Initiative of Action

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Initiative of action is the second of the six subsidiary exercises which, according to Rudolf Steiner, are an indispensable condition for every spiritual development. It leads to a strengthening of the willpower, which thereby becomes more and more the expression of one's own conscious self.

„Try to think of some action which you would certainly not have done in the ordinary course of your life up to now. Now make this action your duty for every day. It will be good, therefore, if one can choose an action which can be performed every day for as long a period as possible. Again, it is better to begin with an insignificant action which one must, so to speak, force oneself to perform, for example, one resolves to water a flower one has bought at a certain hour of the day. After some time, a second such action should be added to the first, later a third, and so on, as much as one can perform while maintaining all one's other duties. This exercise should again last for a month. But one should, as much as one can, also during this second month, be committed to the first exercise, even if one no longer makes this latter one's exclusive duty as in the first month. But it must not be disregarded, otherwise one would soon notice how the fruits of the first month are soon lost and the old drift of uncontrolled thoughts begins again. In general, one must be careful never to lose these fruits once they have been won. When one has completed such an initiatory action by means of the second exercise, one becomes subtly aware of the feeling of inner activity drive within the soul and pours this feeling, as it were, into one's body in such a way that one lets it flow down from the head to above the heart.“ (Lit.:GA 245, p. 15ff)

The above quotation gives advice on how to do the subsidiary exercises in chronological monthly order. In the first month it is about the first exercise of thought control, in the second then (additionally) about the initiative of action considered in the quotation above.

„Control of actions consists in a similar regulation of them by inner freedom. One begins well by setting out to do something regularly which one would not have been able to do in ordinary life. In the latter, man is driven to his actions from without. The smallest deed, however, which one undertakes out of one's very own initiative, has more effect in the direction indicated than anything to which one is urged by outer life.“ (Lit.:GA 12, p. 31)

Here, with the formulations "One begins well by setting about" and "the smallest deed (works)" in the sense mentioned, an initially less demanding and insofar also easier performance of the exercise is apparently called for, which, however, can then lead to the more demanding exercise.

„Useful, however, also for him who does not want to or cannot undergo a secret training, is the arrangement of life in the direction indicated. For the effect on the soul organism occurs in any case, even if slowly. And for the secret disciple the observation of these principles is indispensable.“ (Lit.:GA 10, p. 130f)

Through the initiatory exercise one gets to know one's etheric body better:

„In the second secondary exercise, the initiatory exercise, in which one tenses the will to some activity at certain definite times, one will in time feel, after the exercise, as if one had been active in one's etheric body; one has the feeling: I have felt myself in my etheric body. - A feeling of deep reverence and piety then enters the soul of the meditator.“ (Lit.:GA 266c, p. 258)

„Further, we must come to know our etheric body. This is still more difficult, for the etheric body is not enclosed in the skin like the physical body, but is a fine tissue which sends out its currents everywhere into the outer world and is also impressed by everything that goes on in the outer world, often quite unconsciously to man.

One learns to feel the etheric body through the correct practice of the second secondary exercise, the exercise of the will. Usually man is driven to his actions by external impressions. He sees a flower in the meadow and, liking it, reaches out to pluck it. Now, as esotericists, we have to get there without stimulation from outside, only from the inner impulse we consciously give ourselves to do this or that. Then one comes to [recognise] that it is the etheric body that causes the hand to move. Thus one feels one's etheric body awakening. Through this awakening etheric body one gradually learns to experience oneself in an etheric world. In reality, every movement we make, for example, when I attack an object, when I push myself against it, is an attack on the outer world. The non-esoteric knows nothing of this, he is protected from this knowledge by the guardian of the threshold, but the esoteric gradually makes his etheric body independent, which experiences itself in the etheric world. His organs become finer, he acquires more and more a feeling for the fact that every room is filled not only with physical objects but with an innumerable number of elemental beings who make themselves felt by poking, prodding, burning. One must create space for oneself everywhere in this elemental etheric world by impulses of will such as stretching out, drawing back, pushing, striding forward, etc., and such movements must be made with the full consciousness that one wants it out of one's own being. This is the second: Initiative of actions. He who cannot create a space for himself in the etheric world without his own initiative will can do no more in this world than someone who wants to dance in the physical world on a platform full of chairs. First the chairs have to be removed. This one learns in the spiritual through the second exercise.“ (Lit.:GA 266c, p. 242f)

„To do this, one must choose an action that one thinks up oneself. If, for example, you took as your activity the watering of a flower, as it is given as an example in the prescription, you are doing something quite purposeless. For the action should spring from one's own initiative, so one must have thought it up oneself. Then, during this exercise, a feeling soon becomes noticeable, such as: "I can do something", "I am more capable than before", "I feel an urge to do something". Actually, one feels this in the whole upper part of the body. One then tries to let this feeling flow to the heart.“ (Lit.:GA 266a, p. 150)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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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 - 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.