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Positivity or impartiality is the fourth of the subsidiary exercises which, according to Rudolf Steiner, are a necessary precondition for any spiritual training.

„In the fourth month one should take up the so-called positivity as a new exercise. It consists in always seeking out the good, the excellent, the beautiful, etc., in all experiences, beings and things. This quality of the soul is best characterised by a Persian legend about the Christ Jesus. Once, when he was walking with his disciples, they saw a dog lying by the side of the road, already very decomposed. All the disciples turned away from the ugly sight, only the Christ Jesus stopped, looked at the animal pensively and said: "What beautiful teeth the animal has! Where they had seen only the ugly, the unsympathetic, he sought the beautiful. Thus the esoteric student must strive to seek the positive in every appearance and in every being. He will soon notice that under the shell of an ugly person there is a hidden beauty, that even under the shell of a criminal there is a hidden good, that under the shell of a madman the divine soul is somehow hidden. This exercise is somewhat related to what is called the abstention from criticism. One must not take this matter as if one should call black white and white black. There is, however, a difference between a judgement that merely starts from one's own personality and judges sympathy and antipathy according to this own personality. And there is a point of view that lovingly places itself in the foreign appearance or the foreign being and asks itself everywhere: How does this other come to be like this or to do like this? Such a point of view comes of its own accord to strive more to help the imperfect than merely to reproach and criticise it. The objection that the conditions of life demand of many people that they reprove and judge cannot be made here. For then these conditions of life are such that the person concerned cannot undergo proper occult training. There are many conditions of life which make such extensive occult training impossible. Man should not impatiently demand to make progress in spite of all this, which can only be made under certain conditions. Whoever for a month consciously focuses on the positive in all his experiences will gradually notice that a feeling creeps into his inner being, as if his skin became permeable on all sides and his soul opened wide to all kinds of secret and subtle processes in his surroundings which had previously completely escaped his attention. This is precisely what it is about, to combat the lack of attention to such subtle things that exists in every human being. Once you have noticed that the feeling described above is asserting itself in the soul like a kind of bliss, try to direct this feeling in thought towards the heart and let it flow from there into the eyes, from there out into the space in front of and around the person. You will notice that you gain an intimate relationship to this space. One grows beyond oneself, as it were. You learn to look at a piece of your environment as something that belongs to you. A great deal of concentration is necessary for this exercise and, above all, an acknowledgement of the fact that everything stormy, passionate, full of affect has a completely devastating effect on the mood indicated. With the repetition of the exercises of the first months one keeps it again as already indicated for earlier months.“ (Lit.:GA 245, p. 15ff)

Elsewhere, Steiner also referred to the fifth secondary exercise as unbiasedness, which focuses on impartiality in the face of unusual things and events. It is not this or that designation, which admittedly may seem confusing, that is important here, but rather the meaning of the exercise, which consists in never overlooking what is also in it as a positive force or phenomenon, even in the most negative and worst experiences. In doing so, of course, one must not deny the negative sides or make them less than they are, one must look them unvarnished into the face, but in everything, however bad it may be, there is also a spark of the good, the true and the beautiful. To concentrate on this has a powerful healing influence on the etheric body and the physical body.

„Impartiality. The fourth is what may be called impartiality. This is that quality which sees the good in all things. It goes everywhere for the positive in things. As an example, we can best cite a Persian legend that attaches itself to the Christ Jesus: The Christ Jesus once saw a dying dog lying by the road. Jesus stopped and looked at the animal, but the bystanders turned away in disgust at such a sight. Then the Christ Jesus said: Oh, what beautiful teeth the animal has! - He did not see the bad, the ugly, but found something beautiful even in this dark carcass, the white teeth. When we are in this mood, we look for the positive qualities, the good, in all things, and we can find it everywhere. This has a very powerful effect on the physical and etheric body.“ (Lit.:GA 95, p. 118f)

Awareness of one's own self

The regular practice of positivity awakens awareness of one's own self.

„Finally, I must also come to know my I. I cannot feel my I because I live in it. I cannot feel my I because I live in it. Therefore, we must pour it out into the world. I get to know my I through what we call positivity (parable of the dog).

If we do as the Christ-Jesus did, we do not see the ugly, but dive so far into everything that we come to the good. In this way we get rid of our I and can observe it. I is love and will. Through the developed will we learn to recognise the substance of all things, which originates in the divine. Through love we learn to experience the essence of things. In this way, through will and love, we advance to cognition, which is free of the personal I. As a spiritual I, we learn to immerse ourselves in the essence and substance of all things, which come from the spiritual Father Ground, just as our own I does. Our I looks at us from all created things ("swan"). The disciple reaches the stage of the 'swan' when he can experience this.“ (Lit.:GA 266c, p. 244f)

According to Rudolf Steiner, a swan, occultly also called hamsa, is an initiate who has reached the third level of the spiritual path of knowledge, on which the human being, undisturbed by his ego, finds his higher self in love for all beings and can flow out into the world without losing himself. In Hinduism, for example, a white swan or a mystical goose is the vahana ("riding animal") of Brahma, which can carry him spiritually to any desired place in the universe. The white plumage of the swans is an expression of the highest, purest and most radiant solar powers, which form the human brain into the organ of thought, the tool and mirror of thinking.

„We have there such beings who never let themselves be seen: the Masters. To men on the physical plane they are at first imperceptible. Among them are chelas, secret disciples who take on the task of carrying the great orders of the Masters to the physical plane. The first ones to teach are called "Hamsas", that is, "swans". Those chelas who are called "homeless people" are so called because they do not have their home in this world, but are rooted in higher plans. They give to the people the lessons they themselves have enjoyed from the Hamsas. They are the emissaries for the men of genius in world history.“ (Lit.:GA 92, p. 25f)

This is also the spiritual background of the swan knighthood as represented, for example, by Parzival's son Lohengrin. Jesus of Nazareth, the born-again initiate Zarathustra, had arrived at this third stage of spiritual development when he was able to receive the Christ into himself through the Jordan baptism.

„It is the third degree of chela-hood where the world around us becomes sound and all things tell us their name. Jesus had reached such a degree when he was to receive Christ. This degree was called the Swan in the White Lodge. Swans were those who were no longer allowed to speak their names, but to whom the whole world revealed their names.

Lohengrin, the son of Parzival, is the initiate who founded the city culture, who was sent by the great Grail Lodge to fertilise the consciousness of medieval humanity. Through Elsa of Brabant, the striving human consciousness is characterised, which is fertilised by the environment, the masculine. The city consciousness represented by Elsa is to be fertilised by Lohengrin, by the Holy Grail. The connection of Lohengrin with Elsa of Brabant is the connection of material culture with [the spiritual task of] the fifth subrace. The Swan is the Third Degree Initiate who brings in the Master from the Great Lodge. Man must let the Master work upon him without asking about his nature. Elsa von Brabant must regard what he gives her as what is due to her. The moment she asks out of curiosity, the initiate disappears. All this is expressed in the Lohengrin saga.“ (Lit.:GA 92, p. 155f)


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.