Illusions that destroy hope.

No future? Lost hope? Can’t see how things might improve? When we get into this negative state of mind, we lack energy even to do the easiest of things and nothing gives us much pleasure.

For Macbeth, life seemed to have a future — one of power and status. illusions Yet he also felt such things were insignificant. For he said:

“Life is but a walking shadow… a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury – signifying nothing.”

Perhaps he was feeling that only what the world could offer were mere illusions.

Yet buying into illusions can be what gets us down in the first place.

Illusions of alienation

To lose contact with people we felt at home with, when we’ve gone away into situations that were unfamiliar and unknown, can be extremely disorientating and disagreeable. One feels different, separated from normal ways of thinking and doing things and unsure of the way forward. We come to mistakenly believe that there is no-one with whom we could share our interests and concerns. No community to which we feel we could belong.

Seen from a spiritual perspective, there are certain triggers for this type of thinking that have grown in recent times. They are to do with our automated life and bureaucratic society and of the widespread materialist sense of values. Existential thinkers have put into words this state of estrangement from any truly human sense of reality and community.

The thoughts that support a feeling of alienation are mistaken. This is because there is always the opportunity of making new friends; always the chance to communicate on a deeper level; always the prospect of joining a social network or local group. It simply involves being oneself rather than pretending to be someone one is not. It involves searching out like-minded people.

Illusions of meaninglessness

One may come to believe that there is nothing that means anything any more. Not just a lack of meaningful relationships but a lack of meaning in life itself. When we start to fall for this way of thinking we are tempted to ask about any point in staying alive.

Yet there are many things we can do that can give satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment, as long as we are engaged with some activity. When we can see what is needed in a situation and start to do something about it, then we can become energised and find a meaningful purpose.

It can lead to a sense of accomplishment, the appreciation from a neighbour, or the interest of a fellow worker – all meaningful experiences. Also our ideals and ethical principles of living can develop and take on new meaning as we try to follow them in daily life.

Illusions of condemnation

A third basic fallacy that leads to depression is to do with a feeling of guilt. One may have done something about which one is truly ashamed or on the other hand be unfairly blaming oneself; one’s self-assessment may have been realistic or unrealistic.  We are at risk of losing hope when we dwell on the illusion that we will suffer a future of punishment and torment.

Yet, let us realise that there are darker forces within the mind encouraging our self-condemnation and that we can gain some control over these. Just as we can receive creative inspiration from a higher source, so we are capable of receiving destructive impulses from a lower one.

Our power over our illusions

Emanuel Swedenborg’s visions of the spiritual realm, convinced him there are those he called lower spirits who desire nothing more than to pop into our minds self-damaging thoughts – illusions which take away hope and inspiration.

Yet, Swedenborg testifies to the unconscious presence with us also of higher spirits who illuminate in us what we have known to be right, defending us against irrational illusions. He wrote that the higher ones have the power of restraining the lower ones, defending us against their malicious influence. So there is help within the human mind to balance out depressing feelings and the illusions that bring them on.

The battle ground may be within the individual soul. But the person can take a conscious hand in the outcome. The important point to remember is we can turn our backs on illusion because negative thoughts can have no power over us as long as we do not identify with them as our own.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

True self – How to attain it?

true selfPeople often think that human beings are inherently good. And that personal development simply involves getting in touch with one’s true self. In addition, they see this true self as the potential within us all for being truly good. A life, filled with compassion, joy and peace, defines the true design of each individual.

However, there is a lot of unhappiness around – a far cry from this idea of our true self. We are a bit of a mix. We switch from being generous to being selfish, from being fair to dishonest, from being conscientious to careless. Consequently, I think that unhappiness comes when we follow some of our own negative inclinations.

“We want to be important; we enjoy running people down because it makes us feel superior; we are easily hurt and feel vengeful if we do not get our ‘rights’; we are pleased if we can win an advantage over someone by slightly twisting the truth. And so on.” (Brian Kingslake, spiritual writer)

If no one is perfect then we all need to make some sort of spiritual progress. To find a way of attaining our true self.

How can we do this?   Students of comparative religion have discovered that very similar experiences may be subjected to different and incompatible explanations, according to the spiritual tradition one is familiar with.

Mindfulness meditation and the true self

Mindfulness meditation involves being aware of the various thoughts that enter consciousness. It also requires the person to stay in the observer role without emotionally engaging or identifying with these thoughts. A hard thing to do without much practice.

Initially, without realising it, the myriad concerns and pre-occupations of the unruly mind capture one’s attention . Uncomfortable feelings predominate as we become more self-aware and start to realise the frequency of our anxious and judgmental thoughts. As mindfulness practice becomes firmly embedded in one’s life, although difficult thoughts and feelings still arise, they possess us less often. One can now usually make the conscious choice not to let them overwhelm one.

Eventually, one meets situations, that would have once created anxiety, depression, anger or frustration, with acceptance and equanimity. One gets glimpses of deep peace and clarity that can occur during meditation or arise spontaneously during everyday life.

Confessional prayer and the true self.

Another spiritual practice is confessional prayer. By this I mean an inner conversation with one’s image of a loving Divine Being. It involves honestly acknowledging one’s shortcomings in terms of one’s inner conscience and having genuine remorse. Those who feel a sense of guilt say they experience a sense of forgiveness.

If asking for inner strength in prayer, one can feel greatly encouraged and uplifted in one’s spiritual struggle. I believe that for this spiritual practice to work, two things need to be present. Firstly, resisting the impulse to fall into the same old bad ways. Secondly, acknowledging that the power to do so comes from the Divine Being working in one.

Over-reliance on the head and the true self

Some adherents, of whatever spiritual practice followed, rely on their beliefs for producing spiritual progress. They value the understanding of the head to guide their way forward.

Things can go off-track however with this.

The Pharisees in the Palestine in Christ’s day believed in the Jewish teachings about spiritual living but nevertheless had little or no love for others in their hearts. Consequently, the ‘faith alone’ in their thinking was not enough.

True self

In the Buddhist tradition, right thinking is not sufficient for the attainment of nirvana.

“No matter how much someone’s understanding advances, when it is not accompanied by feeling, it will hinder that person’s spiritual progress.” (D.T Suzuki Buddhist scholar)

Over-reliance on the hands and the true self

There are those who primarily rely on charitable deeds or spiritual rituals for their spiritual progress. People around them may see them as ‘do-gooders’. The trouble, with this practical hands-on approach to attaining one’s true self, is that all sorts of good actions can sometimes be due to un-spiritual motivations. Hidden desires for future rewards, wanting to look good, to feel superior, or to get one’s own way. One can pay lip service to ways of acting without any change in underlying attitude. The attitude change is a turning round. Facing towards self is being egotistical and prioritising pleasure. The opposite is turning around to look towards the needs of others. Prayer and meditation are no good without this changed attitude.

“Repentance of the lips, and not of the life is not repentance.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, theologian)  

Over-reliance on the heart and the true self

There are also those who over-rely on their good feelings to attain spiritual progress. They may talk a lot about loving intentions and feel that human happiness results only from such feelings. However without regular application and wise thinking such an attitude is in danger of descending into sentimentality.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

In other words, when we procrastinate, our good intentions that lack practical application are of little use. It would be a bit like practicing mindfulness meditation without the rest of the time adopting a mindful attitude. Also, without the guidance of enlightened understanding, even with good intentions, one can be easily sidetracked into unwise actions and mistaken avenues with unforeseen consequences.

Head, hands and hands all needed for attaining the true self

I would say enlightened thoughts alone, good deeds alone or feelings alone don’t lead to the true self.

“Both (Mahayana Buddhism and Swedenborgianism) deny that salvation is effected by performing rituals, or faith alone, or deeds alone, or even by having mystical experiences.” (David Loy, scholar of comparative religion)

According to this view, how we inwardly live our life on a daily basis makes us what we are.

I conclude that whatever one’s spiritual tradition and spiritual practices, it is loving intentions put into practice and guided by right ways of thinking that lead to attaining the true self.

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on27th January 2017CategoriesHealing attitudes, Latest post, Spiritual healingTags, , , , , , ,,