We think of a plant, how it has its roots in the soil, how it sends out leaves one after another, and blossoms at length into flower. Now we imagine a man standing beside the plant. The thought lights up in our mind that the man has characteristics and capabilities which can truthfully be called more perfect than are those of the plant. He can move about at will, he can go this way or that way as he feels inclined; whereas the plant is rooted to the spot where it is growing.
We may however, then go on to think to ourselves: Yes, that is so, the human being is more perfect than the plant; but I also find qualities in him, the absence of which in the plant makes it appear to me more perfect in other respects than the human being. For he is filled with desires and passions, and these he sometimes follows in his behavior, with the result that he goes astray, falls into error. When I look at the plant, I see how it follows the pure laws of growth from leaf to leaf, how it opens its blossom, calmly and tranquilly, to the chaste rays of the sun. I perceive therefore that whilst man is in one respects more perfect than the plant, he buys this comparative perfection at the price of letting impulses and desires and passions have their seat within him, instead of what appear to be the pure forces at work in the plant. Then we can go on to picture to ourselves how the green sap flows right through the plant, and how this green sap is the expression of the pure, unimpassioned laws of growth. And if we then think of the red blood as it flows through the veins and arteries of man, we find in this red blood the expression of impulses and desires and passions.
We then let this whole thought live in our soul. Carrying it a little farther, we call to mend how man is after all capable of development; he possesses higher faculties of soul, by means of which he can refine and purify his impulses and passions. We recognize that thereby the baser element in them is purged away, and they are re-born on a higher level. The blood can then be thought of as the expression of these purified and chastened impulses and passions.
And now we turn our thought, let us say, to a rose. We look in spirit at the rose and say to ourselves: In the red sap of the rose, I see the green color of the plant-sap changed to red; and the red rose follows still, not less than the green leaf, the pure, unimpassioned laws of growth. I can let the red of the rose be for me a symbol of a blood that is the expression of chastened impulses and passions which have thrown off their baser part and resemble in their purity the forces that are at work in the rose. And then we try, not merely to go on turning such thoughts over and over in our mind, but to let them come to life in our heart and feeling.
A sensation of bliss can come over us as we contemplate the pure and dispassionate nature of the growing plant; and we feel obliged to admit that certain higher perfections have to be purchased by the acquisition at the same time of impulses and desires. This thought changes the bliss that we experienced before into a solemn feeling; and then a sense of liberation can come over us, a feeling of true happiness when we give ourselves up to the thought of the red blood that can become the bearer – even as the red sap in the rose – of experiences that are inwardly pure. In pursuing thus a train of thought that serves to build up such a symbolic picture, it is important to accompany the thought all the time with feeling. Then, having entered right into the experience of the thoughts and feelings, we can re-cast them in the following symbolic picture.
Imagine you see before you a black cross. Let this black cross be for you a symbol for the baser elements that have been cast out of man’s impulses and passions; and at the point where the beams of the cross meet, picture to yourself seven resplendent bright red roses arranged in a circle. Let these roses symbolize for you a blood that is the expression of passions and impulses that have undergone purification. Some such symbolic thought-picture shall the pupil of spiritual training call up before his soul, and he can do this in the way as was explained above for a memory-picture. Devoting himself to it in deep, inner contemplation, he will find that the picture has power to call his soul awake. He must try to erase for the time being everything else from his mind. The symbol in question, and that alone, should now hover before him in spirit, as livingly as ever possible.
There is meaning in the fact that the symbolic picture has not simply been put forward as a picture that has in itself an awakening power, but that it was first built up by a sequence of thoughts concerning plant and man. What such a picture can do for the pupil depends on his having himself first put it together in the way described, before he used it as a object of meditation. Were he to picture it without having gone through the construction of it in his own soul, it would remain cold and would have far less effect, for it is the preparation that endows it with power to enlighten the soul. The pupil should however not be recalling the preparatory steps while engaged in the meditation, but have then merely the symbolic picture hovering before him in spirit, quick with life – letting only the feelings that were aroused by the preparatory chain of thought echo on within him. In this way does the symbolic picture come to be a sign, appropriate to and accompanying the inner experience.
The efficacy of the experience depends upon how long the pupil is able to continue in it. The longer he can do so, without allowing any other idea to disturb the meditation, the greater its value for him. It is, however, also good if, apart from time he devotes to the mediation as such, he will frequently build up the picture all over again, letting the thoughts and feelings rise up in him in the way we have described, that the mood of the experience may not pale. The more ready the pupil is patient to continue renewing the picture in this way, the greater significance will it have for his soul.
From Rudolf Steiner’s Occult Science, An Outline. Rudolf Steiner Press, London. pp. 230-232