THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE ATTENDED our Alamandria retreats and course programmes will know we take all our participants through ‘The Six Basic Exercises’. This series of exercises (developed by Rudolf Steiner) are a training ground for developing a strong inner foundation for our soul-life – so in this sense, they are a workout that leads to healthy self-discipline, heightened awareness and enhanced ‘presence’
These exercises form the mastery of our (1) thinking, (2) willing (life of action), (3) feeling (equanimity) and the cultivation of (4) open-mindedness, (5) positivity and (6) the harmonious interweaving of all these capacities in our day-to-day life
For anyone aspiring to self-mastery and self-empowerment, these exercises are essential tools and are to be used in conjunction with a meditative life – enabling us to access our most conscious and objective selves
We thought we would offer some insight and posts about each one of these exercises so keep checking in from time to time or follow us on Facebook or Instagram to get the most recent updates!
THESE THREE WORDS [ATTENTION = INTEREST = LOVE] describe the numinous fruits of working with the thinking exercise from The Six Basic Exercises. Along with an increased power of concentration, you will find that giving a thing attention will lead to interest in it, and it is from this interest that love for it becomes a real possibility. Thinking then becomes a stairway to love!
You can then take this exercise to the next stage by giving your undivided attention to another person. We may think we do this already, but how about trying it with a colleague that we rarely interact with, or with someone that usually frustrates us a little. If we do it in a warm and mindful way – where we allow the other person to speak, while we are totally present in what they are saying – suspending our own judgements and responses – then in this space, our attention can become interest where understanding, empathy, and love for the other may arise.
SIMONE WEIL SAID ‘Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. What is she really saying here? She is talking about surrendering all our judgements, and set viewpoints and opinions for a time, and living deeply, with all our attention, into the ‘other’ – be it a flower, stone, painting, piece of music, or another person. It is ‘pure’ because we have laid aside our own inner content and have become totally open through our attention. We only have to reflect on a moment when someone has given us the warmth of their attention and interest in us, to feel we have been ‘seen.
WE LOVE THIS EXERCISE, but it is not uncommon for people to say – ‘why? I have better things to do with my five minutes than look at a pin!’ But people, this is the inner gym – this is a five-minute exercise for your mind. In a world that is full of distractions – fostering the capacity to concentrate through focused attention is vital to our well-being.
First, we choose a simple everyday man-made object as the subject of our attention. It should be something we have no interest in such as a pin, or button, or paper clip etc. The aim is to maintain a flow of thoughts on something mundane, and thereby strengthen our powers of concentration, rather than choosing an object we have an attraction to – where we would be carried along by an existing interest in the thing.
To choose the same time each day is good or you can employ an otherwise ‘empty’ moment of the day – such as waiting for a bus. Emily does it just before her morning meditation. We start by placing the object before us and describe everything about this object – the texture, colour, form, the way the light reflects on it. We may then begin asking questions – What is it’s use? Why does it have this form? What materials is it made of? How was it made? Could I describe it to someone, without their having seen it before?
One of the aims is to keep our thoughts as vital and alive as possible every time we do this five-minute exercise. In the first attempt, everything is new and interesting – all one’s forces are freshly harnessed and can easily bring a successful result. But with ongoing exercise sessions, the sense of newness will have gone, and the enterprise will be less interesting, even a little boring. It is then that irrelevant, distracting thoughts arise which interrupt the flow of the exercise, therefore interest and focus must be generated anew, wholly out of the strength of our inner thought-forces. That is the workout part – it is here that the true value and efficacy of the exercise will bear fruit.
WE ARE MOSTLY unconscious of our habitual behaviours. When we begin to observe ourselves we can discover that there is a great force of unthinking, machine-like willpower, within our habits, and often within the lifestyle we live. For example we can easily become distracted slaves to the electronic devices we saturate our lives with. We can take the example of reaching for our phone first thing in the morning, as soon as we wake-up and before we get out of bed. If in that moment, we quickly ‘arrest’ the action just before its fulfillment, we may become aware of a certain force that is impelling us to satisfy the desire to use the phone. We may even feel as if this force is surging down through our arm. In this way we can become conscious of the power that lives as unconscious will in our habitual behaviours. By becoming aware of this force, this willpower, we are better enabled to direct it towards those habits we wish to change and towards actions that are mindfully directed.
HABITUAL BEHAVIOURS can gradually de-humanize us and make us more machine-like. The more habitual we become, the less conscious we become. A habit or ritual is only useful if it supports fresh insights and experiences. The regular routine of meditation is an example of this, as is repetition in the learning of a new skill.
We may make a habit of rising early each morning at a set time to meditate, but this habit is supporting the fruits of the meditation, such as, inner peace and wellbeing, elevated consciousness, inner transformation and so on. Have a think about what habitual behaviours are serving you and others that are not.
THE WILLING EXERCISE enables us to strengthen the way we direct and bring greater awareness to our actions – our deeds. There are many (many!) supplementary exercises for this but the main exercise is this seemingly simple task. Each day at a prescribed time you have previously chosen, say 10.00am, decide to do a particular task, such as – turn your ring clockwise on your finger – that’s it! It’s that simple. Or, you may untie and retie your shoelace, or touch your nose. It needs to be a task that has no particular use to you. So each day for a week, keep trying to do this exercise on time, without setting an alarm. You will find just how hard it is to remember to do this when 10.00am comes around. If you persist and don’t give up, you will find that your inner sense of time will improve remarkably and your everyday actions will be infused with much more consciousness.
Our Will resides deep within our subconscious, manifesting often in habitual ways of being. This simple exercise helps makes us more aware and awake in our deeds.
FOR ANYONE WANTING to strengthen their will forces – this is the verse to use daily (see below). Learning a verse like this by heart, and then standing upright and saying the verse mindfully, with ones own resonating voice – an inner resolve can begin to take place that cultivates a presence of mind and steadfast striving in connection with the will of our words, our feelings and our deeds. This verse is not about the cultivation of selfish action but rather the harnessing of our own will forces to serve the striving of our truest, essential self.
I AM I
My will is my will
May it serve the unfolding of my spirit self
May my words sound from my true I
May my deeds be the will of my true I
May my feelings be the fire of mine I
I AM I
‘OUR LIFE OF FEELING SEEKS THE STABILITY OF THE I’ – speaks to how developing mastery over our life of feelings must not be confused with becoming less sensitive, less able to express ourselves through our emotions, or becoming more stoic. It is about managing our feelings and emotions in a way that we remain centred and present. Many acts of bravery have been performed in acutely emotional situations where someone has been able to perform a vital deed, despite the extremity of the situation.
AN ESSENTIAL PART of mastering our life of feelings and emotions is not just the management of our feelings, but also the cultivation and refinement of them. There is much that meets us in the world that can blunt our inner life and dull our sense for beauty, and so communing with nature, be it a walk in the hills or garden, taking time to watch a sunrise or sunset, the waves breaking on the shore, the movement of clouds – all these things and more, help to nourish our aesthetic sense, enrich our feeling life, and foster our humanity. And of course the enjoyment of the arts, be it architecture, poetry, painting, dance or music, enrich and nourish our soul. By refining and cultivating our feelings in this way they become aligned to our powers of cognition and are less inclined to blind subjectivity. Mastering our feelings makes them a useful guide to intuiting truth, and they can become a bridge to perceiving the creative forces in the world.
OUR LIFE OF FEELINGS plays a big part in how we relate to the world and how we are seen by others. If we are continually overwhelmed by our emotions, or let our emotions rule us, our life can become chaotic, unstable, and have a negative effect on our decision making. But rather than being a plaything of our unrestrained emotions, with careful cultivation, and through fostering a practice of maintaining balance in our soul life, our feelings can manifest deep intuitive insights and be a trusted guide on our life path. Of course, it is natural and healthy to allow our emotions to express how we are feeling. We may need to cry, or feel angry, sad, or profound joy. But we try to not lose ourselves in their expression. We can practice becoming aware of rising anger before it comes to outward expression, then separate from it by creating a space between it and ourselves. It is within this space, or gap, that we can find our equilibrium. Of course this applies to all emotions we may experience. Create the gap! Find the balance! Manage the emotion!