Development of the self

16 January 2022 | Apocalypse in discussion, Blog, Context and roots | 0 comments

Kees Zoeteman and Astrid van Zon

The self, the ‘I’ of man plays a central role in the Apocalypse. By ‘I’ we mean our self-awareness, the authority in ourselves from which we make judgments and choices. By “I am” we refer to the unique person we are ourselves and which no one can use with the same meaning. The I represents not only our personality but also the divine spark within us, the Nitzotz in Hebrew. Here lies the core of man, the god who dwells in man, the subject central in the Apocalypse.

In this blog we will explore the spiritual origins of the I in man, the characteristics of this all-important aspect of our being, the developmental task that lies within it, the dangers to which our I is exposed, and how to learn to deal with each other’s I.

The eternal nature of the Self

In an earlier blog, called ‘Do we have a self?’, the I of the human being was also considered. The following was mentioned there:

‘The I is difficult to define because it was not, like the other three lower bodies -the physical, ether and astral- created at a more or less completed stage by higher beings. The three lower bodies are the result of the earlier stages of development of the earth and man (Old Saturn, Old Sun and Old Moon). The I is a principle which has also been given to man, but it is intended that man should become a creator of his own self during the present Earth phase. The I is a creative principle that develops through the various lives and that is also one with the whole, which cannot be demarcated. The selves of people can be compared to a multitude of circles laid out on top of each other, each reaching to the infinite, but each having its own coloring and its own irreplaceable center in which infinity reflects itself in a unique way (, Das Wesen des Ich, and Rudof Steiner, GA 266c, p. 471). The I is a spiritual being that, precisely in the midst of impermanence, is the only thing that remains, that has eternal value.’

Rudolf Steiner expressed this in the following maxim on September 2, 1923 (Rudolf Steiner Nachlass-Verwaltung, Buch 268, p.92) as “Meditation zur Gewinnung des Ich”:

Ich schaue in die Finsternis:

In ihr ersteht Licht,

Lebendes Licht.

Wer ist dies Licht in der Finsternis?

Ich bin es selbst in meiner Wirklichkeit.

Diese Wirklichkeit des Ich

Tritt nicht ein in mein Erdendasein.

Ich bin nur Bild davon.

Ich werde es aber wieder finden,

Wenn ich,

Guten Willens für den Geist,

Durch des Todes Pforte gegangen.


I look into the darkness:

In it arises light,

Living light.

Who is this light in the darkness?

It is me in my own reality.

This reality of the Self

Does not enter into my earthly existence.

I’m just an image of it.

But I will find it again,

If I,

Good will for the Spirit,

Am gone through the gate of death.

The I of man, according to Rudolf Steiner, has other aspects besides its eternal nature. The carrier of this I on earth is the I-organization in man; through it, man can come to self-consciousness. During the life of a human being, the child starts to say “I” around its third year. At this age, however, the child does not yet have true I-consciousness, although a first awakening does begin. For example, a 3-year-old child said to her grandmother, “Grandma I can talk in my head.” That is a first awareness of what is happening internally. The birth of the ego normally only begins towards the 21st year of life (GA 143, p.120). It becomes visible in the warmth of enthusiasm for ideals through which one’s own choices are made. At this age the human being experiences self-awareness and the will to develop in order to achieve self-realization. But Steiner also calls the I, which appears from this moment on during the rest of life, not yet the true I. He calls it a makeshift I, which is not yet in existence. He calls it a provisional I or a mirror image of the true I, which we must gradually learn to access. This is done by living through and transforming the three lower bodies (astral, ether and physical) in this life and many lives to come.

”The true I, in a sense, does not experience our sojourn on earth in a lifetime, but remains ‘stationary’, remains in the spiritual world from the moment we start saying “I” as a child. That is the moment to which approximately our memory reaches. If we relive our lives in reverse after we have died,  we find our true I again when we reach this third year of life. Until then we experience the mirror image of this as our I” (GA 165, p. 15ff.).

Thus, according to Steiner, the development of the I takes place between incarnations, when the developments that the lower bodies have experienced in the incarnations, converge back into the I.

Origin of the I

The first germ for a later I-consciousness was already implanted into man’s physical warmth body at Old Saturn by the Spirits of the Personality. Steiner says of this ‘Sie sind diejenigen, die von Anfang an dieser physischen Anlage des Menschenleibes eingepflanzt haben die Selbständigkeit, das Ich-Bewußtsein und Ich-Gefühl’. [‘They are the ones who, from the very beginning, have implanted in this physical disposition of the human body the independence, the I-consciousness and the I-feeling’] (GA 100, p.113). These creative spirits of the I, also called Azuras, had an I as the lowest part of their being, and further a Manas, Buddhi and Atman on the Old Saturn. But among these spirits of the I there were also those who took a different path and thus became enablers of evil in creation. Steiner says of these two goups: ‘Diese Wesenheiten, welche die Einpflanzer der Ichheit waren, die heute weit über den Menschen erhaben sind, zu denen wir aufschauen als zu den erhabensten die es geben kann, sie haben die Ichheit in den Dienst der Selbstverleugnung, des Opfers gestellt; die andern haben ihre Ichheit selbstsüchtig weiterverfolgt’. [‘These Beings, who were the planters of I-ness, who today are far above man, to whom we look up as among the most sublime there can be, they have placed I-ness at the service of self-denial, of sacrifice; the others have selfishly pursued their I-ness’.] We encounter these last selfish Azuras in the Apocalypse as the beast that rises from the earth.

A further development of the germ of the self was given to man on our fourth Earth incarnation after the separation from the Moon, in Lemurian times. This was given to man by the Spirits of Form, the Elohim, who dwell on the sun (GA 131, p.177). Through the offering of their ‘I-substance’ to man, the spark of the I could later be ignited in man. According to Rudolf Steiner, the thus prepared seed for the I was truly awakened in man only after the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection (GA 143, p.163). This becomes noticeable when in the year 333 the I strikes in the soul of man (GA 346, p.101).

In the whole process of creation of the human I, the Christ-being as leader of the angelic hierarchies plays a role. Every human I has its primal ground in the Christ-being. Steiner therefore calls Christ the creative essence of every human being (GA 13, p. 294). The human being was created from unity with the Christ, and from there the current earth development phase has led to a multiplicity of separate I’s (GA 13, p. 294), so that the individual human being can choose freely whether or not to act out of selfless love. This is the great developmental task of earth development and man. Does man follow the whisperings of the selfish Azuras or does he choose to create with selfless love. In Christ, man finds the ideal that counteracts all isolation and can unite the selves again in a community of love in the future.

The double-edged sword as an image of the I

In the image of the double-edged sword, which the Apocalypse uses, the higher and lower self, the purified and personal I, come together according to Rudolf Steiner (GA 104, p.156ff.). On the one hand, the self is what causes man to harden himself and to put everything at the service of satisfying his own desires. This side of the I strives to make exploit the common property on earth as its own and use it only for its own purposes. There is no regard for the self of others. But at the same time it is this I that gives man his independence and freedom and elevates man in a true sense. This other side of the self represents its value, it is the disposition to the divine in man and the collateral for the highest goal, the development of love, in man. However, if the human being does not find the higher love, then the I becomes the seducer that ultimately plunges him into the abyss with no future. The I can thus lead to both the highest and the deepest. That is why the double-edged sword from the mouth of the Son of Man is sharp. It is one of the deepest symbols that meets us from the Apocalypse.

The I of man, as stated above, contains a developmental task to uplift the ego, the earth-centered I, to the divine I or true I. But this development is not easy. Rudolf Steiner (GA 84, p.142) points out that the true I hides, when it is sought by the personality. It can only be found in love. ‘And love is surrender of one’s own being to the foreign being. Therefore the true I must be found as if it were a strange being.’ That which lives as the higher I in man is the Christ being (GA 109, p.154).

Friedrich Rittelmeyer (Christ, p.34-39) describes how true love is a continual process of death and resurrection, allowing us to renew our inner selve for the future. This is how Christ can be at work in us. Experiencing the Christ impulse as alive in ourselves, requires that we continually bring ourselves to die inwardly, by being absorbed into the other, and to rise again. For every human community it is required that we make ourselves free and empty for the other, in order that the other can really live in us. Then, we can rise with our I in the other.

Should the personal I be rejected or ennobled?

Before the coming of Christ to earth in the form of the overshadowing of Jesus of Nazareth, selfishness in man was an aspect to be ennobled. This is still found in the wisdom of the East, which breaks down rather than builds up the personality. But here lies not the task of development of man in the West after the mystery of Golgotha (GA 167, p.281ff).

It is the task of modern man to wield the double-edged sword himself and, with this discernment of the true I, to ennoble the personality so that the I can live in the very sanctity of the temple of the body. Image of this is Noah’s Ark or the Ark kept in the Most Holy of the Jewish synagogue. There speaks into our inner being that which is beyond time and space, where eternal truth is spoken to us (GA 52, p.201).   

The self of man thus plays a central role in our continued spiritual development, whereby the self itself is also ennobled and developed further. In this process, the personal I is on its way to uniting itself more and more with the Christ.

The condition for this is, as we saw, the surrender to the love of the other, the choice to open oneself to the other. To this end, man must have the freedom to make this choice. All bondage to other authorities must be renounced for this purpose. We must face up to our dependence on the desires of the personal self. Being willing to face this with an honest mild look can then bring us again and again to the choice to be open and uninhibited to the other. That requires letting go of ourselves so that the illumination of the transcendent in the face of the other (think of the work of Emmanuel Levinas) calls us to freedom and closeness to the other. Then free man can rise and surrender to love. 

The danger of the relapse of the self into group consciousness

On this path of liberation of the self, there are dangers lurking that almost always have to do with the ability of becoming free of dependencies. After all, if the self of man does not become free and powerful, the path to spiritual development cannot be taken. As long as we conform to groups and are afraid to come to choices independently, which may be rejected by others, our freedom is still limited. Constantly, there is this danger of falling back into conforming to groups again, or as the Apocalypse calls it, to Gog and Magog, small and large group connections (GA 346, p.262). In explaining fragment 35, those people may fall back who, under the influence of Ahriman, do not develop their self further in the period up to the end of physical earth evolution. They fall back into the stage of the still animal like man as it had developed at the end of the Atlantean epoch (GA 104a, p.120ff). Such people become increasingly trapped in materialism and make themselves entirely dependent on the convenience of machines and technologies that surround them, but which can also force them to behave in ways that suit the use of the machines. The machine or the technical system as a tool is then transformed into the machine as an end in its own right, to which man is subordinated. The guidance in Atlantean times, which came from the higher hierarchies, then changes to being led by the spirit behind all technology, the beast that rises from the sea.

The danger of fragmentation of the self

The I, which is the key to man’s future, can also be disempowered in other ways. In this connection, Steiner points to the workings of the other beast, the beast which rises from the earth and which, since the time when man develops an individual self, has been interested in attacking this self or winning it over (GA 100, p.113ff). This beast that rises from the earth is a higher being than Archangel Michael. It is an Archai, a Spirit of the Personality (GA 346, p. 162) and its accomplices are the aforementioned Azuras. They are retarded spirits of the personality who went through their humanity phase during the Old Saturn. They represent demonic powers that have an even stronger will to evil than the ahrimanic demons. They want not only to hinder humanity’s development, but to bring down earth development as a whole. What means can they use? Among other things, they may use comets that are taken out of their orbit and strike the earth (GA 346, p. 163). These fallen Azuras have remained ”stationary” for a long time and have only recently become active. There are also good Spirits of the Personality who constantly work beneficially for the development of man and lead man to increasing independence. Everything that now belongs to evil has its origin in the said fallen Spirits of the Personality (GA 99, p.97). They are spirits of the very strongest egoism who seduce people into black magic. Sexual rites play a major role in this too (GA 266a, p.169). The modern tendency to greatly enhance materialistic desires is related to this and is an attempt by the fallen Azuras to tear the earth apart from the Christ (GA 93a, p.149). We can also think of the influence of drugs, virtual reality experiences, etc., through which these fallen Azuras attempt to loosen splinters from the I of man, after which these I-splinters are irreparably lost.      

Do all humans have a Self?

In the Apocalypse, at the blowing of the fifth trumpet, a well is opened from which a smoke rises and locusts with human faces come to the earth surface (fragment 27). In explaining the Apocalypse to priests (GA 346, p.185), Rudolf Steiner mentions that the locusts indicate that in our time there are also people on earth who are without a self. He calls it a terrible truth, that priests as pastoral caregivers must know about, in order to guide them with special care and attention so that they may follow their own development path. The task for pastoral care, and care in general, is to approach such people as enduring children. They do possess a physical, ether and astral body and have in a way an ahrimanic grounded consciousness, but do not reincarnate (GA 300C, p.70). But Steiner (GA 346. p.187) emphasizes that each case is different. They are often deeply feeling souls, who however, as will become apparent around their 20th year, do not develop an I-based moral consciousness. Steiner advocates setting up relationships in such a way that I-less people can connect with others and be guided by them.

Is society making a mistake by stating that all people are equal?

We are all human beings with human rights. The fact that we were born on earth gives us those rights regardless of race, color or orientation. Yet, differences have emerged between rich and poor, there are differences in educational opportunities, in opportunities for work and career advancement, etc. Not all such differences between people are a result of the circumstances under which they grow up. There are differences between people that they bring with them at birth, regardless of the family and country in which they grow up. It could indicate that the I of persons walking around on earth have had very different previous lives and are at different stages of spiritual development. That could also be a cause of inequality between people. Such inequality may be the result of having realized part of their spiritual development potential. In this respect, people will remain unequal, for these are qualities that each person must acquire for himself. The equality of people must be sought more in their equal right to a subsistence level, to development opportunities and the way their actions are judged before the law.

Employing warmth to strengthen the self

Warmth is a tool for strenghtening the self. The I expresses itself through warmth in the different dimensions of our humanity. Briefly we will present how the I can be helped to strengthen itself by supporting the warmth in the different dimensions (Astrid van Zon, 2019, Motief no. 229, p. 6/7) .                                         

At the level of the physical, we look at the measurable warmth. If our physicality has a pleasant moderate physical temperature, the self can better connect with the body or the self can better inhabit its own temple. In many ways we can take care of the warmth of our own body if we are aware of its temperature.

At the level of life and vitality, the activity of the ether world becomes visible. This aspect of warmth, which we can call lifesupport heat, is in service of the cycle of life in which order and rhythm, activation and inhibition play a role. For the human being warmth means that we pay attention to the processes of life and take care of them by means of rhythmizing and ritualizing.

At the soul level, we can speak of meeting warmth, which can give space for another person to become visible. Every encounter asks something of us. It requires empathy and an awareness of retreat or approach, if the other person is to emerge.

With the spiritual warmth in the form of enthusiasm, we arrive at the ‘I’ level. Every human being has a mission. The human being is enthusiastic about a mission related idea that demands to be worked out in reality.

These four levels of warmth permeate each other and can also be active towards each other. If we pay attention to these different types of warmth and work on them, it is possible to experience a fifth level. By developing higher love we are on our way to a new ‘we’. Within that ‘we’, each person is visible in his task and has meaning for the we of the community. When we awaken each other to the levels of warmth, the self can thus connect to body, soul and spirit and can radiate into a new we, where the selves of people are connected.

Joseph Beuys on finding the impulse to the higher self

The higher self, the part in us that is connected to the Christ-being, can conceptually be brought closer to us through the work of the German artist Joseph Beuys. We can look at the the question of how we can keep the Christ-impulse alive in us, a question that also Rittelmeyer asked himself, by studying a text fragment of Beuys (from: Wouter Kottke and Ursula Mildner, The Cross as Universal Sign with Joseph Beuys, p.57):

‘Just as Christ on the cross felt for a moment abandoned by God, so man must lose his faith before he can gain it. In the nothingness of this abandonment, it is not matter that emerges as consolation, but man discovers, in knowing his own self, the Christian substance: What helps now is self-redemption, not waiting for redemption. Through the isolation and liberation from materialism, man himself accomplishes the movement that changes his capacity.’

Joseph Beuys, Corpus, Meerbusch, Rhein-Kreis Neuss (picture Chris06)

Beuys says in this quote that, like Christ on the cross, man must first experience abandonment and loneliness. In the soul we experience this loneliness and our self stands by and is near it, as it were. As modern people, who are highly individualized and often disconnected from a spiritual world, loneliness is on everyone’s mind. We know that it is not easy to really endure and be near this loneliness and desolation. In addition, there are many temptations to distract us from it, so that we do not have to feel it. It takes a choice to really descend into solitude. In this deepest part of our inner self, in going through that solitude, we can at the same time find a new divine impulse, the Christ impulse, and make a new connection with it. This can make us co-creators who newly connect with ourselves, others and the spiritual world. In Beuys’ terms, we become artists. This is also a starting point for creating a new social cohesion in which people work together to create a new world. It requires a contemplative daily moment to relate to and be close to our own loneliness and suffering.

This brings us to meditation.

Meditation as a way to bring the self nearby

Meditation is an action that one can realize under all circumstances of life. You decide for yourself how you want to act in doing so. The choice to meditate is the “only perfectly free act in human life”, according to Bastiaan Baan (Bastiaan Baan, 2020, Wegen tot Westerse Meditation, p.9-15). The content with which we engage in meditation is also a free choice. By doing it and being faithful, our self is strengthened and acts as a force in the soul. Baan advocates meditation at one’s own place, on oneself and actively persued by oneself. By taking distance from yourself, daily worries and your own discomforts, you perceive yourself from a different perspective. This other perspective is for him: ‘the I, who will remain when I die’. This line comes from a poem by the Spanish poet Juan Ramon Jiménez (1881-1958):

I am not I,

I am the one

Who goes by my side

Without my looking at him,

Whom I often visit

And whom I often forget.

The one who quietly remains silent, when I speak,

Who forgives softly when I hate,

Who walks where I am not,

Who will remain, when I die.


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