fall winter


Conversations | back to contents

Michael Lipson
Lecture and Workshop

May6/7 2006 , Barrie, Ontario.
Right Speech; the art of shared humanity
(Notes taken by Treasa O'Driscoll)

Why is there more than one human being on earth?

No such thing as ‘one’ because we live in a universe where everyone and everything exists in a weaving connective element of meaning and interrelationship. It is important to explore the right role of speech and its eternal source as Word in the beginning.
Holderlin remarked: We are a conversation that can eventually become a song….

About Language
The Tower of Babel fell and the separation into languages began. People had implicit understanding of one another before that.

A fall out of perfect relationship is a fall into language.
Words can connect us.
Words can separate us.

Words have both a meaning and a sign side. Meaning is not synonymous with sign.

Hamlet having decided to kill Claudius, came upon him praying and postponed the deed, lest he send his wicked uncle to heaven. But Claudius was only appearing to pray and could realise that “ Words without thoughts never to heaven go…”

That meaning can grow makes a renewal of language possible. At Pentecost, meaning became so intense that everyone could understand the apostles regardless of language barriers. We exist in a world of meanings whether we know it or not.Question: How do we recognize one another after death?

Rudolf Steiner(in a lecture given on Nov.14, 1923) spoke about the way in which discarnate souls reveal the unique essence that each one is, entering and opening to one another in a process of wording that reveals and distinguishes the essential nature of each one, a speaking of what one really is…

If we do not have a concept of something we cannot recognize it. An anthropologist gave a wheelbarrow to outback people in Australia—they could not use it having no concept of its function, same thing after eye surgery for one who was blind, a blooming buzzing confusion until differentiating word sense awakens.

We think we live in a world of things-we even see one another as such, walking automatons. Prejudices are excited by how people appear to us. We settle for lower level meaning and do not perceive the spiritual magnitude of each person.

(Michael interjected a Hassidic story about a Rabbi and his son who are approached by a bridegroom asking for money. The rabbi parted the man’s wedding garment with a stick and saw that the man was wearing a funeral shroud underneath.” You are dead and do not know it”, he told the visitor and the ghost disappeared. The son asked ‘How do we know we are not dead as well?”

‘That you can ask that question proves you are here”, his father replied.Word power performs healings. The power of intention can be so powerful it is palpable.

To realize this power entails a dissolution of soul forms, characterized by Georg Kuhlewind as islands of unfreedom in us. The Buddha taught that to be attached to form is to suffer. Our inner life is essentially addictive, habit bound… We must develop capacities, not acquire new attachments to new forms as in some modern psychological practices. Right Speech is a salient feature of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path.

A native elder remarked after a silent Quaker meeting ;” It was good to spend some time in the place where words come from…”

The goal of meditation is to become conscious in the zone from which all good things come.

“If I knew where the great songs came from I would go there more often”, remarked Leonard Cohen.

‘Where do the good songs come from? Emerson wondered….Jesus came into Phillipi (in the gospel of Matthew) asking:” Who do men say that I am?”

“Some say Elijah, some say Jeremiah…”

“But who say ye that I am?’
“ Thou art the Christ.” Peter said.

Jesus recognized that God spoke through Peter and declared “ Thou art Peter and upon this rock” etc. Later he remarked to Peter “ Get thou behind me Satan” when Peter spoke out of his lower nature. When we speak out of the spiritual authority of truth we are like the ‘rock’ for which Peter was named.

Two annunciations are described in Luke’s gospel, one to Mary and one to Zacharias , an old man whose wife, Elizabeth, was old. “ Whereby shall I know this?” he queried the angel.

“I am Gabriel that stands in the presence of God,” and Zacharias was struck dumb and only spoke again when the boy, John the Baptist, was to be baptized, saying authoritatively; His name will be called John!”

If your attention is so focused that you are not troubled by memory then your attention, the heaven of the soul, can grow. This attention is limitless. Your attention is more rigorously challenged if you attend to something dull, like a pin, cup, nail, paper clip…

If your focus is intense enough it calls all the beings around it into resonance, the miracle of attention is that it connects us with the heavens. I must decrease, it must increase…As my self-feeling diminishes, attention increases.

When Rudolf Steiner entered university he enquired-“ Who is the most boring lecturer…?’ He would deliberately attend the lecture and listen, not because it was interesting, but as an exercise in attention. Then he would go away and write it all down from memory.

Novalis was a genius of the Word and knew that speaking was about itself, not about the world, as a master of play and improvisation he loved to banter, countering the serious and ponderous style of other speakers of the day…Emotions are the deeds and sufferings of meaning…

Sunday Workshop

To keep silent. Who has kept more
silent inwardly
touches the roots of speech.
Some day each sprung syllable
Will be for him a victory

Over what is not silent in silence,
Over mocking evil;
That he may untie himself without a trace
The word was shown to him.

- Rilke

We began with 30 seconds of silence

Veronica Jackson presented an appropriate and inspired musical introduction to the theme of the day--IN BEGINNING WAS THE WORD-- an improvisation in song in which every voice was heard and a tone of reverence sounded.

Referring to the verses quoted above, Michael recommended we reach for the silence that precedes the thoughts and words that circle around in our heads while sitting in silence. How do we reach the matrix out of which all things arise? The proper translation from the Greek original is: In beginning… in many languages ‘the’ is left out though not in the common English version)

St Jerome translated into Latin as In principio….implying a guiding principle, not a temporal starting point but original source of all meaning and Being.


We want to be where the sentence originates. When we contemplate this first line of the Gospel of St. John, we consider the meaning of every word until the words disappear. Our clever thoughts are the runway that conveys us towards the source. We can have moments of grace in everyday life when we experience a heightened awareness or communion with someone or something. In meditation we consciously call forth such a gracious moment. It requires a strongly receptive mode of willing, not a ‘let go and let God’ but a specific receptivity that guides the soul towards a particular state of being. Michael characterized the grasping will as the Findings Basement Will, recalling the frenetic reaching after bargains that he remembered from childhood shopping expeditions…

After 10-15 minutes of meditation we would report details of our experience, words, phrases, images, memories that were called up. We should however use the report time to continue the meditation while others were speaking-every report should help us deepen this experience of the source. Nothing that anyone would report would be regarded as irrelevant-this brought about a sense of freedom in the participants sharing. The lines of the prologue are not ‘about something’, the language here is not derivative, but primal, archetypal Word.

A direct translation from Greek was written on the blackboard:
…Through him all became
And without him became not one
What became was life in him
And the life was the light of men…

Michael pointed out that the ‘not one’ means ‘everything that is not in unity’ ‘. Meaning is Being. There is no such thing as the physical world, Rudolf Steiner said, since it is the endpoint or shadow of macrocosmic Being and Meaning-the greater life that encompasses and is reflected in, the physical.

The time for asceticism is over-our time calls for a deeper sensuality, a renunciation of the world in all its qualities of non meaning, a deeper presence in and for the world through all our senses is required. Angels are referred to as substances in Latin. The verb substare means-to understand. The real substance and underpinning of experience is meaning….

'A poem is an imaginary garden with a real toad in it,’ writes Marianne Moore.


We paired off to take turns relating our recollection of an incident when we were guilty of wrong speech. We listen to one another without judgment, afterwards reporting on the experience to the group.
“I worry about my clothes until I have something to do…” Henry Thoreau
(I could also say;” I worry about your clothes until we have something to do together…”)

When I face another person I am aware at first of the physical impression, then the thoughts come-this is a waking up. When the flow of meaning increases I forget myself…. Imagining a cocoon that is not spacial around me and another-an infinite flow of meaning connects us that is independent of our spoken exchange.

Michael told a Zen story about a woman who leaves the window of her apartment open and calls aloud to her ‘husband’ so that all can hear:” Go fetch water”, “ Sweep the floor’ “ Light the fire” etc. But she has no actual mate. However the commands are signals to her lover and have a special meaning for him. The connection she has with him is of a larger reality than what her neighbours can know about her.

You can sometimes be with a person who is so intensely present that there is nothing that could be spoken between you that would be equal to the impact of that presence.

2nd Meditation

“ The soul has a logos that augments itself.”
(Heraclitus of Ephesus, 600 B.C.)

Addictions tend to grow if nothing is done about them, they can get worse and worse. On the other hand the work of an artist can get better and better. We cannot remain static because of this facility the soul has, to grow of itself. Faust was translating the prologue to the St. John Gospel and distorted the first line to read ‘ In the beginning was the deed…”At that moment a black poodle that roamed the vicinity, transforms into Mephistopheles….. Non- meaning had entered. Will is always meaningful or it is not worth having, will without significance releases the devil. The Logos is fundamentally orientated towards meaning. Meditation should begin with a mood of gratitude and a desire to help one another to develop inner capacities.

“ The content of my consciousness has an inner logos that augments itself.”

The meditation was followed by a report while our central focus was maintained.


Sitting in pairs, one describes a current transition point. The other listens silently but actively in three ways:
1)critically( I’m not surprised–you have only yourself to blame…)
2)biographically( thinking-I remember when that happened to me)
3) Empathetically(an unprejudiced listening)
(Then switch places and report back to the group at the end.)

Luke Gospel: Take no thought of what ye shall answer or what ye shall say for the Holy Ghost will answer what ye should say.
To be able to improvise we must we must become aware of our own patterns and soul forms so that we can drop them.

Michael recited Risk , by Rilke, from memory:

As nature abandons her creatures
To the risk of their dull urge
And specially protects none in den or nest,
We are no dearer to the primal ground
of our being: it dares us. Only we
still more than plant or beast
go with the dare, want it, sometimes even,
(and not from self-interest)are more daring still
than life itself is; a breath more daring.
This makes for us, beyond any protection,
A kind of surety, there where the gravity’s at play
Of the pure forces. And what finally secures us
Is just our unprotectedness, and that we turned it so
towards the open, just as we felt it threaten.
So as somewhere, at the furthest circumference,
Where the Law grazes against us,
To say to such unptotectedness,”Yes.”


‘ The Self is that which can become everything without changing.’ (Steiner?) Goethe also remarked on how nature was always changing yet always remaining herself. The Logos in every one of us makes the democratic operation of Christianity possible…! This was Michael’s last word as I remember it. Thank you Michael and please come back in the Fall—this was the unanimous request of the group of 15 people present.

Treasa O’Driscoll

The Novalis Project is sponsored by The Ita Wegman Foundation
© 2016, Novalis Project, novalisproject.com. All Rights Reserved.