Food for the soul – How does it nourish me?

Do you sometimes feel you lack something you feel you need? It may be a more satisfying job, bigger house for a growing family, or a better car. However, you may also feel you lack something less definable, something you can’t easily put your finger on but which may be an answer to your troubles: perhaps something which could provide comfort when you are disappointed, lift your spirits when you feel down, and engender a positive frame of mind when everything seems negative. Something we might call food for the soul.

My need for food for the soul

From time to time I feel a sense of inadequacy in myself, in my own ability to get moving again when I find myself static, or to find solutions to the ordinary lesser and sometimes bigger problems of life that confront the average person. These times I’m obliged to have to admit to myself I know so little and understand less. I thought things were going along fine and now I find I can’t always cope. This state of mind can get a bit depressing. There is always something round the corner that seems to set me back — it is as if I am being taught a lesson. If you know what I mean, you may also feel humbled by life and, when you are frustrated, tired or feeling uninspired, that you too need something extra to restore your inner life.

food for the soulOne way of looking at this is in terms of spiritual nourishment. Just as the body needs nourishing food and drink to sustain its life, so do we not need food for the soul to sustain our inner life?

A scientific perspective is that without natural nourishment we grow weak and feeble, prone to disease, lack energy and eventually wither and die. Recommended is a balanced diet that covers all the nutrients the body requires. From a spiritual perspective without inner nourishment we become “overwhelmed with duties, engagements and activities” ( H. T. Hamblin). For spiritual food sustains and revitalises our spiritual life.

So what is food for the soul?

I would suggest food for the soul is the insights and knowledge we can gain about what is good and true in life: such spiritual food meets our hunger to find out and value what is deeply true about life e.g. about principled ideas that connect with useful action. The following might be said to be examples of this: noticing the qualities in other people around us, the beauty in nature and the potential that various situations hold for something good to happen.

Is this higher knowledge not able to inspire and motivate us? To raise our minds above the petty aspects of the mundane side of things? To act as food for the soul? Just as we need a balanced physical diet, so we also need a balanced spiritual one. Not just intellectual ideas, but also insights into the needs of other people, an awareness of the various relevant views around a social issue, practical knowledge concerning how to support people in need of help, an intuition about the way to tackle interpersonal difficulty, a perception about what is good about what is going on around.

In other words I am suggesting the idea that if we see what is good and true then this can nourish our inner life. It gives us the chance to value what is important and if we do this then we acquire good sense and good intentions, and find meaningful principles, in which we can develop hope and trust, feel encouragement and comfort when things go wrong, and experience inspiration.

The words of Christ promise that spiritual nourishment will be provided as long as we have an active longing for spiritual food. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matt 5:6)

Food for the soul and angel bodies

The spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg claimed to have mystical visions of heavenly life. He said that after young children have died they are brought up on the fringes of heaven and have a spirit body which corresponds to their character. This spirit body is said to grow in stature so as to eventually to take on the appearance of an adult heavenly person. The growth isn’t due to material food but rather is due to the food for the soul they are given which nourishes their understanding of what is true and wise discernment of what is good.

I would say valuing such insights and acting on them is the heavenly state of happiness. Something to which we can all aspire.

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Positive awareness – How to find it?

positiveThere probably were some positive experiences you have had recently. Just small things really. Like the delight of bumping into a friend at the supermarket, a warm glow felt when someone shows you some consideration, or the delight you felt in observing your small grandchildren playing.

But when bad things also happen, how easy it is to forget the positives. The washing machine develops a fault. Someone at work has a go at you. You sleep badly because of a sore throat. If you focus on the bad stuff, you quickly forget any pleasant experiences and instead develop a negative frame of mind. So much so that you are in danger of noticing no hint of anything good and seeing what is bad in everything. So if you have this damaging tendency, how determined are you to start to see things differently? To notice more about the magic of life? And how in practice could you go about this?

Blocks that hinder you noticing the magic of life

You can be inwardly deadened by the noise and pollution of our urban environments, the endless information and the drudge of work. The temptation is to mindlessly sleepwalk through this kind of life; allowing past memories and future fantasies to dominate your consciousness as a way of escaping from the reality of the present moment. Then of course you become absent-minded; too alienated from the needs of the moment to notice the here and now with its ordinary crop of positive, albeit fleeting, experiences.

“The past is history,
The future a mystery,
At this moment is a gift.
Which is why it is called `the present.’ ”
(Unknown author)

Another factor that can hinder us in getting in contact with the positive uplifting side of life is that of materialistic science. The spiritual writer Roger Walsh has pointed out the blinding power of science, saying that we are so bombarded by its way of looking at the universe as a great meaningless machine that we are led into a kind of cynicism regarding any meaning and purpose behind our world.

A third factor I would like to mention, is that of attachment to bodily pleasure and worldly concerns. For example developing an emotional, if not physical, dependence on alcohol, drugs, food, competition for social status, excessive consumption, and over identification with one’s ‘tribe’.  Preoccupied with the material side of life can corrupt any vision of the spiritual.

Exercise focusing on positive experiences

One way of combating these problems is the 15 minute exercise of noticing the positives in your day. Here are some instructions.

1.      In the evening, sit down alone comfortably in a quiet place with paper and pen.

2.      Reflect on the day’s events; what you did, who you spoke with and what was said, where you were and what you saw.

3.      For each of these remembered ordinary moments, pause and consider anything positive. Were you touched by anything good about the experience? Perhaps it was a fleeting or subtle moment when you felt pleased or impressed.  May be you were even caught by a beauty of the situation.

4.      There would have been what was negative mixed up in what was positive. But write one sentence for each time about any positive aspect.

5.      When you have finished reread your list.

“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind.” (Ashley Smith)

Benefits of recognising the positive

Looking for the positive each evening can have an accumulative beneficial effect. But to gain this benefit you need to make an effort.

“You need to stop. Wake up. Be more aware. Be conscious and recognise that something good is happening.” (William Bloom)

When you are searching for positives you are likely to feel watchful, more relaxed and better humoured. Try to be mindful of how your mood has changed. Surrender to the experience. If it feels uplifting then think of it as a moment of spiritual connection even if it lasts only a few seconds. It is not true that spiritual experiences are only rare and intense. A positive experience can be common and ordinary such as simply a feeling of uplift from a chance conversation, a brief flash of insight, or a moment of laughter.

As you start to take more notice of good experiences, you are likely to want to search them out. And so many people actively seek some connection with the wonder and energy of life through the natural environment. They find the ambience of some landscapes takes them into a different mood and they become more sensitive to even a whisper of magic. Others hope to find something essentially good and wonderful about life in a friendly crowd or in intimacy with their loved one, or when caught up in a team of fellow workers in full and creative flow.

Swedenborgian point

A relevant Swedenborgian maxim is ‘influx adapts itself to efflux.’ In other words, inflow into the mind is proportional to outflow of the mind: perception from a higher level is proportional to the mindset of the observer. If you look for something you are more likely to notice it. But if you are resistant to the possibility of seeing the spiritual, you will be blind to it.

“Seek and you will find” (Jesus Christ)

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

Spiritual awakening – How to discover it?

Who doesn’t wonder whether happiness that lasts is ever possible and if so what does one have to do to bring it about? Will this need to involve some form of spiritual awakening and if so how do you discover it?

Spiritual awakening and contemporary culture

Much of materialist science has it that we are slaves to our inherited nature, family upbringing and economic constraints of adult life. In other words we are led to believe that our personal destiny is more or less already predictable and that we have little or no personal choice in the matter. Contemporary commentators thus suggest that the only way for improving things is to try to change the external world and thus the circumstances of the people in it – their economic, social and political experience and so on.  As a result, knowledge and understanding of spiritual ideas are often sidelined.

It may be the case that the very need for spiritual awakening is challenged implicitly in our Western culture. Nevertheless, I suspect many people privately wonder whether they need to undergo some sort of personal transformation if they are to be really happy. This would be very much in line with what deep thinkers say about the need for spiritual awakening if one is ever to become a better person.

The trouble is this deeper form of personal change can seem to be a mystifying process.

Spiritual awakening and Observing Spirit

In the book Observing Spirit, Peter Rhodes however clarifies the process; for example showing how spiritual awakening involves self-awareness and being fully alert to inner experience.

spiritual awakeningObserving Spirit: Evaluating your daily progress on the path to heaven with Gurdjieff and Swedenborg by Peter Rhodes, 2005 Chrysalis Books ISBN 0-87785-316-9

The reader is offered a series of useful spiritual exercises and the necessary theoretical understanding to foster spiritual awakening and the personal benefits it can bring. These can be substantial; including heightened awareness and vitality, a focusing of one’s energy and sense of individuality and authenticity.

Personal self-help books are in plentiful supply. Often they beg the question whether it is possible to use a technique or task apart from the framework of spiritual ideas which underlie it. For example do we need spiritual beliefs regarding what states of mind spiritual awakening can lead us into?

Spiritual awakening and world religions

The world’s religions have plenty to say about human destiny, and morality. The unavoidable experience of confronting death is seen as a key spiritual test for liberating us from excessive material preoccupation.

In the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, destiny is framed in terms of our individual identity surviving death in an eternal afterlife. Phillip Sheldrake has pointed out that this vision, in broader terms, embraces judgement in relation to our conduct of life, sometimes an intermediate state of waiting or re-schooling and then, either ultimate union with the divine (called heaven or paradise), or in a state of ultimate separation from the divine (referred to as hell). In Hinduism there is said to be a continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (reincarnation) until – through right action, an increase in selflessness and the practice of a spiritual path – the cycle eventually ends in release from suffering and merging with the divine.

But such religious traditions have less to show how their teachings can be applied by the spiritual seeker who lives outside of the sacred customs, practices and rites of a religious culture: how can such a person use theology to engage in healing of the spirit?

Peter Rhodes offers an answer. On a personal level he had found what to believe about life and death in the Bible and Emanuel Swedenborg’s interpretation of it. However, it was in the books of Gurdjieff and his associates that Rhodes discovered a very practical spiritual methodology for applying Swedenborg’s religious thought to the difficulties of personal change.

Deeper ideas and tasks for spiritual awakening

Once central idea in the Swedenborgian approach, is that effort must be made to turn away from or put aside whatever is not good about the way one is living. Observing Spirit offers both some deeper ideas and tasks in relation to waking up to :-

  • Where you are and where you want to go,
  • Your effects on others,
  • Prevailing negatives in your character,
  • Your developing aims,
  • Your natural side in service to your spiritual side,
  • Freedom from natural time,
  • Space for a spiritual life,
  • Remembering yourself,
  • Being conscious of another person’s difficulties
  • Removing barriers,
  • A real sense of self,
  • Being shocked by what is true,

For me this inspiring book shows that it is essential to wake up to the nature of our illusions and false attachments and to gain spiritual knowledge and understanding about ourselves and the divine source of all that is good and true. At the same time what is also needed is a heartfelt acceptance of the factors that stand in the way of our journey of personal transformation and a willingness to work on personal change.

The process of spiritual growth described in Observing Spirit is challenging. It takes effort, and there are times when spiritual enlightenment about yourself will not be a particularly pleasant experience. But that with the spiritual power of the divine working within oneself, it is so much easier for you to see your true intentions and to listen to other people and appreciate the goodness in them.

I believe the book will greatly help its readers to behave more in accordance with their true values and to pay better attention to the subtle yet inspiring thoughts and feelings present within the human soul.

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