Love the enemy – But how to do this?

love the enemyI know who my enemy is: the individual who maliciously damages my property: tramps all over the flower-bed in the garden: scratches the car with a key: trashes the home during a burglary. I feel angered by anyone who threatens to harm my sense of well-being. These are the people I want to complain about and get my own back on. So how on earth does one stop hating such people. How do you ‘love’ your enemy? Here are some tips I find useful.

Tip 1 on how to love the enemy

Step back from a situation. Then you can start to observe your angry thoughts. Begin to reflect on where they are getting you. When you are feeling angry remember that bitterness will inwardly eat away at your sense of contentment. On the other hand a less negative attitude to the person who has offended you hinders this horrible emotion staying with you. You can’t be positive and negative at the same time. One attitude removes its opposite.

Tip 2 on how to love the enemy

Consider whether becoming calm about your enemy helps your loved ones and friends around you remain calm. They would be affected by your anger, having to listen to your moaning about the person you resent. However, unless you stop your enemy hurting you, your family will feel you are a pushover and feel frustrated with you for this reason.

Tip 3 on how to love the enemy

Understand the harm you could cause to the children in your life by voicing contempt for someone. Children copy the role models provided by the adults around them. A child can readily imitate the idea it is okay to adopt a hate-filled contemptuous attitude. And you will have harmed their sense of right and wrong.

Tip 4 on how to love the enemy

When reflecting on some injustice done to you, bear in mind that we get a more fractured and divided society the more people there are who are filled with feelings of hate; a society where conflict and social disorder are more likely to emerge. And the opposite is true — if we all can overcome enmity, and learn to forgive those whom have hurt us, then society is better off in so many ways. Reconciliation that involves compensation for injury can be extremely powerful and important.  Getting on better with an enemy would improve the lives of two people at the same time.

Tip 5 on how to love the enemy

Make a fair assessment of your enemy’s actions. Try to hate the wrong-doing rather than the wrong-doer, the action rather than the perpetrator. This will help you to focus on trying to prevent any repeat of the behaviour that made you so angry.

Tip 6 on how to love the enemy

See times of hate within yourself as a challenge to your growing maturity. Don’t take the Gospel phrase about turning the other cheek in a literal way. The message is not about masochism but rather about not automatically fighting back when injured. Do what you can to stop the enemy behaving badly towards you whilst remembering that a heavenly state of mind is to take no delight in any act of retaliation or revenge. Our spiritual challenge is to adopt a charitable attitude to everyone including those who behave badly towards us.

Tip 7 on how to love the enemy

Try to establish lines of communication with your enemy. Look for some common ground. Reach out to them. Instead of fighting what has happened and who this person is, and wanting them to be different, try to accept them for who they are — warts and all. You won’t be able to change them only hope to affect their actions. Resign yourself to what has happened as a part of life. Put up with the fact that things can’t be different, because they have already happened.

Tip 8 on how to love the enemy

Get to know their perspective. Are you jumping to any conclusions? What is he or she really like? Try to understand why someone might have got to where they are and why they did what they did. Perhaps they have some mitigating circumstances — school failure, broken home, drugged parent, unemployment, being easily led, having a sense of frustration at feeling undervalued. None of these factors of course excuses criminal behaviour but might help to explain it and make you feel better about the person. Of course no mitigating circumstances may be found although bear in mind that any may be possible until you get to know the person better. Give the enemy the benefit of any doubt.

Tip 9 on how to love the enemy

Look for something in the person that is likeable. Everyone has a good side somewhere if you look hard enough to find it.

Tip 10 on how to love the enemy

Show them how hurt you have been by what they have done, pointing out the consequences of their misdeeds in a non-condemning way. You will feel better about them if they show some degree of acknowledgement of what you are saying. It is less difficult to have a charitable attitude to those who acknowledge they were in the wrong. Don’t be too quick to forgive someone who has done you great harm if they show no remorse: at least  don’t try to forgive such a person in your own strength alone.

If these tips are not enough try attending an anger management class, professional therapy or ask for spiritual help. Many people say that prayer is an important component in their dealing with the difficult individuals in their lives.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

 

What is wisdom?

I must have glared at the complete stranger and she sharply asked me why.

I was walking behind her and her male companion neither of whom had I seen before. We were going across the car park at my place of work ? a tidy new public building set near attractive woodland and playing fields. A place I suppose I was rather proud of. I happened to notice her popping something into her mouth and tossing aside a tiny piece of what I took to be a sweet wrapping paper. Although the car park was well swept, any litter she had made was so tiny it could be barely seen!

Being challenged, I voiced my indignation — not rudely — but admittedly with a strong note of irritation in my voice. Immediately her companion launched into a hostile volley of foul language at me. Not wanting to escalate the confrontation, I said nothing and walked away, steaming inside.

Thinking about the incident later, when I had calmed down, I started to wonder if I could have responded more wisely to what had been the most trivial of misdemeanours. I’m afraid I do tend to jump in where angels fear to tread. Or perhaps a bull in a china shop might be a better way of putting it. Clearly I had over-reacted and I could have spoken differently. But no, I had to respond on impulse without any thought.

In contrast, when an Asian friend found herself on a crowded train, she noticed some kids dropping litter on to the carriage floor. She felt anxious about saying anything but reflected that unless someone did the youngsters would never learn proper conduct. So she spoke in a reasonable tone of voice saying to the lads ‘You might not have noticed ? actually there is a litter bin here.’ And was pleased to see them pick up what they had dropped and place the bits into the bin.

Of course sometimes it’s wise to keep quiet. On another occasion she told me that on the rush hour train there was a group of college teenagers ‘effing and blinding’ and she looked at them and decided it would be futile to say something to them but when she got to work, as she had overheard what college they were at, she telephoned the principle to describe their inappropriate behaviour asking him to raise this with the students.

We all put our foot in it from time to time, some of us more than others. I’m thinking about social gaffs, ill-judged decisions, or reaching an unfair conclusion about someone. When we do unwise things, we usually have to pay the price. Our foolish mistakes often seem to bounce back at us.

I imagine wiser people are less likely to make such errors of judgement. So how can we acquire more wisdom?

Do we need to gain more knowledge? This is often what people assume. They may turn to scholars with academic learning for the right answers. Or seek understanding from professionals such as psychotherapists, personal skills coaches, or religious advisors who have psychological or spiritual knowledge. The British shadow chancellor of the exchequer got into hot water by joking about his ignorance of economics. Clearly appreciation of the working of banking, the business cycle and the tax system is important for wise political decisions regarding the economy. The same is true for all walks of life – you can’t expect wisdom from those who lack knowledge and understanding.

In these materialistic times, the world of commerce and government emphasise understanding about competitive performance and efficiency. Likewise the media emphasise information concerning the arts, science and technology. In this climate, wisdom tends to be dismissed as something ethereal. But I would suggest it is really needed if we are to solve our personal and social problems.

So what is this intangible thing we call wisdom? Foolishness is often associated with youth who lack knowledge of the world and its ways. But I would suggest wisdom involves something much more than mere knowledge, understanding or skill – important as these are.

In ancient cultures wisdom was often associated with old age, not just because older people have more experience of life, but because they have had the chance to learn from their mistakes and develop virtues of character. We only reach our potential by making a spiritual journey.

According to this view, true wisdom is not the same as intellectual reasoning. It is a spiritual gift that comes to those who are good at heart. How can we hope to be wise if we do not have sympathy for others and the humility that enables us to laugh at ourselves? I believe that when concern for oneself doesn’t come first, then there can be an opening up of a spiritual consciousness; a higher level of the human mind that can receive clearer light.

How could I hope to wisely respond to people who drop litter without giving offence, unless I have a friendly respectful attitude based on concern for them? If you really want to put your foot in it, not only point out the misconduct of others, but also be sure in your indignation to set yourself up in judgment over them.

“Wisdom ceases to be wisdom when it becomes too proud to weep, too grave to laugh, and too selfish to seek other than itself.” (Kahlil Gilbran)

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

First published as Putting your foot in it in January 2011 Edition of New Vision magazine.

How do we stop life drifting by?

longer version

Some people drift aimlessly through life reacting to events and never making things happen for themselves. spiritually adrift However, whatever the personal problem, it is often necessary for us to take the initiative in doing something about it, rather than letting things drift. Otherwise, it is only when some crisis occurs that eventually the situation forces us to make decisions about say a job, home, or even a close relationship. Better to prevent difficulties getting out of hand than allow circumstances no longer under our control to push us into a corner.
Often and in various ways we may slide into letting life around us govern how we think and behave – in a way that enables us to blame ‘it’ if ever we feel criticised.  So it tends to be “someone else’s fault – not mine!” But spiritual healing may be needed.
Perhaps we are willing to be of help to others even when it is an inconvenience. It is good to be selfless and charitable. However, do we sometimes allow others to exploit our better nature? One sign of this is if we were to feel fed up with the way others take advantage of us or feel quietly resentful when sidelined, or put on.
It is not necessarily the fault of the other person. We may be adding to our troubles by the way we regularly give in to what someone wants. At times perhaps even acting like a doormat for them to wipe their feet on. Like when we find ourselves meekly submitting to what our family and friends demand; limply agreeing to go where someone asks us to go and doing whatever they suggest. We do not have a sense of our true selves because we are too busy meeting others expectations. Without thinking we fall in with what they say.
Adolf Hitler once said:

“What luck for the rulers that men do not think.”

Why would anyone be so daft as constantly to do things that another person wants instead of thinking through their own views? It may be because we value ourselves less than we value others. This might show in conversation: “I’m sure you’re right.” “I’ll leave that up to you.” Some of us believe ourselves to be happy if we relate to others in this way but without our realising there is an inner assumption that what we want does not count, or that we do not really matter. Thinking so little of ourselves, the idea that we have any choice does not occur to us; in other words, tamely trying to please for fear of someone disliking us. We keep striving for the unobtainable, not realising that we can never gain everybody’s approval.

Inner Freedom
Just as we may need to be less passive with other people, so we also may need to learn to take the initiative in relation to ourselves. Having a healthy relationship with others also means having a healthy relationship with oneself.
In psychotherapy it is generally accepted that if patients persist in blaming some other person or thing for their problems of living, then no real therapy is possible. A therapist may ask such an individual whose partner keeps running him or her down or using violence why not do something about it like insisting on a trial separation to bring the other person to their senses. In not accepting the responsibility for the way they live their lives, they cannot start to take hold of their own self and destiny. Thus for such people any personal growth is delayed.
The trouble is that many people are told that they are not at liberty to change their ways and that human freedom is questionable. For example, psychoanalysis – a branch of psychotherapy that follows the writings of Sigmund Freud – says we are not free because we are unaware of our unconscious complexes. Moreover, many behaviourists argue that our freedom is illusory because we are conditioned by the world around us e.g. the rewards and punishments in the family or the workplace, that shape our attitudes and life choices.
There is some – albeit – limited truth in these viewpoints. None of us is free to change our inherited disposition and the home environment when we were young. Because of differences in for example types of temperament and parental attitudes, we need to individually travel on our own unique spiritual journey. How the individual develops will be limited according to his or her makeup and life circumstances. We start at different places. The role models to whom we happen to be exposed affect how we mature.

Both nature and nurture will both influence our development and affect in what ways we need to change and the opportunities for so doing. They will affect what lessons in life we may learn. You cannot so easily learn French without a foreign language teacher. However, you do not need special learning if French is your native tongue. In one sense, the whole of the explanatory findings of psychology studied as a science demonstrate the restrictions on, and handicaps to, our individual freedom. These could be for example from:
· Our beliefs and attitudes acquired conforming to the cultural norms of home and society
· Our levels of self-esteem and self-confidence due to the behaviour of others
· Our levels of talent and ability, emotional stability and physical strength, due to inherited constitution.

Our social, financial and physical circumstances affect the opportunities around us for personal growth. According to the situations they find themselves in, people vary in what they are obliged to do and thus what social roles others expect of them. The need for earned income, family home-making, care for sick and elderly, supervision of children, etc. will vary from one person and circumstance to another.
These are clear physical, economic, legal, social and moral limits as well as psychological restrictions on our freedom to do certain things and act in certain ways. There may be very real boundaries to what we can do in any set of circumstances.
Despite all these factors apparently determining our behaviour, we actually feel individually free to choose what we do and make up our own minds about things – including whether to believe that we are free to make up our own minds! In other words, we all tend to believe in our own free will.
Isaac Bashevis Singer once said:

“You must believe in free will; there is no choice”
This may seem like a paradox! However, unless we are free to reflect on things our thinking would lack any discernment. Many people recognize that being human, we do have many private choices in life; whether to try to read this book or give up thinking about what it says; whether to go along with the crowd or to do our own thing; whether to choose worldly or spiritual values. We may make decisions using so-called `enlightened self-interest’ or alternatively ethical ideas like what is fair or sincere. We can choose to travel on one road or on another.

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
(Matt 6:24)

“One is the road to wealth, another the road that leads to Nirvana.”
(Dhammapada, 75. Buddhist tradition)

Psychotherapists who take an existential approach to therapy tend to believe that whatever the particular types of theoretical formulation, techniques employed and therapist’s personal style of conducting treatment, the client will only benefit if also the therapy influences the person’s will. The therapist can neither create nor infuse the individual  with a new will, but the therapist can help the patient to liberate will – to remove encumbrances from the bound, stifled will.
Although our choices may sometimes need to remain hidden until outward circumstances change, inwardly we are in a state of balance between for example  optimism and pessimism or honesty and self-deception, Which we turn to is our own choice.
Swedenborg’s view is that this balance is a state of equilibrium between good and bad influences on us from inside our minds. We have the option of directing ourselves towards higher or lower things. By deciding between two different ideas, or plans of action, we express our essential awareness of ourselves as an individual.
Yet, in so far as some of our attitudes are unconscious or conditioned then we are not free to tackle them. With increasing frequency, patients seek professional help with vague, ill-defined complaints. A first session may be finished with no clear picture of the patient’s problem. The fact that the patient cannot define the problem is the actual problem.
Psychotherapy and personal counselling can help throw light on these hidden processes. For example, the overweight person may feel anxious about leaving food on the plate because of parental disapproval concerning waste when the individual was a child. Arguably, clearer self-insight actually increases our inner freedom.

And in my experience if I asked patients about the aspects of therapy that they found particularly useful, they often cite the discovery and assumption of personal responsibility. However, readiness to accept responsibility varies considerably. For some individuals it is extraordinarily difficult and this issue is the main task of psychotherapy; once they assume responsibility they give spiritual healing a chance, and therapeutic change almost happens automatically without much further effort for the therapist.

Rationality and Freedom
I am suggesting we each have two spiritual faculties, which make us human. The first of these is the ability to think for ourselves; being able to see things in a rational way from a higher perspective. This could mean for example seeing some family squabble in a rational way without one side or the other unduly swaying us emotionally.
With reasoning comes increased freedom – the second faculty. Only when we are able to see things from a rational perspective do we become free to choose between more than one viewpoint.
It is when we appreciate what a newspaper article is really about, that we can then freely choose whether to read it to the end. We use our head to think about what the writer is saying and our hands to turn the pages. However, we also need a heartfelt interest in the truth about the subject if we are to really learn anything from the printed words. Otherwise, our response to it is just going through the motions based on a reflex habit. Then we may go to the shop, buy the newspaper and return home, settling down in the chair and reading whatever is written because this is what we do everyday.
Likewise, only when we really think about the consequences of a crowd’s behaviour, can we then freely decide whether to join in. The emotion of the moment may capture us. Everybody is shouting the same thing and focusing their attention on the same place. Therefore, we feel ourselves drawn to conform to what everybody is doing and saying. Yet, we are rational human beings. We can transcend the social pressure by using our ability to think about what is right in the situation. Is the crowd doing something in accord with what we value? What is the truth of the matter? In other words as Christ says “the truth will set you free.” Otherwise, we are simply reacting to the pressure of habit or social conformity.
Humanistic psychology is an approach in psychology that focuses on how people fulfil their individual potentials as a way of overcoming personal problems. Human freedom is said to be real, and must be consciously acknowledged, exercised and experienced for any authentic human existence. In other words a person within certain limits, may become whatever he wills to become. We can all choose to develop any aspect of our makeup that we please. The explorer has opted to develop his or her curious and adventurous spirit. Couples, in deciding on parenthood, have decided to focus on their caring and nurturing side. Conscientious objectors and protestors have chosen to act on principles and ideals learned in youth despite the risks involved. To my way of thinking, the opening up of the higher mind widens our inner freedom. This means seeing things from a higher perspective and acting on these insights. Until this happens I would argue, we will simply follow our natural tendencies and conditioning along the lines the psychoanalysts and behaviourists have indicated.
We can also point to the importance of wise teaching by parents in the formation of the higher mind in the child. They brought us up with good ideas that initially develop this level of mind. The spiritually minded think of those early beginnings as the foundation for the building of conscience – through which an inner light can allow us to see when we are going wrong. I believe it is divinely inspired into the hearts and minds of those who want to follow what is right and good.
It is for instance when we believe that people should keep to the civil and criminal law because it is based on principles of justice and social order. Another example is the belief that doctors, architects and other occupational groups should follow their codes of practice and professional ethics because these derive from the value of high standards of work done for the benefit of clients. Essentially a true conscience includes a caring attitude to others, tolerance of their imperfections and following what is right in life.
I believe a higher self within us is our link with the bright light of divine inspiration. This is the source of our understanding of rational considerations and spiritual principles. These create new horizons and new ways forward. All of us can actually hope to achieve this. If we do not pursue this path, our bodily-centred illusions will limit us. Such an illusion for example is the fallacy that the route to happiness is to `eat, drink and be merry’.  Actually, experience teaches us that such activities, of themselves, can bring no lasting contentment beyond the pleasure of the moment unless life also consists of things of the spirit – such as quality time with others or the deeper satisfaction that comes from being part of useful activity. Bodily-centred illusions come from the mere appearance of things according to the senses of the body uninspired by higher meaning.

Playing Life’s Cards
As we gain a reasonable appreciation of our own character, we then become free to choose whether to leave behind our personal hang-ups and instead develop our natural talents and personal potential. Such self-insight usually happens in counselling and psychotherapy.
A form of psychotherapy known as Reality Therapy, assumes that people develop psychiatric problems because of an inability to fulfil their needs and that fulfilling needs means taking on an attitude of responsibility for others as well as self. If a cure is to be effected the patient must be involved with other people or at least with one other person. Therefore, one cannot completely lock up oneself in oneself and one’s own needs if therapy is to make any progress.
Yet, most of us do not need professional help. We can all choose to make better use of the opportunities that life presents to us. The more we put into the things we do the more we are likely to get back – whether it is an occupational training course, a friendship, or a business.
Personal responsibility comes from our freedom to react to what life throws at us in the way we choose. In other words, it is not the hand of cards that life deals us that determine our destiny but rather the way we play those cards. We are responsible for whether we take hold of life or not.
A man sat in a bar in New York. He was homeless, friendless and penniless having pawned or sold everything he owned for alcohol. He had not eaten for four days. He sat there thinking. He had often said that he would never let himself be cornered and when the time came, he would find a home at the bottom of the river. However, he was too ill to walk even a quarter of the way to the river. As he sat there thinking, he seemed to feel some uplifting presence. He did not know what it was. He walked up to the bar and pounded it with his fist making the glasses rattle. Those who stood by drinking looked on with scornful curiosity. He said he would never take another drink. However, the thought immediately came that if he wanted to keep this promise he had better go and get himself locked up. Therefore, that is exactly what he did. He went to the nearest police station and the officer placed him in a narrow cell. He said it seemed as though all the demons that could find room came in that place with him. However, he prayed to his God and, although he did not feel any great help, carried on praying. When finally released he found his way to his brother’s house where he was looked after. The next day he went to a local outdoor religious meeting and with great difficulty made his way to the space near the platform. There was a huge conflict going on within him but as he listened to the testimony of other alcoholics, he made up his mind that he would grasp the nettle and completely give up drink with help from a higher power. He promised God that if he were to take away his appetite for strong drink he would work for him all his life. The man’s name was S. H. Hadley who became an active and useful helper of alcoholics in America.

Taking the Bull by the Horns
Not all of us get ourselves into such dire straights but at some point in our lives, we all need to change something important. Human nature being what it is – a mixture of positive and negative traits – there are things in all of us that we need to face up to. The bad habits, attitudes and desires that we have confirmed in our daily living for which we are culpable. For no one else but us has chosen to remain in our negative patterns of behaviour. These elements of our heart, head and hands need reversing if we are to grow in maturity and spirituality. It is not enough to acknowledge our difficulties and opportunities; not sufficient to see things in rational light. We also need to accept in our hearts that personal amendment is necessary if we are to find personal growth. This means paying attention to the issues and making a conscious effort with clear intention to change.
In other words, an act of will freely made is required. The spirit of truth will hold us responsible for how we act. When we better understand the problems we are causing ourselves and our families, we may then either do nothing about it or we may actually then resolve to change for example, our addiction to work, our avoidance of some personal issue or our emotional dependence on some particular person etc. We need to make a decision to take hold of our life rather than drift on as before. If psychotherapy is about anything, it is about personal change and spiritual healing. The same goes for religious affiliation. It applies to all of us. It means acknowledging the truth about something, resolving to do something about it and then acting. Our destiny is in our own hands – whether we stay sober, put our financial affairs into good order, are fair and honest in our dealings with others, or change our passive attitude to life. Reaping as one sows is the law of karma.
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows”
(Galatians 6:7)

“Whoever has qualities is the doer of deeds that bring recompense; and of such action surely he experiences the consequence.”
(Svetasvatara Upanishad, v, 7. – Hindu tradition)

Transpersonal psychology is a new approach in psychology that is interested in aspects of people that go beyond ordinary experience to matters of ultimate meaning studying for example meditative and mystical experiences. Man books by writers in this field echo the idea of a mature stage of human growth when we start to take responsibility for our own development. Just a few or many may achieve this but, although individual transformation is necessary, it is an opportunity open to all. They say it involves pain and discomfort. This is because it means questioning all the roles one has been playing. Yet, there is more to us than just the roles we play. We are not just a spouse, member of an occupational group, or sportsperson. If we identify solely with our role, we risk an identity crisis if we are compelled to lose it for example when our circumstances change and our role is no longer needed or viable.
Many therapists, who are concerned with their clients’ well-being, try to help them to explore and work through any inner conflicts between different roles or feelings about which they were often not fully aware e.g. between being a parent and a worker, or between a fear of, and desire for, an intimate close relationship. In this way, the various parts of the personality can start to work in greater harmony together.
Psychologists often mention the notion of integration as a help to understanding personal growth. The various diverse desires, fears, ideas, hopes and aspirations become compatible with each other as the individual starts to resolve conflicts, choose priorities and find over-arching values. However to find this level of integration of the various sides to our makeup requires not just our hearts and minds but also bodily actions to be in harmony.
Taking the bull by the horns seems scary at first. After all it is easy to imagine the bull may turn round and gore us to death. But if we take courage we find that it is not so dangerous as we thought. We may have had no suspicion that there was any courage within us to be found. Yet my experience with many anxious clients shows that courage arises within when they started to take responsibility for their own development; rather than passively allowing themselves to be swayed this way and that by the events of our lives; rather than complacently drifting through life. Having the deeply human faculties of reason and freedom, we can all take the initiative in creating our own world; not the world that society has tried to pre-ordain for us but rather the unique world of experience that we want for ourselves. That way we find our true self.

“Everyone has what is truly human from rationality, in that he can see and know, if he will, what is true and what is good, and also that he can from liberty will, think, speak and do it.”
(Swedenborg. Divine Providence section 227:5)

Extracted from the book Heart, Head & Hands

Drifting through life – How to stop?

drifting

Drifting in the arctic

There are things in all of us that we need to face up to. Perhaps it is a relationship going sour, a health problem, or a business decision. When we find ourselves drifting, some crisis is likely to then occur. Better to prevent difficulties getting out of hand than allow circumstances no longer under our control to push us into a corner.

Drifting as a Pre-disposition

The problem is worse if we are the kind of person who isn’t used to taking the initiative – for whom drifting seems to be an inbuilt disposition. This might show in conversation: “I’m sure you’re right.” “I’ll leave that up to you.” Those of us who are a bit timid find others taking advantage of our ‘better nature’. One sign of this is if we were to feel fed up with the way others take advantage of us or feel quietly resentful when sidelined, or put on. We can be much too passive for our own good.

The freedom to change

The good news is it is possible to become more assertive and proactive. This is because of our inner freedom to change. One might object that this question of free-will is a bit controversial. Our social, legal, financial and physical circumstances affect the opportunities around us for what we can do. And our personal histories and temperament will also affect our sense of possibilities.

But despite this we do have personal choices. No one is forced into drifting through life. We can make up our own minds about things including whether to believe that we are free to make up our own minds! If inner freedom applies to small matters like whether to read this article, date that person, or take on that stray cat as a pet, then surely it also applies to more important issues such as which political party to vote for or which things to value in life.

If you doubt the freedom of personal choice, just consider these questions. Do you not feel you can adopt whatever attitude you please? Can you not change how you live your life? Don’t you feel responsible for how you react to events?

Actually many people do recognize that being human, we have many private choices in life; whether to continue drifting along with the crowd or to do our own thing; whether to adopt worldly or spiritual values. We may make decisions using so-called `enlightened self-interest’ or alternatively ethical ideas like what is fair or sincere. The outer determinants of behaviour do not prevent inner freedom of choice. Although our choices may sometimes need to remain hidden until outward circumstances change, inwardly we are in a state of balance between for example optimism and pessimism or honesty and self-deception, Which we turn to is our own choice.

One’s readiness to accept responsibility.

With private freedom comes a sense of personal responsibility. Sadly, not all of us face up to this. Easier to stay drifting along as if there were no deeper challenges to waken us up out of complacency. Often and in various ways we may slide into letting life around us govern how we think and behave – in a way that enables us to blame ‘it’ if ever we feel criticised. So it tends to be “someone else’s fault – not mine!”

Not surprisingly, psychological therapists generally accept that if clients persist in blaming some other person or thing for their problems of living, then no real therapy is possible. A therapist may ask such an individual whose partner keeps running him or her down or using violence “Why not do something about it like insisting on a trial separation to bring the other person to their senses.” In not accepting the responsibility for the way they live their lives, they cannot start to take hold of their own self and destiny.

And in my experience if I asked clients about the aspects of therapy that they found particularly useful, they often cite the discovery and assumption of personal responsibility.

However, readiness to accept responsibility varies considerably. For some individuals it is extraordinarily difficult and this issue is the main task of psychotherapy. Once they assume responsibility they give healing a chance, and therapeutic change almost happens automatically without much further effort for the therapist.

Most of us are facing life’s problems without professional help. But also here an act of will freely made is required. When we better understand the problems we are causing ourselves and our families, we may then either do nothing about it and carry on drifting along in our old habits or we may actually then resolve to change for example, our addiction to work, our avoidance of some personal issue or our emotional dependence on some particular person etc. We need to make a decision to take hold of our life rather than drift on as before.

Courage for change

Taking the bull by the horns seems scary at first. After all it is easy to imagine the bull may turn round and gore us to death. But if we take courage we find that it is not so dangerous as we thought. We may have had no suspicion that there was any courage within us to be found. Yet my experience with many anxious clients shows that courage arises within when they started to take responsibility for their own development; rather than drifting along and passively allowing themselves to be complacently swayed this way and that by the events of their lives.

A longer version of this article

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

Self-control – How to exercise it?

Many of us have developed at least one way of acting that can hurt ourselves, annoy others or damage relationships. Something is lacking self-control. Examples include over-eating, self-controluntidiness, nagging, and telling lies. If we keep doing these things they become ingrained in our behaviour and may seem impossible to change.

The Basics of Self-Control

Yet we weren’t born with these actions and what is learned can be unlearned. Gaining better self-control over our behaviour can be done but requires a conscious effort and persistence.

To stand any chance of gaining self-control we need to be completely clear about why we want to change. Often our family and friends are more aware of our problem behaviour than we ourselves. We may not always realise when, and to what extent, we are at fault.

It might help to find out from somebody else at what times and in what situations where we are going wrong. What harm am I doing? What is embarrassing, upsetting or irritating for me or for others?

Our Free Choice

It’s never too late to stop a bad habit. When we have dug ourselves into a hole, the best policy is to stop digging! After all no-one is compelled to be untidy, to nag, be argumentative, tell a lie or get drunk. It just seems that way at the time.

We need to be especially on guard at the times when we are most at risk of relapsing into our old ways. We have reached a choice between yielding to, or exercising self-control over undesirable impulses. Having a sense of freedom in choosing between alternative actions is a familiar experience. It confirms out ability to make real choices.

Many self-indulgent desires are represented in images we remember seeing in the mass media. Because we merely have some connection with them, we need not allow ourselves to become enslaved by them but are free to ignore them. Because these impulses are not entirely part of us we can disown them.

Temptation

For many moral issues call us to a deeper conflict. The tension is not just between indulging self and exercising self-control. Neither is it just about doing what is thought by others to be right or wrong. It is also about choosing to follow our inner conscience or not. When we try to have self-control over what is bad in our lives because it goes against our inner conscience, then temptation combat becomes inevitable.

Religion says to gain self-control we need the spiritual help of a higher power. Many alcoholics feel they have failed, despite doing all they can, to overcome the ‘demon drink’ and so many members of Alcoholics Anonymous surrender themselves to a higher power, many call God, believing that only with the strength of this force for good can they stay sober.

Having a belief that we are not fighting alone means a huge sense of confidence that the battle can be won. The problem drinker also has a part to play – it would be no good believing in a higher power without acting on that belief for example by resisting the temptation to buy alcohol at a shop or visit a drinking establishment.

The spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg makes an important distinction between on the one hand the notion of resisting bad impulses by our own efforts alone and on the other hand resisting them in God’s strength ‘as of ourselves’. In other words we need both God’s strength and our own effort to turn away from what is wrong about our living and instead embrace what would be right.

In line with this teaching he criticised the orthodox Christian doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’ that gives the only emphasis on belief in God at the expense of our additional responsibility to gain control over our own behaviour.

Importance of Our Own Efforts

The bad news is that if we make no effort to resist our own demons, no attempt to stop pandering to our baser instincts at the expense of our higher impulses, then we have taken a backward step towards gaining any control over our faults. What is bad in us will have acquired power over what is good in us. On the other hand if we do try hard to take control over the selfish and greedy desires, in God’s strength, then the divine spirit can then give us a new direction. This means self-restraint as well as enlightenment and inner happiness to replace the illusion that we are enslaved to self-indulgence.

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

Job satisfaction – How to find it?

job satisfaction
Job satisfaction

To many people, work seems to be a monotonous time that goes on and on involving much the same thing day after day. It is all very well to become lost in your work if it is an interesting profession, like teaching, the arts, or law etc. but where do get job satisfaction from more humdrum types of work?

It is true that being a small cog in a big factory or organisation, it may be hard to see that we are contributing any real service to the community but people can assume that other jobs like house-keeping, gardening or labouring are necessarily uninteresting.

Job Satisfaction and Motivation

The attitude we bring to a job can have a big effect on whether or not we find it boring. Do we have negative or positive reasons for what we are doing at work?

An occupation can exercise a positive pull on some workers as when it brings its own rewards for them. One example is the opportunity to learn on the job. Gardeners get some job satisfaction from learning about the growing process, car mechanics about the workings of petrol engines, and book-keepers can become interested in the way accounts are balanced. Another example of a positive reason is wanting to work hard because we value getting a job done well and on time.

On the other hand some people seem to be able only to find negative incentives — like going to work only for the sake of the wage or only for the training received that could help towards a needed qualification. And of course some only make the effort because of the stigma of unemployment. Some are more likely to feel dissatisfied when the job doesn’t deliver on that wage rise, or provide adequate levels of ventilation or warmth on the factory floor or in the office. If motivation is mostly negative, no wonder job satisfaction is hard to experience.

Job Satisfaction and Orientation to Others

I would like to suggest that the negatively motivated individual tends to relate to others, from the point of view of self i.e. from what they can provide for him or her. Signs of self-preoccupation include a sense of grievance, frustration, or self-pity. If people do not meet what he or she feels  is needed, and self-orientation were to dominate, then what others suggest or want might tend to be overlooked and others are likely to be easily perceived as an irritant or a threat.

Children get off to an unfortunate start in life if their parents pampered and spoiled them. Then they will have to unlearn the idea that happiness can only come from having one’s own needs met first.

On the other hand, when we are growth motivated we do not relate to others as `sources of supply’ to meet some shortage or deficit or perceived unmet need in ourselves. Consequently, we are able to view others as complex, unique, whole beings in their own right and get more job satisfaction working alongside them. We become more aware of their problems, talents and interests and thus give ourselves a better chance of having something meaningful to talk about together.

Job Satisfaction and Usefulness

Having a positive reason for doing something is looking for what is useful in the situation. Being useful keeps us physically fit as when we engage in housework, gardening, or `do it yourself’. Getting on with something can keep us mentally fit too, e.g. study, report writing, or problem solving at work. A useful life trains individual maturity as we learn to take the rough with the smooth.

The more we put in to the situation then the more we will get out of it — and that probably will include job satisfaction. By sincerely, fairly and reliably performing whatever useful tasks for which we are responsible – whether that be as parent, housekeeper, farm labourer, shop assistant, or businessman, etc – believe it or not, we can experience a deeper sense of delight that goes beyond and lasts longer than any physical or bodily pleasure.

In other words, the attitude we bring to our duties affects the quality of the way we relate to others. Every person we meet can walk away from us feeling just a little happier. This can be because of the way we deal with them, the effort we put in, and the interest we have shown. Other people will have learned to rely on us to do what is needed without being prompted. They will have come to expect us to put proper feeling and thought into what we do. Their appreciation can give us huge job satisfaction.

Having a caring involvement with one’s family and friends or carrying out paid employment or voluntary work for the community – all these activities can be a challenge to the heart and mind that makes every day alive with opportunity and interest. By not being idle and being effective in what we do, we have no time to get bored. Not that being busy should become an end in itself. We all need time out for rest and recuperation.

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

Say to yourself something different.

say to yourselfWe have private thoughts at the back of the mind all the time. Often these are unnoticed yet they have a profound affect on our feelings. Cognitive therapy shows that negative and fear-laden laden thoughts add to depression and anxiety.

The trouble with this approach is that often our inner thoughts are so well hidden that it is only through careful self-reflection that we can begin to identify them. Sometimes we remain unaware of them even if we are outwardly affected by them and behave as if they were true. That’s where the cognitive therapist comes in to help.

Here are nine harmful assumptions that can lie on the fringe of consciousness. Knowing about them can help identify any of them that might be active in yourself. If you are open to a religious perspective, you may also be interested in my  comments on each one based on the sayings and behaviour of Christ as recorded in the Gospels.

 1. If you were to say to yourself:  “To be happy one must be approved of by most people.”

then you are likely to be filled with social anxiety over-concerned about the impression you give others.

Christ associated with certain people knowing he would be disapproved of by others for his actions. Those he associated with included Pharisees, tax collectors and social outcasts.

Perhaps you need to be able to approve of yourself as someone who tries to follow your conscience even though others may disapprove of what you do or believe.

2. Similarly if you were you say to yourself: “To be happy, what I think and believe must be approved of by most people.”

then you will be anxious about how people respond to everything you say.

Christ’ followers commented that his teaching was hard to accept. In many cases Christ  stated his thoughts and left others to make their decisions even if a decision was rejection of himself.

3. If you were to say to yourself: “It is important to have my own way”

then there is a danger you will start to either bully or manipulate others into giving into your demands.

Christ taught a prayer to God which included the line ‘Thy will be done’ in contrast to doing what we want to do.

4. If you were to say to yourself: “It is intolerable when things go wrong”

then you will never try to live with personal setbacks.

Christ never said “I can’t stand it”, or “I can’t take it anymore”. Instead he accepted reality as it was, even when reality meant death if he were to fulfil his mission. In other words he was saying acceptance of hardship and trouble is a gift and an important thing to learn.

5. If you were to say to yourself: “I and others deserve condemnation when bad”

then, in the strict Jewish religious culture of two thousand years ago, you might have been stoned to death for sexual infidelity. A sexually unfaithful wife was brought to Christ but he did not condemn her but merely said ‘sin no more’. His message being it is bad behaviour that deserves condemnation not the person behaving badly. All of us need love and tolerance.

6. If you were to say to yourself: “I should be thoroughly competent, to consider myself worthwhile” 

then you will have low self-esteem because none of us have perfect skills.

Christ did not base a person’s worth on his or her competence but regarded all as valuable in their own right deserving love and support.

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matt 6:26)

7. If you were to say to yourself:  “Happiness comes from what happens to me”

then your mood will depend on everything around you rather than on yourself: things external to yourself such as social events, what other people say and do, even the weather.  However as the Greek philosopher Epictetus said

“People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them.”

In line with this, Christ worked to get people to change their ways of thinking. His spiritual view was that happiness comes from the spirit of the divine when listened to within our inner being.

8. If you were to say to yourself: “Worry about the future can make a difference”

then you will end up being full of anxious worry. Yet no amount of worrying will change a jot anything beyond your control.

Christ said :

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt 6:34)

9. If you were to say to yourself:  “Problems need to be avoided”

then you will never learn to deal with the difficulties life throws up. You can’t respond to a problem unless you face it.

Christ had many difficulties which he could have avoided for example speaking to his critics. Yet he faced them and dealt with them.

Finding out what you say to yourself and correcting unreasonable assumptions can be crucially important in personal growth and happiness.

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