Rhythmic system

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The rhythmic system is the middle system of the threefold human organism. It is centred in the thoracic region of the human organism and regulates the rhythm of the respiratory and circulatory systems and has its physiological basis in the cardiopulmonary system. The rhythmic system is the most essential physical tool of the emotional life and of the human language sounding in the living flowing breath. Every mood change, every joy, every sorrow is reflected in a slight change in breathing and an accelerating or decelerating pulse beat, just as every bodily change in breathing and heart rhythm immediately affects our emotional life. However, we do not experience these feelings as clearly and awake as what we experience through our nervous-sensory system, because in our emotional life we are actually constantly dreaming.

The rhythmic system is constantly working to balance the metabolic-limb system and the nerve-sense system.

„The rhythmic system stands in the middle and always wants to create a balance between the opposing polar activities of the nervous-sensory system and the metabolic-limb system.“ (Lit.:GA 319, p. 16)

Heart-lung system and etheric body

Through the heart-lung system and oxygen, the ingested food substances, which are first broken down and killed by digestion, are revived and thus absorbed into the etheric organisation:

„It is at this point that our way of looking at things first becomes heretical to orthodox natural science. The entire heart-lung tract — the vascular system — is the means whereby the foods that have now become entirely inorganic so to speak, are led over into the realm of life. The human organization cannot exist without providing its own life. In a more encompassing sense, what happens here resembles the process occurring when the inorganic particles of protein, let us say, are transformed into organic; into living protein, when dead protein becomes living protein. Here again we do not need to enter into the question of the inner being of man but only into what is continually being said in physiology. Due to the shortness of time we cannot speak of the scientific theories about how the plant produces living protein, but in the human being it is the system of heart and lungs, with all that belongs to it, that is responsible for transformation of the protein into something living after the chyle has become as inorganic as possible.

We can therefore say that the system of heart and lungs is there so that the physical system may be drawn up into the etheric organization. The system of heart and lungs therefore brings about a vitalizing process whereby the inorganic is drawn into the organic, is drawn into the vital sphere through the process that takes place in the heart-lung system. (In the animal it is not quite the same, the process being less definite.) Now it would be absolutely impossible for this process to take place in our physical world if certain conditions were not fulfilled in the human organization. The chyle's being drawn into, transformed into an etheric organization could not take place within the sphere of earthly lawfulness unless other factors were present. Angels would be able to perform this, but if they did then they would fly around having merely a mouth, an esophagus, and then finally a gastrointestinal system, which would then stop and disappear into the etheric. Thus such digestive tracts would float around and would be carried by invisible etheric angel-beings.

What I am describing here could not take place in the physical world at all. That would be impossible. The process is possible in the physical world only because the whole etheric system is drawn down, as it were, into the physical, is incorporated into the physical. This happens as a result of the absorption of oxygen in the breathing. Therefore man is not an angel but can walk around physically on the earth, can walk around because his angelic aspect is physicalized through the absorption of oxygen. The entire etheric organization is projected — but projected as something real — into the physical world; the whole is then fulfilled as a physical system; that which otherwise could be only of a purely super-sensible nature comes to expression as the system of heart and lungs. And so we begin to realize that just as carbon is the basis of the animal, plant, and human organizations (though in the human organization in a less solid way than in the plant) and “fixes” the physical organization as such, so is oxygen related to the etheric organization in so far as this expresses itself in the physical domain.

Here we have the two substances of which the formed, the vitally formed protein is primarily composed. But this mode of observation can be applied equally well to the proteinaceous cell, the cell itself. We simply extend the kind of observation that is usually applied to the cell by substituting a macroscopic study for the microscopic study of the cell in the human being. We observe the processes that form the connection between the digestive tract and the heart-lung tract. We observe then in an inner sense, seeing the connection between them, perceiving how an etheric organization is drawn in and “fixed” into the physical as a result of the absorption of oxygen.“ (Lit.:GA 314, p. 107ff)


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.