Interview on the topic: School of Spiritual Science

Conducted by Inessa Guseva

The conversation between Bodo von Plato, Ron Dunselman, Robin Schmidt, Nathaniel Williams and Inessa Guseva took place at the Goetheanum 10 January 2017.

Inessa Guseva: On July 7-9 2017, the first public event on Meditation, called Living Connections. Worldwide Perspectives on Anthroposophical Meditation will take place in Goetheanum. This conference is for everyone who is interested in meditation.

Before the public conference a pre-conference will take place, on July 5–7 2017, The 19 Class Lessons – a path of Meditation. This Pre-Conference is for Members of the "School of Spiritual Science" and focuses on the meditative path with 19 "Class Lessons" at its center.

How do we understand the School of Spiritual Science in modern times? What does the School mean to us now?

Ron Dunselman: The School of Spiritual Science is a School where I become aware of who I am, where I come from, where I am going, and of my connections to the world. It’s a path of learning to know myself and the world in a way that is true. It’s a way to come into connection with the spiritual world. It brings the insight, and experience, that spiritual and human beings are co-creating future for themselves and for the world. We are co-workers in shaping the world.

Robin Schmidt: I think the major experience of the 20th century was that the human being sensed that from now on he is co-responsible for the reality of the world. To sense this responsibility is a challenging experience. If you face this experience, you enter a sphere of consciousness of a radical freedom of the human being on one side, and the wonder of the beauty of the world (how we found it before we took up this responsibility), on the other.

In this field between the freedom of the human being and the beauty of the world, there, we stand alone, struggling with the question, How to carry this responsibility for the world forward? For me, this is the starting point, starting question of this School for Spiritual Science.

To remain upright in the face of this experience, you may wish or need to unlock forces and to find ideas for shaping the future of the world. The School of Spiritual Science provides a path of meditation to me, a path of engagement with the world that leads to a point where this responsibility, the capacity of understanding and the beauty of the world, are not antinomies anymore. 

Bodo von Plato: I would like to take your thought further. I think thoughts shape reality. That’s a very old experience, reaching back to ancient times. Science appeared in consciousness as meaning given predominantly by our senses. The experience of thoughts shaping reality became more and more thin, and we came to think that the world is out there and my thoughts simply “reflect” reality. In the beginning of the 20th century, we supposed to know, now in 21st century, we know it’s different: thoughts are shaping reality. They are part of the world, my way of thinking is a participation in the creation of reality.

So, I think when Steiner understood in the end of the 19th century what we might see as ancient news, which is fundamental new in our times (“new mystery”), he felt immediately that he needed to found a School, because, if this is true, we have to learn this, we have to learn how to work in this mode in different fields. This is the basis of the School of Spiritual Science, it is a sort of science that begins with hermeneutic experience, that in our thinking we participate in the creation of reality. As regards human beings, it’s like you said, Ron, I want to participate in my own becoming and thinking, so I am creative in thinking and realising my thoughts. I take part in the shaping of reality.

I think, in the School of Spiritual Science, we have two different access points. The one is on my own education and self-development, a journey of self-knowledge, self-education, meditations and exercises. The other access point is the wide variety of working fields - agriculture, education, and so many others. There are different paths to the same end.

I think the School of Spiritual Science is a School of self-development, but it’s also a School of practices in different areas of human life and work, both proceeding from the experience that thoughts are shaping reality.

Ron Dunselman: If you enter the School through working with the 19 Lessons, you encounter aid in self-development, in the discovery of thoughts, answers and deeds which are at the same time responses to the needs of the world at large.  This is connected to the mystery of practicing self-knowledge in the place and time where your karma has led you.  I experience the Michael School as an activity of growing knowledge and love, which brings with it, of course, many inner difficulties that must be overcome.

Bodo von Plato: In a way it is like Walter Benjamin’s notion in his main work on art and hermeneutics, when he says that the truth, which is accessible to the human being, is not violating mystery, but a kind of revelation of the mystery, some sort of revelation that gives all the light to the mystery. I think this is a very important discovery for the 20th century; and also for the School of Spiritual Science, that we are not cultivating a relationship to the mystery of love, the mystery of the human being and neither saying: we will never know it – nor: we will know it. Not the one and not the other. It’s a different relationship to truth. Truth is not to have or not to have. Truth is a path. On this path truth will become a profound supporter of mystery, and not something that is violating or destroying it. This is a specific relationship to truth.

It’s a School, a High School, but not a School where truth is used to unveil the mystery, but to give all the light to the mystery, so the mystery can really come into its own.

Robin Schmidt: I think in creating a relationship to another being, which may be called a relationship to truth or beauty or goodness, that this relationship carries the characteristic of true friendship. So it is not a hierarchical order between truth, or wisdom, and the human being, but a relationship of friendship and a relationship of hospitality to each other, so the human being becomes a host or a friendly house in which the other is invited. It is just like in a good conversation, I invite you to speak yourself, who you truly are and if you listen to me, your hearing is an invitation, you are a host for my being and what I have to say to you.

This is a relationship of hospitality, inter-relational hospitality. It’s an anthroposophic tradition to call this an encounter with spiritual beings, but this is not hierarchically a relationship of following or of revelation, but a relationship of encounter, of a dialogical nature and hospitality to each other. The spiritual is hospitable, is a host for the human, and, on the other side, the spiritual might be my guest, but it’s not up to me to make it so, but to create a culture that would foster this hospitality. So for me, the School of Spiritual Science is a School of friendship with the world, friendship or hospitality with the spirit – and meditation is this act of hospitality.

The German word for hospitality translates to “friendship to the guest”. So, it has these two elements of this true friendship, but it’s not my friend or colleague, the “we are friends, so we belong together”, no, but it’s friendship to the Other, friendship for the stranger, the unknown, the surprising, the astonishing, the mystery. To hold this tension of inviting the unknown, I think this has to do with the field of awareness. It’s not about unveiling, or being violent to the mysteries of the world, for them to be clear and understandable. And, at the same time, it is a warm and engaged relationship, engagement with the other.

Inessa Guseva: I think it’s also possibly related to the idea, that Arthur Zajonc emphasises and which Clarine Campagne mentioned recently, and which I personally find important – the idea of spiritual friendship. In our contemporary understanding of the School of Spiritual Science how can we create and keep a profound, spiritual friendship?

I think, as regards this, in our anthroposophic community none are masters, but we all have been working with Class lessons and on meditation for years and we all have experience. We are working and developing as researchers together, I think that the sharing experiences between peers, from one researcher to another, is an important part of becoming a community of individuals that rests on spiritual friendship.

Bodo von Plato: Now we are approaching a difficult point. How can we form, on this basis, a School? And who is invited to be part of the School? It’s a question of tradition and methodology. There is a certain tradition in continental philosophy, spirituality and Christianity. Out of this tradition, Steiner transformed the procedure of methodology, enabling a highly individualised being to become hospitable, hospitable to this mystery. It’s a specific path, not the way of the future of everyone, but it’s one special method that leads forward.

There is, if I am right, only one condition to be part of this School. It’s to decide on my own way of proceeding, to decide to relate to this “new tradition”. The name of this tradition is anthroposophy, the path of widening human consciousness on the basis of occidental wisdom transformed by Steiner. So, for those who decide, the School consists in teaching and working together with others who have also made this decision. Everyone can make this decision, but you have to make it.

Why? Because in the decision there is always someone. A cow, a dog or an other animal cannot make a decision. A human being can make that decision, can say, yes. That’s a very important moment of presence. And it’s important that the mantric content, which is the basis of this School of Spiritual Science, is addressed to those who said, “Yes, I want to do this kind of work.”

Ron Dunselman: For me this inner and free decision is also very important. It brings about the inner gesture and mood by which spiritual beings can feel invited to join a conversation, to be there. Through this decision a realm of responsibility arises in which everyone contributes. It is a spiritual, living force that makes the work possible.

So, for instance, it will not always be an easy way to meet the forces living in your own abyss that want to drag you down. It can even make life painful. But it means something in this context when you make the decision to carry this on your shoulders and do your work in trying to overcome these counterforces. And the mantric meditations of the School are a great support in doing this.

What are the privileges and duties (if any) for members of the School of Spiritual Science?

Bodo von Plato: I think the privilege is that I am invited to live with the mantric gifts from Steiner. Outstanding poetic or mantric forms: this is the gift. My duty is to try to carry what we need today, so that this gift can be among us. My duty is to always try to understand the other, to be with those other individuals who decided, as I myself, to work with this gift. It’s often not so easy, because we are all highly individualised. In every spiritual or intellectual movement there is always some sort of absolutism, doctrinism. Also in anthroposophy, I have to take on the burden of all these errors and affections.

Ron Dunselman: I don’t feel privileges, but I feel the duty to be present in this path of human development. It is to be a member (really BE) of the School, and to learn. This is never leaving my consciousness, it’s there. Yes, I’m a member of the School, I am a pupil in the School. That is the duty to me.

How to become a member of the School of Spiritual Science?

Robin Schmidt: Membership is acquired through becoming a member of Anthroposophical Society and then applying for membership in the School of Spiritual Science, basically, through a conversation with people who are responsible for this in the School.

Inessa Guseva: It’s a two-year process. Firstly, we have to become, and then to stay, a member of anthroposophical society for two years and then you can apply for the School of Spiritual Science membership. It’s a general rule.

Ron Dunselman: I feel more flexible regarding the two-year rule. If it is the appropriate moment for someone to join the School now, without two years of membership of the anthroposophical society behind them, and I can recognize this, I agree to admit them. To have to wait still two years without a clear spiritual reason or one evident from a person’s biography, makes little sense.

Sometimes, for instance, it took many, many years for a person to become a member of the anthroposophical society. A time of inner searching proceeded this, maybe wrestling with the issue, and then there was the clear and deliberate decision: now I want to be a member of the society. And if -sooner or later- there is the inner will to become a representative of the anthroposophical matter in connection with other class members without this two-year membership of the anthroposophical society, and I can recognize this, I think it is all right to become a member of the School. It’s all about individuals, looking to the person and the concrete situation.

Nathaniel Williams: So, regarding membership in the School of Spiritual Science.  When you join, there are these different specialized sections, various endeavours, perhaps comparable to what you might find at a university, where you can concentrate on certain areas. There are also certain methods for researching that allow you to learn and practice, that allow you to experience understandings for practical life that are specific to this School and aren’t just contained in the 19 lessons that have been referred to.  

Do you have anything to reflect in regards to this?

Bodo von Plato: I think, we can come back to this idea of fundamental insight that thoughts are shaping reality. The method of researching depends on the subject and on the researcher. It’s about reciprocity between the object and the subject of the research. The method depends on both of them. That’s new in the understanding of Spiritual Science.

For example, in history, it’s clear that I will find out different topics, questions and results than you, because I am different and I will ask different research questions than you. It’s good. The scientific or the spiritual discourse in the School of Spiritual Science is not about me being right and others wrong or the opposite. But it’s about how the different ways of researching and doing come closer and closer, fortifying each other to answer the question. Not that I’m right and you are wrong or the other way around.

In the normal scientific discussion, we have to find out if a researcher is wrong and if I’m right, and who is the best. You have to find out what’s true. And here the question is related to your method, your result and how it is contributing to the whole. The scientific community is not an analytical community, but it’s a sort of synthetic community, a community of responsibility.

The community of spiritual researchers, in the sense of anthroposophy, is just beginning to find its dignity because we are not so used to this way of doing research. Normally, in the spiritual field, we are used to following a guru, someone who is very wise or has huge insights - “I will learn what he is saying and I will repeat or do it.” - it’s normal in traditional spiritual science. Steiner introduced a different method. He said, “Stand on your own in your research and your methods and your research topics.” This is new.

In the first hundred years of anthroposophy we see mostly a kind of traditional spiritual community playing itself out, highly focused on learning what Steiner came to in his work. Our struggle was: am I right or are you right?  Who understood better what he said or did? This was often the core of the discussion in anthroposophic circles. This is ending now, and we are seeing more of a research community as I have tried to describe.

The School of Spiritual Science would love to become some sort of community of individual researchers, who have high respect for one another’s methods and fields of interest and first of all a sense for the needs of our time. This is one answer for the question of what is specific in anthroposophical research. We are just in the beginning of this. There are – if I see aright - only a few groups of researchers who apply these sorts of methods.

I have a little experience in this sort of co-working and I am very grateful that this sort of research exists, even if it’s very small, very little, and just coming up. It’s so human. I think it’s a real continuation but also transformation of idealistic philosophy in this method. It relates to continental philosophy, not analytic philosophy, which is especially difficult in our time, for today analytic philosophy rules.

Perhaps you want to describe a different facet of this question?

Robin Schmidt: Maybe, it’s also an inversion of theory and practice. We usually think of research as separated from practice. You do research and then you apply results in practice. It’s an inversion of this relationship. The practice of the theory brings you deeper into the research of the practice.

Being engaged in research on education means that you come closer to the being of the child, and that you are not creating a distance through your method. It is a relation to the object of the research, that is no longer treating the object of the research as an object, but as a subject you communicate with. There, again, you have this creation of a dialogic situation, and this is not exclusive to humans, but it can be a dialogical relationship with nature, plants and animals, social organisations, a poem or an idea.

It’s not just applying a method to a subject, but it’s about acquiring a listening ear, on preparing myself to hear you speak about who you are and how you want to be understood. It’s not up to me to put my methods of understanding onto you. The “you” stands for the subject of my understanding or research. The method is in a warm relationship rather than one of distance.

Bodo von Plato: It come back to something that we mentioned earlier. The love, not a sentimental word in this case, but a true relationship, a responsibility toward the object. It’s a real relationship, which is arising.

Ron Dunselman: This relationship is a way to develop yourself in becoming open to the truth that reveals itself in the object. The being living in the object asks for my open attention. This attitude is so important in human relations and therapy. When I feel that I am really seen in an open, empathic, respectful and loving way by another being (and this can also be a spiritual being!), this can reveal new sides of myself and give birth to unexpected parts of my soul and spirit.

Robin Schmidt: This changes the concept of what spirituality is. Spirituality used to be related to a separation from the world, spirituality was separated from the body or separated from life on earth. This is not the case here. In the concept of the School of Spiritual Science, it’s a spirituality of engagement, of warm relationship that unfolds in a space between closeness and distance. Not fusing with another in a romantic way, but a tension between singular beings, respecting and fostering the otherness of the other. It’s a way of mutually encouraging being on earth and the uniqueness that comes along with it.

Inessa Guseva: There is a lot more to be discussed and I hope we will continue. Thank you very much for everyone!

Looking forward to meet you all at the Goetheanum on 5-7 July 2017 on Pre-Conference for members of the School of Spiritual Science and on 7-9 July on public conference Living Connections. Worldwide Perspectives on Anthroposophical Meditation!