In other words, a meditative practice which strengthens our forces of empathy and which has a positive social effect is incompatible with an egotistical interest in self-optimisation. Indeed, Steiner goes as far as to say that meditation is not to serve myself but world development.
He states another condition: if we see meditation as an obligation, or indeed as compulsory, we are already on the wrong track. It should arise from the desire for a free act which is not determined by our outer life. Steiner even warns against initiating meditative practice without the willingness to examine our whole repertoire of habitual thinking and emotions as well as our routine way of doing things. Let me give three examples.
We live largely in a world of ideas. Thoughts flow into us and get hooked, others trigger associations or move on. This flood of thoughts surrounding us should, says Steiner, be forced away and we should take one simple, specific thought and, irrespective of its content, irrespective of whether this thought is right or wrong, connect other thoughts with it through our will which are not triggered from outside. The key element in this meditation is the strength of will we have to use to stay focused on the one thought and not be distracted in other directions. Steiner calls this exercise controlled thinking.
Doing something wholly on our own initiative is a further exercise. Our actions are mostly determined by family, occupational and external demands. This exercise does not mean going out for a meal or to the cinema but performing an action which has no meaning or purpose – and be it moving a pencil from one side of the desk to the other at the same time each day. This exercise is also described as controlled action.
Our feelings take us on an emotional rollercoaster. We swing between the extremes of feeling on top of the world and in the depths of despair, sometimes recognisable in laid-back people only any longer by a twitch of the mouth. Here the task is through inner calmness not to lose ourselves in joy or pain or in a reactive way to give way to the immediate, indeed unrestrained expression of every emotion. Such restraint is not meant to suppress our feelings but to give our emotional capacity greater subtlety and to guide and shape our expression of joy and pain.
Steiner also describes meditation as an artificially created state of boredom. Our current cultural advances threaten increasingly to deprive us of this free space for inner development; they distract us and prevent us from coming to our senses. But five minutes of meditation each day would be sufficient to set something against the inner emptiness. Anyone for a try?