Developing Living Picture Thinking

January 13, 2023
By Ben Klocek 2 min read

As I wrote in my last post, Johann von Goethe developed a way of observing nature that relies on clearing your mind of preconceived notions of the phenomena being observed, accurately observing the subtle details, and building up a living inner picture of those details through time.

He applied this way of seeing, also called “phenomenology”, most famously to plants in his outstanding book, The Metamorphosis of Plants. His observations led him to write that all parts of the plant are modified leaves in various states of expansion and contraction. The stem is a contraction of the leaf gesture, and the sepal is a leaf on its way to becoming a petal, another form of “leaf”.

This method of seeing the development through time and building a living inner picture of the forces at play can also reveal similarities in plant and animal families, in the slowly unfolding story of geology, and even changing weather phenomenon. 

The goal is to open yourself to the things of nature and listen to what they say, in order to identify their core aspects and qualities, their “being-ness”. The common phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” accurately reflects the differences between the mechanical, parts-, and material-oriented way of modern science and Goethean science. In Goethe’s view, the whole includes something even greater, the idea of the being, its archetype.

Building relationships with the archetypes of phenomenon around you is the path to spiritual vision which Dennis writes about in his 1998 book Seeking Spirit Vision. It’s a dense book, similar to one by Steiner in the effort required in reading, but worth the study for the serious student.

For those with less time, but sufficient interest, I have prepared two audio lectures for your enjoyment that share exercises and give greater context for why this way of seeing is important now, more than ever.

The first is Developing Living Picture Thinking, originally given to Waldorf teachers as a way for them to turn dry concepts into living images to deepen and inspire learning in their students.

The second, Perceiving the Spirit of the Natural World, was delivered to an audience interested in Biodynamics as a way to enliven their relationship with the natural world and show how this type of science can lead to new preps for enhancing their crops.

Last, an essay on Etheric Vision (Steiner’s phrase for learning to see the life forces) describes the inner work required to learn to see into the etheric realm, with a note of caution for those seeking personal gain from such esoteric knowledge.

I hope this foray into learning new ways of seeing inspires you to give it a try. 

Next we’ll turn that seeing back on ourselves by learning to read the secret script of life revealed in the challenges presented to us as we grow and develop as human beings.

Ben Klocek


Ben Klocek

Ben Klocek, web designer, teacher, and Sacramento Waldorf School alumni, has worked in tech for over 20 years and has been studying how our use of screen technology affects our lives. He teaches technology and woodworking in a Public Waldorf charter school. He is the father of two, ages 12 and 15, and is an avid naturalist, artist, and gardener.

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