body into the physical body, this causes not only a strengthening of egoism, but also a weakening of the etheric body. The supersensible consciousness must make the discovery that on entering the supersensible world, the stronger the egoism in the experience within the sense world, the weaker is the necessary I-feeling. Egoism does not make man strong in the depths of his soul, but weak. - And when man passes through the gate of death, the effect of egoism, which has been developed in the life between birth and death, occurs in such a way that it makes the soul weak for the experiences of the supersensible world.“ (Lit.:GA 17, p. 61ff)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.