Soul life

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The soul life, which unfolds as a more or less conscious inner life as an independent mental inner world in the soul of today's man, is divided into the three basic soul forces of thinking, feeling and willing. This threefold structure of the soul's life was first clearly described by Johannes Nikolaus Tetens (1736-1807), who aimed for a "psychological analysis of the soul" according to scientific methods.

Threefolding of soul life

The threefolding of soul life has only gradually developed. Originally the three soul forces were very closely connected with each other, but in the course of human evolution they have become more and more clearly differentiated from each other and this development will continue so that in the future thinking, feeling and willing will become completely independent of each other and can only be held together by the free act of the I. Only then will the human I have gained complete dominion over the soul life. Only then will the human I have gained complete dominion over the life of the soul. Through appropriate spiritual training, something of this future development is anticipated.

This is also connected with the development of the three soul members of man. In the sentient soul, thinking, feeling and willing are still very much interwoven. In the intellectual or mind soul, the will is already clearly set apart, while thinking and feeling are still closely connected with each other. Only with the consciousness soul does the complete separation of all three soul forces begin.

This threefold structure of soul life must be taken into account today in social life through a corresponding threefolding of the social organism. The organisation of economic life corresponds to thinking, legal life to feeling and spiritual life to the free creative will:

„In many respects the whole course of life of human development is similar to the course of life of the individual human being. Only things are shifted. What man consciously undergoes when he wants to see the spiritual world, the crossing of the threshold, all humanity must undergo unconsciously in this fifth post-Atlantean period. It has no choice in the matter, it goes through it unconsciously. Not the individual human being, but humanity and the individual human being with humanity. What does that mean?

What works together in man in thinking, feeling and willing, will in the future take on a separate character, will assert itself in different fields. We are just now in the process of humanity unconsciously passing through a significant gate, which the power of sight can perceive very well. Humanity goes through this crossing of the threshold in such a way that the areas of thinking, feeling and willing diverge. This, however, imposes obligations on us, the obligation to shape the outer life in such a way that man can also undergo this change of his inner life in the outer life. As thinking becomes more independent in the life of mankind, we must establish a ground on which thinking can come to a healthier effect, we must further create a ground on which feeling can come to independent formation, and also a ground on which willing can come to special formation. What has hitherto worked chaotically in public life must now be divided into three areas. These three areas in public life are: economic life, state life or legal life and cultural life or spiritual life. This demand for threefolding is connected with the secret of the development of humanity in this age.“ (Lit.:GA 193, p. 118)

The Soul Life of the Dead

In a different sense Rudolf Steiner occasionally uses the terms "soul life" or, equivalently, "life soul" for the second of the higher members the dead. It develops after the experiences that remained unconscious in the past life on Earth have unfolded in rich imaginative pictures in the form of the so-called soul man and now become "speaking" through inspiration (Lit.:GA 181, p. 190f).

The different degrees of consciousness of thinking, feeling and willing

The mental inner world, as we experience it in daytime consciousness without spiritual training, has no independent reality, but is only a shadowy reflection, conditioned by the body, of our actual soul life, i.e. our real soul and spiritual activity.

„And what I call my inner life in the above sense is not at all, in the higher sense, my spirit. This inner life is only the result of purely sensuous processes, belongs to me only as a quite individual personality, which is nothing but the result of its physical organisation.... My personal soul-life, my thoughts, memories and feelings are in me because I am a natural being organised in such and such a way, with a very definite sensory apparatus, with a very definite nervous system.“ (Lit.:GA 7, p. 44f)

With death, this bodily reflection gradually dissolves. Sense perception ceases at the moment when the physical body is finally discarded. For about 3½ days, the memory of the past life on Earth, living in the etheric body, emerges in the form of the life panorama. This also disappears when the etheric body dissolves except for a small extract in the general world ether. In the Kamaloka, a large part of the astral body also dissolves and with it all sensual feelings and desires. What finally remains is the actual soul-spirit of man, resolved in the core of his being, his I.

Tafel 1 from (Lit.:GA 317)

The real soul-life is not that which we experience in everyday consciousness, but rather that which has descended into the body with the incarnation and whose inherited disposition is individually shaped down to the individual organs in such a way that the organism can become a suitable instrument of reflection. If this does not succeed, as is the case with a developmental disorder, the bodily mirror is impaired and only provides distorted images. Primarily, this results in defects of the will, which are connected with the organs that have not been properly developed. Rudolf Steiner says about this in his "Curative Education":

„If, therefore, this soul-life is of such a nature that it constitutes a diseased liver, if it seizes the liver-substance, or if hereditarily it finds something diseased in the physical and etheric body, and therefore a feeling of disease arises, then a disease is present. In the same way, every other organ or every other organ complex can be wrongly connected with that which descends from the soul-spiritual cosmos. And only when this connection is here, this connection between that which descends and that which is inherited, when this soul-corporeal has formed, then arises - but more only as a mirror image - that which is our soul life and which is usually observed as thinking, feeling and willing (violet). This thinking, feeling and willing is only there like mirror images, correctly like mirror images, and is extinguished when we fall asleep. The actual permanent soul-life is behind it, descends, passes through the repeated earth-lives and sits within the organisation of the body.“ (Lit.:GA 317, p. 13f)

The three soul forces are connected with very different degrees of consciousness. Only in thinking are we presently fully awake and only in thinking can we therefore presently really attain complete freedom, for the free dominion of the I is bound to waking consciousness. In the emotional life, on the other hand, we are constantly dreaming and what constitutes our actual wanting has no brighter degree of consciousness than our deep sleep consciousness. Already in dreaming, experience shows that the I loses to a large extent its sovereignty over the soul life and, contrary to a widespread opinion, the actual freedom of will of the human being is only very little developed today. In fact, the human will today is only indirectly free to the extent that it can be determined by conscious thought. In this way, however, we only make use of the very smallest part of our will potential.

„So that our consciousness is always threefold in the waking state: above, on the surface, as it were, the waking day-consciousness, below, in the subconscious, an undercurrent of continuing dreaming, and below, a progression of sleep.

And we can also indicate, in relation to what we dream, in relation to what we sleep! We dream with reference to all that which does not emerge into our soul in ideas, in concepts that can be made clear, but which discharges itself in us as feeling. Feelings do not arise in us from any fully conscious, awake state; they arise from a world within us that is only dreamed. It is not correct to say, as some Herbartian philosophers do, that feelings arise from the interaction of ideas. No, on the contrary, the ideas are interspersed with that which rises from a deeper life of the soul, which consists in dreaming away during the waking state. The passions, the affects, also rise from a life of waking dreaming, which is only drowned out by the fully conscious life of the soul. And our impulses of will remain, I would say, so mysterious in their arising from the soul life, because they come up from the ground of the soul in which we are asleep even in the waking state.

So that our fully conscious ideas develop above in waking consciousness, our feelings surge up like waves from a subconscious state, from a dream-day-life, and the impulses of will even surge up from a sleep-life.“ (Lit.:GA 73, p. 73)

Connection with the Threefolding of the Human Organism

The threefold structure of human soul life is reflected externally in the threefold structure of the human organism, in that the nervous-sensory system is the physical tool of thinking, feeling is based on the rhythmic system and willing is based on the metabolic-limb system. Thus, not only the nervous system, but the entire differentiated organism forms the basis for the soul life, which also includes abilities such as fantasy, imagination and memory.

„Only the world of ideas and sensual imagination is associated with the nervous-sensory apparatus, the world of feeling is no longer. The world of feeling is directly associated with the rhythmic organism, and the world of will is associated with the metabolic-limb organism. If I want something, something must happen in my metabolic-limb organism. The nervous system is only there so that one can have ideas about what actually happens in the will. I have often said that there are no nerves of will; the division of nerves into sensitive and will nerves is nonsense. The nerves are of one kind, and the so-called nerves of the will are there for nothing else than to perceive the processes of the will inwardly; they are also sensitive nerves.

If we study this, we come at last to take the human organisation in its entirety. Take the lung organisation, liver organisation and so on, you come to look inwards, as it were, to survey the surface of the individual organs, naturally by looking inwards spiritually. What is this surface of the organs? This surface of the organs is nothing other than a reflecting apparatus for the life of the soul. What we perceive and also what we process mentally is reflected on the surface of all our inner organs, and this reflection means our memories, our memory during life. So what is reflected there, after we have perceived and processed it, on the outer surface of our heart, our lungs, our spleen and so on, what is reflected back there, that is what gives off the memories. And with a training that is not very far-reaching, you can already notice how certain thoughts radiate back to the whole organism in the memory. The most diverse organs are involved. If, for example, we are dealing with the recollection of, let us say, very abstract thoughts, the lungs, the surface of the lungs, are extremely strongly involved. When it is more a question of thoughts that are coloured by feeling, that is, thoughts that have a feeling nuance, then the liver surface is very strongly involved. So that we can really describe in detail how the individual organs of the human being are involved in this reflection, which then appears as memory, as the faculty of recollection. We must not, when we consider the soul, say: in the nervous system alone lies the parallel organism for the soul life; in the whole human organism lies this parallel organisation for the human soul life.“ (Lit.:GA 205, p. 100f)


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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