D00.003 - Systemic aspects of the study process

From Anthroposophy

This is a Discussion topic page, to capture and share notes in support of an online discussion on the broad subject.

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Problem statement:

How to get out of our intellectual thinking only, and rise to include the feeling and willing aspects of our soul .. as a way towards higher imaginative insight?

Or also: what processes can we follow in our study and group work, so as induce, or warrant, Active soul participation .. rather than just reading of doing more freeform study without clear process?


1/ Just as the world culture the last century, the anthroposophical movement has 'intellectualized' strongly.

2/ Spiritual science by nature however is not like intellectual information knowledge of the physical world, as in contemporary mineral science.

Elements or building blocks on the table to discuss a solution approach

This discussion considers the following elements in the context of what is called 'developing imaginative insight'.

  • spiritual science is about the higher worlds above the physical, and hence are to be characterized in the world of ideas. In practice this means, multiple perspectives we call on this site 'aspects' (like different viewing points, shedding light on different characteristics)
    • Rudolf Steiner's GA work and lectures always contain multiple perspectives and angles on any topic, it is always related to and linked into various contexts
    • another technique used, it to set off from a different language or story, examples are:
    • furthermore, as explicitly stated by Rudolf Steiner, the creation of logical schemas, must read: Notes on the study process#1915-01-09-GA161
  • use of the human mind and soul to not just assimilate but also integrate aspects offered, and thereby 'rise above' to a meta-level of understanding, this is done by contemplation and meditation.
Organic or heart thinking
  • 'heart thinking' (also called 'organic thinking' or the 'new thinking'), as developed by George O'Neil, Florin Lowndes, and Mark Riccio, see more info in the 'Further Reading' section below
    • Rudolf Steiner made numerous statements to the fact that 'if only people would read the books like they were intented' but seemingly nobody asked details about what was meant. Especially this was said referring to the Philosophy of Freedom (PoF) . George O'Neil investigated this and 'discovered' how the answer was encoded in the structure of PoF, and from there came to interesting further findings.
    • terminology used by Rudolf Steiner
    • for an explanation, see Thinking Feeling Willing#1917-10-08-GA177 and Schema FMC00.488 on that same topic page.


Schema FMC00.395 is an old drawing that makes the link between available materials (see also Schema FMC00.040 on Navigating anthroposophical resources, and the study process in the mind and soul of the earnest student of spiritual science, and techniques to rise above intellectual thinking.


Schema FMC00.585: shows a few illustrations to show the organic structure that was discovered by George O'Neil in Rudolf Steiner's books, taken from Mark Riccio's book 'The logik of the heart' (2016). As described in the book, Rudolf Steiner composed his books, chapters and sentences in organic forms resembling musical notation. Implicit are the four organic laws of metamorphosis: rhythm, enhancement, polarity and inversion. The work done by George O'Neil and his students Florin Lowndes and Mark Riccio (and their work groups) has shown that practicing this study technique can transform one's faculty of thinking, exactly as Rudolf Steiner had pointed out about the effect his work 'Philosophy of Freedom' could have. Quoting from the book: "At some point one sees the whole contents as an idea in the mind's eye as a living-painting-form." and " O'Neil suggest that at some point you can see through the text content, colors and forms, and perceive the thought beings behind a chapter. "

This appears to be one of anthroposophy's well-kept secrets, though Rudolf Steiner referred to it as "heart thinking" (1910-03-29-GA119), "living thinking" (1922-09-30-GA216, 1922-10-07-GA217) or "formative (or Goethean) thinking" (1919-01-01-GA187), "thinking, using the etheric body" (1919-06-12-GA193).

shows a few illustrations to show the organic structure that was discovered by George O'Neil in Rudolf Steiner's books, taken from Mark Riccio's book 'The logik of the heart' (2016). As described in the book, Rudolf Steiner composed his books, chapters and sentences in organic forms resembling musical notation. Implicit are the four organic laws of metamorphosis: rhythm, enhancement, polarity and inversion. The work done by George O'Neil and his students Florin Lowndes and Mark Riccio (and their work groups) has shown that practicing this study technique can transform one's faculty of thinking, exactly as Rudolf Steiner had pointed out about the effect his work 'Philosophy of Freedom' could have. Quoting from the book: "At some point one sees the whole contents as an idea in the mind's eye as a living-painting-form." and " O'Neil suggest that at some point you can see through the text content, colors and forms, and perceive the thought beings behind a chapter. " This appears to be one of anthroposophy's well-kept secrets, though Rudolf Steiner referred to it as "heart thinking" (1910-03-29-GA119), "living thinking" (1922-09-30-GA216, 1922-10-07-GA217) or "formative (or Goethean) thinking" (1919-01-01-GA187), "thinking, using the etheric body" (1919-06-12-GA193).

Lecture coverage and references


is a full lecture introducing and discussing heart-thinking (as opposed to brain thinking) (read in full, very limited extract only)

For a comparatively long time man will need to experience in deep meditation pictures that are taken from life and speak to the heart, or certain formulae in which great world-secrets are briefly expressed. Then, first of all at the moment of waking, but also when he turns his attention away from the experiences of ordinary waking life, he will notice that something stands before his soul which arises like the inner pictures he has formed for himself but is there before him like flowers or stones seen in ordinary consciousness; he has before him actual symbols or emblems which he knows he has not himself created. During the period of preparation, and through the care he exercises in building up his symbols, he learns to distinguish between illusory and true pictures. A man who prepares himself conscientiously and above all has learned to eliminate his own personal opinions, wishes, desires and passions from his higher life, who has trained himself not to regard a thing as true simply because it pleases him but to exclude his own opinion — such a man can immediately distinguish between a symbol or picture that is true and one that is false.

An activity now begins of which it is important to take account in connection with distinguishing between true and false pictures. It can only be called thinking of the heart. This is something that comes about in the course of the development of which we spoke yesterday. In ordinary life we have the feeling that we think with the head. That of course is a pictorial expression, for we actually think with the spiritual organs underlying the brain; but it is generally accepted that we think with the head. We have a quite different feeling about the thinking that becomes possible when we have made a little progress. The feeling then is as if what had hitherto been localised in the head were now localised in the heart. This does not mean the physical heart but the spiritual organ that develops in the neighbourhood of the heart, the twelve-petalled lotus-flower. This organ becomes a kind of organ of thinking in one who achieves inner development and this thinking of the heart is very different from ordinary thinking. In ordinary thinking everyone knows that reflection is necessary in order to arrive at a particular truth. The mind moves from one concept to another and after logical deliberation and reflection reaches what is called ‘knowledge’.

It is different when we want to recognise the truth in connection with genuine symbols or emblems. They are before us like objects, but the thinking we apply to them cannot be confounded with ordinary brain-thinking.

  • Whether they are true or false is directly evident without any reflection being necessary as in the case of ordinary thinking.
  • What there is to say about the higher worlds is directly evident. As soon as the pictures are before us we know what we have to say about them to ourselves and to others.

This is the characteristic of heart-thinking.


From the moment a man has developed the thinking of the heart, he experiences something that seems like a vision; yet what he experiences is not a vision but the expression of a soul-and-spiritual reality, just as the colour of the rose is its outer manifestation, the expression of its material nature. The seer directs his gaze into the Imaginative world; there he has the impression, let us say, of something blue or violet, or he hears a sound or has a feeling of warmth or cold. He knows through the thinking of the heart that the impression was not a mere vision, a figment of the mind, but that the fleeting blue or violet was the expression of a soul-spiritual reality, just as the red of the rose is the expression of a material reality.


When anyone wants to communicate to other human beings what he has experienced through the thinking of the heart, he too must translate it into logical thoughts. But logical thoughts are merely the language in which, in Spiritual Science, the thinking of the heart is communicated. ...

Whatever can be communicated to mankind from the thinking of the heart must be able to be cast into clearly formulated thoughts.


The second way of thinking is a totally different kind of mental process, a completely other way of thinking.

In contrast to the dismembering kind, it is a shape-forming manner of thinking. If you look more closely, if you follow what I have tried to indicate in my various books on spiritual science, you will realize that the difference does not lie so much in the content that is imparted — this can be judged from various other viewpoints; but the way of seeing the whole world and of coordinating that knowledge, the entire mode of thought representation, is a different one. This is shape-producing; it gives separate pictures, rounded totalities; it gives contours, and through contours, color. Throughout the entire presentation in the printed books you will be able to see that it has none of the dismembering character that you find in all modern science.

This difference of the “how” (the mode of thinking) must be brought out just as emphatically as the difference of the “what” (the content of subject matter). Thus there exists a formative (gestaltende) way of thinking that has been developed with the especial purpose of leading to the supersensible worlds. If you take the book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, where such a path is marked out, you will find that every thought, every idea in it is based on this formative thinking.

This is something essential for the present time. For this formative thinking has a quite definite quality.

  • When you dissect with your thinking, like a present-day scientist, you are thinking just the way certain spirits of the ahrimanic world think and you are making it possible for them to enter your soul.
  • If on the other hand you exercise creative, formative thinking (gestaltendes Denken), thinking that allows for metamorphosis, I could also say Goethean thinking — represented, for instance, in the shaping of our pillars and capitals; used too in all the books I have tried to give to spiritual science — this thinking is closely bound up with the human being.

Only the beings connected with the normal evolution of mankind can work creatively, sculpturally as a human being works within himself with thinking. This is the amazing thing about it. You can never go astray on a wrong path if through spiritual science you engage in formative thinking. You can never lose yourself in the various spiritual beings who want to gain an influence over you. It is natural for them to permeate your being.

As soon, however, as you practice formative thinking, as soon as you refrain from mere musing or from dissecting, and strive to think in the way modern spiritual science thinks, you retain possession of yourself and cannot then have the feeling of complete emptiness. This is the reason why from the standpoint of spiritual science we are always placing such great emphasis on the Christ Impulse. For the Christ Impulse stands in the direct line of formative thinking.

Even the Gospels cannot be understood if they are simply dismembered. The result of that treatment is shown in modern Protestant theology, which has been pulling them to pieces: the result is that everything has fallen away; absolutely nothing has remained. The lecture cycles on the Gospels follow the opposite path. They build up and shape something so that through these new forms an understanding of the old Gospels is brought about. Actually, what people need today — and this is not exaggerating in the least — is to exercise the spiritual scientific mode of thinking: then those demonic beings who are the accompanying phenomena of the Spirits of Personality on the new incoming wave will not be able to do the people harm. You see how much mankind loses by fighting against the spiritual scientific way of thinking.


The old ways of thought, the old ways of regarding world-events, came to full expression in the terrible catastrophe of the world-war. Its infinitely significant warning signs are nothing but a call to re-model our ways of thinking, to try a new way of regarding the world, for the old way can only lead again and again to chaos and confusion. It is time we realised this. It is time we realised that the leading statesmen in 1914 had come to a point at which nothing more could be achieved with the old methods of thought. Because of this they led humanity into misfortune. People must impress this fact strongly upon themselves, or they will not form a strong resolution really to meet the spirit and the life of the spirit in freedom and inwardness of soul.

The lamentable thing about the time in which we are living is that we see things being revealed everywhere which cannot be understood with previous points of view and previous conceptions of life; yet people cling firmly to these old points of view and conceptions of life and simply do not want to come to new modes of conception. The anthroposophic view of the world wanted to prepare mankind for such new modes. Fundamentally, the anthroposophic view of the world had no real opponents except inner comfort and laziness of soul. People cannot rouse themselves to bring the inner forces of their souls to meet the spiritual wave invading our life so powerfully to-day.

I have just said that people are no longer accustomed to use anything but their physical bodies for thinking. It is this that had led to the materialistic view of the world. Now there is one thing that simply must be understood today.

Nature, as studied by natural science today, that science which has achieved so many triumphs, can be understood with the instrument of the physical brain or of the physical body in general. But one cannot understand human life with this instrument of the physical body. We can only understand human life if we can rise to a thinking that is not produced by the physical body alone. It is this thinking that should be cultivated through the anthroposophic view of the world.

Of course people say they do not understand the anthroposophic outlook, what is given in our books or presented in lectures. And we can quite believe them. But what does this mean? It only means that they want to use their physical brains for understanding. They do not want to learn another kind of thinking than that which can lazily find support in the physical brain. The anthroposophic view of the world cannot, of course, be understood with such thinking. It is not that one would have to be clairvoyant in order to understand it. But one must train oneself to a thinking that is not bound to the physical brain. What is to be found in anthroposophic literature and can be acquired with the healthy human understanding — for the healthy human understanding is not bound to the brain — gradually develops a thinking, a feeling and a willing that are adequate to the needs of today. It is a fact that what the present requires of us cannot be understood by the instrument of the physical body; it must be apprehended, through the instrument of the etheric body, i.e., with the body of formative forces underlying the physical body.


Behind this lies the fact that men, in accordance with the will on the part of the spiritual world to reveal itself to them, ought to have striven to take seriously certain things which cannot be grasped through the instrumentality of the physical body, but only through “imaginative” forces — just as art itself can only be grasped by “imaginative” forces. Man's physical body is built up like a natural product; it is a work of nature. Man's etheric body is built up like a work of art; it is a real work of plastic art — only, it is in constant motion. And what man receives (for his enjoyment) from understanding a work of art, must be intensified and clarified, must become perception which he takes seriously, i.e., “Imagination,” “Inspiration” and “Intuition.” Man then understands what is willing to reveal itself to him today. For behind present events waits concealed what can only be understood spiritually. One should feel deeply that the spiritual revelation trying to enter our present world can only be grasped through spiritual science itself i.e., through that thinking and feeling, through those inner impulses of will which can be trained by spiritual science and belong to the same region of soul as artistic perceptions — though these are not taken seriously and remain mere mirror-images.


This is what man should really consider thoroughly today. The anthroposophic view of the world cannot consist in a number of abstract concepts which we receive, studying them and resting content that we have a different view of the world from that of others. No; our whole thinking and our whole feeling must become different, so that we realise that we must let our life be penetrated by the light of the spirit. Humanity's present misfortunes have come from its refusal to entertain the spiritual — an attitude that has been cultivated to the utmost. The catastrophe of the world-war has, more than any previous event, arisen from external, purely material causes. It has therefore been the most terrible catastrophe of all. Man should learn from it that he was driven into it by his previous thinking, feeling and willing; he will not come out of it — though it will assume other forms — until he boldly determines to undertake the inner transformation of his soul.


These things which are being made known today ... [..] are spiritual revelations clothed in external forms. They are what men need; they alone offer men a real basis and a real possibility for learning anew to transform their thinking. It is this that is so necessary for mankind today.


If, for example, you were to look at my Outline of Esoteric Science, you could simply read what you find there; you could take up the content that appears on those pages. If you take up the content of that book in such a way that you are able to repeat everything in it from memory, then I would find it far more useful if you were to read a cookbook instead—or, if you did not happen to be a woman, then some sort of treatise on tariff agreements. That would be more useful than read­ing my Outline of Esoteric Science.

The true meaning of this Outline of Esoteric Science only comes through when the particular form of the thoughts therein—which annoys people enough that they have dismissed it as "poorly written"—when the particular manner of writing and thinking in the book works instructively on the whole constitution of your soul; when the "how" and not the "what" gives form to the soul.

If you read An Outline of Esoteric Science (it could also be another book) and allow it to affect you in this way, you will find that your inner sight actually grows much stronger, such that it eventually develops into true knowledge of the human being. Something entirely different than a simple memorization of the information in a book results when you read it in this way.

Today, people imagine that when they read a book, they have done the most important task when they have taken up the content enough to pass an exam on it. Spiritual-scientific books are never intended to be read in this fashion. The most essential task has not been completed if you are simply able to list all the major points on your fingers. Rather, the truly essential task has only been completed when the things in the book have crossed over into the whole of your soul constitution, into the whole of your soul make-up—when you have used the book to develop soul forces intended for use in life itself.

For decades, I have been saying this in a wide variety of ways. But still, in a large number of circles, people consider it to be the most important thing to know: The human being is composed of this and that; we live through multiple incarnations on the Earth; and so on. This is not the most important thing. Rather, the most important thing is that, by means of this whole way of thinking I have just described, human beings grasp something that cannot be grasped by any other means.


is about the concept of moral intuition

Only by active thinking, does the thinking go over into the willing .. the living thinking stands in the same relationship to the living thinking as the dead body to the living person.

The moral intuition in PoF is the beginning of living thinking, that is possible to grasp the spiritual again.

Also in other lectures, 12 and 13 Oct, Steiner continues on this.


Note 1 - relationship with living sentences

Rudolf Steiner states that (quotes from Book of Revelation)

  • certain texts, such as the Gospel of John as an initiation document, Book of Revelation, orother sentences such as the ones given in Meditation texts do not just consist of flat characters and words, but are "living sentences that germinate during meditation, and sprouts of knowledge grow from them". (1903-12-24-GA088 letter)
  • also, that the way to study Revelation or the Gospels is 1) take in every word in a kind of naieve but true belief, 2) look for allegoric meaning by contemplation and meditation 3) take everything literally (1904-11-14-GA090A)

Note 2 - Organic or Heart thinking

  • The laws are rhythm, enhancement, polarity, inversion. These laws exist for all living processes.
  • for an illustration of the etheric 'rhythm' in the plant, see Schema FMC00.379 on Formative forces
  • In heart thinking, the steps are: 'learn the contents, look at the form, practice with the form, then meditate on the meaning, and apply'.
    • Besides just reading the meaning of the text, one analyses the text by looking at the structure, and than use the form layout of that structure to 'take in' into one's soul the chunks of meaning in their interrelationships.
    • By going back and forth this way, one 'massages around' with the meaning in one's mind, one does away with the fact that the meaning is hard-coded in sequential texts, and one moves into the domain of the ideas contained in the text. The structure or form helps to add feeling, and by entertaining this in one's mind actively, one adds willing.
  • Draft note on diagram 1.1 on page 2 in the Riccio 2016 book: 'Goethe’s archetypal plant'
    • When we consider the plant in our soul this way, we go from physical object to object+process, as the diagram shows. However it’s plain to see that the dynamic up and down is the etheric, and the astral is the level where it halts .. those are purely the laws of the etheric and astral. Hence, when one conceives this in one’s mind, it’s kind of obvious that from here we come to the idea in the spirit world which is the true world of our soul, it is the willing level.

Note 3 - FMC wiki's Schemas and Aspects

- This is a draft section - Imagine you look at a schema. The schema encodes some meaning, using graphical dimensions.

If you contemplate it, something happens in your mind, you process it, but you don’t process it with natural language such as english.

Now this can be used as a step ladder to the higher meaning, because it helps you to get loose of the text meaning which is intellectually ‘spun yarn’ (in NL language: 'garen spinnen'). One needs to get away from the purely 'dead' thinking .. soak off the stamp from a letter, like a plane lifts off from the ground and goes from wheeling to flying mode, leaving the resistance of the tarmac to its rubber wheels behind.

If we have a higher meaning idea, that has, say, four various perspectives we choose to consider and contemplate together .. we'd like to integrate these to have a more comprehensive understanding or insight.

A first way can be to read the sequential texts about each of the four perspectives.

A second way is to view a schema which also induces some dimensionality of logical meaning by its structure, and use that implicit structure in contemplation and meditation.

See further:

Related pages

References and further reading

Organic or heart thinking

  • Florin Lowndes: 'Das Erwecken des Herzdenkens' (1998) (Wesen und Leben des sinnlichkeitsfreien Denkens in der Darstellung Rudolf Steiners. Umriß einer Methodik) (2002)
    • review from amazon:

      Florin Lowndes offers the more advanced reader of Rudolf Steiner's works a completely new, hitherto unnoticed but very profitable perspective on how to analyze these texts, experience them internally and meditate. Unlike most exegetes or critics Rudolf Steiner's, Lowndes does not superficially consider the directly given conceptual content of Steiner's works, but rather seeks to discover a meta-level in Steiner's work, roughly comparable to an energetic structure, a form of thought, by means of the qualities of the content and to lead the reader to the viewing experience of these mental forms hidden behind the texts. As a result, the reader not only learns about the structure and operating principle of the thought forms that Steiner uses in all his works, but he also gets the tools to gain his own view of these forms. Gradually, the original, effective and life-giving force in Steiner's work, the essentials behind his statements, enters the reader's consciousness as an inner experience, and the reader notices that this purely spiritual content, the lively, “intuitive” thoughts in Steiner's work, are becoming aware of can actually only “pronounce” through the characterised thought forms, that is, these forms need to be “effective” in the reader's inner experience. The reader who has stepped through such experiences will then also want to give his own thinking the shape of the living, even in artistic-meditative activity, in order to express his own spirit as an effective, living force corresponding to the world. A path of initiation into spiritual worlds hidden in Rudolf Steiner's writings and its effectiveness is thus clearly demonstrated by Lowndes work.

  • Ruth Haertl: Auf der Suche nach der Wirklichkeit der Erkenntnis im Denken des Herzens aus Anthropos-Sophia im Lichte des Heiligen Gral (2001)
  • Mark Riccio:
    • 'A study guide for Rudolf Steiner's heart-thinking' (2006)
    • 'The Logik of the Heart' (2016) (The organic templates of spiritual writers, Rudolf Steiner, and The Philosophy of Freedom)
    • Compositional Style and Meditation on Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom: Some tips from the O'Neils (PDF download)
    • papers on independent.academia.edu/MarkDominickRiccio
  • Frank Teichmann: 'Auferstehung im Denken. Der Christusimpuls in der 'Philosophie der Freiheit' und in der Bewusstseinsgeschichte' (1996)
  • Wolfgang Findeisen: 'Mit dem Herzen sehen lernen. Das Herz als Grundlage einer spirituellen Entwicklung. Die sechs Nebenübungen Rudolf Steiners' (2012)
  • Martina Maria Sam (publisher): 'Rudolf Steiner Herzdenken: Über inspiratives Erkennen' (2014)
  • Florin Lowndes: 'Die Belebung des Herzchakra: Ein Leitfaden zu den Nebenübungen Rudolf Steiners' (2017)
  • Andreas Neider: Denken mit dem Herzen: Wie wir unsere Gedanken aus dem Kopf befreien können (2019)