by Dr. Steven Johnson
I have learned a hard life lesson during the Covid-19 pandemic, namely that what I thought I understood through knowledge and felt I believed through faith did not correspond to the sea of sympathies and antipathies that flooded my soul. I could not choose a side about the right to vaccinate or not, nor to wear masks or not, because I had compassion and empathy for my friends and respected colleagues with differing points of view.
Like the moving of the planets around the sun and the waxing and waning of the moon, I felt myself in both conjunction and opposition within myself and with others at the same time. Thoughts, feelings and actions were often incongruent. It was also clear that many others around me were struggling in their own, but similar, ways. For many this is still a time of psychological trauma and recovery filled with despair, fear, anxiety, anger and disappointment in each other and ourselves. For myself I looked inwards to contemplative practices to try and become “whole” in my soul again and find a path to where my heart and mind were congruent. This was necessary for me to continue to do my work as a physician and stand before my patients as an advisor.
So why an essay about the planets after this introduction? To begin, there is something to be discovered and regained by contemplating the rhythms of our lives. The sun, moon and even the visible planets, when observed and contemplated, can shift our sense of time in a supportive way. There is reassurance in knowing that this day will set, a quiet and dark period of repose will follow, and a new day will begin again. The seasons will come, bearing their unique gifts, challenges and moods, and they will go, always carrying the hope and promise of their next annual appearance. Even over the course of a single week, we can observe and appreciate the unique mood of a Sunday, for example, and we can then anticipate and work more consciously with the opportunities and potential challenges that each weekday brings.
Great thinkers and healers like Aristotle, Marsilio Ficino, Paracelsus, Carl Jung, Thomas Moore and Rudolf Steiner have all described qualities and attributes of the human soul related to closest and most visible celestial bodies-the Sun, moon and the five closest planets to the earth. These are also embodied in the sevenfold rhythms of the week, as well as the names and moods of the days themselves, which anchor our lives in so many mysterious ways. The soul is best described as a summation of who we truly are as a person.
The mythological qualities of the planets are associated with the ancient Norse and Greek Gods. These are universal qualities we can experience within our psyche like musical notes. We can learn to play these notes like an instrument else they sound in discord and chaos within us. The notion of the music of the heavenly spheres is a wonderful imagination which can bring a living experience into our journey of self-knowledge, purification and seeking of our humanity. The question is: do we want to take that step of inner development? Do we care enough or believe we can improve ourselves in ways that make a difference in the world?
As a physician I have observed that many individuals who dare to take these kinds of steps can overcome their fluctuating emotions and gain clearer sense of purpose while also healing the individual and social effects of their traumatized psyche. Many have re-directed their lives entirely since covid-19 either through their work or through a newfound interest and activism in the world. This seems to be one of the best outcomes of the last several years of struggle and suffering so many of us have experienced. Those who have broken through their struggles to a clearer sense of purpose and resilience have been willing to open themselves to significant inner changes; often going against what seems practical, logical or safe.
In the book, “The Planets Within”, Thomas Moore stated in an interview, “The person who knows one religion knows none”. The new direction of spirituality is the emergence of the seeker who may hold their own traditions but is open to seek out new ideas to enrich their life”. Sociologist Otto Sharmer, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, put it another way. He said that if we are truly seeking the next steps into the future, we need to practice with the following idea, namely that the right future will emerge (like the congruence between the conductor and the musicians during a masterful musical performance) when I am directed by a truly open mind, an open heart and open willing.
Rudolf Steiner gave an exercise through which we can work imaginatively with the qualities of the planets, sun and moon embodied in the days of the week. As a physician I am drawn more and more not only to practice these exercises, but to speak about such contemplative exercises with my patients too. This is because I observe that so many symptoms of physical illness and psychological distress are rooted in patterns or habits of rigid thoughts, reactive feelings and repeated behaviors. I have found the teachings of Doc Childre, the founder of Heart Math, to be quite helpful. Namely, you can’t just get rid of established patterns and habits. What you can do is replace them with new ones if you are open and inspired to practice. Heart math teaches we can only control our attitudes and beliefs about what is possible for ourselves and the world. Rudolf Steiner takes this a step further to say that through contemplative and meditative practice we can develop imaginative, inspired and intuitive capacities which can transform our soul/psyche and guide us towards our highest possibilities of creative spirit and humanity.
The exercises below are from a book by Rudolf Steiner called “Guidance in Esoteric Training”. Practiced a few minutes every day, these exercises can help guide us towards finding renewed purpose in life. We gain insight into the diverse character of our soul and the virtues that emerge become new possibilities while healing many of the symptomatic stressors and negative patterns we endure in modern life.
We can also think about this contemplative exercise as learning to think with our whole body rather than our brain alone. To judge what is nourishing with the Saturn wisdom of the spleen, to love fully and benevolently like the sun in our hearts, to think with Jupiter wisdom from the liver and develop courage and temperance from our gallbladder. These are just a few examples which lead us into a world of contemplation and imagination.
The following exercises are copied from the original translation. Where there is an *, a few personal suggestions are added.
DAYS OF THE WEEK EXERCISES
as put forth by Rudolf Steiner in his book, “Guidance in Esoteric Training”
FOR THE DAYS OF THE WEEK
The pupil must pay careful attention to certain activities in the life of soul which in the ordinary way are carried on carelessly and inattentively. There are eight such activities.It is naturally best to undertake only one exercise at a time, throughout a week or a fortnight, for example, then the second, and so on, then beginning over again. Meanwhile it is best for the eighth exercise to be carried out every day. True self-knowledge is then gradually achieved and any progress made is perceived. Then later on — beginning with Saturday — one exercise lasting for about five minutes may perhaps be added daily to the eighth so that the relevant exercise will occasionally fall on the same day. Thus: Saturday — Thoughts; Sunday — Resolves; Monday — Talking; Tuesday — Actions; Wednesday — Behavior, and so on.
*I find it helpful to practice the daily exercise of the week in the morning and the review exercise at the end of the day. It can also be helpful to have a small journal to write in when you have moments of insight or inspiration.
To pay attention to one’s ideas.To think only significant thoughts. To learn little by little to separate in one’s thoughts the essential from the nonessential, the eternal from the transitory, truth from mere opinion.In listening to the talk of one’s fellow men, to try and become quite still inwardly, foregoing all assent, and still more all un-favorable judgments (criticism, rejection), even in one’s thoughts and feelings.This may be called: ‘RIGHT OPINION’.
*The virtue of patience is often referred to as connected to Saturn. This virtue can also be the theme of the day with which you try approach your task. Be patient with yourself and others.
To determine on even the most insignificant matter only after fully reasoned deliberation. All unthinking behavior, all meaningless actions, should be kept far away from the soul. One should always have well-weighed reasons for everything. And one should definitely abstain from doing anything for which there is no significant reason.Once one is convinced of the rightness of a decision, one must hold fast to it, with inner steadfastness.This may be called: ‘RIGHT JUDGMENT’, having been formed independently of sympathies and antipathies.
*The virtue of love-compassion is often referred to as connected to the Sun. Love often means taking a deep interest in oneself or others as a theme for the day.
Talking. Only what has sense and meaning should come from the lips of one striving for higher development. All talking for the sake of talking – to kill time – is in this sense harmful.The usual kind of conversation, a disjointed medley of remarks, should be avoided. This does not mean shutting oneself off from intercourse with one’s fellows; it is precisely then that talk should gradually be led to significance. One adopts a thoughtful attitude to every speech and answer taking all aspects into account. Never talk without cause — be gladly silent. One tries not to talk too much or too little. First listen quietly; then reflect on what has been said.This exercise may be called: ‘RIGHT WORD’.
*A virtue often connected to the moon is humility. Not to get caught up in self-importance and the need for self-recognition. This is difficult, but a theme which can lead to better social facilitation.
External Actions. These should not be disturbing for others. Where an occasion calls for action out of ones’ inner being, deliberate carefully how one can best meet the occasion – for the good of the whole, the lasting happiness of everyone, the eternal.Where one does things of one’s own accord, out of one’s own initiative: consider most thoroughly beforehand the effect of one’s actions. This is called: “RIGHT DEED”.
*The virtue connected to Mars is Temperance. How will my actions or words affect another person? Is it time to act or yield is the theme of this virtue.
The ordering of life. To live in accordance with Nature and Spirit. Not to be swamped by the external trivialities of life. To avoid all that brings unrest and haste into life. To hurry over nothing, but also not to be indolent. To look on life as a means for working towards higher development and to behave accordingly.One speaks in this connection of ‘RIGHT STANDPOINT’.
*The virtue connected with Mercury is generosity. Can I be generous with my time and not feel I have more important things to do?
Human Endeavour. One should take care to do nothing that lies beyond one’s powers — but also to leave nothing undone which lies within them.To look beyond the everyday, the momentary, and to set oneself aims and ideals connected with the highest duties of a human being. For instance, in the sense of the prescribed exercises, to try to develop oneself so that afterwards one may be able all the more to help and advise one’s fellow men — though perhaps not in the immediate future.This can be summed up as: ‘TO LET ALL THE FOREGOING EXERCISES BECOME A HABIT’.
*The virtue connected with Jupiter is diligence. Have I penetrated what I am doing and looked at it from numerous perspectives and considerations i.e. “due diligence”?
The endeavor to learn as much as possible from life.Nothing goes by us without giving us a chance to gain experiences that are useful for life. If one has done something wrongly or imperfectly, that becomes a motive for doing it rightly or more perfectly, later on.If one sees others doing something, one observes them with the like end in view (yet not coldly or heartlessly). And one does nothing without looking back to past experiences which can be of assistance in one’s decisions and achievements.One can learn from everyone — even from children if one is attentive.This exercise is called: ‘RIGHT MEMORY’. (Remembering what has been learnt from experiences).
*The virtue connected with Venus is purity. Can I act out of purity of thought, feeling and will? Can I become a bridge of the past and future?
SUMMARY (Every Day)
To turn one’s gaze inwards from time to time, even if only for five minutes daily at the same time. In so doing one should sink down into oneself, carefully take counsel with oneself, test and form one’s principles of life, run through in thought one’s knowledge — or lack of it — weigh up one’s duties; think over the contents and true purpose of life, feel genuinely pained by one’s own errors and imperfections. In a word: labor to discover the essential, the enduring, and earnestly aim at goals in accord with it: for instance, virtues to be acquired. (Not to fall into the mistake of thinking that one has done something well, but to strive ever further towards the highest standards.)This exercise is called: ‘RIGHT EXAMINATION’.
*Are the virtues I have gained becoming a force to change habits and patterns that hold me back from making progress towards achieving my highest potential. Can I observe my attitudes and beliefs changing in ways that make the world around me and myself healthier and more fulfilling?
These exercises for the days of the week are helpful for all generations and all genders. Just as each musical octave has seven notes, we can resonate with these daily exercises like musical notes, melodies and octaves. Music moves us inwardly because there is something within us that is in coherence with the melody and sound. When we act in concert with the planets there is a toning in our soul and we feel alive and vital. Ideas move beyond the dull, dry intellect into a creative world of imaginations which can inspire us towards meaningful actions in our life.
The idea of becoming a citizen of the cosmos of humanity begins to surpass our cultural, racial, political or personal identity. In the teachings of the ancient mysteries there was a sacred mantra:
To know the world, I look into myself,
To know myself, I look into the world.
In this way we can find a path to creative change. Using the virtues as guideposts, we can create truth, beauty and goodness as a presence in our lives no matter the outer circumstances. Another way to put it would be that we achieve a harmony with planetary music of the spheres within ourselves.
Practicing these daily exercises, I have found that there is a mending and a stronger congruence of my thoughts, feelings and actions. The soul feels whole, giving a clearer sense of self. This creates an inner peace and clarity of purpose which is so much needed in these times we live in. I hope some of you will find a renewed congruence in your soul and between your hearts and minds through practicing these imaginative and healing exercises. The ancient mysteries can have many practical applications in our daily life.