Own Your Smile (A Key to Happiness)

Swedenborg Foundation

by Chelsea Rose Odhner

I put myself in an intense spiritual practice training regimen. It’s a simple style, but it requires every ounce of intention I can muster. By the second day, I already wanted to quit. What is it? Smiling. Maybe you’ve heard of the popular, albeit crass, term “resting bitch face” (RBF). You could call my new practice “purposeful resting smile face” or PRSF. I’m the goofy looking person you drive by that seems to be smiling happily at nothing when you pass them in the intersection. I don’t know how long I’ll last, but the insights I’ve had so far have been revelatory.

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Why am I smiling? Not because anyone is telling me to. Not to try to counteract my RBF. There’s nothing wrong with RBF. Some sources define RBF simply as an expressionless face. The fact that a woman’s neutral expression gets categorized as bitchy is symptomatic of the pervasive sexism in our culture. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh started a public art series in 2012 called Stop Telling Women to Smile. It addresses gender-based street harassment. The project has struck a chord in women around the world, myself included. I’m reminded of a time I walked into Whole Foods and a gentleman whom I passed as he was leaving thought it was worth voicing that I should smile. Apparently, the neutral position of my cheeks and lips weren’t satisfactory. Hillary Clinton’s smile continues to be the target of commentary this U.S. election year. It seems no woman is exempt from being told by men to smile more, and media sources continue to use this convergence of experiences to shine a greater light on this often overlooked form of sexism.

A Swedenborgian Perspective on Owning Your Smile

A smile is a powerful thing. It’s also a very personal thing. There’s a stark difference between the experience of choosing to smile and being told to smile, whether directly or indirectly. Swedenborg writes that this difference marks a boundary that is integral to our soul:

What is inside us resists compulsion from the outside so definitely that it turns the other way. This is because our inner nature wants to be in freedom and loves its freedom. (Divine Providence §136:3)

Freedom is a critical element of our spiritual growth. And as antithetical as compulsion from the outside is to that growth, our freedom to compel ourselves is paramount. Demanding someone to smile is overstepping bounds. Self-compulsion, on the other hand, is not at odds with our freedom, even though technically we’re often forcing ourselves to do something that on some level we don’t want to do. Swedenborg writes,

Self-compulsion is not inconsistent with rationality and freedom. . . . Since we are human because of our inner thought, which is actually the human spirit, it follows that we are compelling ourselves when we force our outer thought processes to consent, or to accept the pleasures of our inner desires, the benefits that arise from our caring. We can see that this is not inconsistent but in accord with our rationality and freedom, since it is our rationality that starts this struggle and our freedom that pursues it. Our essential freedom, together with our rationality, dwells in our inner self, and comes into our outer self from there. So when the inner conquers (which happens when the inner self has brought the outer self into agreement and compliance) then we are given true freedom and true rationality by the Lord. Then, that is, the Lord brings us out of that hellish freedom that is really slavery and into the heavenly freedom that is truly, inherently free. (Divine Providence §145:1, 3–4)

It turns out, the greatest freedom we have is in what we choose to compel ourselves to do. Self-compulsion is the tool with which we shape our identity. It’s a sacred personal space. This is why inwardly we can feel so alone when faced with life’s most weighty decisions. God gives us the Word, exhorts us to follow it, but does not and cannot compel us to do so. It’s up to us, if we want to.

Self-compulsion as a spiritual practice could be called, in contemporary terms, “living with intention.” Our intention has the power to shift our spiritual association from hell to heaven:

The purpose that focuses our inner sight or thought is our volition, since our intentions determine our aims and our aims determine our thoughts. So if we aim for heaven, we focus our thinking on it, and with our thinking, our whole mind, which is therefore in heaven. (Heaven and Hell §532:3)

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

My smiling as spiritual practice came about when I was reading Sadhana of the Heart: A Collection of Talks on Spiritual Life by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. In one chapter, she encourages the reader to “smile at your destiny” (pp. 69–92). The phrase struck me. From a Swedenborgian perspective, the idea of smiling at your destiny hits a sweet spot between acknowledging divine providence and emphasizing our personal engagement with life. I decided to take the bait and try literally smiling at my destiny as a daily practice.

The very first thing my destiny had in store for me was to drive my youngest to preschool just after the large school bus drove by our house to pick up the horde of elementary school children waiting on the corner. We were stuck behind it. “Smile at your destiny,” the words echoed in my mind. I did not feel like smiling, but I forced one. If someone caught a glimpse of me in that moment, it probably looked more like a grimace. But I kept at it as I watched parents help their kids onto the bus and then stand back to wave them goodbye. Then several of the parents began to sign “I love you” by pointing to their eye, their heart, and their child—the exact same way I sign “I love you” to my kids. Something clicked, and my smile became genuine. I was laughing at the sweetness of the moment.

I had forced a smile, not because anyone told me to, not for perfection or to align with a societal expectation, but for freedom—choosing to smile at my destiny.

I was still smiling when the bus left and I could make the turn to head to the preschool. In a glance, I caught the eyes of a mother getting into her car. And in a flash, her expression bloomed into the sweetest smile reflecting mine. I had forgotten that I was even smiling, but I had inadvertently inspired a smile in another! My own happiness surged in response.

Since that day, I’ve held the intention to practice smiling—PRSF: smiling at my destiny. It has brought a valuable level of contrast into my spiritual awareness. I’ve realized I can have mental cloud cover for hours and even days on end and that I just get used to it. Whenever I remember to smile-as-neutral, it’s like light cutting through. It doesn’t clear the clouds away, but I then see plainly the negative fog I’ve been functioning in as if it were my only neutral option.

Some days get really hard. And certain times of day are the hardest. At bedtime with my children, at the end of a long day, I feel like something in a chronic state of having too much static electricity: anything that reaches my senses gets zapped. But I think, “Smile.” I force a smile. I tighten the muscles in my cheeks, the edges of my mouth stretch to the sides and tip upward slightly. Then I add the eyes. Smile in my eyes. And something happens. I remember what it feels like to be happy. It feels like a shell of happiness, but that’s when the thought dawns in my mind that even though I can choose happiness, I can’t create it. And at that moment, when I’ve chosen it knowing full well I can’t create it, I begin to feel how there is a very full presence of a power much greater than me that is happiness, that can make it feel real, that wants to help me, and that has no interest in holding on to whatever state was gripping me before. It’s just happy I opened the door. I soften into the sunlight and let go of the cloud I thought was mine.

Chelsea Rose Odhner is a freelance writer who contributes regularly to the Swedenborg & Life show on the offTheLeftEye YouTube channel.

http://www.swedenborg.com/

Quotes from scripture about art

“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalms 139:13-16)

“In the natural sense, ‘to create’ means to create, but in the spiritual sense ‘to create’ means, symbolically, to reform and regenerate, which is also to enliven.” (Apocalypse Revealed 475)

“In the spiritual heaven there are magnificent palaces, in which all things within shine with precious stones and decorations in such forms as cannot be equaled by any painting in the world, nor expressed in words. For art there, especially that of architecture, is in its own art. From that heaven many arts in the world derive their laws and harmonies, from which come their forms of beauty.” (Apocalypse Explained 831)

“Ask what truth and good are to the sight of the eye. Is not what is called beautiful truth to it, and what is called enjoyable good to it? For enjoyment is felt in beholding what is beautiful. What are truth and good to the hearing? Is not what is called harmonious truth to it, and what is called pleasing good to it? For pleasure is felt in hearing harmonies. It is the same with the other senses. What natural good and truth are is plain, then. Consider now what spiritual good and truth are. Is spiritual truth anything other than beauty and harmony in spiritual matters and objects? And is spiritual good anything other than the enjoyment and pleasure of perceiving the beauty and harmony?” (Divine Providence 312)

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

“You have many workers: stonecutters, masons and carpenters, as well as those skilled in every kind of work in gold and silver, bronze and iron—craftsmen beyond number. Now begin the work, and the LORD be with you.” (1 Chronicles 22:15-16)

“Every truth shines in heaven, and consequently truth when shining is faith in essence. The beauty and charm faith gets from this illumination, as the truths in it increase in number, can be compared with various shapes, objects and pictures, formed by different colors harmoniously juxtaposed; also with the precious stones of different colors in Aaron’s breastplate…. Comparison is also possible with the beauty of the rainbow, or of a meadow full of flowers, and of a garden in bloom in early springtime.”(True Christian Religion 353)

“Spiritual things, which are the truth and goodness involved in faith, were celebrated by harp and lute, by song, and by similar music. The holy or heavenly aspects of faith were celebrated by wind instruments— horns and so on. This is why so many instruments were connected with the Temple and why it says so many times that certain instruments were used in celebrating this thing or that. So the instruments are taken to mean the very qualities themselves that the instruments were honoring, as those just discussed are.” (Secrets of Heaven 420[2] )

DAILY INSPhttps://newchurch.org/IRATION

“It is of the Divine Providence of the Lord that everyone can be saved; and they are saved who acknowledge God and live well.”

Divine Providence 325:1

https://newchurch.org/

The Importance Of Obstacles

One of the flaws in much of modern religious thought is to approach God as someone who can make our lives easier. Therefore, the ecclesiastical crowd makes every effort to offer comfort to those individuals experiencing a bumpy road—as if God is to be petitioned and expected to remove any discomfort, suffering or personal tragedy we face.

While I do not demean empathy and kindness, much of my experience with organized religion shows a prevailing attitude to overlook the holiness and spiritual necessity of “bad crap” in our lives. Yes, holiness!

Actually, “bad crap” plays a sacred role in the Trinitarian doctrine of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To understand this we need the help of scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg because this topic embraces both physics and theology.

In physics, all energy and action is under law. Laws in the universe provide the constraints (resistance), which define the parameters and the quality of a particular force. Without constraints and obstacles the quality and measurement of an action cannot be known. There are three essentials to manifestation: 1) initiating force, 2) resisting force and 3) reconciling force (which gives us an observable and measured outcome).

This universal law in nature has its origins in the dynamical relationships of the Holy Trinity. God the “Father” represents initiating force. The “Son” represents resistance. And, the Holy Spirit is the kinetic outcome of the two.

It is beyond the scope of this short blog to prove Swedenborg’s theology that Jesus was Jehovah in the flesh, however, the prevailing idea that God is three Persons can still offer us valuable insights into the holiness and importance that “s_ _t happens.” (See my blog post titled “Three Gods or One God?”).

The purpose of Jesus coming into the world was to “do the will of the Father.” So Jehovah God represents the initiating force. Because Jesus was given a human body of flesh (with all its hereditary compulsions) and the inertia of physical matter, He had to overcome real “earthly” resistance to divine and heavenly dictates. That Jesus felt abandoned at times and showed fear were clear indications of His real battle with a finite and flawed human nature. By overcoming His human nature He conquered all human sin (resistance) and made His material body perfectly Divine and Holy—that is why there was an empty tomb.

The Lord conquered all sin but did not remove it. We must (on our own finite scale) go through a similar process by imploring the Lord’s help in identifying our own personal flaws and the power to overcome them. Swedenborg insisted that salvation could not lawfully take place without overcoming resistance, which in spiritual jargon is called temptation and misfortune.

The process of salvation is not the enhancement of a positive state—it simply leads us to a positive state. Affliction and temptation are the holy means by which God helps us to arrive at innocence and sincere goodness. Our negative side must be exposed and dealt with first. This determines the quality of our goodness.

Even those who have studied Swedenborg might argue that in his three-fold description of the Divine Trinity, the Father represented Divine Love, the Son represented the Divine Truth (He came into the world as the Truth) and the Holy Spirit represented the Divine Love coming forth through the Divine Truth.

How then does Truth serve as resistance to Love?

The answer is that Truth gives law and quality to Love. Truth is the form, constraint and parameter by which Love’s quality is put on display and measured. The Lord Jesus Christ put on display the quality of Divine Love towards the human race through His selfless sacrifice and servitude.

Jesus was Divine Truth because He gave form to Divine Love and made it visible and knowable.

http://www.provinggod.com

Posted in god, Inner growth, love, metaphysics, Reality, religion, science, spirituality, unity | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
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Look after yourself & others – How to do both?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

Look after who?We don’t choose our neighbours, nor our bosses and work-mates, not even our relatives. Sometimes these people are uncomfortable to live with, difficult to talk to, or they oppose our hopes and aspirations. How do you look after your own needs whilst dealing fairly with these people? How do you deal with the unwelcome challenge of having to respond to what others want that conflicts with your own interests?

Ideal answers don’t always work.

Some people might say that to be a loving spirit one must always prioritise the other person’s needs. In an ideal world this may be the best answer. It assumes that others will look after you first and everyone will be happy. Sounds like heaven.

But we live on earth where people are not always caring. You have needs too. And if these are neglected too much, then you will suffer the consequences; hunger, loneliness, frustration, fatigue, failure, unfair blame etc. I rather like the biblical idea of loving one’s neighbour as oneself – in other words caring about the other’s needs as much as caring about one’s own.

Look after yourself too

And so I would suggest you cannot look after others if you don’t also look after yourself. I was on a plane about to fly on a trip across the Atlantic. As the engines were warming up, the flight attendant showed the passengers how to put on the oxygen mask in case of an emergency. “Pull it down from above and pull it over your face – but make sure you do your own before helping with your child’s mask.” I would have been no use to the child if I couldn’t breathe.

Usefulness to oneself is also usefulness to others, for to be of use to oneself
is to be in a state to be of use to others. (Swedenborg DLW 318)

Look after yourself and others by sharing and taking turns

Isn’t it the same in most other situations? We may be in a hurry at the supermarket but so might be other customers. Forming a queue at the checkout is what we do to fairly meet everyone’s needs. Members of the queue look themselves as they look after each other by taking turns. We also do this with our friends to pay for a round of drinks in the pub. Restaurant staff often share out tips customers have left. Likewise, they look after themselves as they look after each other. We share the responsibility for paying for public services. When you come to think of it there are innumerable examples of how people practise taking turns and sharing. It is all part of the spirit of ‘give and take’ that helps oil the way we rub shoulders with others.

How each partnership negotiate their relationship will differ but the spiritual principle is that each puts something in and each takes something out. Loving one’s partner as oneself means working on the relationship; striving for fairness; and considering the wide range of duties and responsibilities that go to make up a modern marriage.

And to discover how this works means asking questions. How money for the family is earned. Who does the DIY? The social organizing? The gardening? How are social arrangements made? Who looks after the children and spends time with them? Does each have time to do their own thing? And so on.

Taking turns or sharing aren’t always possible

Taking turns and sharing is all very well but when you want one thing and your work colleague or next-door neighbour wants something completely different, how do you go forward fairly? How do you look after your own needs and look after the the needs of others when these seem so incompatible? Collaboration may be a non-starter – after all it takes two to tango and however willing you are to work on the issue the other person may not be. It is perhaps easier to suggest what not to do in this kind of situation. Not jumping to conclusions about the character of the person. Only judging the behaviour rather than the perpetrator.

Sometimes the most that can be hoped for is a compromise that is second best for each after both sides have negotiated to find a middle ground. But this surely is better than walking away from the person and thus making future communication even more difficult. And certainly better than verbal aggression.

Recognising unfair demands

Sometimes you might get involved with someone who turns out to be quite needy. It seems that you are doing all the giving and the other person doing all the taking. How can one love this kind of neighbour without becoming burnt out? One answer is to act on the suggestion that acquiescing to selfish demands of others does not help them in the long run.

To sum up what I am trying to say. You need to turn to the best part of yourself — the spiritual dimension within you – so you can maintain what is fair and good in your dealings with other people for the benefit of both yourself and them.

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on25th April 2012CategoriesInterpersonal EthicsTags,, , , , , , , ,  Leave a comment