Dear Members and Friends of the Anthroposophical Society in Canada,
As nature, as Natura, goes through her ‘great breath’ all of humanity accompanies her. Across the northern hemisphere she breathes out life into spring. Across the south she breathes life into its autumn rest. Our own soul life accompanies her; quickening with life’s awakening, turning toward its inwardness with life’s waning.
In recent months this life process of the earth has been accompanied by another. Humanity has witnessed the advance of a mysterious, a secretive, presence. We have watched as it has extended itself, at first slowly, and then with ever increasing speed into every human community.
In an effort to understand this sweeping shadow we have become overwhelmed by the face it presents. On a daily basis we are given constant updates on its relentless expansion. We are told of the thousands of people infected; continuous revisions of its effects on humanity. It is as if, by overwhelming ourselves with its ever-changing footprints, we come closer to understanding it. Yet the more information we are confronted with the less we seem to know of its nature – the nature of this enigma that with unwavering insistence seeks us. How do we see it, beyond the surface of all the facts about it? How do we penetrate through the avalanche of information to what is secreted behind?
Pondering these questions, what confronts us ever and again is the doorway through which it has come. Images arise of wild animals – foxes torn from nature, held in small cages and sold for human consumption. The image demands attention. When given this attention, this attending to reveals our fractured relationship with nature. We are faced with the immeasurable suffering humanity inflicts on the animal kingdom. Our link with nature, our living connection with her, is shattered. We see her as a resource, as a commodity, whose sole purpose has become to meet our collective need to consume.
As we consider the wild animal, caged, sympathy for this specific animal awakens in us. But what is our connection with the being whose outer manifestation is this individual animal? A living relationship with those divine beings who reveal themselves through nature is lost for us.
Similarly, how can we come closer to understanding the advancing hidden presence that overwhelms us? What is it that, with such insistence, seeks to merge with humanity, using the caged fox to do so? To approach these questions we must consider something fundamental about this entity we call ‘virus’. This leads to the mystery of life itself for this presence is not yet fully alive. This not-yet-living entity is forever seeking what its own nature cannot provide. It exists at the threshold of life, unable to enter in. This is profoundly significant, an enigma whose evolution has not yet reached the kingdoms of life yet, having a fundamental need to become living. In this powerful unresolved tension this entity forever seeks to merge, to become one with living beings, specifically living beings who breathe. It seeks to unite itself with organs of respiration, disrupting breathing, even inhibiting it to the point that life stops. Its insatiable need destroys what it most seeks.
The foundations of life for all sentient beings – for all animals, for human beings – is the gift of breath, a miraculous process wholly dependent upon the earth’s green mantle. Without this cosmos of plants and its transpiration of oxygen, we could not breathe. As with our voracious consumption of the animal kingdom we devour the plant kingdom, choosing to not see its essential place in life’s whole fabric.
Yet, this invasion of our breathing goes beyond the body – into our soul life, into our spiritual life. The soul breathing that sustains our very humanity is crippled. The communion from soul to soul, so essential for human community life, has been imprisoned. This shadowy entity has impinged itself into our ‘social breathing’ that nourishes our life of soul where our self is mirrored back to us. But this impingement goes further, not only insinuating itself into our physical and soul processes, but extending into our capacity to sense into that realm beyond the senses, to open ourselves to those spiritual beings who would support us. A collective anxiety shrouds us, locking us into the surface of the world, the outer facts. We have stopped breathing.
How can we cultivate a way of comprehending what this being would press into every aspect of human life? How can we cultivate the capacities needed to meet the ever-changing challenges that humanity is facing?
Over the past year the Goetheanum Leadership and the Council of Country Societies – the circle of General Secretaries and Country Representatives – have carried this question in a specific way. We have asked ourselves how can we cultivate a stance, an attitude, that can meet the escalating challenges facing humanity, facing all life? The question has become, how can we cultivate an attitude toward world events that is Michaelic? What is a Michaelic Attitude and how can I embody it?
One doorway into this question might be to turn to the portrayals of Michael through time. How have artists sought the essential gesture, the mood of Michael, that can model for us a specifically Michaelic relationship to the world? What can arise out of such observations is the recognition of certain consistent elements in these depictions; the forward gaze, the direct connection with the Dragon, the right foot stepping forward. Pondering these layers of images, what can rise up as an integration of them all is the extraordinary great work of Rudolf Steiner – the Representative of Humanity. Though familiar to many of us, this great figure comes alive in a new way when we seek to inwardly experience, to embody its primary elements. With the representations of Michael as our guide, we can practice building up within ourselves its three significant aspects – the gaze, the heart, the step forward. How can these three practices guide us?
We turn to the countenance that Rudolf Steiner felt was so critical for humanity that he rose from his sickbed to work on it in his final days. Its gaze turns neither right nor left, above or below, but directly ahead – a beholding that both sees the sense’s horizon and perceives what lies beyond it. In the 1923 Michael Festival in Vienna, Rudolf Steiner points to the power of our gaze. He describes the intense longing of all of nature to be truly seen, truly beheld. This is not a looking at the surface of the visible world. It is a perceiving through the sense’s surfaces into reality. He makes it clear that this true beholding cannot come from the head alone.
Attending to the Representative’s whole gesture, what becomes apparent is that this gaze into reality is informed by a delicate rhythmic sensing of the heart. Beautiful harmonic pulsation weaves out from the heart into the outstretched arms. These extended limbs become organs of perception that ‘see into’ the two beings who would insinuate themselves destructively into humanity. We can sense how the Representative inwardly ‘listens into’ these great challengers of humanity. This ‘inward hearing’ becomes a deeper, fuller perceiving of the inner nature of these two beings.
So too is it for us. Can we so ‘listen into’ what is working throughout the world to impinge itself into us that we begin to ‘hear into’ it, begin to have an intuitive understanding of it? In this inward listening-perceiving, is our own heart awakened in such a way that we practise sensing beyond the sense’s horizon? We send out what resides at the heart of our being; we truly feel, and this true feeling becomes a breathing into the activity of those beings who work both into nature and into us. This weaving heart breathing is central to, fundamental to the Michael-Representative of Humanity attitude that reveals the inner being of sense phenomena. We experience this heart breathing aesthetically. What flows rhythmically across the threshold of the senses awakens within us as Beauty. This aesthetic awakening informs us that we are perceiving what is True.
Can we comprehend out of the practice of ‘heart-beholding’, that breathes into what lives within and beyond sense activity, the clarity with which the Representative of Humanity is then able to stride confidently forward? There is focused power in this step, a stepping into what is unknown. All that we have to guide us is trust in what can sound into us out of a loving attention to the world. We can then act and our engagement can be affirmed, or not. We can recognize this affirmation when we see that what arises aligns itself with what is Good.
Turning to the world, to the far reaching impacts that the advance of this mysterious presence has had, can we recognize that what confronts us is the call to meet the worlds, both seen and unseen, with love-filled attention – to truly behold, to give ourselves the time to fully open our senses to the world. To truly feel, to send into our sense’s revelations our essential humanity, our own warmth. To truly act, to step through our anxiety, our unease, and take the good next step. Are these three a stepping into the practice of embodying, in whatever small way that we can, this Michaelic mood – this open, fully conscious Michaelic ‘being fully with’ – this Michaelic Attitude?
As humanity has withdrawn from the world it has built for itself, taking all that we want from nature’s kingdoms to do so, the streets of our cities have fallen silent. What we see as our great accomplishments, our monuments to ourselves, lie dormant. And in this stillness nature has stirred. The songs of birds seem more acute. Across the world the universe of animals has come out of its hiding. Boar roam the streets of Barcelona. Coyotes have quickly expanded into San Francisco. Jaguars, the most reclusive of animals, leave their forest shelter to prowl through seemingly abandoned Mexican towns. Equally secretive African lions rest unperturbed on empty roadways. Across western Europe, foxes move stealthily back onto ground that once was theirs.
With warm regards,
General Secretary for Canada