Steiner’s twelve senses can be grouped into three categories. He distinguished senses which relate to the perception of:
• your body: the senses of touch, of life, of movement, of balance
• the external world: smell, taste, sight, temperature
• the immaterial, spiritual world: hearing, speech, thought, ego
Will, feeling, thought
• The first four senses, the lowest, are called physical senses, or senses of the will because they are used to perceive one’s own body.
• The middle four senses are the senses of feeling. Observations made with these senses arouse feelings. These senses are also reflected in our language: a tastefully furnished house, a sourpuss, hard to swallow, heart-warming, cold thought.
• The last four senses, the highest, focus particularly on the other. These are the spiritual or knowledge senses and they are used in the observation of other people.
Sense of Life
The sense of life is the internal sense of your organs and internal life processes. Your life sense tells you that you are full, that you have
indigestion, or that you have to go to the toilet. You do not sense anything
as long as your life processes are all following their normal, harmonious
course. You do not register the life sense until one of the life processes is
disturbed, or when you are ill. Other examples of observations made by your
life sense are stomach-ache, congested nose, or sinusitis. You do not perceive
your organs or life sense unless something is wrong.
Pain is a serious disturbance that is also perceived with the life sense. Your life sense tells you that you have cut your finger, that a muscle hurts or that you bumped your knee on the table leg. Generally, your life sense gives you information about your physical situation, your health, vitality, illness, or pain. The life sense uses the vegetative nervous system, which has connections with all the internal organs. Another type of observation that the life sense can make is the perception of your body as having substance. Your life sense makes you perceive yourself as a physical, material body. If you only had a
sense of touch, you would only be able to feel your body’s boundary, so that your body would feel like an empty shell. Normally speaking, you are not consciously aware of your body or your organs. Your attention is not
drawn inward, and this enables you to focus on the world around you. When you are sick or in considerable pain, you are less attentive to your surroundings. The following anecdote illustrates what might happen if your sense of life isn’t functioning properly. One afternoon, a couple went to visit friends and left their son at home. When they came home, they could
smell scorched flesh and saw their son playing with a candle. He was holding his fingers in the candle’s flame and watching them turning black. He did not feel any pain to warn him that what he was doing was dangerous. This insensitivity is a symptom of leprosy. People with leprosy do not feel pain, so they do not notice when they get cuts or infections, and subsequently do not treat them. The wounds become infected and the infection can penetrate deeply into the body and result in disfigurement. Pain (and your life sense) is a sensory warning system. If you didn’t get a message that your stomach was
full, you would not know when to stop eating. You would not go to the toilet if you couldn’t tell your bladder was full. Pain protects you from further injury. A stab of pain warns you that you are cutting your finger and should stop. If this sense did not function, many safety measures would need to be taken in
order to prevent injury and accidents. Your life sense is directed at the perception of your body; you perceive your life processes with your life
sense. But you can also use your life sense to make external observations, by using it in combination with other senses and empathizing. With practice, you can observe:
• health, vitality, and illness in other people and organisms.
• pain suffered by another person or animal. You can feel the other’s pain when you see something happen because you have felt that pain before yourself. You can feel this pain directly, it doesn’t take much imagination. You must beware, though, of transferring human feelings to plants or animals.
• the space that an object occupies in its surroundings. Is the space it takes up satisfactory, is it filled harmoniously or not?
Inner observations using the life sense. Perceive the state of one of your organs (stomach, intestines, lungs, heart). Then drink a few glasses
of water or jog around the block, and repeat the observation. Have you ever felt an organ? For example, your lungs, heart, bladder, spleen, liver, muscles. What did you observe, in which circumstances did you feel the organ?
External observations using the life sense. Health, vitality. Observe the vitality of a tree. How can you determine its vitality: what part does your life sense play? Make an observation of the health of an animal, e.g. a cow. How can you determine its health, what part does your life sense play?
Pain: observe the pain of another person or animal. What do you experience, where do you experience it, what feelings go through you?
Space: observe the space that is filled by an organism (plant, tree, or animal). Is the space filled harmoniously or not?
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