“Conjecture about what is to come, and the remembrance of the past, are what take away every pleasantness and joy from life. From this come anxieties, cares, worries.”
Emanuel Swedenborg, Spiritual Experiences 2190
Nigella Lawson is well known as a television cook who takes a relaxed and casual approach to cooking for her own pleasure. However, it seems like most of us she is not immune from anxiety.
“At some stages of your life you will deal with things and at others you are overwhelmed with misery and anxiety.” (Nigella Lawson)
The trouble with anxiety is that there is usually no specific fear you can see to tackle; just a very alarming sense of danger or threat.
Some people are more vulnerable to anxiety – for example those who have had emotionally absent parents during childhood, who have an emotionally unstable temperament, or who have a currently stressful life-style.
However, anxiety is quite common. Many elderly people for example have anxiety about getting old, anxieties about health, mobility, access to facilities, and simple routine care and attention. and many younger people from time to time experience stress-related illness, bodily tension, worry, unease, even panic. Anxiety is so common a problem in fact that there just aren’t enough counsellors to go round to help us all feel better.
The question thus arises is there anything you can learn that will equip you to deal with life more calmly? Is there any spiritual knowledge that can effectively help reduce anxiety?
Jim’s problem of anxious worry concerned his sports injury. He was plagued with the idea that he was never going to recover full use of his arm. His thoughts about this kept going around in circles without getting anywhere. They kept him awake most of the night.
Jim is a young man. He said that his anxiety is worse in the morning or on weekends when he hadn’t so much to do. I do reckon that focusing on some useful activity does help distract one’s mind from one’s concerns.
“An idle mind is the devil’s playground.”
Jim found it helped to talk to a friend who was sympathetic to how he felt and who tried to put things in perspective and to see things from a different angle. The trouble was Jim kept asking the same person over and over again for reassurance, which unfortunately was beginning to drive that person to distraction.
Distraction and ventilation can only postpone anxiety. The same goes for tablets from the doctor or for that matter any drug such as alcohol. Something more radical is needed.
Anxiety and CBT
Cognitive-behaviour therapists maintain that it is possible to change anxious habits of thought that adversely affect us. Once you bring such attitudes out into the open, you can examine them in the light of day and challenge them if unrealistic. Looking for more sensible ways of thinking it becomes possible to adopt a calmer attitude.
They thus encourage the anxious person to notice the illogical thoughts which accompany anxiety and discard them as mere habits of thought, which can be replaced by some rational common sense.
Anxiety and Swedenborg
An idea along these lines, but in my view a little more powerful, can be found in the books of the eighteenth century mystic and philosopher, Emanuel Swedenborg. He has given posterity a great deal of meticulously recorded information regarding what he claimed were his daily awareness of spirits inwardly present with him. He writes about certain spirits who he says he has seen and heard in a psychic way, and who, when present with him, were the source of an anxious state of mind.
“I have talked with them, they have been driven off and the anxiety has ceased, they have come back and the anxiety has returned, I have observed its increase and decrease as they drew near and moved away.” (Emanuel Swedenborg)
Anxiety and Buddhism
Professor David Loy whose studies in comparative philosophy and religion have been published widely, points out that Swedenborg’s startling and counter-intuitive idea – that we don’t really generate our own thoughts – is also found in Buddhism’s doctrine of ‘no self’ where it is said to be an illusion of self-hood.
“Since there has never been a self, only the illusion of self, the point of the Buddhist path is not to eliminate the self but forget oneself, which is accomplished by becoming so absorbed into one’s meditation exercise that one becomes it. For Swedenborg as much as the Buddhism, the path is letting go of oneself.” (David Loy)
For Swedenborg the reason for the illusion are spirits inflowing their thoughts and feelings into our consciousness. He is saying we don’t create our own thoughts because they come to us from elsewhere. A spirit is unconsciously present within our mind if it can harmonise with our desires: he or she secretly enters our way of thinking and is accepted by us as our own. According to this view, the influence, of calming thoughts from angels and anxiety-laden thoughts from lower spirits, accounts for much of what we understand as our mental and emotional life.
In line with this way of thinking, as long as you identify with your anxiety-laden thoughts, then unfortunately you will continue to be under their control. The alternative is to be mindful of such anxious thoughts, learn to dis-identify with them, let go of them, neglect them, become unattached to them, and see them for what they are, the harmful fantasies of unwanted secret companions with whom you are free to distance your self.
Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotionconal problems
Posted on3rd April 2014
The Source of Anxiety, Worry, and Depression
Quoting from the Writings Sacred Scripture:
- AC 759. That the “rain” here is temptation is evident from what has been said and shown above, concerning a “flood” and an “inundation;” and also from the signification of the “fountains of the deep were broken up” and the “cataracts of heaven were opened” as being temptations. (AC 759)
- AC 760. That the “forty days and forty nights” signify its duration, was shown above, at verse 4. By “forty” as before said, is signified every duration of temptation, whether greater or less, and indeed severe temptation, which is of the things of the will.
- For by continual pleasures, and by the loves of self and of the world [ = the inherited character of our natural mind before it is reformed and regenerated ], consequently by the cupidities that are the connected activities of these loves, man has acquired a life for himself of such a kind that it is nothing but a life of such things. This life cannot possibly accord with heavenly life [ = the spiritual order in which our spiritual mind is through influx from the Spiritual Sun ]; for no one can love worldly [ = what is not yet regenerate, hence remains attached to our enjoyments of evil traits ] and heavenly things at the same time [ = the order of mental states in our natural mind when it is reformed and being regenerated ], seeing that to love worldly things is to look downward [ = towards the lower layer of the natural mind, which is corporeal or animal, and not rational or human ] , and to love heavenly things is to look upward [ = our study and knowledge of the correspondently sense of Sacred Scripture, i.e., theistic psychology ] .
Much less can anyone love himself and at the same time the neighbor, and still less the Lord.
- He who loves himself, hates all who do not render him service; so that the man who loves himself is very far from heavenly love and charity, which is to love the neighbor more than one’s self, and the Lord above all things. [ = for instance, to lower the volume on your radio or TV for the sake of the neighbors, and similar things that we do for the comfort of others rather than insisting on our comfort, etc. ]
- From this it is evident how far removed the life of man [ = unregenerated natural mind ] is from heavenly life [ = regenerated natural mind ] , and therefore he is regenerated by the Lord through temptations [ = once the person undergoes reformation as of self ], and is bent so as to bring him into agreement [ = when we use our knowledge of doctrine to resist spiritual temptations ].
- This is why such temptation is severe [ = experienced with strong emotional conflict, being pulled by the the love of enjoying evil traits and the love of becoming a heavenly person ], for it touches a man’s very life, assailing, destroying, and transforming it, and is therefore described by the words: “the fountains of the deep were broken up, and the cataracts of heaven were opened.” (AC 760)
- AC 761.That spiritual temptation in man [ = our conscious natural mind in daily life ] is a combat of the evil spirits with the angels who are with him [ = combats going on in our unconscious spiritual mind. The results of these unconscious combats determine by correspondence the emotional conflict we experience in our conscious natural mind ], and that this combat is commonly felt in his conscience, has been stated before, and concerning this combat it should also be known that angels continually protect man and avert the evils which evil spirits endeavor to do to him.
- They even protect what is false and evil in a man, for they know very well whence his falsities and evils come [ = those who have been regenerated and who are already present and conscious in the spiritual mind of the afterlife, can see and empirically observe how our unregenerate natural mind while we are still here on earth, is tied and influenced by those who are in the spiritual mind and in evil enjoyments ], namely, from evil spirits and genii. [ = these psychological, moral, and spiritual battles during temptations in our mind occur without us being consciously aware of the confrontations taking place in our spiritual mind ].
- Man does not produce anything false and evil from himself, but it is the evil spirits with him who produce it, and at the same time make the man believe that he does it of himself. Such is their malignity. [ = we are born with the enjoyments of evil traits that we inherit. It seems to us that those are our own traits and that we enjoy them. But they are not our own traits. We actually enjoy the traits of those with whom we are spiritually connected in our spiritual mind by mental inheritance. ]
- And what is more, at the moment when they are infusing and compelling this belief, they accuse and condemn him, as I can confirm from many experiences. [ = Swedenborg being conscious in his spiritual mind was able to observe the actions of the evil spirits who were connected to the individual by inheritance ].
- The man who has not faith in the Lord cannot be enlightened so as not to believe that he does evil of himself, and he therefore appropriates the evil to himself, and becomes like the evil spirits that are with him. Such is the case with man. As the angels know this, in the temptations of regeneration they protect also the falsities and evils of a man, for otherwise he would succumb. [ = there is a useful purpose prior to regeneration for having intermediate beliefs and doctrines, that are not yet genuine spiritual rational ].
- For there is nothing in a man [ = the inherited character of our natural mind before it is reformed and regenerated ] but evil and the falsity thence derived, so that he is a mere assemblage and compound of evils and their falsities. (AC
- AC 762. But spiritual temptations are little known at this day [ = prior to our reformation and regeneration ]. Nor are they permitted to such a degree as formerly, because man is not in the truth of faith, and would therefore succumb [ = to be in temptation without having the rational truths of doctrine to be able to resist ].
- In place of these temptations there are others, such as misfortunes, griefs, and anxieties, arising from natural and bodily causes, and also sicknesses and diseases of the body, which in a measure subdue and break up the life of a man’s pleasures and cupidities, and determine and uplift his thoughts to interior and religious subjects.
- But these are not spiritual temptations, which are experienced by those only who have received from the Lord [ = our doctrine of truth extracted from the correspondential sense of Sacred Scripture ] a conscience of truth and good. Conscience is itself the plane of temptations, wherein they operate. [ = people who do not have the opportunity or ability to study the correspondential sense of Sacred Scripture, nevertheless can accept influx into their conscience from the spiritual mind, and if they honor and obey their conscience, they are being regenerated and prepared for heavenly experiences in the afterlife of eternity ].
- Here is a passage from the Writings Sacred Scripture that discuss the role of the vertical community in experiencing anxiety:
- I have also been permitted to know the source of human anxiety, grief of mind (animus), and interior sadness, which is called melancholy. There are spirits not as yet in conjunction with hell, because they are in their first state; these will be described in the following pages where the world of spirits is dealt with. These spirits love things undigested and unprofitable, such as pertain to food becoming foul in the stomach. Consequently, they are present where such things are with man, because they find delight in them; and they talk there with one another from their own evil affection. The affection that is in their speech inflows from this source with man; and when this affection is the opposite of man’s affection it becomes in him sadness and melancholy anxiety; but when it is in agreement it becomes in him gladness and cheerfulness.
- These spirits appear near to the stomach, some to the left and some to the right of it, and some beneath and some above, also nearer and more remote, thus variously in accordance with the affections in which they are. That this is the source of anxiety of mind has been shown and proved to me by much experience. I have seen these spirits, I have heard them, I have felt the anxieties arising from them, I have talked with them; when they have been driven away the anxiety ceased; when they returned the anxiety returned; and I have noted the increase and decrease of it according to their approach and removal. From this, it has been made clear to me why some who do not know what conscience is, because they have no conscience, ascribe its pain to the stomach. (AC 299)
- Here you see Swedenborg’s empirical attitude and his attempt to use experimental manipulation as a way of confirming hypotheses. Note also that this was written some 200 years before the role of the stomach in anxiety was understood by modern medicine. Anxiety is frequently felt in the stomach due to the correspondential action between the stomach and the sensorimotor mind into which the spirits inflow who are delighted by the breakdown products in the stomach. In fact Swedenborg mapped out the relationship between every body part and the spirit societies that specialize in relating to each part of the body. The physiology and biochemistry of the physical body are so many detailed ways in which spirit societies communicate with the sensorimotor mind. The physiological operations are effects whose causes are the inflow of the various spirit societies.
- In the 1960s when I was teaching at the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana), one of my colleagues was the well known behaviorist Hobart Mower. He had been suffering from debilitating depression and anxiety for several years despite drug treatments. He then had an insight that reversed the Freudian idea that people feel anxiety in response to an overactive super-ego or conscience. Freud’s classic treatment consisted of trying to weaken the demands of the super-ego or of conscience to offer relief from guilt and anxiety leading to depression. But Mower discovered that the opposite was the case, namely, that instead of having an overactive conscience most people disregard their conscience in many situations and go ahead and do what they feel like at the moment. At the same time many people are oriented towards reducing guilt by weakening the power of one’s conscience. Mower started arguing that instead what we need to do is to strengthen our conscience so that we keep ourselves from violating its injunctions. He developed a new form of group therapy called “integrity groups” which I attended for two years. It is there that I learned that if I strengthen the voice of my conscience I can keep myself from acting against my principles and thus not run into guilt, anxiety, shame, or depression. I was greatly relieved.
- Here is a further description about the function of anxiety:
- With every man there are two spirits from hell, and two angels from heaven; for man being born in sins cannot possibly live unless on one side he communicates with hell, and on the other with heaven; all his life is thence. When man is grown up and begins to rule himself from himself, that is, when he seems to himself to will and to act from his own judgment, and to think and to conclude concerning the things of faith from his own understanding, if he then betakes himself to evils, the two spirits from hell draw near, and the two angels from heaven withdraw a little; but if he betakes himself to good, the two angels from heaven draw near, and the two spirits from hell are removed.
-  If therefore when a man betakes himself to evils, as is the case with many in youth, he feels any anxiety when he reflects upon his having done what is evil, it is a sign that he will still receive influx through the angels from heaven, and it is also a sign that he will afterward suffer himself to be reformed; but if when he reflects upon his having done what is evil, he has no anxious feeling, it is a sign that he is no longer willing to receive influx through the angels from heaven, and it is also a sign that he will not afterward suffer himself to be reformed. (AC 5470)
- You can see that anxiety is produced by conscience for the purpose of maintaining us in freedom of choice and reminding us of spiritual responsibility. We have the power to disregard or inhibit this built in effect. However it is clear that we will suffer negative consequences when we weaken the motivational force of conscience. If we kill or weaken our anxiety Freudian style, we lose the ability to benefit from positive spiritual influences and we fall into mental states that are negative, injurious, and self-defeating.
- Here is a similar paragraph discussing the source of anxiety:
- Since worrying about the future produces feelings of anxiety in a person, and since such spirits appear in the region of the stomach, feelings of anxiety therefore have a greater effect on the stomach than on all other internal organs. I have also been allowed to recognize how those anxious feelings have increased or diminished as those spirits have become present or been removed. I have noticed that some anxious feelings exist more internally, others more externally, some higher up, others lower down, depending on the differences in origin, derivation, and direction taken by such kinds of worry. Here also lies the reason why, when such feelings of anxiety take hold of the mind, the area around the stomach is tense and sometimes pain is felt there, and also why feelings of anxiety seem to surge up from there. The same also explains why, when a person ceases to worry about the future or when everything is turning out right for him so that he no longer fears any misfortune, the area around the stomach is free and relaxed, and he has the feeling of delight. (AC 5178)
- Anxiety is therefore “a natural effect in the body from a spiritual cause in the mind” (AC 7217). Anxiety is the resultant effect when an individual is deprived of spiritual heat (love) and spiritual light (truth). Such deprivation is self-initiated by ignoring conscience or principles of right living. When we obey conscience and our principles of doctrine for life we gain a new freedom and a new power which we have by virtue of the influx of good (spiritual heat) and truth (spiritual light) from the Spiritual Sun.
- Anxiety is a built in spiritual operation in our natural mind. There are hierarchies of anxiety caused by falsifying truths that flow in from the spiritual mind. All falsification or distortion of truth has consequences for the mind’s health and functioning. In non-theistic psychology we do not discuss “truth” in this way. Instead there is a tendency to avoid the concept of ‘absolute truth’ in favor of ‘relative truth.’ People associate the idea of absolute truth with dogma, not science. non-theistic science hates the idea of absolute truth while theistic science considers all Divine scientific revelations as absolute truth. The expression “absolute truth” is often invoked within the context of religious fundamentalism. Dogma however is not absolute truth because it comes not from sacred scripture but the incomplete wisdom and rationality of human beings who formulate dogma from sacred scripture. The dogma and the sacred scripture are as different as the number 1 is far apart from infinity.
- Because of dogma the concept of absolute truth has a bad reputation, but what people mean to reject is not absolute truth revealed by God but dogma invented by human beings misguided by their religious fervor. The fact is that everything God communicates to the human race in terms of revelation is absolute truth since it is Divine and God is absolutely perfect and infinite — omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, as defined by most dictionaries.
- Here is further evidence Swedenborg presents about types of anxiety:
- I have also noticed another kind of influx which does not take place through the spirits present with a person but through others who are sent out from some community in hell to the sphere emanating from that person’s life. They talk among themselves about the kinds of things that are unacceptable to the person, which results generally in a flowing into him of what is in many different ways troublesome, unpleasant, dejecting, and worrying. Such spirits have often been present with me, when I have experienced in the province of my stomach those who poured in feelings of anxiety – not that I knew where the feelings came from. Yet on every occasion I found out who they were, and then I heard them talking to one another about the kinds of things that were unacceptable to my affections. Avaricious spirits in the same region have sometimes been visible, though in a slightly higher position; they have poured in the kind of anxiety that results from concern for the future. I have also been allowed to rebuke those spirits and to tell them that they correlate with undigested food in the stomach which produces bad breath and so is nauseating. I have also seen them being driven away; and once they were driven away, anxiety completely disappeared. I have had this experience a number of times so that I could be quite certain that those spirits were the source of the trouble.
-  This is the kind of influx that takes place among those who for no good reason are anxious and depressed, and also among those who are undergoing spiritual temptation. During temptation however there is not only a general influx of such spirits but also a particular stirring up by spirits from hell of the evils the person has put into practice. ‘Those spirits also pervert and put a wrong interpretation on the forms of good that the angels use to fight with in temptation. A state such as this is what the person who is being regenerated enters by being let down into what is wholly his own. And this happens when he immerses himself too much in worldly and bodily interests and needs to be raised towards spiritual ones. (AC 6202)
- In otter words when spirits are in a situation to inflow into our spiritual body they do so and the resultant effect is felt as negative emotions. Note also that spirits who communicate with our spiritual body are able to perceive the content of our memories and affective inclinations. This is a common way spirits interact with each other. Swedenborg’s dual consciousness put him in the position of observing two interconnected events simultaneously, one spiritual and the other natural. The spiritual event was observing the spirits approaching his spiritual body and hearing what they were talking about. The natural event was the reaction he felt in his physical body, in this case the stomach. In this way he proved the effect of the spiritual mind over the physical body, an effect produced by correspondence. Furthermore, when they withdrew, the sensation of nausea from the stomach ceased instantly, but when they approached again, the sensation was back.
- From the next paragraph we can see that anxiety and worry are resultant emotions when the mind is “deprived of the affection of good and the thought of truth”: The more internal the love and truth, that is the more spiritual-rational they are, the greater the fear, anxiety, and worry at the thought of losing them:
- Those who cannot be reformed do not at all know what it is to grieve on account of being deprived of truths; for they suppose that no one can feel in the least anxious about such a thing. The only anxiety they believe to be possible is on account of being deprived of the goods of the body and the world; such as health, honors, reputation, wealth, and life. But they who can be reformed believe altogether differently: these are kept by the Divine-Human in the affection of good and in the thought of truth; and therefore they come into anxiety when deprived of this thought and affection.
-  It is known that all anxiety and grief arise from being deprived of the things with which we are affected, or which we love. They who are affected only with corporeal and worldly things, or who love such things only, grieve when they are deprived of them; but they who are affected with spiritual goods and truths and love them, grieve when they are deprived of them. Everyone’s life is nothing but affection or love. Hence it is evident what is the state of those who are desolated as to the goods and truths with which they are affected, or which they love, namely, that their state of grief is more severe, because more internal; and in the deprivation of good and truth they do not regard the death of the body, for which they do not care, but eternal death. (AC 2689)
A Sermon by the Rev. Erik J. Buss
What is anxiety? Many of us feel anxious about our jobs, or our marriages, or our friendships, or our children, quite regularly. We have all probably felt that tightening of our stomach that comes with feelings of anxiety. Maybe we can’t fall asleep at night, because we just can’t stop worrying about our latest problem. Yet how many of us could give a good definition of anxiety, one that would tell us where the true causes of it lie? When is anxiety good, spurring us to act, and when is it destructive, paralyzing us with doubt? Here are some of the teachings of the New Church on the subject.
First, we need to ask ourselves what exactly anxiety is. We often say “I’m a bit tense today” or speak of feeling anxious about something. But aren’t we normally describing the symptoms? We say we are anxious or tense when we feel tension in our shoulders or stomach, or when we get a certain kind of headache, or when we get irritable for no reason, or when we feel unaccountably tired. Even Webster’s Dictionary defines anxiety as a “painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind, usually over an impending or anticipated ill.” It goes on to describe how it can show itself as sweating, tension, increased pulse. This definition is describing symptoms.
The definition that Swedenborg’s Writings give goes to the root of the problem of anxiety. This definition is that anxiety arises “from being deprived of what … which we love. Those who are affected only with bodily and worldly pleasures, or who love only such concerns, grieve when they are deprived of them; but those who are affected with spiritual goods and truths and love them, grieve when they are deprived of them” (AC 2689:2). Isn’t that so simple and clear, encompassing all kinds of anxiety? If we feel anxious about getting up in front of a crowd or talking to a stranger, isn’t it from fear of losing that person’s good opinion of us by coming across as stupid or wrong? When we feel anxious about whether we are good enough to get to heaven, aren’t we fearing that we will lose the good in heaven which we love? When we feel anxious about making a long-term commitment in a relationship, don’t we fear losing our self-respect if that person dumps us because we opened up to them and they rejected what they saw, or if we make a big mistake and blow it ourselves?
The teachings for the New Church tell us even more about the source of anxiety. Anxiety is caused by the presence of spirits with us. The spiritual world is very real, and influences us all the time. Some spirits delight in stirring up our minds and making us feel anxious. Why is this significant to us? Well, isn’t it easier to fight someone else than to fight against ourselves? When we see anxiety as coming from a source outside of ourselves, we don’t have to chastise ourselves for feeling anxious, afraid or depressed. We can chastise the spirits with us. And instead of asking the Lord to, as it were, carve out the evil part of us, we can ask Him to cut off the influence of these spirits. In other words, by recognizing that anxiety comes from spirits with us, we objectify our problem and make it easier to deal with.
We can be helped by recognizing that anxiety is a fear of losing something we love, and comes from spirits with us. However, we need to distinguish what kind of anxiety it is. Some kinds of anxiety are useful for us to feel, and some are destructive. For instance, the Swedenborg says that we always feel anxiety when we are tempted. When we are tempted some good love we have is threatened and we come to doubt that it can survive this onslaught of evil it is facing. A person can have his commitment to a spouse tempted by a strong desire to commit adultery. This desire threatens the marriage, and because the person loves the marriage he feels anxiety about the conflict. If he didn’t love marriage, the thought of cheating would cause no anxiety and there would be no temptation. He wouldn’t even stop to think about not doing it.
Another reason the Lord allows us to feel anxiety for a good reason is to spur us to action. For instance, if we have done something wrong, the pangs of conscience we feel immediately afterward cause anxiety. That is good, because the feeling makes us resolved not to do it again. The Lord also allows us to feel anxiety when we learn a new truth and realize that it is telling us we need to change our lives. In this instance we are probably feeling anxiety at having to give up an evil way of living that we don’t want to. For example, a businessperson who realizes that not telling the whole truth about his product is actually lying and stealing might feel anxiety that he will lose business or his position in his company if he changes to a more honest approach and doesn’t make as many sales.
Anxiety does not have to focus on a loss we personally will feel. A person can feel anxiety at being unable to help other people she loves.
For instance, parents often have to let children make choices that they know are damaging to them. They won’t stop the child because they respect the child’s right to make choices. Parents can feel lots of anxiety and fear for the child because they know he is damaging good loves from the Lord. Worry for others probably feels worse than any other kind of anxiety because there is nothing we can do to make the problem go away. All we can do is trust that the Lord is taking care of that person as well as anyone possibly could.
Misfortune and grief we experience also can make us feel anxiety. This is good because it can cause us to elevate our thoughts to spiritual issues. It gives us a chance to think about the Lord’s governance of the world and our own lives. For instance, the pain and suffering of many in the world has caused anxiety for many. It has led them to wonder why God allows these events, and what it says about the nature of God, of His respect for our free will, of the nature of evil, and how we respond to it. Because a value is threatened – in this instance our love for peace, we can feel anxiety even though nothing threatens us directly.
These kinds of anxiety are good because they all arise from a good love. They are a sign that we are spiritually healthy. If we didn’t have good loves, we wouldn’t feel these kinds of anxiety. The challenge we face is that a good feeling can turn into something destructive if we focus too much on it. One of the leading causes of destructive anxiety comes from focusing too much on something that once was positive. For instance, the anxiety we feel in temptation, which makes us feel that we will never get to heaven, is good because it makes us realize how much we need the Lord’s help. However, when we dwell on it and lament about our evil and wonder whether it is worth the effort to try being good since we are on our way to hell anyway, then the anxiety becomes destructive. Similarly, a parent can feel a healthy worry for a child who is choosing a harmful path, but when they can’t stop thinking about it, can’t sleep because of it, and decide they are a worthless parent, that anxiety becomes destructive. Anxiety is like an adrenaline rush. It can be useful to push us through a hard time because it gives us that extra bit of energy we need. However, just as adrenaline is harmful to the body when it stays for too long, so anxiety becomes destructive when we dwell on it.
Another major cause of anxiety that is destructive is fear of losing something in the future that is not essential to our long-term happiness. It is so easy to get caught up in our worldly possessions that we lose track of their importance. Money can easily become the foremost issue in our lives, even when we have enough and to spare. The Lord teaches that good people are not anxious, and that they define care for the morrow, or unnecessary anxiety as “suffering about losing or not receiving things that are not necessary to life’s useful employments” (HH 278:2). In other words, they worry about money only when it impacts on their ability to be useful people.
I should mention one other cause for anxiety that the Heavenly Doctrines for the New Church give. That is mental disorder of some sort. If our minds are disturbed, we are wide open to the influence of our destructive tendencies, to hell within ourselves. We can find ourselves anxious over every little problem without any cause. Although everyone needs the Lord’s help in their lives, these people need to get their bodies and minds fixed before the Lord can work with their spirits. This is an important factor to be aware of.
Isn’t it interesting that the Lord gives us many good reasons why we might feel anxious, but only a few that are destructive? Maybe this fact can lead us to look at anxiety in a different light. Maybe we can see that much of the time we feel it, it is productive, some sadness the Lord is allowing us to feel now so we can feel greater happiness later. As with anything good the Lord gives us, the hells affecting us will try to turn it into something destructive. But in itself, anxiety is a useful tool.
With this idea in mind, we can approach anxiety with a far more calm attitude. We can ask ourselves, “Is this anxiety now serving any useful purpose? Am I motivated to do what is useful? Am I acting in a loving way because of it?” If yes, we can say a quiet thank you to the Lord for it. If not, we can reject it as an influence of hell, something we want to have nothing to do with. Either way, we are in control of our anxiety, instead of having it control us.
One final teaching about anxiety offers us a hope for what our lives can become like. It is that anxiety becomes less and less an issue in our lives as we progress spiritually. Most of us are probably at the point where the Lord’s words about worrying apply to us: “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.” As we become more advanced, we become more content in the Lord and become more willing to accept the Lord’s guidance in our lives. Listen to the description of how angelic people think about the events that occur in their lives: “Very different is the case with those who trust in the Divine. These people, despite the fact that they are concerned about future events, still are not, because they do not think of the morrow with worry, still less with anxiety. Their spirit is unruffled whether they obtain the objects of their desire, or not; and they do not grieve over the loss of them, being content with their lot. If they become rich, they do not set their hearts on riches; if they are raised to honors, they do not regard themselves as more worthy than others; if they become poor, they are not made sad; if their circumstances are meager, they are not dejected. They know that for those who trust in the Divine all things advance toward a happy state to eternity, and that whatever befalls them in time still leads towards it.” (AC 8478:3). We can all eventually come to feel this in our hearts. For now, we can be content that the Lord is slowly guiding us to that time when anxiety will no longer be an issue in our lives. We can use the anxiety we feel to become happier, more productive people.
Lessons: Matt 6:25-34, AC 2689:2, AC 8478:3
Discovering inner health and transformation
Health screening programmes are becoming increasingly popular since early intervention has a better chance of success than when trying to cure a chronic condition. Many people in the UK who have nothing wrong with them are offered free health screening.
Two examples are a test for bowel cancer and one for an abdominal aortic aneurysm. The first assessment involves people gathering and posting off samples of faeces and the second attending a clinic for an ultrasound test. Large aneurysms are rare but can be very serious as they might burst.
Some individuals are reluctant to spend time complying with screening if there is nothing wrong with them especially if follow-up testing promises to be time-consuming and not without any financial penalty. Some people fear screening might reveal something physically unusual or abnormal which they consider may not be significant in terms of well-being and functioning. A particular screening test might be known to be liable to false alarms. Some might be put off the tests because of subsequent treatments – such as chemotherapy or surgery – having known negative side effects, as serious as incontinence or impotence.
However, given the care taken, by the public authorities who offer screening, to first examine all the medical considerations, there is a question that arises. Are those people, with doubts about screening, being negatively swayed by their deeper beliefs and attitudes regarding life and death? Perhaps it is difficult to disentangle the affects of religion, culture and personal bias on personal choice. Here are 6 attitudes which seem to be relevant.
Screening will trigger anxiety about dangerous disease
Some people won’t mention the word ‘cancer’ which for them is a taboo word. Pain, and death seem such awful things that they feel that “when you have no symptoms of any problem, advertised screening tests can make you anxious when you really didn’t need to be.”
Rather than use avoidance I would say a more rational approach is to honestly face anything bad and then you can have a hope of dealing with it. My own spiritual belief is that we can face the possibility of bad news with equanimity knowing that we can only cope with what we can cope with and the rest is in God’s hands. Furthermore I feel I can face death relatively calmly in the light of what has been revealed regarding the spiritual world described by Emanuel Swedenborg from his own experience.
Better to retain personal autonomy than become a dependent patient
The macho male wants to cling to an image of manhood as one of power through independence. Such a man will resist the prospect of being vulnerable in illness and be anxious to avoid finding out that he will be ill or infirm. I would suggest he does rather need to swallow his male pride and realise one doesn’t have to be a hypochondriac to be concerned to do what you can to have an illness diagnosed.
Screening is unnecessary as God will cure those who pray for healing
This is the view that medical treatment is unnecessary because only God can cure disease. Is it not magical thinking if people were to pray for and expect physical healing? It is as if God were a giant genie at the beck and call of every human whim. An alternative religious view is that God provides for our eternal needs and works through medicine to deal when it can with our temporary ones. After all even the most devoutly religious people can end up getting sick.
Screening is useless as you can’t change your fate
Some people believe it doesn’t matter what they decide because their future is written in the stars and what will be will be. Sometimes this fatalistic attitude is accompanied with a view that medical treatment cannot help because of the law of karma since “We reap what we sow”: and so acting irresponsibly, if not in this life then in a previous one, (e.g. adopting bad diet, smoking, excessive alcohol) will result in unchangeable consequences.
The modern medical view however is whilst life-style undoubtedly is an important factor in causing disease, one’s health can be improved by appropriate treatment if needed. For mainstream Christianity, the future may be foreseen by God, but not predestined, for what is foreseen depends on our personal choices now; our inner free-will enabling us to create our own destiny.
Disease is deserved punishment from God
This is the notion that if you are ill, it is the will of God. In line with this belief, disease is seen as a punishment for immoral behaviour from a punitive God. For example we find the attitude “HIV and cervical cancer is caused by promiscuity and so one must take one’s deserved punishment for immoral conduct.”
I favour an alternative view that God is not punitive but compassionate. I would say we are allowed to suffer the consequences of our personal choices if this helps towards learning the lessons of life but a loving God punishes no one for any past misdeed.
Screening is relevant to leading life to the full
It is difficult to fault this belief. I am probably in danger of sounding sanctimonious, but I feel I should be doing all I can to live my life to the full, choosing to help the lives of my loved ones and those around me be as happy as I can. Allowing a disease to go undetected, and thus untreated, could be unnecessarily burdening a future carer. This for me is the clinching reason for making the effort to attend medical screening appointments.
Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Posted on25th May 2014
Discovering inner health and transformation
Emily aged 85 went into hospital. Her home is a nursing care home. She cannot support her own weight and needs a hoist and wheelchair to get her to the toilet and dining room. She is able to sit in an armchair and watches television. She has several diseases necessitating a good deal of staff time and medication. These are Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Her mood is okay and she is able to converse in a limited way with staff and her visitors.
Prolonging life of patients like Emily
However the quality of life changes when she gets a chest or urinary tract infection to which she is vulnerable. At these times she has breathing problems and becomes uncommunicative. These problems have resulted in several hospital admissions in recent months. Only in hospital can adequate treatment be provided eg monitoring machines, scans, medical expertise on hand, adequate amounts of needed oxygen and so on. When in hospital at first she becomes agitated and more confused and then later fed up not being in her own room at the care home where she sees familiar faces.
The question arises: how many times should a very ill and infirm person near the end of life be given repeated inpatient episodes of hospital treatment. When is prolonging life inappropriate?
It used to be said that pneumonia was the old person’s friend because, although it resulted in death, it took away suffering caused by other serious ailments such as from advanced dementia, cancer, or kidney disease.
Even if physician assisted suicide and euthanasia are rejected, end-of-life care for elderly people with chronic diseases involves difficult clinical and ethical judgments. Such conditions won’t easily go away despite the best that medicine can offer. Palliative care means doctors and nurses do their best to reduce discomfort and pain and improve the quality of the patient’s life whether or not there is hope of a cure by other means.
Prolonging life within the context of professional ethics
Doctors and nurses practice within a framework of professional ethics for example principles of informed patient choice, maximising good, not causing harm, and providing what is thought the patient has a right to receive. All medical treatments involve risks and benefits. Health staff try to get the best balance between interventionist treatment that directly tackles disease and palliative care. These however have different goals and sometimes suggest opposing clinical plans.
Good end of life care means neither hastening death nor unnecessarily prolonging life. Unfortunately it seems that sometimes inevitably one of these consequences will result.
Should one decline to give emergency resuscitation to someone where no improvement in their suffering is likely to result from further living? Should hydration and nutrition not be forced via tubes into the body when the patient is unwilling to drink or eat? Should more effective higher levels of sedative be given to patients in pain although this increases the risk of death? This seems suspiciously like inappropriately prolonging life.
To my way of thinking, the trouble is health professionals are expected to try to cure us. Those health care staff practicing palliative care do not always receive support from family members, other healthcare professionals, or their social peers for their work to reduce suffering and follow patients’ wishes for end-of-life care.
Negative attitudes towards palliative care
N.E. Goldstein and colleagues did a survey and found that more than half of doctors who practice palliative care report that a patient’s family members, or another health care professional had characterized their work as being “euthanasia”, “murder”, or “killing” during the previous five years. And so I do wonder if inadvertently doctors err on the side of prolonging life unnecessarily for fear of being criticised for harming patients by not being interventionist.
They practice in a world where anxiety about death is common and where medicine cannot sanitize dying. Fear of death is pretty widespread and so no wonder it exerts a powerful effect on attitudes to end of life care. Does acceptance of death mean one is able to lean towards palliative care rather than towards interventionist treatment?
Psychological research has found that the fear of death is made up of a number of different fears. For example a study by James Diggory and Doreen Rothman found that the following are common fears about death in descending order of importance:
- My death would cause grief to my relatives and friends
- All my plans and projects would come to an end
- The process of dying might be painful
- I could no longer have any experiences
- I would no longer be able to care for my dependents
- I am afraid of what might happen to me if there is a life after death
- I am afraid of what might happen to my body after death.
Emanuel Swedenborg has given a vivid account of life after death from his personal experiences in the eighteenth century. What he says is often echoed since in the accounts of mediums, those having near death experiences (NDE’s), and those receiving brief communications from the other side (ADC’s). All show a continuation of life similar to what we are familiar in the physical world, albeit in a world of spirit where one’s inner life of experience and character are more apparent.
Is difficulty in confronting attitudes to death in Western culture affecting the way hospitals actively treat elderly people with serious illness at the end of their useful life in the world?
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problem
Posted on29th November 2012
WORRY CAN’T CHANGE OUR PAST OR FUTURE, BUT IT CAN RUIN THE PRESENT.
During stressful times, when unpaid taxes still lie on the table, the children argue upstairs, and images of war flash across the news, hope and patience seem hard to come by. Worry seems inevitable. But how much can we really gain from our furrowed brow? Consider this quote: “Worry is like a good rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” Another way to think of the futility of worry is to imagine someone carrying around a suitcase of old junk that he doesn’t use. If he complained to you about his aching back, wouldn’t you suggest he drop the suitcase?
But we tend to do the same thing, feeling troubled, tired, and pulled off-balance. We hang on to our burden because (we think) something bad might happen if we let it go. But the answer is so easy. If we simply let go—if we trust in the Lord—we suddenly feel lighter.
We hear this same message from the Lord’s own mouth when He says to His disciples, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them…. Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Luke 12:22–24).
If we try to take the Lord’s command seriously, and avoid the habit of worrying, we can make a distinct difference in our inner nature. In the Heavenly Doctrines given through Emanuel Swedenborg, the book Secrets of Heaven 8474 describes the type of people who worry about the future: “They are not content with their lot, do not trust in God but in themselves, and have solely worldly and earthly things in view, not heavenly ones. These people are ruled completely by anxiety for the future….”
The passage goes on to describe, on the other hand, the kind of people who trust in the Lord: “Those who trust in the Divine are altogether different…in that they are not anxious, let alone worried, when they give thought to the morrow… They know that for those who trust in the Divine all things are moving toward an everlasting state of happiness….”
Whenever worry enters our minds, another emotion tends to tag along with it: impatience. Often we grow impatient by worrying that life won’t turn out the way we think it should. We may unconsciously say to ourselves, “The Lord can’t handle it, so I’m going to worry for Him.”
Consider the following Biblical story, where King Saul becomes impatient with the Lord’s command, and relies on his own judgment instead. The setting is this: the Philistines have accumulated a huge army, and Saul is waiting for Samuel to offer sacrifices so he can go into battle with the Lord as his ally. “[Saul] waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. So Saul said, ‘Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.’” As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came” (I Samuel 13:8–11). When Samuel shows up, he’s not happy with Saul. He says, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. . . .now your kingdom shall not continue” (I Samuel 13:8–11, 13–14).
Just as Saul—when facing his enemies—worries about the risk of patiently following the Lord’s orders, we tend to feel the same way when we’re under pressure. We worry that if we follow the Lord’s way, it won’t turn out the way we want it to. Because of this impatience, worry, and lack of trust, Saul lost his kingdom. We also may lose out when we become impatient. Specifically, we lose:
Enjoyment of the situation. We think about being somewhere else or being with someone else, so we lose the delight of that moment. Infidelity thrives on this notion. Consider this quote: “A happy marriage is not about finding the right person. It’s about being the right person in the relationship.”
Forward spiritual progress. If we aren’t thinking about the present, we’re either worrying about the past or the future. We get concerned with time, and this skews our perception. We think physical, lower thoughts, and we forget higher matters. Worry can’t change our past or future, but it can ruin the present. When we dwell on the past or future, we lack motivation to make progress now.
Trust in the Lord. We begin to think the Lord isn’t managing the universe very well. Just as Saul lost the kingdom because he trusted his own agenda, when we trust in our own ideas, we make poor decisions. Scholar Christopher Syn wrote, “Anxiety springs from the desire that things should happen as we wish rather than as God wills.” This causes us to lose the kingdom—the happiness—the Lord wants us all to have.
So how can we achieve real patience, and gain back these things we’ve lost? First, we can make an effort to find contentment with what we have, and focus on being that person who is kind and loving rather than looking for that person elsewhere. Second, we can strive to make the best of our present situation, looking for opportunities to use our talents and reach out to others. And, finally, we can trust the Lord to bring good out of every situation, believing that what He says in His Word is true.
In his work, Secrets of Heaven (3827), Swedenborg explains how we can rise above impatience to an angelic state of love and acceptance, where time no longer matters: “When you are in a state of love…you are in an angelic state, that is to say, as if not in time…. For impatience is a bodily affection, and insofar as you are in it, so far you are in time…. By the affection of genuine love, we are withdrawn from bodily and worldly things, for our mind is elevated toward heaven and thus is withdrawn from things of time.”
In other words, if we focus on the fact that we’re not enjoying something, it becomes tedious. A student squirming in a class believes there’s somewhere else he needs to be. As soon as that bell rings, his whole world seems to change. But has it? We live in the world of our mind, our heart, our thoughts. A bell doesn’t change that world, but what we attach to that bell—our attitude—can change. Patience comes from being withdrawn from worldly things. When we learn to love and accept the situation we’re in, we find the power to change—not the situation—but our perspective. Because when we love something, we’re not paying attention to time.
Life is often compared to a journey. We can shuffle our feet and mope about the path we’re taking, but anxiety and impatience don’t change our speed or route. Instead, we can enjoy the scenery, confident that the direction of the stream of Divine Providence will steer us toward a more beautiful vista. So don’t waste today worrying. Cast your burden on the Lord. Take a glance at the flowers, or listen to the birds, and remember that the Lord is taking perfect care of each one of us, in every single moment.
I could go on at length on this track and do habitually get stuck in this grove of projecting my fears onto the future.
It’s very depleting, energetically, and does no good at all; I feel like a hamster on a treadmill. Things are out of my control and the whole worrying bit is pointless. When I am in more rational moments and less stressed I can see that this is so.
One of the tools I use is to ask myself ‘does it really matter?’ In the great scheme of things does it really matter if things don’t go the way I want them to or turn out different from what I intended. At times I get hung up on the little things and forget the bigger picture.
With hindsight I recognise that when things go pear-shaped it is often a huge learning opportunity. When I wasn’t employed in a job that I had trained for it set me free to explore other possibilities and work in a different way. Often what I was stressing about never actually happened – all that wasted energy worrying!
Another tool I have come to use and remember is to be in the moment. If I’m focused on the future (or past for that matter) I’m never actually living in the moment. Very young children have a wonderful way of just being in the moment – in watching the attention of a little child placing toy bricks in a bag and taking them out again I see this played out. All the child’s focus is on what is happening in the now. How often do we adults give ourselves to the moment like this? I guess that a painter or other creative person does get lost in the energy of creating – in self-forgetfulness.
Life is for living not frittering it away in placing one’s attention in past or future. Each moment is precious and pregnant with opportunity.
However by far the greatest tool is to remind oneself that Divine Love is constant and has its focus on bringing goodness and happiness to each person whatever their circumstances. When I view things from ego this doesn’t seem to be the case when things don’t go my way or what I think is right doesn’t occur. To let that go and trust in the Divine plan that I cannot see may seem impossible and foolhardy if viewed from a worldly or superficial mindset. To love what is the highest good for all brings me into alignment and may be acceptance that difficult times are part of the way forward.
All this reminds me of the prayer below….
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Furthermore this quote from Swedenborg highlights the importance of trust in the Divine ……
There are many currents in people’s lives. One current is stronger and at the same time gentler than the rest, though this may seem like a paradox. It is the stream of Divine providence. Sometimes the quest for the spiritual life isn’t so much a matter of a tenacious search or struggle to change, but rather a letting go. Simply acknowledging and accepting that God is leading and that we are following can change us. ( Way of Wisdom)
Copyright 2013 Helen Brown
Posted on13th July 2013
We can’t all escape to a cave to gaze at our navels all week in silent contemplation. That’s the trouble – we can’t get away from life itself with its daily frustrations and setbacks. It’s what takes away our peace of mind. The fact that we have a burning desire for certain things means that we are likely to feel tense or angry if anything turns up to prevent us having them.
According to the spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, there are basically three kinds of things we love and so when these are threatened or lost, there are three ways peace of mind can allude us.
Firstly, everyone is concerned to some extent for self and so we all feel uneasy when what we need is under threat. Who doesn’t want a secure livelihood and so get angry when losing their job during a recession? We feel anxious if there is a risk to our social status and the good regard of others. Anxiety arises when health is threatened by illness.
Secondly, one can be concerned for others and feel worried for their sake. The media reflect a widespread horror at the plight of starving people in an overseas famine and those suffering destruction of their homes due to a natural disaster. Our hearts go out to them and we feel disturbed by the pictures we see on the television news.
Thirdly, we love what we value as good and true. How such values cause distress is more difficult to spot. But we know how up-tight people can get when their favourite work of art, political stance, or religious belief is under threat. Don’t we feel guilty if we go against our own values and principles or uncomfortable if they are undermined by what others say?
Unease, anxiety, worry, horror, disturbance, distress, feeling uptight, guilty feelings and discomfort all take away peace of mind. These feelings derive from what we love. Get what we love in the right order then our fears gain a higher perspective.
There is an ancient Taoist parable that tells of an old man and his son who lived alone in poor conditions. Their only possession of value was a horse.
One day, the horse ran away. The neighbours came by to offer sympathy, telling the old man how unlucky he was. `How do you know?’ asked the old man.
The following day the horse returned, bringing with it several wild horses, which the old man and his son locked inside their gate. This time the neighbours hurried over to congratulate the old man on his good fortune. `How do you know?’ asked the old man.
The next thing that happened was that his son tried to ride one of the wild horses but fell off and broke his leg. The neighbours were quick to tell the old man that this was a disastrous turn of events. `How do you know?’ asked the old man.
Soon after, the army came through, press-ganging young men into service to fight a battle far away. All the local young men were taken – except the old man’s son, because his leg was broken.
The old man had peace of mind. A deeper kind of reflection less attached to the things of the world opens the interiors of the mind. But fear and anger close them. Being too tied to what is going on around us makes it difficult to assess from our limited perspective whether an event is good or bad.
A young woman patient of Carl Gustav Jung’s was proving very difficult to help in therapy because she was keeping her personal feelings to herself only conversing on an intellectual level. She had had a dream in which someone had given her a golden scarab – a costly piece of jewellery.
While she was telling Jung about this dream, he heard something behind him gently tapping on the window. He turned round and saw that it was a large flying insect knocking against the window-pane in an apparent effort to get into the dark room. This seemed to him to be very strange. He opened the window immediately and caught the insect in the air as it flew in. It was a scarabaeid beetle (Cetonia aurata) whose gold-green colour most nearly resembles that of a golden scarab. He handed it to his patient with the words, “Here is your scarab.” This moving experience broke the ice of her intellectual resistance and we are told treatment continued with satisfactory results.
Carl Jung gives this as an example of what he calls `synchronicity’. This notion was his answer to the puzzle of why people sometimes experience meaningful coincidences in their lives that are inexplicable and apparently not due to what might be expected from chance. At first sight this sounds a bit like the magical beliefs of so-called primitive people for whom no accident, change in the weather or the health of the villagers is ever thought to be attributable to natural causes. Everything is somehow due to magical influence. Jung does not go this far.
Nevertheless, he does say that synchronicity is one of the things that influences our lives as well along with natural causes. It is relevant when we are trying to fathom our experience of any purposeful trends in our affairs. The synchronous experience is said to occur when two kinds of reality (i.e. the inner and outer) intersect.
I think we can be more specific regarding such experiences. Swedenborg writes that there is a divine providence that is quietly looking after our deepest needs. It hides itself but we might detect it when later we notice things working out for the best. Only later, if we reflect on what has happened to us, may we possibly comprehend that various separate strands of our life have been knit together.
For example, we might later appreciate how we have been nurtured deep down, how the mess and muddle we make of our own lives has been cleaned up, and how new and interesting paths for us to follow have been illuminated. I feel attracted to the idea that we experience peace of mind when we never allow ourselves to trust in our own intelligence but instead contentedly allow ourselves to be carried along in the `stream of divine providence’ making the best of our opportunities. For when self-orientation no longer rules our hearts, then we rise above our worries concerning the transient things of the world and instead come to rely on the things of divine spirit.
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
My wife and I have a pet cat called Geoffrey. We have got to know him quite well – his eating, relaxing, communication, play, and so on. Animals live on an entirely natural level and I realise it would be a mistake to attribute human emotions to them. But is there anything we can learn from our pets about the deeper side of life? Any thing about them that points us to an ideal way of human living?
Contentment in our pet
We often see Geoffrey lying on his side with his paws stretched out in front of him, with a sleepy look on his face and with half closed eyes. Very different from a cat who swishes its tail, has ruffled-up fur or is heard hissing. Sometimes he may roll over on to his side to show his tummy, communicating that he feels relaxed enough to expose such a vulnerable area.
Sometimes I wish I could be as relaxed as our pet and delight in simple pleasures. He doesn’t put himself under unnecessary stress. If a dog barked at him, which happens occasionally, he shows no after-effects. Unlike us e.g. who, when shouted at by an angry car driver, would likely be a bit tense for a while afterwards.
Anyone who has tried to meditate will realise that the mind is restless. Inwardly we jump from one worry to the next, one guilty secret to another. Inwardly chattering away, the mind has a mind of its own, creating unnecessary emotions like anxiety, anger or gloominess. Our cat is showing us the importance of stilling and calming the mind. You can learn to do this, if you don’t do so already, by creating space in your day for quiet reflection, meditation or prayer.
Awareness in our pet
If we change the furniture round in our home or introduce any sort of change outdoors, Geoffrey soon looks into every nook and cranny. Our neighbour once saw him exploring over 40 feet up the trunk of a high tree. They say ‘curiosity killed the cat’ but ours is still alive and well.
I wonder if we are sufficiently willing to explore what is really going on around us. Are you awake to the ‘here and now’ rather than focusing on automatic habits of thought?
“The past is history,
The future is mystery,
This moment is a gift.
Which is why it is called ‘the present’. “
(By an unknown poet)
Are you sufficiently curious about what others think so as to become a better listener? People convey an enormous amount of information about themselves through subtle movements and tones of voice.
Do you notice things of beauty in what is going on around you? A child playing, moonlight shimmering on the water, a tree swaying in the wind. Are you fully aware of your physical and social surroundings and want to investigate them?
Independence in our pet
You can’t herd cats. Like all of them, Geoffrey shows independence. He is quite happy to spend time on his own each day. He responds to enticement rather than ordering around. A clicking of the fingers and verbal encouragement can get his attention and interest in coming over to me. But unlike a trained dog ordered to ‘heel’, he won’t do as he is told.
A quality of independence is something one needs in order to be a spiritual thinker in the face of materialistic society. Without individual reflection and perception, how can one rise above the social pressures of the crowd.
Non-aggression in our pet
Another quality in our pet cat is non-aggression. The public walk their dogs off the lead along the woodland public right of way that goes right through our garden. Geoffrey has learned to watch carefully. He is quick to avoid danger of being chased. He runs away or climbs a tree when he sees a threat. Only when cornered by a barking dog will he flatten his ears and hiss as a warning to stay back. He could cause painful injury lashing out with his sharp claws but most cats only attack defensively as a last resort in such a situation.
Some of us have a tendency to show hostility to others after little provocation. It is as if we believe ‘attack is the best form of defense.’ Instead, shouldn’t we adopt a more socially acceptable form of non-aggressive behaviour to assert what we think is right and stick up for ourselves?
Friendliness in our pet
Geoffrey is our only pet and so we are the only social group he has. He likes to come to us for a fuss, perhaps a stroke or grooming or be allowed to lie on our laps. He purrs and sometimes tries to lick us at these times. So we get companionship and affection from him. When we are in the garden we often find him near by. There is a quarter of a mile walk along a woodland path from our home to get to where our car is parked and he invariably walks with us and stays waiting until we return sometimes several hours later. Then he greets us with a meow with tail up, pleased to see us again, sometimes rubbing his head against our legs.
Some of us are naturally more friendly and agreeable. Others of us are distant and less communicative. But I believe what our pet’s expression of affection suggests is the possible ideal of loving kindness. This is the feeling praised by all the world’s main spiritual and religious traditions.
The lesson here is not just expressing feeling – although that is important – but us having a generosity of spirit, being agreeable, kind, patient, tolerant, considerate and forgiving and even compassionate.
“Earth’s living creatures correspond to affections, the mild and useful ones to good affections, the fierce and useless ones to evil affections” (Emanuel Swedenborg mystical philosopher)
Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Constant worry and anxiety, which occurs for no apparent reason, interferes with day-to-day life. Sufferers are desperate to experience peace of mind and free themselves from the power of their condition.
Meditation can greatly help. By concentrating on one thing and neglecting all the unruly thoughts that come into the mind, many have found that meditating gradually enables them to find freedom from the hold of negative feelings.
The trouble is that those with a high degree of anxiety are the ones who find the discipline of meditation the most difficult to master. The intrusive worries feel too strong to ignore.
“In meditation, the source of strength is one’s self. When one prays, he goes to a source of strength greater than his own.” (Chinese leader, Chiang Kai-shek)
Perhaps praying is a less difficult option than meditation even if you have no clear religious belief. The spiritually orientated could focus the mind on a higher power beyond themselves which might be hoped to actually do something to make things better; such as the idea of Mother Nature, the Creative Life Force, or the Universal Mind. Religious believers focus their thoughts on their image of God, which for many Christians is the human form of Christ.
“The sovereign cure for worry is prayer.” (psychologist, William James)
So what does praying involve? Isn’t it just another form of self-reflection, or meditation?
Yes, in so far as praying in private includes sharing one’s concerns then it does involve an element of self-reflection. Some people allocate some spare time in the evening to write a private journal describing the difficulties and delights of their day. Others have the habit of going on an evening stroll mulling over events in a leisurely manner. Usually there is an inner concern, a question, or a problem one is pondering.
It is easier to reflect on what threatened your well-being when you are no longer face to face with the people and events which triggered your anxiety. In a reflective state of mind you can start to put into words what you are assuming rather than being carried around by one stray image or feeling after the other. In this way you gain some understanding. This is also part of talking therapy. The counsellor helps anxious people enter into a self-reflective state of mind so they can talk about their feelings and experiences and hear themselves talking about them thus starting to gain self-insight.
Praying to a Divine Counsellor
Praying can be thought of as connecting with and listening to a Divine Counsellor whilst sharing one’s personal concerns.
“Prayer is simply talking to God like a friend and should be the easiest thing we do each day.” (author & speaker, Joyce Meyer)
Praying can lead Christian believers to think about their lives in a different way by ‘putting on the mind of Christ’. In other words they feel that seeing their own fears and worries in the light of their image of what is truly wise and compassionate takes them out of themselves and raises their spirit to a higher level.
The way people in distress see their relationships with the human face of God can be a great source of comfort and strength to them. In their darkest hours many of them are sustained by their belief that they are loved by the source of all that is good and all will be well.
Isn’t praying simply a self-serving superstition?
“No god ever gave any man anything, nor ever answered any prayer at any time – nor ever will.” (atheist activist, Madalyn Murray O’Hair)
Yes, I believe praying can be self-serving in which case I do not think it is likely to be helpful. To give God a list of one’s requests sounds a bit like children making out a Christmas gift list for Father Christmas to bring down the chimney.
Roman prayers and sacrifices were often envisioned as legal bargains between deity and worshipper. A modern equivalent of this might be promising to donate money to charity only if God takes away one’s problems.
“The man who prays is the one who thinks that god has arranged matters all wrong, but who also thinks that he can instruct god how to put them right.” (journalist, Christopher Hitchens)
It is tempting to use prayer as a complaints desk – to pray expressing dissatisfaction, finding fault with others or accusing God of ignoring one’s predicament.
Who hasn’t at one time or other not tried to use prayer as a way of justifying one’s actions or claims?
Can praying for release from anxiety actually work?
My first response to this question is to say that if you don’t ask then you don’t get: why wouldn’t you chance your arm for something you are desperate to attain. Yet, in the Lord’s Prayer we are asking to let God’s will be done. Praying for what I want can be seen as an exercise in the exploration of my desire in the presence of God.
Perhaps there is something more important in ourselves that needs to change before we can be allowed to find peace and calm.
“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” (philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard)
Praying provides us with an opportunity to explore our desires and to probe beneath the surface. Underneath most desire is the ‘little me’ wanting what I want – attention, security, appreciation, getting my own way, social status, money, and so on. Maybe anxiety is associated with a threat to these cravings. In other words the thought pops into my head as I’m praying that there might be some meaning to my suffering. It is not being permitted without good reason.
Consequently, I believe it is a mistake to see prayer as a quick fix for personal problems that avoids the slow, hard work involved in personal healing and growth.
Much better to be praying for guidance. You might find that if an answer comes, the time and place it comes is unexpected.
Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
According to established research, one in four of us experience some form of mild mental health difficulty each year. Even if you do not suffer – what the medics call – identifiable psychiatric morbidity – nevertheless you still may feel bad; fed up, irritable, worried or distressed. In which case, if you are to be calm, contented and fulfilled, something needs to inwardly change. You may wonder if your spirit needs to heal, then can spiritual practices be of benefit?
Going on a retreat to heal distress
When life gets too stressful then you probably start looking at holiday brochures. If you can afford it getting away to some lovely place for couple of weeks, can be very attractive. A holiday allows us to escape from the responsibilities of home and work. Beautiful and inspiring settings may bring harmony into one’s life. When we get a rest from the ordinary strains of living, we may become emotionally refreshed.
A spiritual retreat may help one reconnect with one’s inner life, one’s hopes and aspirations, values and principles. The religious person may use some of the time to engage in self reflection and prayer with the aim of reconnecting with God.
Practising meditation to heal distress
Meditation is passively observing our experiences simply as mental events without personal attachment to them; trying to focus attention and suspend judgement whilst maintaining objectivity. A huge challenge I believe if you are suffering more than a mild degree of anxiety or depression.
However it is possible with repeated practice to learn to focus the mind and emotionally distance oneself from random thoughts and feelings. It needs self-discipline to sit down quietly staying focused on one thing at a time: not easy with a mind that is easily distracted by fearful thoughts and is prone to wander off into fantasy.
I would suggest that from a religious perspective, meditation — say on the words of sacred scripture — brings about calm because it involves transcending self-orientated concerns, opening up an inert life force, and gaining spiritual awareness of the Divine.
Adopting an attitude of mindfulness to heal distress
Those who advocate an attitude of mindfulness in the hum-drum of ordinary situations, claim it can bring about a greater attention to reality. This means being in the moment and getting absorbed in the here and now. For example being aware of one’s surroundings; listening more fully to what others are saying.
With this attitude of mind it is said we become less occupied by mistakes of the past and worries about the future for we see things as they are rather than in terms of our desires and fears.
Being mindful of habitual ways of thinking is central to a well researched form of therapy known as cognitive-behavioural therapy. Individuals with self-defeating and irrational thoughts, are helped to create and focus instead on constructive realistic ways of thinking. Focusing on how things really are means facing reality instead of fighting the experience of trying to make it something else.
From a religious perspective, being in the moment brings about a consciousness of what is called the eternal now. This is an illuminating perception that transcends time-bound concerns. It flows from a Divine Mind which is both present within and also beyond time and place.
Christians believe in this Holy Spirit of God whose presence many say they feel when sitting in silence to create a space in the heart for Him to find a home in.
They say, when you turn to this source, the Divine can flow more consciously into your experiences of life and you feel uplifted, creative, illuminated. When the love of self no longer rules your heart, then you rise above your worries concerning the transient things of the world.
Confessing guilty feelings to heal distress
Many distressed people are able gain self-insights and begin to acknowledge their guilty feelings with a non-judgmental counsellor. This confession would be meaningless without a degree of self-examination. It is all about searching one’s heart to discover any repeated desires that infringe one’s own principles — one’s own conscience of what is right and wrong in human conduct.
Would it not be nice if we could just change our bad feelings simply by better understanding them? Just having clearest self insight? However, according to the spiritual philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg, to heal the understanding with its thoughts and insights, is to heal a person only outwardly. What needs also to change is the inward aspect of the individual — what is felt, wanted and chosen. Therapy for the understanding alone would be like palliative healing, failing to touch the inner malignity.
Psychotherapists talk about resistance by the patient to making personal change because of self-insights that remain only on an intellectual level. Emotional acceptance of what change is needed is more of a wrench than mere acknowledgment because it means real acceptance of the consequences of giving up old ways, old pleasures and old attitudes.
One religious view is that unless we have a change of heart, we can easily retract something that we had only acknowledged in the mind the previous day. We may have recognised where we are going wrong but what is crucially important is an emotional acceptance of a way forward. Religion and psychotherapy are about personal change if they are about anything. The challenge of both is accepting a need to change.
From a modern Christian perspective, repentance is to do with wanting to change from ways of living that are recognised as self-defeating and unworthy.
Just as many alcoholics attending Alcoholics Anonymous may believe that they cannot cure themselves without surrendering to a higher power to help them conquer the demon drink, so religious people believe that it is God who heals the spirit, and it is the gift of healing that can transform the persons life and character through a process known as salvation. For them healing of the spirit takes place through a humble turning to God in prayer.
“Pythagoras said that … if the healing art is most Divine, it must occupy itself with the soul as well as with the body; for no creature can be sound so long as the higher part of it is sickly.” (Apollonius of Tyrana – Greek philosopher)
Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems