Discovering inner health and transformation
Sports fans are enthralled when they happen to witness something special – a great solo run, a penetrating pass, or a brilliant shot at goal from a seemingly impossible angle. The player has had an inspired moment which takes your breath away.
Brilliant insight can also take place in science, like when Archimedes jumped from his bath when he experienced a leap of understanding about the principle of displacement and when Kekule had a flash of illumination regarding the ring structure of the benzene molecule, when he imagined a snake chasing its tale.
Kenneth Ring, professor of psychology, has found that people have often been inspired by a near death experience to find a greater appreciation for life, greater compassion for others, a heightened sense of purpose, and greater planetary concern etc.
I would argue that inspiration can take place in every area of human activity — whether it be in musical composition, private meditation, poetry, the visual arts, military combat, technological invention or even political speech-making. Such moments involve clarity and vivid awareness of some new possibility. When inspiration takes place it raises our spirits and fills us with wonder.
Whatever one’s individual situation and personal experience, who wouldn’t want to feel inspired? Surely it would add excitement and greater interest to normal living. So what does it actually feel like to be inspired and how can you bring it on?
The common factor across all instances seems to be an awakening to something new, better or more important, and going beyond one’s previous concerns and habits of looking at things. Instead of being tied to the old way of doing something, a world of possibility opens up, and what is new is created. Some have said that this state of human consciousness is a spiritual gift which happens to you and takes you away from your normal self-serving limitations and puts you into closer contact with the divine spark.
Karrie Landsverk, educationalist and professional speaker, has suggested that inspiration can readily be seen in ordinary life.
“There are amazing people all around us doing every day things but doing so in a way that is inspiring. It may be they work or volunteer with a cheerful heart, they are always willing to lend a hand and stop what they are doing if someone is in need, they are always learning, they are always teaching, they are always creating and so on. Nature is inspiring and beautiful as it transforms throughout each season. God’s word is absolutely inspiring to meditate on each day. I agree our children’s innocence and pure hearts are some of the best inspiration we could ever find. The point is – open your eyes, look around and you can’t help but be inspired.”
Todd Thrash and Andrew Elliot at the University of Rochester have conducted some psychological research into some of the factors which may be conducive to inspiration. In line with Karrie Landsverk’s views, they found that openness to experience often came before inspiration, suggesting that those who are more open to inspiration are more likely to experience it. Also in line with her views they found a link with the spiritual: students studying the humanities such as art, religion and philosophy were more likely to feel inspired: these being all subjects concerned with transcendent values such as beauty, goodness and truth.
Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher, has written extensively regarding what he describes as the enlivening of the human spirit when you turn towards the spiritual with your heart as well as your mind. When you intend what is good then you will start to feel gratitude, joy, happiness, love. Then your understanding of the desirability of these things is no longer just in your head but also in your heart.
It is said that creative writing is 99% perspiration and one percent inspiration. While inspiration is not the same as effort, effort is an essential condition for inspiration. By acting on ones visionary insights you open the door to further inspiration.
Todd Thrash and Andrew Elliot would agree. They point out that both insight and the desire to act on it are both crucially important. The way they put it is to say that Yang (being inspired to) without Yin (being inspired by) is devoid of meaning and so Yin without Yang is spiritual stagnancy. In other words trying to act on one’s vision is the way to be open to further inspiration.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Posted on 14th November 2013
We asked readers of New Church Connection: “How has art positively impacted your spirituality and vice versa?”
Here are some of the answers we received. Tell us your experience by commenting below.
- I only feel creative if I’m humble, which only happens if I’m open to the flow of love from The Lord. (Glen, artist)
- The Word is the impetus behind our music. Sharing the stories in scripture brings healing and comfort. (Lori, singer-songwriter)
- Great question. To me art and spirituality are tied very closely together. Music is the art medium that resonates most with me personally. It can capture an emotion or a state of mind in such a powerful way. When trying to write a song, I almost always start with a feeling, and from there I just try to express it. I guess to really answer that question, I also have to define what spiritually is. I’m going to say that spirituality is the state of one’s heart. With that definition I would say that creating art is often about expressing my current state of spirituality. You might say that; as a selfie captures the state of one’s face, art captures the state of one’s heart.
I have also tried writing songs based on Bible stories, which was a really cool project for me. There’s this idea in education that a really good way to learn something, is to try teaching it to someone else. I felt there was a really similar principle happening while writing these Biblically based songs. It made me learn the story, internalize the meaning of the story, and then express that feeling. I could still tell you every tiny detail of the stories I wrote songs about.
I’ve been talking about writing songs, but I also get a lot out of listening to music. Everyone knows it can enhance whatever mood you are in, or bring you into a different mood. It can bring such joy, and I also love sad music. To me there’s a beauty in sad music. There’s an honesty in it that I find so powerful. It can help you realize what you are lacking, and what you really want. I think it also helps you empathize with people’s pain – which everyone has some of, even though we often hide it.
Another thing that comes to mind with this question is the Bible itself. I’ve been listening to Jonathan Rose’s “Spirit and Life Bible Study” and I’ve been realizing that the Bible is the coolest piece of art ever created. I almost feel like reading the Bible is an art in itself as well. There is so much imagery, so many connections and references throughout, and so much meaning behind it all. (Ethan, singer-songwriter)
- I do my best work when I don’t focus on the outcome but get into enjoying the process. (Serena, artist)
- Singing is when I feel closest to God, especially singing with a group of people. There is something about lending my voice in harmony with others that is just so sacred and special. Music is my go-to. If I’m happy, I’ll sing about it and share my joy with others. If I’m sad, I’ll sing about it and gain clarity about the situation. Without the use of words, God can tell me the most amazing things through music.(Michelle, musician)
- Painting is a time I feel close to the Lord. It is a time for fully dwelling in the present. It is a time of prayer for me. When I get stuck or frustrated painting, it’s because I’ve focused on critical and negative thoughts instead of on the divine flow and the blessing of creating beauty. (Bronwen, painter)
- For me there is almost no distinction between Art and Spirituality. When one creates purely from one’s Heart, there you may find likeness of the creator. Just as the Great Artist, Our Father God, The Almighty Creator is found within all of his creation. Art is a gift from God. It is a way of meditation. A way of bringing the internal to the external, so that others may seek & understand the meaning for themselves. As such, it is almost a parable, but the story is visually told, and not put into words. At times, I’ll get an idea for a visual story, to find out it was all in all there waiting for such expression. My intent is put aside as realization unfolds and manifests it’s self. When I find myself lost & found in my creation, these are indeed my best works. To let go & let God flow through me as a messenger is an Awesome Blessing. I have the notion that I ought to share my message of Love with the World. (Holly, artist)
- I was raised in a non religious home but learned about the Bible stories through art history, so I came into study of the bible and the writings with some knowledge of biblical events, poetry, and symbolism found in historical depictions a spiritual nature. (Debra, art historian)
- The art of photography requires many skills, all of which may be applied to the regeneration of our spirit. God creates each and every moment captured in a photograph as well as all the subject matter within an image which is the likeness of God. Awareness of all of our connection to God is strengthened through the perfection of regeneration. (Jared, photographer)
- My spirituality has brought me a sense of connection and hope with God, which has led me to create art classes for those living with Alzheimer’s. I believe what Swedenborg has revealed, that we are all angels in the making, even if a person has apparently lost their memories. Their memories are not lost, only needing to be brought back through music, storytelling, and art-creating. It is my favorite thing to create such a space for these experiences to happen. (Tryn, musician and storyteller)
“Since the angels who are in heaven are in goodness from the Lord, they desire nothing more than to perform useful services. These bring delight to their life, and it is according to useful services that they enjoy bliss and happiness.”
Arcana Coelestia 6073.2
“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalms 139:13-16)
“In the natural sense, ‘to create’ means to create, but in the spiritual sense ‘to create’ means, symbolically, to reform and regenerate, which is also to enliven.” (Apocalypse Revealed 475)
“In the spiritual heaven there are magnificent palaces, in which all things within shine with precious stones and decorations in such forms as cannot be equaled by any painting in the world, nor expressed in words. For art there, especially that of architecture, is in its own art. From that heaven many arts in the world derive their laws and harmonies, from which come their forms of beauty.” (Apocalypse Explained 831)
“Ask what truth and good are to the sight of the eye. Is not what is called beautiful truth to it, and what is called enjoyable good to it? For enjoyment is felt in beholding what is beautiful. What are truth and good to the hearing? Is not what is called harmonious truth to it, and what is called pleasing good to it? For pleasure is felt in hearing harmonies. It is the same with the other senses. What natural good and truth are is plain, then. Consider now what spiritual good and truth are. Is spiritual truth anything other than beauty and harmony in spiritual matters and objects? And is spiritual good anything other than the enjoyment and pleasure of perceiving the beauty and harmony?” (Divine Providence 312)
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
“You have many workers: stonecutters, masons and carpenters, as well as those skilled in every kind of work in gold and silver, bronze and iron—craftsmen beyond number. Now begin the work, and the LORD be with you.” (1 Chronicles 22:15-16)
“Every truth shines in heaven, and consequently truth when shining is faith in essence. The beauty and charm faith gets from this illumination, as the truths in it increase in number, can be compared with various shapes, objects and pictures, formed by different colors harmoniously juxtaposed; also with the precious stones of different colors in Aaron’s breastplate…. Comparison is also possible with the beauty of the rainbow, or of a meadow full of flowers, and of a garden in bloom in early springtime.”(True Christian Religion 353)
“Spiritual things, which are the truth and goodness involved in faith, were celebrated by harp and lute, by song, and by similar music. The holy or heavenly aspects of faith were celebrated by wind instruments— horns and so on. This is why so many instruments were connected with the Temple and why it says so many times that certain instruments were used in celebrating this thing or that. So the instruments are taken to mean the very qualities themselves that the instruments were honoring, as those just discussed are.” (Secrets of Heaven 420 )
“It is of the Divine Providence of the Lord that everyone can be saved; and they are saved who acknowledge God and live well.”
Divine Providence 325:1
By Helen Brown published by spiritualwisdom.org.uk © July 2009 pp 75 £9.95 Enquiries: contact email@example.com
Helen also leads groups taking this course. The aim is primarily to encourage reflection, experience and exploration of what our ‘soul’ means for each of us. The scope of the course includes music, art, prayer, meditation and energy medicine.
This has been a course that was both inspirational and challenging. Throughout the eight sessions in our exploration of the ‘soul’, Helen gently guided us along an inner path in keeping with her book on the subject.
We were a small group who throughout our time together formed a very supportive and close connection. At the beginning of each session we sat round a table where there was always a simple but beautiful delicate arrangement of flowers and leaves encircling a candle. As we lit the candle and concentrated on the light we left behind the outside world, forming our own peaceful and tranquil world through meditation and prayer. This made a perfect start to our spiritual journey, discovering and connecting with our own soul. During the course we were encouraged to follow our own path freely, expressing and sharing our thoughts and feelings. It brought in music, art, prayer, meditation and specially chosen readings to help in this search and nourishment of our own soul.
It was suggested by Helen that we should keep a journal where we can reflect on the course as it unfolds, giving time for more thought. I chose an artist’s journal as I find both illustrating and writing stimulating.
In the quest for the soul I found I was becoming more attuned with my inner self, gaining a deeper understanding of what this long journey involved. There were parts which were challenging and painful; complex issues had to be confronted before moving on. Throughout the sessions this was balanced with the uplifting realization that the soul is a recipient of life from God and that the Divine flows in with Love and Wisdom. The soul is a sacred place where God dwells. This knowledge is inspirational, but before we can find and nurture the soul we have first to reach down into the recesses of ourselves, seek and find God and with love bring Him into our daily lives, letting His light shine in our hearts.
I have found this course exhilarating and plan to continue with this spiritual journey.
As we sat around the table for our last meditation, it came to me that our group represented a lotus flower. I visualized each one of us as petals of the flower joined together as one with the candle in the centre radiating light. As we lent forward to blow out the flame we sent love and peace to the world.
“OM. In the centre of the castle of Brahman, our own body, there is a small shrine in the form of a lotus-flower and within can be found a small space, we should find who dwells there, and we should want to know him” (Chandogya Upanishad).
Rosella Williams, Course member
Here are some additional comments from others in the group: – ‘its been a spiritual journey, a journey of discovery’, ‘ I found it opened doors and brought up things that I hadn’t thought about before’, ‘enlightening’, ‘gave me peaceful thoughts – we shared the journey’, ‘helpful and reassuring’.
Nature, art and spirituality can reduce disease. It has been long established that a healthy diet, sufficient sleep and physical exercise bolster the body’s defences against physical and mental illness. However, research is now showing the benefits of certain other activities.
Psychologists at University of California, Berkeley have been studying a direct influence on health and life expectancy of the sense of wonder when experiencing the beauty of nature, art and spirituality. A walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art – have a triggered such positive emotions boosting our immune system.