“The Ancients said that the animals are taught through their organs: let me add to this, so are men, but they have the advantage of teaching their organs in return.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Goethe 2001, p. 548).

I came across the passage above while I was preparing this article. As I was engaged in exploring the often-overlooked role of the body in spiritual transformation, I was struck by the synchronicity. Goethe wrote these words in 1832, on his deathbed, in the last surviving written communication of his life. He was 82 years old, had just completed his life’s work, Faust, after 60 years of labor, and he was writing to a friend about the sources of his growth and creativity as a man and as an artist. He is primarily referring here to the organs of perception: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and sensing body. He is reminding his friend that we, too, are animals, and that we learn through our senses and our bodies every bit as much as we learn through our thinking minds. He is also suggesting that, as humans, we possess a further faculty: through practice and attention, we can fine-tune our organs of perception so that they register finer and finer impressions – and impressions are, as Gurdjieff taught us, what feed the growth of our souls…

2013

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