On Decision Making

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Decision Making
Pathwork Guide Lecture No. 32 | June 20, 1958
by Eva Pierrakos

“Now I wish to speak on another subject. The subject of decision-making is very important in everyone’s life, for everything is a decision. This is true not only of your deeds, your obvious and material choices, but also of every emotional attitude a decision holds. The majority of human beings are incapable of making clear-cut, mature decisions. That is why their souls become sick and suffering. Great disorder is created in the soul, which, of course, leads to confusion and conflicts. For you who are on this path, it might be very beneficial to start to view your life, particularly your conflicts, from this point of view. Have you made real decisions? Or do you sometimes make superficial decisions, not weighing or facing what is involved in them, and then thwarted when things naturally do not turn out to your satisfaction? Do you revolt against your self, your surroundings, and life in general?

As long as you are living in this sphere of matter, every decision offers two and sometimes more alternatives. In some cases, there can be several wrong choices and one that is right. Only mature and responsible searching will eventually show you what the right way is. However, in many instances, it will not matter what you actually decide, provided the decision has been made wholeheartedly, awarely, responsibly, not shirking any issues or possible results. Even if one alternative would be better for you than the other, it is infinitely healthier for your soul, strange as this may appear at first, if you choose the wrong way but with the right attitude.

Now what is the right and mature attitude with which to decide? The answer is simply to know what you want and to know what the price is; to realize that you cannot fully have what you want on this earth sphere because there is always a price or a disadvantage to any alternative; and to be wholly willing to pay the price even before it becomes a certainty that the possible disadvantage may turn out to be real. On the other hand, let us assume you chose the right alternative by accident. When I say by accident, I mean that you have chosen as most people do—immaturely, with half-closed eyes, not accepting beforehand the disadvantage implicit in your choice. In this way, you harm your soul a great deal more than by taking on a needlessly more difficult alternative. By deciding with the right attitude, you responsibly accept the price to be paid. So beware of making your decisions half-heartedly like a child, going into them with closed eyes, wishfully thinking that the price can be evaded. Each alternative will have an advantage and also a disadvantage, as long as you live in the world of matter.

In high spiritual spheres and realms, the negative side does not exist anymore. In the lower spheres of darkness, however, no alternative carries with it a so-called advantage. For you, an advantage and a disadvantage will continue to exist until you have worked yourself up to those higher spheres where no disadvantage can befall you, even while still in the body, in the world of matter. To reach such a point you have to go through the laws governing this lower sphere that is rightfully yours for the moment: you have to accept the laws fully and keep them willingly, not because life forces you to do so. Then, and only then, will you reach that point. Trying to avoid the laws of your own world, no matter what spiritual acrobatics you may try, will not work. By the same token, a human being bound to the world of darkness will have to accept the conditions that govern that world, although still on this earth plane.

This ties in with the first words of tonight’s lecture, my friends. To love God means naturally, among many other things, to abide by these various laws—and not only to abide by them, but also to accept them willingly. And one of these laws is that the disadvantageous side of each decision has to be faced and accepted. To make a mature decision means therefore to deliberate each alternative thoroughly; to face not only the advantageous sides of all alternatives in making your choice, but also and equally the disadvantageous. When you have done that, knowing that whatever you choose there is a price to be paid, you can ask yourself which price you prefer to pay; you can think it over, and see if perhaps you prefer to risk a higher price because the possible advantage seems worthwhile. You will then have accepted another one of this earth life’s rules, that the uncertainty also has to be accepted. This includes the risk, the shortcomings of life, which offers you no risk-proof plan. This, too, is important for emotional health, my friends. In that way you act as a mature being and your soul must benefit from it.

No one who makes a decision in this way will ever come to grief because of it! Nor will they ever have to meet the conflicts that result from not making decisions in this way. Conflicts are created not because of a possible wrong or less advantageous decision, but because you go into the decision blindly, not ready and willing to pay the price. This, my friends, happens with each one of you. I do not see anyone who always makes emotional decisions maturely.

I am again giving you strong material to work with on your path. Wherever conflicts exist, in one way or another, you have not made your decisions properly. Do not remain on the surface level; you will have to dig deeper into your emotions in order to find the answer. Within your emotions, sooner or later you must find—provided you search honestly—that you have somehow not made a whole decision; you had somehow hoped to gain the advantage without accepting the disadvantage. And often you even hope—again without thinking it through clearly—to at the same time gain the advantage of both alternatives and to be spared the disadvantage of either. This amounts to cheating life, and the result must inevitably be that life will teach you a lesson and you will reap the disadvantages of both or all sides which you wished to avoid. If you test this emotional, and for the most part unconscious, current, what does this amount to? It amounts to greed.

On this earth sphere most people are greedy, not necessarily in the material sense, but emotionally. And when I say greedy, I mean you want to amass advantages without shouldering the responsibility of paying the price for them. That, needless to say, is a violation of one spiritual law.

Think about the words I have spoken tonight, my friends. This has not been a long lecture, but what I have said will add to the material you need for your progress, if you assimilate it properly and work with it in a very personal way.”

– Eva Pierrakos, Pathwork Guide Lecture No. 32 | June 20, 1958

I recommend reading the full lecture at:

The Four Temperaments

This article is a collection of quotes by Rudolf Steiner, offering a spiritual/esoteric perspective on the Four Temperaments: the sanguine, the choleric, the phlegmatic and the melancholic.

The Sanguine

“In the nervous system and astral body, sensations and feelings constantly fluctuate. Any harmony or order results solely from the restraining influence of the ego. People who do not exercise that influence appear to have no control over their thoughts and sensations. They are totally absorbed by the sensations, pictures, and ideas that ebb and flow within them. Something like this occurs whenever the astral body predominates, as, for example, in the sanguine. Sanguines surrender themselves in a certain sense to the constant and varied flow of images, sensations, and ideas since in them the astral body and nervous system predominate.

The nervous system’s activity is restrained only by the circulation of the blood. That this is so becomes clear when we consider what happens when a person lacks blood or is anaemic, in other words, when the blood’s restraining influence is absent. Mental images fluctuate wildly, often leading to illusions and hallucinations.

A touch of this is present in sanguines. Sanguines are incapable of lingering over an impression. They cannot fix their attention on a particular image nor sustain their interest in an impression. Instead, they rush from experience to experience, from percept to percept. This is especially noticeable in sanguine children, where it can be a source of concern. The sanguine child’s interest is easily kindled, a picture will easily impress, but the impression quickly vanishes.”

“In the sanguine the nervous system and astral body predominate. The astral body’s inner liveliness animates the other members, and makes the external form as mobile as possible. Whereas the choleric has sharply chiseled facial features, the sanguine’s are mobile, expressive, changeable. We see the astral body’s inner liveliness manifested in every outer detail, for example, in a slender form, a delicate bone structure, or lean muscles. The same thing can be observed in details of behavior. Even a non-clairvoyant can tell from behind whether someone is a choleric or a sanguine; one does not need to be a spiritual scientist for that. If you observe the gait of a choleric, you will notice that he plants each foot so solidly that he would seem to want to bore down into the ground. By contrast, the sanguine has a light, springy step. Even subtler external traits can be found. The inwardness of the ego, the choleric’s self-contained inwardness, express themselves in eyes that are dark and smoldering. The sanguine, whose ego has not taken such deep root, who is filled with the liveliness of his astral body, tends by contrast to have blue eyes. Many more such distinctive traits of these temperaments could be cited.”

“If a child has a sanguine temperament, he will not be helped if his elders try to flog interest into him. His temperament simply will not allow it. Instead of asking what the child lacks, in order that we might beat it into him, we must focus on what he has, and base ourselves on that. And as a rule, there is one thing we can always stimulate the sanguine child’s interest in. However flighty the child might be, we can always stimulate his interest in a particular personality. If we ourselves are that personality, or if we bring the child together with someone who is, the child cannot but develop an interest. Only through the medium of love for a personality can the interest of the sanguine child be awakened. More than children of any other temperament, the sanguine needs someone to admire. Admiration is here a kind of magic word, and we must do everything we can to awaken it.

We must reckon with what we have. We should see to it that the sanguine child is exposed to a variety of things in which he has shown a deeper interest. These things should be allowed to speak to him, to have an effect upon him. They should then be withdrawn, so that the child’s interest in them will intensify; then they may be restored. In other words, we must fashion the sanguine’s environment so that it is in keeping with his temperament.”

“From the examples of these pedagogical principles, we see how spiritual science can address practical problems. These principles can also be applied to oneself, for purposes of self-improvement. For example, a sanguine gains little by reproaching himself for his temperament. Our minds are in such questions frequently an obstacle. When pitted directly against stronger forces such as the temperaments, they can accomplish little. Indirectly, however, they can accomplish much. The sanguine, for example, can take his sanguinity into account, abandoning self-exhortation as fruitless. The important thing is to display sanguinity under the right circumstances. Experiences suited to his short attention span can be brought about through thoughtful planning. Using thought in this way, even on the smallest scale, will produce the requisite effect.”


The Choleric

“In the choleric, the ego and the blood system predominate. The choleric thus comes across as someone who must always have his way. His aggressiveness, everything connected with his forcefulness of will, derives from his blood circulation.”

“People in whom the ego predominates seek to triumph over all obstacles, to make their presence known. Accordingly their ego stunts the growth of the other members; it withholds from the astral and etheric bodies their due portion. This reveals itself outwardly in a very clear fashion. Johann Gottlieb Fichte, that famous German choleric, was recognizable as such purely externally. His build revealed clearly that the lower essential members had been held back in their growth. Napoleon, another classic example of the choleric, was so short because his ego had held the other members back. Of course, one cannot generalize that all cholerics are short and all sanguines tall. It is a question of proportion. What matters is the relation of size to overall form.”

“The choleric child is also susceptible of being led in a special way. The key to his education is respect and esteem for a natural authority. Instead of winning affection by means of personal qualities, as one does with the sanguine child, one should see to it that the child’s belief in his teacher’s ability remains unshaken. The teacher must demonstrate an understanding of what goes on around the child. Any showing of incompetence should be avoided. The child must persist in the belief that his teacher is competent, or all authority will be lost. The magic potion for the choleric child is respect and esteem for a person’s worth, just as for the sanguine child it was love for a personality. Outwardly, the choleric child must be confronted with challenging situations. He must encounter resistance and difficulty, lest his life become too easy.”

“Persons of a choleric temperament should purposely put themselves in situations where rage is of no use, but rather only makes them look ridiculous.”

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The Phlegmatic

“We proceed now to the phlegmatic temperament. We observed that this temperament develops when the etheric or life-body, as we call it, which regulates growth and metabolism, is predominant. The result is a sense of inner well-being. The more a human being lives in his etheric body, the more is he preoccupied with his internal processes. He lets external events run their course while his attention is directed inward.”

“The phlegmatic temperament manifests itself in a static, indifferent physiognomy, as well as in plumpness, for fat is due largely to the activity of the etheric body. In all this the phlegmatic’s inner sense of comfort is expressed. His gait is loose-jointed and shambling, and his manner timid. He seems somehow to be not entirely in touch with his surroundings.”

“The phlegmatic child should not be allowed to grow up alone. Although naturally all children should have play-mates, for phlegmatics it is especially important that they have them. Their playmates should have the most varied interests. Phlegmatic children learn by sharing in the interests, the more numerous the better, of others. Their playmates’ enthusiasms will overcome their native indifference towards the world. Whereas the important thing for the melancholic is to experience another person’s fate, for the phlegmatic child it is to experience the whole range of his playmates’ interests. The phlegmatic is not moved by things as such, but an interest arises when he sees things reflected in others, and these interests are then reflected in the soul of the phlegmatic child. We should bring into the phlegmatic’s environment objects and events toward which “phlegm” is an appropriate reaction. Impassivity must be directed toward the right objects, objects toward which one may be phlegmatic.”

“If we are phlegmatics, having no particular interests, then we should occupy ourselves as much as possible with uninteresting things, surround ourselves with numerous sources of tedium, so that we become thoroughly bored. We will then be thoroughly cured of our “phlegm;” we will have gotten it out of our system. Thus does one reckon with what one has, and not with what one does not have.”

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The Melancholic

“In the melancholic we have seen that the physical body, the coarsest member of the human organization, becomes master over the others. As a result, the melancholic feels he is not master over his body, that he cannot bend it to his will. His physical body, which is intended to be an instrument of the higher members, is itself in control, and frustrates the others. This the melancholic experiences as pain, as a feeling of despondency. Pain continually wells up within him. This is because his physical body resists his etheric body’s inner sense of well-being, his astral body’s liveliness, and his ego’s purposeful striving.”

“The melancholic is distinguished by a hanging head, as if he lacked the strength necessary to straighten his neck. His eyes are dull, not shining like the choleric’s; his gait is firm, but in a leaden rather than a resolute sort of way.”

“The melancholic child is not easy to lead. With him, however, a different magic formula may be applied. For the sanguine child this formula was love for a personality; for the choleric, it was respect and esteem for a teacher’s worth. By contrast, the important thing for the melancholic is for his teachers to be people who have in a certain sense been tried by life, who act and speak on the basis of past trials. The child must feel that the teacher has known real pain. Let your treatment of all of life’s little details be an occasion for the child to appreciate what you have suffered. Sympathy with the fates of those around him furthers the melancholic’s development. Here too one must reckon with what the child has. The melancholic has a capacity for suffering, for discomfort, which is firmly rooted in his being; it cannot be disciplined out of him. However, it can be redirected. We should expose the child to legitimate external pain and suffering, so that he learns there are things other than himself that can engage his capacity for experiencing pain. This is the essential thing. We should not try to divert or amuse the melancholic, for to do so only intensifies his despondency and inner suffering; instead, he must be made to see that objective occasions for suffering exist in life. Although we mustn’t carry it too far, redirecting the child’s suffering to outside objects is what is called for.”

“Melancholics should not close their eyes to life’s pain, but rather seek it out; through compassion they redirect their suffering outward toward appropriate objects and events.”


What would be your one question?

The world needs people. The world needs you.
by Dr. Jacob Needleman

“Here’s an anecdote that I think is suitable for introducing what I want to say to you as you graduate from high school today. At the one and only time in my life in which I had the opportunity to teach a course in philosophy at high school level, my first step was to ask the class (and I ask all of you, too): Suppose you were in front of someone whom you regarded as the wisest person in the world and, as though it were in a fairy tale, you could ask one question and one question only. What would it be?

I think it is enormously important to take this seriously—in front of a person of great wisdom, what would be your one question? If we take a moment or two to ponder that, you will find it is not so easy. The fact that it is not so easy is already a sign of something that is rather important.

At first these students, like most of us, found it very difficult. But then, after a couple of minutes of reflection, they wrote their questions on pieces of paper and handed them in. What came back was very striking. It was a small class of about twelve students. And the questions that were written, all of them, were the great questions of the heart the great questions that are asked from deep inside ourselves, from the part of ourselves where there is the source of inner freedom. These questions are the questions that come out of the essence of human nature, the real depths of human nature, the part of ourselves that modem science and technology have not really understood or honored yet, and which has been somewhat lost in our culture. Questions like: Who am I? Does God exist? Do we have a soul? Is it immortal? What is good? What is evil? Why do we suffer? What can we hope for? How should we live? These are the great unanswered questions, or unanswerable questions if you like, which define us as human beings. They come from that part of ourselves that is the beginning of freedom.

What I am trying to say today, what I want to propose to you today, is that this deep part of human nature, this deep part of ourselves, we might think of as the place where we find the answers to what our life is about. Surely in the long run that is probably and almost certainly true—that is where the answers will be found.

But I’m proposing to you today that you look not for answers but for questions. It’s the question that we need to find. It’s the place where the deep questioning arises—this tender, essential, human power to step back in oneself and step back from all of one’s urges, one’s anxieties, one’s cravings, one’s passing wishes, one’s fears, one’s maybe foolish hopes, one’s agitations, one’s chaos—to step back from that and not only to have a question but to be in question, to be a question. It is there that the freedom appears, and this freedom is intimately connected with this sense of the universe, of the greatness of human nature. The great self within, that you’ve probably heard a lot about, that all of the great ancient teachings speak about, the great truth within ourselves I am proposing to you, as a philosopher, begins in the form of a question, not of an answer. You will see that the mind is free only when it starts to question. We don’t suffer from our questions in life, we suffer from our answers, and that is what as philosophers we can bring to this whole life we live, and where we are asked to contribute something to the world.

Now these young people, the high school class; half of them wrote their questions in tiny little letters at the bottom of the page and at the margins of the page and they left the whole space of the page blank, and I couldn’t figure out why. Why were they writing these wonderful questions that were so much of the heart—questions like; What is the mind? What is it for? Why do we live? Why do we die?—in tiny little letters down at the bottom of the page or in the margins, as though I was looking at a blank page? I realized that, unlike the Waldorf School but very like what is going on in so much of our culture, they were afraid to ask these questions. They were afraid they would not be honored. It was as though there was a kind of metaphysical or philosophical repression in the whole culture, a repression of this impulse within the self, this impulse of deep inner wonder and questioning. Plato, as you al have probably heard, has called this Eros, which is a word that we have not understood fully. The deepest meaning of it for Plato was the impulse of love, of understanding, the wish to contact reality—the big reality—to participate in it, to serve it. Eros—this love of wisdom, this love of truth, this wish to know and to understand and to serve what is great. For Plato, and for many of the great spiritual teachers of the world, this is the essential defining quality that makes us fully human, much more essential to our humanness than all the other intellectual/biological elements which we tend to identify ourselves with. When that energy, that striving, is covered over or suppressed, it is a far greater danger to our lives, our own personal self and the life of our society and community than any other kind of repression. Repression of sexuality is very harmful, repression of many other things is very harmful, but nothing is more dangerous to human life than to suppress the essence of human nature, which is the desire to understand and serve something in ourselves that is bigger and higher and greater than ourselves. This appears in the form of a questioning—it first makes itself known in the form of a questioning.

Look up at the stars on a clear dark night away from the city, and the sense of wonder appears. This is a form of questioning, because in a state of wonder you are asking; Who am I in this great universe? What must I do? It’s not an anxiety; it’s a sense of a holding, almost a sacred sense of desire, wish, lack, and a quiet and deep and sacred sense of what my purpose may be, not so much to find the answers but to live the questions. There’s a great German poet— Rilke—and there’s a poem by Rilke which I would like to read to you because it expresses something of what I am trying to say. It has to do with the scale, the measure, of what we undertake in our lives, what our essential wish is. If we find our wish, if we find our real essential question, this gives us a meaning far greater than the answers, because the great question is a discovery of a deep, hidden part of ourselves.

I have given many classes in philosophy at the University, and of late most of my students, like most students everywhere now, are very angry, very troubled, with America. When they begin to go into the depths of the ideas of a great American philosopher like Emerson, it’s not that they change their political and social views, but their anger is no longer paramount. If you ask them what Emerson or the great philosophers have meant to them, they say these thinkers brought them hope. What is the hope that brings ideas that lead to the great questions of life? It is hope not because of the answers, not because of the contents of what is spoken. It’s a hope that appears because men and women have come in touch with the part of themselves that has been covered over throughout their lives. It’s not that one gives up any of one’s pleasures, or any of one’s interests, or any of one’s obligations in ordinary everyday life. It’s just that this part suddenly begins to come forward, and it’s that part which one intuitively feels will bring meaning to one’s life, because a human being lives and dies not by pleasure and pain or success or failure but by meaning. So the fundamental question is a question of what brings us meaning. This is a poem by Rilke that may throw a certain light on this. It is called “The Man Watching.”

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after

so many dull days, on my worried window panes

that a storm is coming,

and I hear the far-off fields say things

I can’t bear without a friend,

I can’t love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on

across the woods and across time,

and the world looks as if it had no age:

the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,

is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!

What fights us is so great!

as things do by some immense storm,

we would become strong too, and not need names.

(And here’s the point of his poem:)

When we win it’s with small things,

and the triumph itself makes us small.

What is extraordinary and eternal

does not want to be bent by us.

I mean the Angel who appeared

to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:

when the wrestler’s sinews

grew long like metal strings,

he felt them under his fingers

like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel

(who often simply declined the fight)

went away proud and strengthened

and great from that harsh hand

that kneaded him as if to change his shape.

Winning does not tempt that man.

This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,

by constantly greater beings.

It is the question that we’re searching for—that wants to come forward, that we need to wrestle with, this Angel within—that we need to be humbled by, because it is in the defeat of the ordinary personality, its dominance, that the question opens up and one becomes receptive. So all I wish to say today is: search for your question—the question, if it’s lived, of who you are, what we must do, how I must relate to what is greater than myself in order to serve others in universe.  When that question is felt with your mind and your heart and your body, the question becomes the answer.  What the world needs, the hope, comes not from new ideas or new techniques or new ideologies or new programs or new politics or new books.  The hope comes from people.  New people.  All I ask is that you consider what you wish to become as fully human people, for that’s where the hope of the world is.Thank you.“

– Dr. Jacob Needleman