With the two pictures above I have tried to represent two hypothetical progressions through deeper and deeper layers of understanding of PoF, two approaches to the liberation of thinking, with the help of PoF as a tool. I say ‘hypothetical’ because I haven’t accomplished it for myself and this is only a picture of my intuitions. This being said, I am not sure that anything of this kind should be included in the work you are doing, Scott, unless you decide to make it explicitly pedagogical, rather than an easily intelligible condensation of the book’s essential thread.
In anycase, I believe that nothing can or even should be said as introduction to inspire someone without trained thinking to do exercises parallel to reading PoF. It would be too early. I think that one has to progressively realize that for oneself. As MS pointed out in another lecture, with this book, Steiner comes to meet the inquirer at the level of Ahrimanic entanglement in which almost all of us are in the present evolutionary phase. This starting point is represented by the lower left vertex in the first image. There we have an expectation to diligently apply our intellectual understanding to the philosophy in the book. At that point, we can’t yet realize - neither as understanding, nor as practice - the relevance of doing the exercises, in other words, the unity of understanding, doing and being. Steiner knows that of course, which is why he sends our way this ‘safety belt’ (PoF). So I believe the appropriate thing to do is to accept the help and grab the life belt, not to exhaust oneself trying to swim while we are still fully into strong instinctive currents. As long as we have an indescribable impulse to explore reality, understand it and save our life (as long as we have enough engagement to persist in the effort of reading the book) it’s enough for a start. The book takes our hand and guides us along that logical-philosophical process that matches the space of our expectations in that moment.
As we begin to activate our being (our thinking activity) in this rational, guided approach to reality, the way forward may take different shapes. A few may ‘naturally’ feel an early need to complement reading with thinking exercises. I pictured this case in the first image. The triangle represents our potential thinking space. One has to start by apprehending the book under Ahrimanic dominion, as much as one has to start doing the exercises from within Luciferic currents of enthusiasm, impatience, wishes, variety of subjective feelings… ego boost, powerlessness, whatever they might be. Nevertheless, to the extent that one persists and stays afloat through these currents with certain (even clumsy) resilience, soon enough the horizon begins to clarify. The currents begin to weaken, and a new ability is discovered. It's the ability to differentiate the arbitrary half-thoughts imposed to our consciousness by the physicality of of our rational and emotional instincts, through the mediation of our digesting brain, from the more objective and pure thoughts. I would say, we recognize these thoughts at first by a certain quality of ‘otherness’ and neutrality. In the picture, this is symbolized by the white path of progression soon leaving behind the agitated spheres of Ahriman and Lucifer.
The more we dwell in the center of our thinking activity, freed from the descent of arbitrary thoughts, invaders of our inner space, the more we notice these novel thoughts. In a subtle way, they don’t feel like our usual go-to thoughts, that we tend to cultivate in series, that we (self)lovingly feed with crude thought-fertilizer, that we feel are self-evident, obvious thoughts, with intrinsic right to manifest that we combatively reclaim. The new thoughts appear through the same familiar channels as our gross gut-thoughts, and yet we stare at them wide-eyed for a second, unsure what to do with this quality of thought that strangely doesn’t seem to require that we take side, stance and oath to its reinforcement. These thoughts are not ionized, they are not trading, so to say. Rather, they simply shine their own accomplished energy without triggering any movement of attachment. We don't use them for self-reinforcement.
I believe that one can experience something of this differentiated quality of thought long before any advanced understanding of PoF and explorations across the threshold are attained. In the picture, the white path starts to progress in the calm middle regions of the triangle long before the top vertex of initiation is approached. By the way, the path is drawn as univocally ascending, however in reality it can plateau and also regress, if the fuel of will doesn’t take over at some point. The lifebelt takes us shelter from the currents, but then it’s up to us to power our further progression out of our own intention. The free human being has to do it independently, to be ‘human’ in the full sense. Steiner points to the will as the one activity not mediated by the physical body (we are deeply asleep into it) hence not submitted to instinctive currents, which is why it’s in the middle of the image, as the sole force that can lift thinking and feeling upwards, towards full liberation.
In this context, I think there is a potential misunderstanding in the interpretation of ‘moral’ in PoF if we only say: "Base your actions on your own ideals, arrived at by your own thinking". Maybe it would be worth pointing out for the reader, that it doesn’t mean that any ideal is possible, provided that one really owns it. Rather, what is moral is objective, is discovered. And following one’s own ideals means to recognize them in the fabric of reality first. It is a recognition, not an imposition, and that’s where our freedom operates, not that we are free to establish our morality for ourselves, out of our private considerations.
How to inspire others to engage the path? I think there are several ways, but one of them is to constantly recall that it’s a progression that must be carried out on a very large front, every aspect has to improve in parallel and in connection with each other in cyclical progression. It means to refrain from the blueprint approach, the step by step, the to-do-list approach, that wants to cut everything into digestible small bits. So the understanding of “moral” necessarily requires multiple rounds around the same thinking threads. It’s a rhythmic process, in which we repetedly mobilize and challenge our whole being, not only our displaced thinking and feeling that feed on the spoiled currents of emotional and intellectual instincts. Because, if we only reason through the chapters, we are foreced to consider them through the Ahrimanic lens, that is as familiar to us as our default, naive realist approach to everyday life. This is why we also need to engage our being in some other way that can provide a pivot, to help us shift our drenched thinking habits out of their reality-wide blind spot.
In the second picture, I have imagined an alternative path to improve one’s thinking, to emancipate it from the gross currents, for those who are not immediately inspired to energetically and consistently train their thinking from the start (as it has also happened to me). I can imagine that a majority of readers would find it difficult to engage the will early on to such a big extent. So I imagine that another way to make initial progress without consistent exercise is to practice intellectual openness and good will on one side, reading again and again, investing plenty of energy in an effort towards wise understanding, while on the other side engaging the feeling of gratitude, humility, and connection through prayer. I believe that such intentions can cooperate with each other. They can end up shifting the centers of activity away from the strong instinctual currents, and towards the stiller waters of more neutral, objective thinking. Not as a way to work around meditation and thinking exercises, but only to first release the pull of the lower instincts as much as possible, and attune our whole being to the quality of true thinking in a fluid way, that can be met by the will in a possibly smoother progression.
"The gods have bestowed us with this mighty gift and ...we give it up, we think someone else’s thoughts, we learn history from the newspapers."