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Rudolf Steiner on personal development

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Rudolph Steiner

Rudolf Steiner lived from 1861-1925. Born and raised in Austria, he studied natural sciences in Vienna in his early years. Throughout his life he wrote and spoke publicly on numerous subjects related to art, science, religion and social issues. In 1892 he obtained his doctorate for his dissertation ‘truth and science’. In 1893 he published the book ‘the philosophy of freedom’. In it he dealt with the question to what extent inner freedom exists and how it should be understood. He also wrote analyzes of human psychological functioning in other books and articles. In doing so, he referred to the impetus that people can give themselves to personal development towards inner freedom in all kinds of ways. 

Steiner’s personal development work has not received much publicity. His work is hardly ever referred to in scientific literature. Steiner’s world view undoubtedly plays a role in this. Steiner argued that human thinking is in fact a form of perception. Not a sensory form of perception, but a mental one: In thinking the contents of the world are perceived. 

Bias prevents the understanding that the understanding of the triangle that my head has grasped is the same as the understanding of the triangle grasped by my neighbor’s head. The naive man considers himself the maker of his concepts. He therefore believes that each person has his own concepts. The first demand that must be made of philosophical thought is that it overcome this prejudice. The one, universal understanding of the triangle does not become a multiplicity because many think it. For the thinking of these many is itself a unity. (Steiner, Philosophy of Freedom, Rudolf Steiner Translations Foundation, 2003, p. 77) 

Steiner went even further from the beginning of the twentieth century. He described how man can internally become aware of an objectively existing spiritual world. This can reveal itself to spiritual perception organs, once they have developed. Such organs of perception can be developed from normal psychological functions such as thinking, feeling and acting. 

Within every human being there are latent faculties which enable him to gain insight into higher worlds. The mystic, the Gnostic, the Theosophist, have always spoken of a soul world and a spiritual world as real to them as the world which can be seen with physical eyes and touched with physical hands. Anyone who listens to them can say at any time: I can also experience what they speak about, as soon as I develop certain powers in myself that are still slumbering in me. The only question is how one should go about developing such powers in oneself. (Steiner, The Way to Insight into Higher Worlds, 1904, Stichting Rudolf Steiner Translations 1993, p. 19)

Steiner wrote and spoke extensively about a specific spiritual training for this. It will appear that this training essentially relates to personal development towards inner freedom and psychological flexibility. Steiner wrote about this: 

Indirectly, of course, education is related to the precepts of life insofar as insight into the supersensible is impossible or harmful without a certain ethically oriented way of life. Therefore much that leads to the contemplation of the supersensible is at the same time a means to a higher way of life. On the other hand, through the understanding of the supersensible world, we come to know higher moral impulses that also apply to the physical world. (Steiner, The Science of the Secrets of the Soul, Rudolf Steiner Translation Foundation, 2004, p. 226)

Steiner’s ideas about this schooling are entirely consistent with modern scientific literature on personal development. However, this conclusion is not widely shared today. In fact, the possibility that Steiner contributed to psychology is not considered in the academic literature. Steiner is almost exclusively judged negatively, overlooked or ignored. In any case, a scientific evaluation does not seem to really take place. Perhaps this is the result of his philosophical principles. These are rejected in academia and with them are more falsifiable ideas, if they are known at all. I myself have developed Steiner’s ideas in this book without going into his philosophical principles.

Although Steiner is not referenced in the scientific literature, many of his ideas have nevertheless become commonplace in the scientific literature on personal development and psychotherapy. It may be that he was simply ahead of his time and over time other authors also came up with the same ideas. It also seems to me that his work is indeed known and influential, but without this being mentioned by authors.


In the text below, quotes from Steiner will be used to sketch a picture of his view on personal development and inner freedom. The connection between these quotes and the rest of the contents of this book is perhaps self-explanatory. 



Inner freedom

Steiner believes that every person has it in them to grow towards inner freedom. 

“In the human object of perception there is the possibility of transformation, just as in the germ of a plant there is the possibility of growing into a complete plant. The plant will transform itself by virtue of the objective law that lies within it. Man remains in an unfinished state if he does not take up the transformation material in himself and transform himself under his own power. Nature makes man only a natural being; society makes him a creature that acts according to rules; a free being he himself can make of himself. Nature releases man from her fetters at a certain stage of his development; society leads this development up to a certain point; man can only give himself the ‘finishing touch’. Whoever takes the position of free morality, so do not claim that the free spirit is the only form in which a human being can exist. He sees in the free spirit only the last stage of human development. This does not deny that acting according to norms as a stage in development is justified. It is not acceptable only as an absolute moral point of view. After all, the free spirit overcomes the norms in the sense that it not only considers commandments as motives, but directs its actions according to its own impulses (intuitions).

In the view of the monist, man acts partly unfreely, partly freely. He finds himself as an unfree man in the world of perception and he realizes in himself the free man. (…) Each of us is called to become a free spirit, as every germ of a rose is called to become a rose.

In his early work, Steiner aims to clarify what inner freedom and personal development in that direction entail. He sees it as an opportunity to convert a moment of unfree drive into free purposefulness towards what you consider important. The more someone succeeds in this, the more freely he functions, the more flexible he is. 

To know oneself as an acting personality then means: to possess the adequate laws for one’s actions, that is, to know the moral concepts and ideals. When we have recognized this law, then our actions are also our work. The law is then not given as something outside the object to which the event becomes visible, but as the content of the object itself that performs an actual action. The object in this case is our own self. If this ego has really permeated his action, knowing its essence, then it feels at the same time its master. As long as this does not take place, the laws governing action are foreign to us, they control us, what we do is subject to their constraint. When these laws are metamorphosed from such alienation into the primal making of our self, then that compulsion ceases. The compelling has become our own being. The law no longer rules over us, but in us over the event that emanates from our ego. The realization of an event by virtue of a law outside the realizer is an unfree act, its realization by the realizer himself is an act of freedom. To know the laws of his action means to be aware of his freedom. The process of knowing is, according to our explanations, the process of development towards freedom. but in us about the event that emanates from our ego. The realization of an event by virtue of a law outside the realizer is an unfree act, its realization by the realizer himself is an act of freedom. To know the laws of his action means to be aware of his freedom. The process of knowing is, according to our explanations, the process of development towards freedom. but in us about the event that emanates from our ego. The realization of an event by virtue of a law outside the realizer is an unfree act, its realization by the realizer himself is an act of freedom. To know the laws of his action means to be aware of his freedom. The process of knowing is, according to our explanations, the process of development towards freedom. 

Not all human actions bear this character. In many cases we do not possess the laws for our actions as knowing. This part of our action is the unfree part of our activity. On the other hand, there is that part in which we fully immerse ourselves in these laws. That’s the free area. Only insofar as our life belongs to it can it be regarded as a moral life. The transformation of the first plane into one having the character of the second is the task of every individual development, as well as that of all mankind. The main problem for all human thinking is this: to understand man as a self-grounded, free personality. (Steiner, Truth and Science, 1992, p.74)



The engaged observer within you

A well-known phenomenon in psychology is the inner perception within yourself of an “perceiving self” or a “self as agent”. That is, an “I” that is both involved and an observer. This “I” is experienced as independent of the context. Steiner described the sensation of the “I” as follows in early work: 

Not only do I perceive other things, I also perceive myself. The perception of myself has the content in the first instance that I am the permanent in relation to the ceaselessly coming and going perception images. The perception of the ‘I’ can always occur in my consciousness while I have other perceptions. When I observe a given object and immerse myself in it, I am only aware of this object for the time being. However, the perception of my ‘self’ can be added to that. I am then no longer only aware of the object, but also of my person, who stands opposite that object and observes it. Not only do I see a tree, but I also know that it is I who see it. (Steiner, the philosophy of freedom, Rudolf Steiner Translation Foundation, 2003, p.58)

In later work, Steiner stated that what is experienced as “I” should in fact be regarded as an independent entity. 

Because every human being has in addition to his – let’s just call him – daily human being a higher human being within him. This higher man remains hidden until he is awakened. And everyone can only awaken this higher being in himself. […] As long as a person does not feel the fruit of the inner peace, he will have to tell himself that he must continue in the serious and strict observance of the said rule. […] The tranquility of the saved moments will also have an effect on daily life. Man will become calmer in all respects, he will gain certainty in all his actions, he will no longer be able to be unbalanced by all kinds of incidents. Gradually, the student will lead himself more and more, as it were, instead of being led by circumstances and outside influences. He will soon find out what kind of power source such saved moments are for him. He will no longer be annoyed by things that used to annoy him; countless things that used to frighten him no longer frighten him. He acquires a completely new conception of life. It may have been the case in the past that he only reluctantly embarked on certain tasks. He had thoughts like, “Oh, I don’t have the strength to do it the way I’d like.” Now that thought no longer enters his mind, on the contrary, now he thinks: ‘I will gather all my strength to make the best of it.’ And he suppresses the thought that might make him waver. For he knows that this very hesitation could lead him to a worse performance, at least that this hesitation can contribute nothing to a better performance of his duties. And so the student’s conception of life incorporates one thought after another, each one positive, fruitful for his life. They take the place of thoughts that hindered and weakened him. He begins to steer his ship of life with a steady hand through the waves of life, where before it was tossed about by those waves. 

This peace and security also have an effect on the whole person. The inner man grows through it. […] It is important to realize the scope of all this. For the ‘higher man’ in us is constantly evolving. But only through the described tranquility and security is it possible for him to develop according to his own nature. The waves of the outer life contain our inner man on all sides when we do not control that life, but are controlled by it. We are then like a plant forced to grow in a rock crevice. She languishes—until she gets space. No outside forces can make room for the inner man. Only the inner peace that we create in our soul can do that. Outer circumstances can only change our outer life situation; they can never awaken the ‘spiritual man’ in us. Whoever strives for higher knowledge must give birth to a new, a higher human being within himself. 

This “higher man” then becomes the “inner master” who firmly directs the circumstances of the outer man. As long as the outer man has the upper hand and the lead, the “inner” is his slave and cannot develop his powers. […] Certainly, in many life situations it takes a lot of strength to create moments of inner peace. But the more power is required for this, the more important is what is achieved. In inner training everything depends on whether we can stand as a stranger to ourselves, with all our actions and deeds, with all our efforts, with inner truthfulness and unquestioning sincerity. (Steiner, The way to insight into higher worlds, Stichting Rudolf Steiner Translations, 1999, p.31 )



The personal I (the conceptual self):

Just as Steiner traces the experience of the perceiving self to a self-contained entity, so he describes the personality as existing in itself. You can detach from your personality over time. You no longer identify with it, even though you remain connected to it. Steiner also called this personality seen from the outside ‘the doppelgänger’. Your personality, the set of qualities someone has, your ‘double’, is also an obstacle to perceiving reality as it is. At least as long as you are unreflected in your doppelgänger. It is important to experience the perception of the imperfection of your personality as an incentive to improve it over time, says Steiner.

After all, in the ordinary physical world man develops his ego, his self-consciousness. This ego now acts as a center of attraction to all that belongs to man. All his inclinations, likes, dislikes, passions, views, and so on, cluster around this ego, as it were. […] With all that clings to it in this way, the ego must act as the first image before the human soul when it ascends into the soul-spirit world. This doppelgänger of man, according to a law of the spirit world, must act as the first impression upon that man before anything else in this world. […] In physical-sensory life, man only perceives as much of himself as he experiences of himself inwardly, in his thinking, feeling and willing. However, this is an inner perception; she does not place herself before man, like stones, 

(Steiner, The Secret Science of the Soul, 1910, Rudolf Steiner Translation Foundation, second edition 2004, p.273)



Looking at yourself and thoughts in particular

Steiner considered watching your own thoughts as a starting point for personal growth. 

While observing objects and events and thinking about them are very common states that constantly occur in my life, the observation of thinking is a kind of exceptional state. […] However, for anyone who is capable of observing thought – and with a little goodwill any normally developed person is capable of doing so – this observation is the most important thing he can do. For he observes something that he himself produces; he is not opposed to an initially foreign object, but to his own activity.” (Steiner, the philosophy of freedom, Rudolf Steiner Translation Foundation, 2003, p.36)

“We must be able to confront the idea with consciousness and feeling; otherwise we will be enslaved by her.” Steiner, the philosophy of freedom, Rudolf Steiner Translation Foundation, 2003, p. 221)

Steiner described how you can proceed with this as follows: 

What the student should now strive for in those moments of solitude is to see his own experiences and actions, to judge them in this way, as if he had not experienced or done them himself, but someone else. Suppose someone has had a great accident; how else does he experience this than exactly the same misfortune experienced by another? No one can say that this is wrong. That is in human nature. And as it is with these exceptional situations, so it is with the mundane affairs of life. Those who follow an inner path of education must seek the strength to look at themselves as a stranger at certain moments. He must approach himself with the inner peace of the viewer. (Steiner, The way to insight into higher worlds, Rudolf Steiner Translation Foundation, 1999, p.31)

You relate to yourself and others

As soon as you view your own thinking and your own ideas, you create a new perception. As soon as you start to relate to the perception of your own thinking, a new relationship to reality also arises. You estimate your environment, the behavior of other people, but also your own, in a new way. 

If he succeeds in doing so, his personal experiences will be seen in a new light. As long as he is intertwined with it, as long as he stands in it, he is as much connected with the unreal as with the essential. When he comes to the inner peace of the overview, then the essential separates from the unessential. Sadness and joy, every thought, every decision look different when he looks at himself like that. – It is as if you spent all day in a city and saw the smallest as closely as the largest. But in the evening you climb a nearby hill and take in everything at once. Then the parts of the city show themselves in different relationships than when you are in the middle of it. (Steiner, The way to insight into higher worlds, Rudolf Steiner Translation Foundation, 1999, p.31)

The slightest act, every little act counts in the great economy of the world; it is only a matter of becoming aware of that meaning. It is not about undervaluing, but about the correct appreciation of the daily actions of life. (Steiner, The way to insight into higher worlds, Rudolf Steiner Translation Foundation, 1999, p.119)

In all your experiences and actions you must keep in mind the value that something has in connection with a whole. (Steiner, die Stufen der hoheren Erkenntnis, GA 12, Rudolf Steiner Verlag, p. 14, trans. SK)



Make choices

In behavioral analysis literature, the distinction has now been clearly defined between choosing a value on the one hand and deciding what is best to do on the other. For example, a standard work on ACT states: 

“To have a precise way of speaking about it, we call selecting among alternatives based on reasons decisions. Decisions are explained, justified, linked to, and guided by verbal decision-making processes such as predicting, evaluating, of the weighing of pros and cons. In order for valuing to occur, it is critical that values ​​not be confused with decisions and judgments – values ​​must instead be choices. A choice is a selection among alternatives that may be made with reasons (if reasons are available), but not for reasons. […] Choices are not “free” in the sense of being unaffected by an individual’s history. In fact, choice itself is a historically situated act. Choices are “free” in the sense that there is no coercion, after “have to” driving the choice. (Hayes et al., Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, 2nd edition, 2012, p.298-300)

In a popular self-help book, the same author (Steven Hayes) explains it this way: 

A choice is not the same as a reasoned judgment. When you make a judgment, you use your mind and its evaluative abilities to weigh different possibilities. Depending on what you want, choose one of them. […] Values ​​are not judgments. Values ​​are choices. Choices are selections between different possibilities that can be made when reasons are present […], but this selection is not made for those reasons: it is not explained, justified or related by them. A choice is not related to an evaluative verbal measure. In other words, a choice is a defused selection between different possibilities. It is different from judgment; a judgment is a verbally guided selection between different possibilities. (Hayes: Out of Your Mind in Life, 2006, p. 187)

Steiner similarly described this distinction between the choice of a value or a reasoned decision to act as early as 1893: 

The free mind acts according to its impulses, which are intuitions that it selects with its thinking from the totality of its world of ideas. For the unfree mind, the reason why it separates a certain intuition from its world of ideas in order to base an action on it lies in the world of perception surrounding it, that is, in its experiences hitherto. Before coming to a decision, he remembers what someone else has done or judged good to do in such a case, or what God has commanded for such a case, and so on, and he acts accordingly. In the case of the free spirit, it is precisely not these previous experiences that prompt him to act. In fact, he makes a first decision. In doing so, he cares as little about what others have done in such a case as about what they have prescribed for it. He has purely idealistic motives for converting into action that very one concept from the totality of his concepts. (Steiner, philosophy of freedom, Rudolf Steiner Translations Foundation, 2003, p. 157)

Making a choice is not a one-time process. Inner freedom means that you determine again and again what is of value given the situation. 

Anyone who adheres to the ethical principle of welfare maximization will first ask himself in all his actions what his intentions contribute to this. Anyone who advocates the ethical principle of cultural progress will do the same. However, there is a higher principle, which in each individual case does not proceed from 1 specific ethical goal, but attaches a certain value to all ethical principles and always asks itself in the concrete situation which ethical principle is the most important in this case. It may happen that in certain circumstances a person makes the promotion of cultural progress, in other circumstances the promotion of the common good, and in still other circumstances the motive of his actions is to consider serving one’s own welfare as right. (…) The action is thus not performed according to a template of rules, nor is it performed automatically in response to an external prompt, but is determined solely by its ideal content. Such an act presupposes the ability to have moral intuitions. Anyone who lacks the ability to experience the specific principle for a concrete situation will never bring it to a truly individual will.” (the philosophy of freedom, Rudolf Steiner Translation Foundation, 2003, p.130) it will never bring it to a truly individual will.” (the philosophy of freedom, Rudolf Steiner Translation Foundation, 2003, p.130) it will never bring it to a truly individual will.” (the philosophy of freedom, Rudolf Steiner Translation Foundation, 2003, p.130)

Inner freedom requires not only the choice of a value, but also an idea of ​​how that value can be realized given the situation; and to have the skill to perform it. Steiner calls this moral fantasy and moral technique. 

The connecting link between understanding and perception is the representation […]. The unfree spirit possesses this intermediary from the very beginning. His motives are pre-presented in his consciousness as images. If he wants to do something, he does it the way he once observed it or as he was instructed for this particular case. […] As soon as the impulse to act is present in a general idealistic form (for example: ‘you must do good to your fellow human beings’ or ‘you must live in such a way that you optimally promote your own well-being’), every situation must first a concrete representation of the act […] can be found. With the free spirit, which is not driven by examples, not by fear of punishment and the like, this translation of the concept into a representation is always necessary. 

Man produces concrete representations from the totality of his ideas, primarily with the aid of his imagination. So what the free mind needs to realize its ideas, to manifest itself, is moral fantasy. She is the source of the action of the free spirit. […]

Moral action thus presupposes, in addition to the ability to generate moral ideas and, in addition to moral fantasy, the ability to transform the world of perception with due observance of its lawful coherence. This skill is moral technique. (Steiner, the philosophy of freedom, Rudolf Steiner Translation Foundation, 2003, p.158-159)

It can be painful to face what drives you. It can then be difficult to choose what really matters to you, ie, a moral intuition or value. An indication of the dramatic character of this development from unfreedom to freedom is provided, among other things, by the following picture, which Steiner develops in die Geheimwissenschaft (1908).

Man imagines a schwarzes Kreuz vor. Dieses sei Sinnbild für das vernichtete Niedere der Triebe und Leidenschaften; und da, wo sich die Balken des Kreuzes schneiden, Denke man sich sieben rote, strahlende Rosen im Kreise angeordnet. Diese Rosen seien das Sinnbild für ein Blut, das Ausdruck ist für gelä uterte , gedeinigte Leidenschaften und Triebe.

This image of seven roses on a black cross also gives a striking picture of how seven values ​​can grow out of seven forms of self-centered behavior.   More about these seven values ​​and drivers will be discussed below. 

Steiner also described another aspect of the transition from unfree to free behaviour. Namely, the difficult state that everyone experiences for a shorter or longer period of time, when he decides to put a stop to a specific behavior that arises from an unfree drive. Within Acceptance and Commitment Therapy this state is called ‘creative hopelessness’. Your condition is hopeless, because you don’t want to go back to the old, but also don’t know exactly how to move on to something new. In addition, this state is also creative, because your energy is no longer consumed by your old behaviors. Steiner described this as follows in his book Christianity as Mystical Fact (1902): 

Eine M öglichkeit lies here, die furchtbar sein kann. Es ist die , daß der Mensch seine Empfindungen und Gefühle für die unmittelbare Wirklichkeit verliert und sich keine neue vor ihm auftut. Then there is schwebt who im Leeren. There will come who abgestorben vor. Die alten Werte sind dahin, und keine neuen sind ihm erstanden. 

[…] Das ist aber gar nicht eine bloße Möglichkeit. Es wird für jeden, der zu höherer Erkenntnis kommen will, einmal Wirklichkeit. […] Wohl ihm, wenn er nicht verinkt. Wenn sich vor ihm eine neue Welt auftut. Er schwindet entweder dahin; oder er steht als Verwandelter neu vor sich.

The decision to stop behavior that stems from unfree drives causes pain in a sense. Your body is still set to behavior that you now consciously remember. Steiner described and classified such painful experiences in his book Theosophy (1905). Incidentally, in this case he places these experiences in an entirely different context than that of everyday life. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss this classification in more detail. In the quote below, Steiner describes the experience you gain in transforming a certain kind of unfree behavior, namely impulsive behavior.

Durch diese Unmöglichkeit der Befriedigung wird die Gier aufs höchste gesteigert. Zugleich muss aber diese Unmöglichkeit die Gier allmählich verlöschen. Die brennenden Gelüste verzehren sich nach und nach; und die Seele hat erfahren, dass in der Austilgung solcher Gelüste das einzige Mittel liegt, das Leid zu verhindern, das aus ihnen kommen muss.



Typical dilemmas

In later work, Steiner formulated seven related values. In short, it concerns a focus on health, responsibility, gratitude, determination, sincerity, integrity and motivation.

To illustrate these seven values, here are some excerpts from Steiner’s descriptions of them. (The order below has been changed slightly for reasons not relevant here.)

  1. […] condition is that the pupil strives to promote his physical and mental health. How healthy a person is, of course, does not initially depend on himself. But everyone can strive to promote their own health. 
  2. […] condition is to feel as part of the whole life. […] And then the idea will no longer be strange to me that I am only part of a whole humanity and jointly responsible for everything that happens. 
  3. […] condition is the development of a sense of gratitude for all that man has. […] What do we not owe to nature and to other people! 
  4. Firmness in complying with a decision once made. Nothing should induce the student to depart from a decision once made, but the recognition that he has been mistaken.
  5. To penetrate the idea that the real essence of man does not lie in the outer, but in the inner. Anyone who considers himself only as a product of the outer world, a result of the physical world, cannot achieve anything in spiritual training. Experiencing oneself as a soul and spirit being is a starting point for that education. 
  6. The student must be able to work his way up to the view that his thoughts and feelings are as important to the world as his actions. It must be recognized that it is as pernicious when I hate a fellow man as when I strike him.
  7. All these conditions must unite in a seventh: To conceive life ceaselessly as the conditions require. (Steiner, The way to insight into higher worlds, Rudolf Steiner Translations Foundation, 1999, p.87 et seq.)

Steiner described the choice of these values ​​as a condition of personal development towards deeper insight. Such personal development is only possible insofar as someone commits himself to values. 

With this enumeration of a number of values, Steiner indirectly gives a substantive interpretation to the concept of ‘value’. You can at least take his description of these conditions in such a way that they typify what value orientation means. Seen in this way, someone who functions at a certain time in line with a certain value is thus aimed at:

  1. to serve his health whenever possible.
  2. to take responsibility for the circle of which he belongs.
  3. to experience and show gratitude for what is.
  4. to stay in touch with what is going on inside himself or others. 
  5. make decisions and follow through.
  6. maintain integrity in dealing with others
  7. to stay motivated for what is important to him. 

These 7 conditions form the dimensions of value. Value orientation is an interplay of these seven dimensions. In other words, the content of a moment of focus on a value is determined by the interrelationships of these dimensions. For example, one moment will consider focus on what is healthy, the next moment focus on the importance of the people around you. However, each dimension will always be recognizable when someone actually follows a value. For example, focusing on the interests of others can be at the expense of your health. However, if the focus on value is to be fully maintained, then behavior that undermines one’s own health will still remain focused on one’s own health. For example, someone can sacrifice their night’s sleep to care for someone else. However, without neglecting the pursuit of a night’s sleep. This is how it applies to all the choices you make: A certain dimension may seem absent, but that is only apparent. With a focus on a value, all seven value dimensions have a share in the steering of behaviour.

Steiner relates some of these conditions to motivations to be overcome. For example, in the context of the pursuit of health, he mentions that lust cannot be an end in itself for those who seek deeper insight. He further relates the realization that you are always part of a whole with the realization that what you have received could not have gone to another. He contrasts the focus on the fact that the essence of people lies in their inner beings with the pursuit of externalities, such as external success or recognition from others. Finally, focusing on the fact that what you think and feel is just as relevant as what you look like makes it clear, according to Steiner, that hate is no less problematic than physical violence. In short, Steiner’s description of a focus on health, responsibility, sincerity and integrity also indicate 4 motives known as four of the seven deadly sins namely: lust, greed, vanity, envy. The connection of the three other deadly sins (intemperance, rage, and sloth) with the three other conditions (gratitude, tenacity, and motivation) is obvious. Seven typical values ​​are thus opposed to 7 typical drives. For example, Steiner’s description of 7 conditions leads to the formulation of 7 typical dilemmas: Seven typical values ​​are thus opposed to 7 typical drives. For example, Steiner’s description of 7 conditions leads to the formulation of 7 typical dilemmas: Seven typical values ​​are thus opposed to 7 typical drives. For example, Steiner’s description of 7 conditions leads to the formulation of 7 typical dilemmas:

You can indulge in // Or focus on: 

lust //health

greed // responsibility

intemperance // gratitude

vanity // pride the inner, the essential

rant or sulk // to make or decisions already made

envy // integrity

despondency // the motivating of your values



Function from yourself

Steiner described a number of psychological functions that are constantly active in every human being. By a psychological function you can understand behavior that is psychologically functional, has a function. These functions, such as suggesting, feeling, deciding, communicating, etc., are spontaneously active. You cannot disable them. As is well known, for example, you cannot not communicate. As long as these functions are not actively taken up, they will function in accordance with your past and your current environment. They then lead their own lives, as it were. However, it is possible to develop these functions and place them under your own direction. 

Although Steiner distinguished more, he specifically described four clusters of psychological functions. These clusters relate to: The harmony or agreement with yourself and your environment that you can achieve; the form and content you give to your behaviour; on the contact you enter into with yourself and your environment; and on your sensory receptivity to the here-and-now. As you succeed in developing these functions, you will live more in harmony with yourself and your environment, your behavior will become more correct, you will be able to communicate more and you will become more present in the here-and-now.

Incidentally, Steiner also refers to these clusters as lotus flowers, following Eastern traditions. The leaves of a lotus flower symbolize the separate functions of the respective cluster. Steiner indicates that half of these leaves on each lotus flower can be developed independently. The other half develops automatically. Steiner has not provided an explanation for this. Perhaps it can be understood as follows: Each cluster contains a defined number of functions. Each of these functions is active in the ego and can, as it were, be brought under control from the outside and consciously directed. At the same time, every function can also, as it were, take place from within from within the ego. As one succeeds in getting a grip on a function that performs itself on the self, this function will also begin to manifest as an expression of the self. For example, anyone who experiences a compelling feeling of sadness and manages to get it under control, can then notice that an underlying different feeling from within himself can manifest itself. For example, a feeling of anger. You experience this second feeling as coming from within yourself, while the initial feeling becomes more like something outside yourself. Both feelings are expressions of the same function, but one only occurs once the other has been brought under control. So there are always twice as many leaves as functions per lotus flower. can then notice that underlying another feeling from within himself can manifest itself. For example, a feeling of anger. You experience this second feeling as coming from within yourself, while the initial feeling becomes more like something outside yourself. Both feelings are expressions of the same function, but one only occurs once the other has been brought under control. So there are always twice as many leaves as functions per lotus flower. can then notice that underlying another feeling from within himself can manifest itself. For example, a feeling of anger. You experience this second feeling as coming from within yourself, while the initial feeling becomes more like something outside yourself. Both feelings are expressions of the same function, but one only occurs once the other has been brought under control. So there are always twice as many leaves as functions per lotus flower.

Each cluster relates Steiner to certain inner experiences that you can have with the outer environment. As a cluster functions better, the relevant ‘inner perception’ of the outer environment sharpens. This inner experience thus becomes like a psychological organ of perception of your environment. For example, improved contact with yourself and others will lead to you being able to distinguish more clearly to what extent something or someone feels hot or cold. Conversely, it is also possible that the relevant observations become disturbed as a cluster of functions functions less well. 



Align with yourself and your environment

The next cluster that Steiner discusses in this context is the most fundamental. Unfortunately, he has only formulated its functions in rather general terms. I interpret it as follows. This cluster relates to the ability to generally agree with yourself and your environment. The three functions in this cluster that Steiner describes are, firstly, the ability to determine one’s own direction (to arrive at appropriate values), secondly, to experience what is easy as it is (to accept it) and thirdly, to put yourself in the position of yourself. (to be realized). Each of these three functions can be a starting point for the other two. You are constantly faced with the task of choosing the one, accepting the other and realizing yourself. They should therefore be kept in harmony with each other. In this way, Steiner already described at the time what now emerges in modern behavioral analysis. Namely, that choosing what you find important cannot be viewed separately from the acceptance of what is presented to you and that it is only meaningful in conjunction with goal-oriented behaviour. 

On the other hand, of course, as with the other clusters, there is the possibility of letting these functions run their course.

  1. The spirit, however, should not have to rule over the soul like a slave owner with its commandments and laws. On the other hand, he will have to follow those duties and commandments of his own free inclination. Not as something to which it grudgingly conforms, duty should hover over the spiritual pupil, but as something which he performs because he likes it. 
  2. The soul should not be forced by the body to desires and passions which are contrary to a pure and noble mind. A free soul, balanced between sensuality and spirituality, must develop the spiritual pupil. He must bring himself to the point of surrendering himself to his sensuality, because it has become so chaffed that it has lost the power to pull it down to itself.
  3. The body should be so ennobled and purified that its organs are reduced to nothing, which is not done in the service of the soul of the spirit. (Steiner, wie erlangt man Erkenntnisse der höheren Welten, translation SK).



Being in touch with yourself and with others

The cluster that determines the degree to which you are in contact with yourself and others comprises 6 functions. This cluster can be developed as follows:

The first thing the pupil observes in this connection is the regulation of his thoughts (so-called control of the thoughts). Just as the sixteen-petalled lotus flower develops through true meaningful thoughts, so the twelve-petalled lotus flower is formed through inner control of the stream of thoughts. Thoughts fluttering about, which are not connected meaningfully, logically, but purely by chance, spoil the shape of this lotus flower. The more one thought follows from another, the more the illogical is avoided, the more this sense acquires its own specific form. […] Secondly, it is about bringing the same consequence into his actions (control of actions). All instability, disharmony in action are pernicious for the lotus flower in question. The third is cultivating endurance. The pupil will not be moved by this or that influence from a goal he has set for himself, as long as he can regard this goal as right. […] The fourth is forbearance (tolerance) towards people, other beings and also facts. The student suppresses all superfluous criticism of that which is imperfect, malicious, and bad, and rather tries to understand everything that comes his way. As little as the sun withholds its light from evil and evil, neither does it withhold its understanding interest. […] He not only views other opinions from his own point of view, but also tries to put himself in the other person’s position. — The fifth is open-mindedness towards all life phenomena. In this context one speaks of ‘geoof’ or ‘trust’. […] When he is told something, he never says ‘I don’t believe that’, because it contradicts his opinion so far. Rather, he is ready at any time to examine and revise his opinion, his opinion in the light of a new opinion. He remains always receptive to everything that comes his way. 

The sixth is that the student acquires a certain balance in life (equanimity). He strives to maintain an even mood whether sorrow or joy befalls him. He unlearns the commute between ‘heavenly cheering, sad to death’. Misfortune and danger find him as armed as happiness and prosperity. (Steiner, The way to insight into higher worlds, Rudolf Steiner Translations Foundation, 1999, p.104 ff.)

The description above basically summarizes the behaviors that, taken together, make up mentalizing. Mentalization as a concept was conceptualized in the 1990s. Elsewhere in this book, we discuss what mentalizing is in more detail. It is interesting how sharply Steiner described what is known today as ‘mentalizing the affect’ already 100 years ago in the quote below. 


And when man no longer responds selfishly to every pleasure and every sorrow, to every sympathy and antipathy, behaves selfishly, then he also becomes independent of the changing impressions from the outside world. The pleasure you get from a certain thing immediately makes you dependent on that thing. You lose yourself to that thing. One who loses himself in pleasure and sorrow according to such or such impressions cannot go the way of spiritual insight. He must accept pleasure and sorrow with resignation. Then he will not lose himself in it anymore; then he begins to understand them correctly. If I surrender to a pleasure, the moment of surrender my life is consumed. However, I should only use the pleasure to understand the thing that gives me pleasure. I should not care that the thing gives me pleasure: I must experience the pleasure and through the pleasure get to know the essence of the thing. The pleasure must be to me only a message saying: in the thing there is a quality capable of providing pleasure. I need to get to know this property. If I were to stop at pleasure, if I were to let myself be completely controlled by it, then it is only I myself who amuse myself; but if the pleasure is but the occasion of experiencing a property of the thing, then by that experience I enrich my inner being. For the investigator, pleasure and displeasure, joy and sorrow, must be the opportunity through which he learns something about things. The researcher does not thereby become impervious to pleasure and sorrow; but he rises above it, so that they may reveal to him the nature of things. Those who develop in this direction will learn to appreciate the teachers of pleasure and sorrow. He will sympathize with every being and thereby experience the inner nature. The inquirer never says to himself alone: ​​Oh, how I suffer! or: how happy I am! But always: what does this suffering say, what does this joy say? He surrenders to the pleasure and joy of the outside world. In this way an entirely new attitude towards things develops in man. Formerly man followed some action upon some impression only because those impressions pleased or displeased him. Now, however, he lets pleasure and displeasure at the same time be the organs through which things tell him what their own essence is. Pleasure and sorrow become from mere feelings in hm to senses through which the outside world is perceived. […] The eye can only serve the body by being a sensory gateway for specific impressions; pleasure and sorrow will develop into eyes of the soul, when they cease to assert themselves alone, but begin to reveal the unknown soul to their own soul. (Steiner, Theosophy, first edition 1904, 1994 Stiching Rudolf Steiner Translations, p. 147-149) but begin to reveal the unknown soul to one’s own soul. (Steiner, Theosophy, first edition 1904, 1994 Stiching Rudolf Steiner Translations, p. 147-149) but begin to reveal the unknown soul to one’s own soul. (Steiner, Theosophy, first edition 1904, 1994 Stiching Rudolf Steiner Translations, p. 147-149)

As a person develops this cluster of 6 qualities, he will develop a keener sense of the heat or cold that emanates from contact with another. For example, you can already have an experience of warmth when someone treats you sincerely kindly. 

“Those perceptions can be approximately characterized as soul warmth and soul cold” (Steiner, The way to insight into higher worlds, Rudolf Steiner Translations Foundation, 1999, p.104 ff.)

Steiner also places this cluster in a broader context. He also involves the ability to look at yourself and thus come to a distinction between the essential versus the unessential of an observation; thereby valuing what you observe; and finally also the ability to make choices for what you find true or valuable. Steiner sees these functions together as the center of psychological functioning. 

In addition to this central cluster, Steiner specifically describes the following three clusters. 



Live in the now with your past behind you

The next cluster of functions that Steiner names and is elaborated in this book relates to the perception of reality in the here-and-now. It is possible to some extent to live in the here-and-now, detached from your past. Your senses then mainly bring about perceptions of your current environment and not so much what can have an effect from the past. Inevitably, however, the past permeates the perception of the present. The perception of the present can thus be continuously over-influenced by the past. This requires you to constantly control the functioning of your senses. 

The student should avoid any form of mindless looking and listening. For him there must only exist what he directs his eye or ear to. He must train himself not to hear anything in the utmost noise if he does not want to; he has to desensitize his eye to things he is not particularly looking at. In his soul he must, as it were, armor himself against all unconscious impressions. (Steiner, The way to insight into higher worlds, Rudolf Steiner Translations Foundation, 1999, p.109 ff.).

In this context, Steiner mentions 5 aspects of sensory perception in relation to past experiences. 

  1. Your observations can trigger all kinds of memories. These can, as it were, determine the course of your thinking, feeling and perceiving in the here-and-now. 

Usually we are completely unaware of what governs and evokes our thoughts, our memories. An example is the following. Someone is on the train. He is thinking about something. Suddenly those thoughts take a different turn. He remembers something from years ago and weaves it into his thoughts now. But he did not notice at all that his gaze was directed out of the window and fell on someone who resembled a person who was involved in the earlier experience. What he has seen does not become conscious to him at all, only its consequence. That’s why he thinks this ‘came naturally to him’.

  1. Perceptions are ideally ‘metabolized’ into the whole of your thinking and feeling. Unconsciously acquired perceptions, however, can take up space in your thinking and feeling in an unprocessed state, as undigested chunks, as a false self.

Many things leave an impression on the soul without being absorbed into consciousness. The following can happen. Someone reads in the newspaper that a well-known personality has died. And now he insists that he already had a premonition of his death ‘yesterday’, yet he had not heard or seen anything that could have led him to think so. And it is true, if ‘naturally’ ‘yesterday’ the thought occurred to him that that person would die. He just missed one thing. A few hours before that thought crossed his mind ‘yesterday’, he was visiting someone. There was a newspaper on the table. He hasn’t read it. But unknowingly his eye fell on a message that said that the person in question was seriously ill. He was not aware of that impression. But the result was the “premonition.” 

  1. Observations can become charged and evoke feelings of sympathy and antipathy, but these are mainly related to the past. 

There are so many things in our lives that we have heard and read without realizing the connection. For example, someone has an aversion to a certain color; however, he doesn’t know that it’s because a teacher who made his life miserable years ago wore a coat in that color. Countless illusions have such a background. 

  1. Your thoughts and associations can form according to the content of your thoughts, but they can also be guided by old emotional charges.

In this respect he must give particular care to the thought-life itself. He imagines a thought and further tries to think only what he can attach to that thought in full consciousness, in complete freedom. Random raids he rejects. If he wants to connect the thought with another, he carefully examines where this other thought has occurred to him.

  1. Your feelings can reflect your current relationship to something, but they can also mainly be a reaction to related past experiences.

For example, when he has a certain antipathy towards something, he fights it and tries to enter into a conscious relationship with the object in question. 

(Steiner, The way to insight into higher worlds, Rudolf Steiner Translations Foundation, 1999, p.108 ff.).



Doing the right thing in you

Finally, Steiner distinguishes a cluster consisting of 8 functions, each of which forms an aspect of the content and form of your behavior. Steiner makes the following recommendations regarding the correct design of these functions. 

The first is the way in which man internalizes images. […] To this end, the student must pay attention to his representations. … He must direct his entire thought life so that it becomes a faithful reflection of the outside world. His aim should be to remove misrepresentations from his soul. Student — The second soul process similarly concerns man’s decisions. He should only decide on something after well-founded and thorough deliberation. All that is thoughtless action, all insignificant activity he should keep far from his soul. […] The third process involves speaking. Only what has sense and significance should pass the lips of the student. […] What he says is never without foundation. […] The fourth soul process is the mastery of outer actions. The student tries to organize his actions in such a way that it fits in with that of his fellow human beings and with the events in his environment. … If he is compelled to act by something else, he carefully examines how best to do justice to the situation. If he acts on his own initiative, he weighs up the consequences of his action as clearly as possible. Student — The fifth issue here is in the arrangement of the whole life. The student tries to live in harmony with nature and the spirit. He doesn’t rush anything and he’s not slow. He doesn’t rush anything and he’s not slow. Overactivity and laxity are equally foreign to him. […] He treats his health, habits, etc. in such a way that a harmonious life is the result. — The sixth concerns human endeavor. […] He does not mindlessly fit into human society like a cog, but he tries to understand his tasks and to look beyond the requirements of everyday life. He strives ever better and more perfectly to fulfill what has been imposed on him. – The seventh process in his soul life concerns the endeavor to learn as much as possible from life. Nothing passes the student’s mind that he does not take as an opportunity to gain experience useful for his life. If he has done something incorrectly or incompletely, it becomes a reason to do something similar better or more completely in the future. When he sees others acting, he watches them with the same purpose. He tries to collect a wealth of experiences and consult them carefully. And he does nothing without looking back at experiences that can help him in his decisions and actions. Student — Finally, the eighth thing is that the pupil should from time to time take a look into himself. He must turn inwards, carefully consult himself, go through his life principles, weigh his duties, reflect on the content and purpose of life, and so on. (Steiner, The way to insight into higher worlds, Rudolf Steiner Translations Foundation, 1999, p.98 ff.)



Steiner and Classical Literature

Authors within both MBT and ACT do not only describe connections with pre-existing psychological concepts and currents. It also reflects on older cultural objects. For example, some authors explored relationships between ACT and Buddhist teachings. For Steiner, too, very old ideas can be recognized in his work. For example, Steiner’s ideas about what might be called executive functions are in line with what is known as the Buddha’s eightfold path. 

Further, his ideas about what has come to be known today as mentalizing are drawing on Hindu teachings. Particularly on that of the initiator of Advaita Vedanta, Sri Sankaraya (800 BC). As described for example in his work Vivekachudamani. 

The old doctrine of the seven deadly sins seems to be revived in Steiner’s ideas about seven typical values ​​and related motives. However, it is beyond the scope of this text to discuss these relationships in more detail.