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.
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