Cultivating the Self for Psychic Empowerment – Rudolf Steiner’s Basic Exercises

A common theme in the vast collection of mystical scripture is that of elevating the consciousness of the individual alongside the development of psychic arts. Many of the mystics and schools of thought even provide a clear warning on the subject, stating that the mind, body, and soul must be steady and worthy in order to receive the true gifts of the psychic. That is why even in the religions and cults of today, initiation and rank are commonplace. Where then, can the esoteric student find a neutral source of guidance, that is neither dogmatic or occult?

Since the early stages of shamanism and consequent development of theology and occult groups, knowledge have always been passed on from master to neophyte with much trial and tribulation in between. Certainly, an ethical code is required to use the gifts responsibly, but the fact remains that all people are capable of acquiring such ability, for it is innate within us all. It is helpful, however, to have information available and people to provide advice on this phenomenon. Psychic ability is a powerful, natural and mysterious force that stretches far beyond our comprehension as homo sapiens. Due to the power and change in state of mind that accompanies psychic development, it must be used responsibly and cultivated in a good state of mind. A set of guidelines is required, alongside cultivation techniques for psychic development. The problem is choosing a code of self-development from the overwhelming diversity of ancient and modern teachings that are available to us.

More people today than ever before discover that they have psychic faculties, but the conventional answers that society provide simply do not suffice. The global population is ever growing and people are able to spread and share knowledge quicker than ever before, there is a clear hastening in the way that the human collective mind is being shaped. The myths, dogmas, and flaws of conventional religion is fading away, along with its grasp on human thought and action. Organized religion, today, is more often than not followed hypocritically, without giving it a second thought. On the other end scale, we have atheism which is based on sound ethical reasoning, but all too many unanswered questions remain and the scientific explanations seem just a strange as magic when it comes to modern physics. Meanwhile, there is a spectrum of knowledge seekers from both science and gnostic/philosophical schools trying to make sense of the world and the happenings within it. Unfortunately, their explanations usually fall short of truly answering the profound questions of life and our place in it. The universe continues to remain just as large, glorious and daunting as it was before.

So where do we find viable and actual advice from a non-dogmatic or occult source? The answer is within ourselves, the cliche of ‘look within’, remains the best source of information as to our code of ethnicity to live by, it is authentic and based on personal empathetic feeling. We are the temple and the Buddha is within us, we have access to the information innate within ourselves. Yet most people who learn about and cultivate the psychic self, are curious about the mystery philosophies and schools, religion and the occult. Thus each person attributes themselves to different symbols, mythology, and magical science, but also take on the creative imagery and ethical code of the depicted source. For a neutral source on psychic and esoteric research and development, we can look at the works of Rudolf Steiner founder of Anthroposophy. Steiner placed emphasis on ethical individualism and mastering of one’s thought in the pursuit of psychic development. His early research and writing focused on providing sound scientific measurement and research of psychic phenomenon, attempting to combine spiritual and scientific thought.

A popular system of psychic progression is outlined by Steiner which he calls ‘The Six Protective Exercises With Their Etheric Powers’ and answers the question of what every student of esoteric science must demand of themselves for esoteric development. Steiner provided these principles to students of the ‘Esoteric School’ in multiple written and spoken cases. One such outline was written in October 1906, which provides the six exercises that must be practiced for a month before moving onto the next exercise. These exercises, Steiner expected to be practiced along with daily meditations as separate exercises. Also, when one moves onto a new exercise after a month, the preceding exercise must not be abandoned but continued daily as per usual. The final stage is titled ‘Equilibrium’ and is when the five preceding exercises are brought into harmony with one another. Steiner states that one month of practice is a suggested estimate of time, but the exercises must be followed in order. The five exercises are called, ‘Control of Thoughts’, ‘Initiative Action’, ‘Being Above Pleasure and Pain’, ‘Positive Attitude’, ‘Openness’ and then finally ‘Equilibrium’.

In the first month, the esoteric student must develop the will and control of their thoughts. As Steiner states that ‘For this purpose, free yourself of all aimless, will-o’-wisp thoughts.’ The student is said to only have to do this for a short time a day, a minimum five minutes is suggested at first, but the more this is done the better the outcome will be. All thoughts of menial, everyday outer circumstance and obligation must be kept clear of the mind and ‘Your own initiative must place a thought in the center of your soul’, at first it is encouraged to have an impersonal, basic and uninteresting thought to practice with. The purpose of this is for your mind not to be swept along by any interesting thought, but to vividly stimulate a thought by keeping it in your mind and analyzing every part of it, then at the end of the exercise to have the thought ‘stand before your soul just as colorfully and vividly as at the beginning.’ It does not matter if you use the same or different thought each day, but it is important to do it daily and end it correctly. Steiner states that each exercise must be concluded by bringing to full consciousness the inner feelings experienced and felt subtlety within, then focus your thinking on your head and center of your spine. Steiner visualizes the thought being poured through the head and into the marrow of the spine.

After roughly a month’s practice feel free to move on to the second exercise ‘Initiative Action’. While continuing with the practice you have already set in motion, the second step simply adds an additional part to the first exercise. The student is to add an action to the thought that they focus on. This thought is to be practiced as if it is a daily responsibility. Visualizing, for example, watering a plant or feeding birds in the garden. As time goes on you must continue adding additional actions to the focused thought you have in your mind, the longer you continue with this practice each day, the better. Steiner states that you must not neglect to do the first month’s exercise but continue doing it as much as possible without the practices having an adverse effect on your daily obligations and state of life. As Steiner states, ‘you become aware of the feeling of an inner impulse of activity within the soul’. As with the first exercise, this one must also be completed by becoming aware of the inner feeling achieved during the exercise and visualize it pouring down through your head and spine.

In the third month, or when you feel ready for the next exercises, a new practice becomes a priority. Again, the previous exercises are to be continued but are secondary to the new exercise. In the third month you practice becoming ‘Above Pleasure and Pain’ as Steiner states, this requires ‘a certain equanimity toward the fluctuations of pleasure and sorrow, joy and pain.’ The purpose of this practice is to master the rhythm of personal moods, to become steady in your feeling and be more neurally grounded. It requires you to be attentive to your mood and emotions while resisting the urge to express it. The student needs to learn temperance, instead of anger, calm instead of fear and so on. Even positive emotions, such as laughter must be suppressed as much as possible. This creates a permanent sense of inner calm within the practitioner that will be realized after only a few days of practice. Steiner states that it is not to have someone become uncaring and unfeeling, but to rather have the inner peace achieved during practice. As with the previous two exercises, the inner feeling must be conjured back up to full consciousness and poured through the head and down the spine. Let this feeling fill your heart and from there radiate toward your hands, feet and then head as Steiner explains. He continues by stating that ‘This naturally cannot be done at the conclusion of each single exercise, for here it is not a matter of a single exercise, but of a sustained attentiveness to your inner life of soul’. Instead, at least once daily, you must conjure the inner calm and have it radiate through your body and outward to your surroundings.

In the fourth month, you must start to practice having ‘A Positive Attitude’ toward all you experience and see. You must try to find the positive, beautiful and good in all beings, events, and experience. Again, this exercise becomes the priority, while the previous exercises are to be continued, lest you lose the awareness gained over the three months. The fourth exercise aims to have the student see that underneath all ugliness, bad people and events, there is an underlying, undying and divine soul hidden in the blackness. As Steiner states, the aim is not to ‘conceive of this as calling black white and white black’, but rather to have you question the reason as to why there is this darkness and what had happened for it to be so. This cultivates a view of neutrality and higher understanding into the scale between black and white, it also teaches us to reserve judgment, for it is not our place. Steiner states that after a month of focus on this exercise, you will notice a subtle feeling radiating from your person, while ‘your soul were opening wide to all kinds of secret and subtle processes in your environment, processes that completely eluded you before.’ This is the exercise that allows you to become aware of the subtleties beyond your sense and provides the soul with a state of bliss. This feeling of bliss must then be streamed toward and out of your eyes, into the environment. As Steiner explained ‘You will notice that you thereby gain an immediate relationship to the space around you. You seem to grow beyond yourself. You learn to consider the environment an actual part of yourself.’ It is important to know that in order to retain this state, being above pleasure and pain is required as the uncontrolled rhythm of emotion will remove the benefits of this exercise.

The fifth and last stage before equilibrium is ‘Openness’. At this stage, the student needs to become open to new experiences and information and accept that any new information gained may be right, even though unlikely. The way the world works, its laws and what seems possible to the student must be deprogrammed from the mind, and instead an open-mindedness to any new information and experience should be used by the student in the pursuit of truth. What seems impossible to the student must be disregarded and thought of as being a possibility. After a while of practice, the student will become aware of a ‘stirring’ in the soul and in the environment around them that has become ever more part of the student through exercise four. Steiner states that this feeling or vibration can be subtly noticed in the environment and that this feeling must be drawn into the student, willfully through all of their senses. Also, the impressions of these outer stimuli on the senses are not to be focused on, but simply be recognized.

When the student reaches the sixth month, they enter the stage of ‘Equilibrium’. All the previous exercises are continued daily, upon the standard meditation and concentration practices the esoteric student uses. Steiner describes best what the student will experience when equilibrium is achieved. He states that ‘This will gradually develop a beautiful equilibrium in your soul. You will notice, specifically, that previous dissatisfaction with certain phenomena and beings in the world completely disappear. A mood reconciling all experiences spreads in your soul, a mood that is by no means one of indifference but, on the contrary, will enable you to work in the world for its improvement and progress. You develop a serene understanding of things hitherto completely closed to your soul’. The effect of this state will change not only your consciousness but elevate your soul. The physical expression of yourself will also change, such as subconscious movements and twitches attributed to your personality. You might notice a change in the way you walk, what your hands do and even changes in handwriting as Steiner explains.

Although these exercises were originally given to students of the ‘Esoteric School’, it remains one of the most neutral sources and explanations of such mysteries. Many occult and esoteric organizations have similar preparations and techniques for consciousness cultivation, however, many of them are extreme to one side or the other. Often dictating behavior and binding the student to a singular way of thinking and practice. The six exercises provided by Steiner can be used by any individual practitioner who is not interested in becoming a member of a secret society, cult or esoteric organization. It is important for the student to understand the seriousness of these exercises and remain disciplined on the path of psychic empowerment. Steiner also states that these exercises are best left alone if another form of psychic development is already being practiced by the student, from whatever source. The two methods of practice will intervene with one another, contradict and eventually confuse the student, leading to a loss of progress. Remember that the aim of these exercises are to elevate the state of consciousness that the student is commonly in. This is to prepare for the advanced practices of psychic development that most students are very eager to learn and experience.

When the student completes their sixth month of exercise and continues to the advanced practices of esoteric and psychic learning, they must retain the state of equilibrium that they have achieved within themselves. It is important to continue developing the skills gained through the six exercises that Steiner provides. The state of consciousness achieved through Steiner’s exercises provides the foundation from where the esoteric student can comfortably progress onward to advanced psychic practices. A large variety of Esoteric methods and practices exist in modern society and many are openly available to all who seek them.

Featured Image: Surian Soosay


Steiner, R. and Bamford, C. (1994) How to know higher worlds: A modern path of initiation. New York, NY, United States: Anthroposophic Press.

(No Date) Available at: (Accessed: 6 June 2016).




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