Anthroposophical Meditation as a Research Method
Contemplative Science to Access the Spiritual
Anthroposophical meditation can be practised as a spiritual research method. It brightens up areas of consciousness which remain subconscious in ordinary cognition and leads to an increasingly conscious experience of spiritual aspects of the world.
Four stages of meditation
Anthroposophical Meditation is a research method that leads to distinct experiences and knowledge of the spiritual. Such experiences are quite different from those of ordinary consciousness, and yet they are always included in ordinary cognition. They normally remain subconscious because they are subtle and escape an all too intentional grasp, while the objects of ordinary cognition (the physical world and abstract thought) appear comparatively crude and downright pushy. In anthroposophical meditation, the meditator aims to awaken himself to realise the unnoticed aspects of ordinary cognition.
Through anthroposophical meditation one can learn to experience in their spiritual dimension the contents of waking consciousness: thoughts, mental images, feelings and sensations. In or behind these contents always lives something spiritual; in fact they are spiritual by their very nature. Spiritual in this respect means an internal dimension of the world in which all things are interrelated and are connected with my own, true inner being. In spiritual reality, all things appear to originate from and are being penetrated by the same inner light. In spiritual reality, things lose their fortuity and appear to be wise and meaningful.
Anthroposophical meditation can (and should) be usefully complemented by the study of anthroposophic thought. One can choose such thoughts from the texts of Rudolf Steiner and access their spiritual reality through meditative processing. Conversely, anthroposophical concepts facilitate the understanding of spiritual experiences made during meditation. Study and meditation stimulate and deepen each other, because anthroposophical thoughts originate from meditative experiences and spiritual experience can grow out of the spiritual core of anthroposophical thoughts.
To understand the structure of anthroposophical meditation, Rudolf Steiner’s classification of ordinary cognition into four levels is essential. He differentiated (i) the object which is being perceived by the senses; (ii) the mental image of the object that one creates during perception and that can be remembered afterwards; (iii) the abstract concept that facilitates understanding of the object; and (iv) the active subject, the “I” or self. Without the self being active in perception, image-creating, remembering, and understanding, no cognition would take place .
In ordinary consciousness only the perceived object is experienced fully awake. One usually pays little attention to the activity by which one creates a mental image of it, still less attention to the subtle inner experiences that go along with understanding the object, and the origin of the self’s activity in the cognition process is usually completely overlooked. Meditation shall lead to consciously experience the 2nd, 3rd and 4th level of cognition.
An exercise as an example
A small exercise may clarify the issue. Draw a triangle on a sheet of paper. It has certain angles, its sides have certain lengths. With respect to the four levels of cognition mentioned above, the visible triangle belongs to the level of sensual perception. Now close your eyes and imagine the triangle as an internal, mental image. This is the second level. To experience your own image-generating activity as consciously as possible, now start to slowly change the shape of the triangle. Let, for example, the tip of the triangle move upwards and back again, enlarge or reduce a different angle, let one side migrate outwards and back again, then another, and then several at once until you ‘liquefy’ the whole triangle (but it shall always remain a triangle). The slower, more conscious and concentrated the transformations are being performed, the better for experiencing the image-generating activity. – If you have performed this for some time, move on to the third level of cognition by pushing each pictorial idea of the triangle actively aside, but still stay with a ‘triangle’. You may focus on and immerse into your own image-creating activity and try not to ‘see’, but to feel what you have done to generate the dynamic triangle. The concentration is now even harder to sustain. In order to capture the content, many people speak the word ‘triangle' now repeatedly and inwardly to themselves. You may realize that you just know what is meant by the word ‘triangle', even without further explanation or images. Can you realize how you know? Rudolf Steiner noted that at this stage, cognition is comparable to spiritual hearing. Make yourself empty and listen to the spiritual content of the triangle. - Finally, go to the last step and even let go of the thoughts of that triangle. Dive into the imageless and wordless essence. This level can initially be experienced only for very brief moments. "In the moment when it occurs, it also vanishes again" (Rudolf Steiner).
On the fourth stage everything external falls off; one feels outside of space and time, in unity with the essence, everywhere. Just as the nature of the triangle has no place and no time, so the 'I' - but it does exist. At this stage nothing exists any more to which one could hold on to. That is why it is so hard to experience. Having accessed this stage, one will experience the inner unity of all being. Therefore Rudolf Steiner described the human 'I' as a "drop in the ocean of spirit that permeates the whole world". In the fourth stage of meditation, this is an experience.
Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition
Rudolf Steiner referred to the fully conscious experience on the three higher stages of knowledge as 'Imagination' (experiencing spiritually-formative images), 'Inspiration' (spiritual hearing), and 'Intuition' (essential oneness with the object). In Imagination one designs from inner, spiritual experiences mental images that express these experiences and make them watchable. The experiences themselves are spiritual insights into dynamic relationships that are experienced as Inspiration. They well out of the active and selfless intuitive submersion into other spiritual beings. Detailed and very clear descriptions of these stages can be found in Rudolf Steiner's writing 'The stages of higher knowledge'. (The exercise described above specifies only the principle of the higher levels of knowledge. Their full-fledged development requires a profound transformation of the mental life. Refer to Steiner's writing 'Knowledge of the higher worlds and its attainment'.)
Which soul faculties involved?
To understand these things and bring them to other contexts, it can be extremely useful to realize which soul faculties are involved in the four stages of knowledge, and to determine the relationship between the observer and the object pertaining to these four stages.
On the first stage of sensory, representational observation the viewer as subject and the observed object are opposed to each other: Here am I, there is the thing. The soul ability of sensual perception is determinative. On the second level, pictorial imagining is the relevant soul ability. As the triangle exercise showed, the subject behaves not only passively on this level, but also actively producing. In the representational activity an imagined picture is produced, which must be renewed again and again in order to be sustained. Subject and object oscillate into each other. We are dealing with an interplay of form and formative design.
At the 3rd level, it is, on closer scrutiny, feeling or felt knowing of the meaning of the object. I just know, before all expression in words and pictures, what is meant. It is my own feeling, but what I feel is not subjective. Subject and object enter into a common space, they live together. Nevertheless, it is knowledge of the other, not yet the other itself in all its immediacy. Rudolf Steiner called this form of knowledge a 'revelation' of another being. Only on the fourth level of Intuition one will merge with this other being. This can only happen by my willing production of the other in total selflessness. As I bring forth a thought, I'm one with it at the origin of this forth-bringing.
 Rudolf Steiner: Stages of Higher Knowledge. Revised translation by L.D. Monges. Anthr. Press. 1974.