Sense of life

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The sense of life or life sense is one of the twelve physical senses that Rudolf Steiner spoke of in his theory of the senses. Through the sense of life we perceive our general inner physical condition. The perception of inner organ activity, which normally remains largely unconscious, is today referred to in medicine as visceroception (from Latinviscera and recipere "to take in"). It is mediated by corresponding visceroceptors, which are receptive to stimuli from the visceral system and the thoracic cavity. In this way, hunger, thirst, urge to urinate or visceral pain, for example, are perceived. The so-called "intuitive" gut feeling is also related to this.

Since disturbances of the body's activity are often also expressed in more or less specific pain experiences, one can also speak of the sense of pain. Tissue damage and injuries caused by mechanical, thermal and chemical effects are registered by the free sensory nerve endings of corresponding nociceptors (from Latinnocere "to harm"), which are present in almost every tissue of the human body.


In medicine, dull bodily sensations that are often difficult to localise are called coenaesthesis (from Greekκοινος koinos "general" and αἴσθησις aísthēsis "perception, sensation") or girdle sensation. Common synonymous terms are also: life feeling, body feeling, vital feeling or common feeling. Basically, it is a more or less general sensation or perception of one's own body and its state of being. Typical perceptions in this area are hunger, thirst, nausea, nausea, urge to urinate, sexual arousal, etc. In various mental disorders, coenaesthesia can also occur as hallucinations.

The term "coenaesthesia" was coined in 1794 by the Halle psychiatrist Johann Christian Reil (1759-1813) and his doctoral student Hübner[1] and later illuminated by René A. Spitz (1887-1974) from the perspective of developmental psychology, especially with regard to the mother-child relationship[2][3]. The French psychiatrist Ernest Dupré (1862-1921) also frequently used this term[4].

Carl Gustav Jung saw coenaesthesia as a higher imaginative complex related to the perception of the self[5]. In fact, the sense of life forms an essential basis for the sense of I.

The function of the sense of life from the perspective of spiritual science

In healthy people, the sense of life gives them an inner feeling of comfort:

„On the whole, the sense of life lives itself out in healthy people as comfort. That pervading feeling of comfort, heightened after a spicy meal, somewhat down-tuned when hungry, this general inward feeling of being, that is the effect of the sense of life radiated into the soul.“ (Lit.:GA 199, p. 54)

It is also significant that through the dull perception of the sense of life, the human being feels himself as a bodily self filling the space. This normally very subliminal sensation occurs more intensely in the case of languor, fatigue, general indisposition and illness, i.e. in the case of disturbances of the regular life processes. An intensified consciousness occurs when the etheric body cannot sufficiently intervene in the physical body as usual and its activity is therefore increasingly reflected back into the astral body.

„The human being only really notices the existence of this sense when something is perceived that disturbs the order in the body. Man feels weariness, fatigue within himself. He does not hear the tiredness, the languor; he does not smell it; but he perceives it in the same sense as he perceives a smell, a sound. Such perception, which relates to one's own corporeality, is to be ascribed to the sense of life. It is basically always present in the awake human being, even if it only becomes quite noticeable in the case of a disturbance. Through it, the human being feels himself as a bodily self filling the space.“ (Lit.:GA 45, p. 22f)

The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio also sees this bodily sensed self, which he calls the "protoself", as the basis of self-consciousness, indeed of consciousness in general. This primary self-sensing is reflected by corresponding activities in the upper brain stem. Then "the action-driven core self develops and finally the autobiographical self, which also includes social and spiritual dimensions"[6]. The "core self" apparently relies mainly on the sense of self-motion. The sense of balance is also significant.

Originally, the sense of life was intended for our astral body to perceive itself inwardly, experienced on our life organism. Through the Luciferic impulse, this was changed so that we experience our inner body condition as a feeling of well-being or discomfort.

„That which is the organ of the sense of life, by means of which we experience our inner formations, our inner condition, has now been transformed by a Luciferic influence; for originally we were only destined in this respect that our astral body should perceive itself inwardly, experience itself in our life organism. Now, however, the ability to experience the inner condition of the body, the inner condition as a feeling of well-being or displeasure, has been mixed into it. That is the Luciferic impulse which is mixed into it. Just as the I is bound together with touch, so the astral body is bound together with the feeling of well-being or mis-feeling of our condition of life.“ (Lit.:GA 170, p. 251f)

The activity of the sense of life is essentially based on the fact that the etheric body, which co-operates with the physical body, is penetrated like a sponge by the highest member of the human being, the spirit man (Atma).

„In the true spirit of the word, what is this sense of life based on? - We have to descend quite deeply into the subconscious depths of the human organism if we want to get a picture of the origin of what is called the meaning of life. Of course, we can only sketch everything here. First of all, there is a peculiar interaction between the physical body and the etheric body. This fact arises when one tries to ascertain with spiritual-scientific research what underlies the meaning of life. It is really the case that the lowest member of the human being, the physical body, and the life body enter into a quite definite relationship with each other. This happens because something else appears in the etheric body and enters it, saturating it, so to speak. The etheric body is permeated and flowed through by something else. This something else is something that the human being is not yet consciously aware of. Spiritual science, however, can tell us what is working inside the etheric body and soaking it like water through a sponge, figuratively speaking. If one examines this spiritually, one finds that it is the same as what man will one day develop in the distant future as the spirit man or the Atma. Today he does not yet have this Atma in himself; it must first be bestowed upon him, so to speak, from the surrounding spiritual world. It is bestowed upon him without his being able to consciously participate in it. Later, in a distant future, he will have developed it within himself. The spirit man or Atma is what permeates the etheric body. What does this Atma do in the etheric body? Today man is not yet in a position to have a spirit man or Atma within himself, for at the present time this is still a superhuman entity in man. This superhuman being, the Atma, expresses itself by contracting the etheric body, even cramping it together. If we want to use an image from the outer senses, we could compare it with the frosty effect of cold. What will one day be man's highest member, which he is not yet mature enough to do today, causes him to contract. The consequence of the etheric body contracting is that the astral body of man, the astral, is squeezed out, and in proportion as the etheric body is squeezed, the physical body is also tightened. Frosty tensions arise in it. So it is like when you squeeze a sponge. The astral body makes itself air, so to speak, is pressed out, squeezed out. The processes in the astral body are now emotional experiences, experiences of pleasure and displeasure, of joy and pain and so on. This process of being pressed out is what manifests itself in us as a feeling of life, as a feeling of freedom, for example, as a feeling of strength, as a feeling of languor.“ (Lit.:GA 115, p. 35f)


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.


  1. Jürgen Court, Arno Müller: Jahrbuch 2014 der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Geschichte der Sportwissenschaft e.V.. LIT Verlag Münster, 2016, ISBN 9783643132451, S. 71 google.
  2. Stavros Mentzos: Neurotische Konfliktverarbeitung. Einführung in die psychoanalytische Neurosenlehre unter Berücksichtigung neuerer Perspektiven, Fischer-Taschenbuch, Frankfurt 1992, ISBN 3-596-42239-6; p. 94 (Keyword: „coenaesthetisch“)
  3. René A. Spitz: Vom Säugling zum Kleinkind. Naturgeschichte der Mutter-Kind-Beziehungen im ersten Lebensjahr, Klett, Stuttgart 1974
  4. Uwe Henrik Peters: Wörterbuch der Psychiatrie und medizinischen Psychologie. 3. Auflage, Urban & Schwarzenberg, München 1984 (Keywords: „Zönästhesie“, p. 626; „Vitale Leibempfindungen“, „Vitalgefühle“, p. 606)
  5. Carl Gustav Jung: Experimentelle Untersuchungen, Gesammelte Werke, Band 2, Walter-Verlag, Düsseldorf 1995, ISBN 3-530-40077-7; Kap. XVIII. Ein kurzer Überblick über die Komplexlehre, § 1352, p. 625
  6. Damasio, p. 17