Adventure – How to find it for free?

adventureEver gone travelling off the beaten track looking for adventure? Young people may do this before they embark on a new career and those recently retired from an old one can also seek somewhere different. They go off on an adventure to exotic locations to discover what is there and at the same time find out something about themselves. Perhaps we all need a thrilling time occasionally, to get away from the hum-drum aspects of everyday life.

Adventure of an inner journey

Travelling is not an option for everyone.  However, the journey can be found in other ways. George Eliot wrote, ‘Adventure is not outside man; it is within.’  In other words, we can wake-up to the excitement of life within the confines of our normal circumstances. Many have reported on inner journeys they have taken that opened up new horizons for them.

As an example, I would like to mention Emanuel Swedenborg, a man born in 17th century Stockholm.  In young adulthood he had leisure for full-time study and travel. He lived at a time when it was still possible to have a wide grasp of the knowledge of the day.  Later he worked as an engineer and geologist and wrote science such as physics and biology.

Swedenborg’s adventure exploring his dreams

Emanuel had been on an intellectual quest to find a scientific understanding of the human soul.  In his fifties he started noticing his dreams and reflecting on them. This was to be an inner journey; not only one of self-learning but also one of personal change. He was an intellectual man not in touch with the feeling and intuitive side of life. To explore the latter was like an adventure for him because it required great daring to tap the depths of personality, and gain something new.

Whenever someone showed a lack of respect for him he felt self-righteous indignation. Likewise he would tend to think about how his next book would make him famous. Reflecting on this self-pride, he was brought to his knees in humility.  He learned to be more aware of his thoughts and to turn away from those that he judged as wrong. With this new-found effort to stand firm he became more confident that he would be forgiven and helped to find a new attitude.

Another discovery in his dreams was his sexual fantasies.  He realised how he would be looking at a woman and thinking lustfully.  He tried to resist such impure thoughts because he believed God wanted people to enjoy sex only as part of a monogamous loving relationship.

Nevertheless a woman was what was missing in his life. Someone perhaps to put flowers on his desk, to add decorations to his home, to encourage him to enjoy walks and music. Arguably, womanhood symbolises the warm nurturing side of life. There were women in his dreams but when awake he had prohibited all close relations with them.  His aim had been to find God alone.  But the kind of God he envisaged had been one to support his academic life by providing him with scientific answers like some sort of super-professor.  He wondered… had God chosen to provide women in his dreams because that warm,
loving side of his makeup must be developed if he were to have any hope of understanding the Divine Source?

Adventure of following the lead of the Divine Spirit

Swedenborg’s inner journey taught him that ultimately he was dependent on God and this meant following God’s lead.

As HT Hamblin says, ‘The only way to harmony and to peace is to
follow the leading of the Spirit, and this is the most adventurous life of
all.’

It seemed to have worked for Emanuel. He abandoned his scientific books and focused instead on the personal and spiritual side to life. For him the personal and spiritual journey of adventure were the same thing.  How better can you learn than by struggling?  His books now would be based on personal knowledge rather than on academic reading of other writers’ books.  He now wanted to explore religion from the perspective of this dimension.  During this process of personal discovery, he had felt called to a higher vocation – one of exploring theology and spiritual philosophy.  Increasingly, he used the intuitions he gained from his inner visionary experience, presenting them as rationally as he was able.

I guess the challenge for us is to more deeply listen to the leading of the Spirit and daring to accept whatever challenges of conscience we find. The promise is extra energy, the thrill of the new and the delight of a higher life.

‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And venture belongs to the adventurous.’ (Navjot Singh Sidhu)

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

Go with the flow – But what does this mean?

go with the flowDo you feel things could run more smoothly with less frustration to tire you out? Like  mislaying the garden tools or the favourite recipe book for that special meal, not to mention difficulty finding a satisfying job, loving partner, comfortable home? When you seem to be swimming against the current of life, then don’t you feel dispirited and drained? Wouldn’t you rather go with the flow?

Animals in their natural habitats don’t have these difficulties. They seem to be in harmony with the flow of nature. Call it instinct but they have less trouble finding food to eat, building their shelter, finding their mate, caring for their young and all this without having any instruction or money.

So how does one go with the flow?

Go with the flow by getting absorbed in the ‘here and now’

Part of the trick is getting absorbed in the ‘here and now’. Focusing your entire mind on what is happening in the present moment. This means no spare time to worry about the future or feel guilty about the past. In other words to go with the flow is similar to what they say in Buddhist circles about mindfulness. They are talking about attentive awareness to the reality of things. Mindfulness practice, is increasingly being employed in Western psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and in the prevention of relapse in depression and drug addiction. One needs to lose oneself in the flow of life in order to find oneself.

Part of an inner focus of mindfulness is an attitude of fully engaging in what one is doing. It means facing experience head on and accepting whatever the challenges and opportunities it offers instead of avoiding it or trying to make it into something else. Dealing with the immediacy of the current situation, rather than possible futures or the past. The Zen Buddhist masters used every conceivable means to awaken their students to the ‘eternal now’. The ultimate reality is seen to lie right at the heart of daily existence, if one but knows how the grasp the absolute moment.

Go with the flow in ordinary situations

Adrenaline junkies seek out dangerous situations like snowboarding down mountains. It’s as if they cannot experience a sense of being really alive in just ordinary situations. They are missing out on the ‘power of now’ to give them any buzz in their normal life at home and work.

Perhaps they don’t know about, what has been called, the ‘illusion of senses’. This is holding to a mistaken notion that the external side of life determines one’s inner sense of well-being. According to many spiritual thinkers, the reality is different.

Go with the flow of spiritual life from within the soul

What exists within the human spirit flows into what is on the external side of life. In other words, happiness, contentment, excitement flows from the divine presence within our soul to the outer part of experience and not the other way round. It is not what happens to us that matters but our attitude towards it. The mystic can fathom this, by standing aside from sensory impressions:  instead to go with the flow from what is within.

But for the rest of us existence seems very different. There is a sense of self as being somehow apart from the rest of life, apart from the one – the one source of all life, the one creator of everything, the one divine source of life. We are caught up in how life appears – our own individual interpretations, our own reconstructed memories, our own misconceptions. We follow what self-intelligence sees as the appearance rather than trusting in the reality.

Go with the flow of heat and light from the Divine

Swedenborg suggests that this notion of inflow of divine reality can be seen by comparing it with the flow of heat and light from the sun into earthly objects, which for example gives rise to plant-life producing different colours. And so going with the flow involves recognising the inflow of the divine into the mundane. Spiritual heat creates warm-heartedness and spiritual light causes an enlightened understanding.

Seeing the flow into our experiences of what is uplifting, creative, illuminating, and fortunately co-incidental, will inspire hope, love, trust. When things go pear-shaped the flow of illumination can show us where we are going wrong and we can learn from our mistakes.

Go with the flow of the stream of Providence

Going with the flow also means learning to trust in what Swedenborg calls the ‘stream of providence’ instead of trusting in oneself. Life’s journey is a bit like floating down a river. This will involve going with a gentle flow but it also could mean getting stranded on mudflats, blocked midstream by rocky outcrops, having to cope with rapids, and cross-currents. The point is no matter what life throws at you, it is possible to keep one’s balance by believing that what is needed will be provided, what is vulnerable to harm will be protected, what is lost will be found. In other words trusting in the stream of divine providence.

Swedenborg also points out that orientating towards the divine flow however requires the individual to no longer be orientated towards self. No longer watching out for what suits one-self, how things impinge on one’s comfort zone. For when the love of self no longer rules your heart, then you  rise above your worries concerning the transient things of the world.

 Those are not in the stream of Providence who trust in themselves alone and attribute all things to themselves… Be it known also that insofar as anyone is in the stream of Providence, so far he is in a stateof peace.

(Swedenborg. Arcana Coelestia section 8478 4)

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

Flaws – Seeing the shadowy side of oneself.

flaws
Ed Husain

Ed Husain, in his book The Islamist, describes his personal flaws. How at the age of sixteen, he, had become an Islamic fundamentalist, much to the horror of his devout Muslim parents. He had joined those who played politics with Islam, knowing how to use religion to manipulate the emotions of its followers to sympathise with terrorism and the setting up of an imaginary Islamic state.

The values of tolerance, respect and compromise had had no meaning for him. He had wanted to destroy the Western democratic world.

He had joined with others to do their best to whip up fear amongst Muslims. They disrupted peaceful religious meetings, and verbally abused those who resisted them. He had been hooked into a desire for power and dominance. This had become a major flaw in his character.

However, as he grew older he began to examine what he had got himself into. He began to question his motives and was to become ruthlessly honest regarding the errors into which he had fallen. As a result, he recovered his faith and mind and broke away from the fanatics.

Denial of our personal flaws

We may not be drawn into international terrorism, but are we always willing, like Husain, to own up to our own failings? Most of us are not fanatics but do we each have our own flaws? We know it is all too easy to try to deny any personal criticisms that come our way. No one finds it comfortable to acknowledge shortcomings in their makeup. However, when we do notice feelings of resentment, guilt, or hurt in our dealings with others, we might start to wonder if we are at fault.

Why don’t you … Yes but

We can imagine someone saying `It never works’ when trying to mend a minor fault within the home. Others start to present solutions, each starting with the words `Why don’t you…’ To each of these the person objects with a `Yes, but…’ rejecting each suggestion with some plausible reason until they all give up.

According to psychotherapist Eric Berne, this shows that a crestfallen silence has been engineered which gives expression to a flaw in the individuals makeup – his or her idea of personal inadequacy, amounting to self-dislike, coupled with a belief in the worthlessness of other people, a notion which had been privately held all along.

Other negative motivations are boosting oneself at the expense of others and expressing hostility. Underlying such attitudes is a belief that others and/or ourselves are not okay – that there is something inherently bad about them and/or us. When we express such feelings, we prevent our relationships — say with work colleagues or family members — from thriving or we even do great damage.

Ideas of other psychologists related to personal flaws

Harry Stack Sullivan spoke of the `bad me’. This is said to represent those negative aspects of oneself that we do not like to acknowledge, even to ourselves, and which we hide from others.

Carl Gustav Jung said there is a shadowy aspect that we have no wish to be. It is said to be the sum of all the unpleasant qualities one wants to hide, the inferior, worthless and primitive side of our nature, one’s own dark side.

According to Sigmund Freud a part of each us he called the ‘id’ is amoral, illogical, self-serving and ruled by desires that only give self-gratification – for example for sex, food, and aggression.

Honest self-assessment of personal flaws

Emanuel Swedenborg said that we have a rational mind. This enables us to transcend the emotions of the moment and use to better appreciate the inner truth about ourselves – including our failings and flaws. We can look at our own behaviour in the light of the values to which we ascribe. In this sense, self-assessment is also self-evaluation.

I would say that examining the `bad me’, the `shadowy side’, the psychological `games’ we may play — that is to say facing our flaws — is a crucially important first step towards personal growth. By doing this we can gain insight into the misguided nature of the assumptions we have been making and the way we have been abusing our position.

There may be times, like with Hussain when we no longer have in the forefront of our minds the clear wholesome principles that we grasped as children.

It may be easy to turn our minds away when hearing the quiet voice of conscience. Yet, I believe what stays in us is a hearing ear and an understanding heart. We can make an effort to observe what we do or say that is unhelpful, unjust, or downright selfish. We can develop our self-knowledge.

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

How can I swallow the bitter pills of life?

Bitter pills of lifePeople who moan about the bitter pills of life can get you down.

For instance I don’t like Lawrence. He is the sort of individual who you may also know. Someone who comes across as a bit of a moaner and much to my embarrassment is not slow to criticise even his own children behind their backs. He once said, “I’ll always be disappointed”. Yes, he feels hard done by about the bitter pills of life.

How different from his sister Janet who is a delight to be around — sweet-natured and full of fun. Talk about chalk and cheese.

When they were youngsters their parents’ fortunes changed and the family was obliged to move home from quite a nice town to a poor area many miles away. They both lost everything they had known — familiar haunts, places where they were known, and long-standing friends and instead ended up in a derelict neighbourhood, with locations they was unaccustomed to. Lawrence was obliged to attend a rough boys school where he was picked on as different and he never settled. He ended up in a low paid dead end job. He would never have admitted it but his negative attitude of mind is reflected in this quote:

“Ugliness turned me inside out. There was a certain satisfaction in bitterness. I courted it. It was standing outside, and I invited it in.” (Nicole Krauss, The History of Love)

Later, he was faced with the bitter pills of life including having to depend financially on his wife — who earned more than him. His frustration of failure on which he blamed a disrupted education stayed with him and the marriage eventually ended when she decided she had had enough of his embittered resentment.

His sister, Janet was a different kettle of fish. She had accepted her unpleasant situation and tried to make the best of it. She worked hard and got by okay.  Not that she had an easier ride. Desperate to get away from socially disadvantaged circumstances she left home early but found loneliness and vulnerability in the big city. But she battled on. To my mind she is living proof that it is not events that harm us but the way we respond to them. She swallowed the bitter pills of life and got on with it. This viewpoint is well expressed by Martin Luther King.

“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation — either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.”

And so life wasn’t easy for Janet. But she didn’t become corrosively scornful like Lawrence, despite her having one or two personal crises when going through difficult times of anxiety and loss. Like with her brother, her personal path in life was a rocky road. But unlike his storing up of anger, hurt and disillusionment with each new disappointment, she learned from her mistakes and tried again so that at each time of trouble she responded by moving on rather than staying stuck. She never became self-focused in her thinking but was always ready to empathise with the feelings of those around her never giving in to resentment and self-pity.

 “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” (Nelson Mandela)

How can you find forgiveness to replace resentment? How might you swallow the bitter pills of life without becoming embittered?

The best answer I have found is a spiritual one. I have tried to deal with part of the answer in my post How to feel less resentment.  In his book Personal Revelation, Michael Stanley offers us the view that bitter experience is often a crucial part of spiritual growth. This despite the fact that usually we read about spiritual illumination as an uplifting experience; a common view being that there is an initial sweetness of an elevated state of mind as you experience new-found hope of personal healing and meaning.

However, Stanley suggests that inner awareness can also stir up some vaguely disturbing inner feelings. He gives as a reason the way you start to see yourself in the light of a deeper ethos; more clearly recognising some previously out-of-sight individual failings. Janet was ready to admit some unflattering truths about herself — her fear of being let down, and her tendency to put off doing things. But she was prepared to look honestly at herself. She found that when getting deeper into the nitty-gritty of self-examination, things can get a bit upsetting.

In other words, the book is suggesting the deciding factor is when you realise the need to forgo complacent self-satisfaction in your good outward actions in favour of a humbler alertness to the true nature of your inner life. This is the bitter experience of appreciating to what extent your inward self-centred justifications and manoeuvrings have been actually distorting the new higher ideas and principles.

The book Heart, Head & Hands is an interpretation of Emanuel Swedenborg’s spiritual philosophy. The secret is learning how to rely on your spiritual source rather than continuing with the mistaken notion that you can live in isolation from the force and energy of love and light that created your life. According to this view you need to give up the illusion that you have the ability, of yourself, apart from this higher divine power, to become wise and do good.

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

Misfortune – Why does everything go wrong?

misfortuneMost people suffer at least one misfortune during a lifetime, but if you have been experiencing a series of things going wrong, — for example losing your career, partner, home, and social standing — then perhaps you should be asking if there is something going on here you really need to know more about?

No surprise then that you feel depressed. People who know you as a caring sensitive soul, feel there is no justice in life. Just how unlucky can one get?

Margaret’s story

Margaret was pleasant company and considerate. She had been brought up by strict parents who were somewhat critical and slow to give praise. Lacking self-confidence at school she tended to give in to the demands of others. She wanted to go into nursing but her father pressurised her into taking a job in administration at a large company. There she was conscientious and hardworking and not wasting her income: but still longed for a caring role with people.

Rather than looking around properly for the right man to share her life, she settled rather too soon on Adam. Although he was very polite and well turned out, he did like to get his own way. He sponged off her for money for betting even before their marriage. Adam wanted her to be at their home looking after him and their children. Two babies came along in quick succession before she was ready to decide about her career.

Later, Adam became an increasingly frequent gambler who wasted their money. He eventually became bankrupt in business and left her and the children to fend for themselves saying he could no  longer afford to contribute to the family. Even after they were separated, she gave him some of what little money she had managed to scrape by over the years to help pay his debts. By the end of their relationship she was penniless, tired and depressed, and no place to call her own.

Understanding Margaret’s misfortune

Why on earth did Margaret get involved with Adam in the first place? Surely it was obvious that this person was taking her for a ride. But of course it wasn’t always obvious to her.

Like many people with a poor view of themselves, Margaret was inclined to act as if she did not matter much; rarely asking for favours, or venturing to voice her opinions. Whilst sensitive to how others felt, she was blind to her own emotional needs. She allowed father, husband and others to influence her unduly. As a result she didn’t make wise decisions about important aspects of their own life. I think the roots of Margaret’s continued misfortune lay within herself.

“Misfortunes one can endure–they come from outside, they are accidents. But to suffer for one’s own faults–ah!–there is the sting of life.”
Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

We might wonder if at the root of Margaret might be an unease about being alone, a  suspicion she might be unworthy of devotion, and an anxiety about being ignored?

Vulnerability to misfortune

I do wonder if Margaret typifies a certain type of person who is more likely to be a loser. I am suggesting that people at risk of multiple misfortune have her three traits:

1.      Unassertiveness,

2.      Low self-esteem,

3.      Sensitivity.

How the first of these causes things to go wrong is perhaps more easily seen: if you fail to stand up for yourself don’t be surprised if someone sooner or later takes advantage to your lasting cost.

But what of the other two traits?

Some one with low esteem reminds me of the joke about the guy who noticed an exclusive social club with many desirable features. When he had a chance to join, he turned it down saying that he wouldn’t want to join a club that would be prepared have him as a member! But feeling a low sense of worth is no laughing matter — it takes away self-confidence and is associated with depression.

Sensitivity to another person’s feelings can almost be experiencing such feelings as one’s own. Sure, since Carl Rogers championed empathy in counsellors, we have seen this as a desirable quality. But can’t it have its down side? Like when you so feel for somebody’s problems that you take them on as your own.

Need for truth and love

I’m not saying all suffering and misfortune is the fault of the sufferer. Far from it. But sometimes you can play a part in your own downfall. Breaking unfortunate patterns requires much reflection and resolve.

Once you bring the ways you inwardly think out into the open, you can examine them in the light of day and challenge them if unrealistic or self-defeating, and look to making some real changes in your behaviour.

There is a mistake in assuming your own opinions are less important than that of others. Only you can judge what is right for you but this does mean making a correct assessment based on inner rather external considerations.

“Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”
(John 7:24)

This is where truth and love come in. Acknowledging the truth about one’s mistakes is surely the first step to better fortune.

Like seeing the error of running yourself down or of neglecting your own needs. How can you expect to be able to love others until you can first care for yourself?

“I hope that real love and truth are stronger in the end than any evil or misfortune in the world.” (Charles Dickens)

Yes I feel the way to avoid a string of misfortune is to recognise the mistakes one can make in life and do something about it.

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

Disappointment — How to get over it?

disappointment
Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps was the most decorated Olympian swimmer of all time. To most people for someone with his ability anything less than several gold medals would have been a disappointment. But  do they not need to learn a lesson about life?

“If I bring back only one gold, people are going to say it’s a disappointment. But not too many of them own an Olympic gold medal, so if I get one I’m going to be happy.”
(Michael Phelps)

Yet many people suffer the tears of disappointment. A lot of things can go wrong for you: a setback in your career: loss of money in a business venture: feeling let down by a friend or professional colleague: the heartbreak of being disappointed in love: even the disappointment of a favourite football team losing an important match.

When you least feel like it, you desperately need the, not-so-simple, act of picking yourself up, pulling yourself together, and going constructively forward. But where do you find this resilience? How can you move on from the tears of disappointment?

A Taoist story about disappointment

According to one spiritual perspective, disappointing events, despite appearances to the contrary, aren’t always as bad as you first assume. 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!

In other words appearance can be deceptive. Maybe there is a hidden benefit or at least a  lesson in something going wrong if only you could see it.

Disappointment due to an unreasonable attitude

One possible hidden lesson can be to do with what is unreasonable in your attitude towards others. Disappointed in your adult child’s choice of career or your best friend’s choice of sexual partner? You might ask yourself whether this possibly indicates you are expecting someone to be the way you want them to be and not being what they want to be? If so why not try letting events to simply take their course accepting people as they are? Why not allow them freedom to do what they feel is right for them, without trying to control them, without trying to impose your own ideas and beliefs, without trying to fight against them? You might then feel less disappointed in what they do.

Exaggerating the importance of something

Perhaps you need to ask whether a feeling of disappointment might be due to your exaggerating the significance of something? If so, you could try thinking of all the bad things that could have happened but didn’t. Would it really be the end of the world if you lose your social standing, your job, or even your spouse?

It may be too late to recover the situation. But is it too late to apply what you have learned to what happens next? That is if you have learned anything of value about where you might have been going wrong. New opportunities arise in a changed situation. ‘When one door closes, another opens’. You could let go of the old circumstance and grasp the new one. Don’t give up on your dream — you never know what is waiting for you behind a certain door.

Not all that happens is connected with you

If you are upset about failing in something you might ask whether there is a lesson here to do with your attitude towards yourself. Perhaps you have the attitude that life owes you a triumph which you deserve? Or perhaps you see yourself as worthless and undeserving of any accomplishment and what happened just proves this.

But surely failure doesn’t necessarily mean there is always something good or bad about you? Okay, some of what happened could have been prevented. But other things were facets of every day life that you have to contend with and over which you have little or no control. Some days the sun comes out and shines persistently, on other days it rains with a ferocity that is hard to comprehend.

Not all is at it appears

No one can clearly see what will happen in the next hour, never mind in future months and years. But if you sense in any way, an all-knowing divine force within the workings of the universe, then you might wonder whether there is a higher benevolence, concerned for your inner happiness: and that despite your outward disappointments there might be unforeseen eventualities helpful to you.

One such potential benefit of disappointment is the chance it offers for us to learn a  lesson of life conducive to personal development.

“Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.”(Unknown author)

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

Is sex a spiritual thing? longer version

Many of us are inclined to rebel when someone tells us what to do. We do not always take kindly to being told what is right and wrong behaviour. However, ethical living is part of spiritual healing according to the world’s spiritual traditions. That following a set of rules of conduct is conducive to spiritual growth. How does this apply to sexual relationships?

Infidelity

People may not be concerned about the rights and wrongs of sexual behaviour. They ask:

  • “Isn’t sex a basic drive that needs to be satisfied, just like hunger and thirst?”
  • “Isn’t sexual expression one of our inherent freedoms?”
  • “Isn’t sexuality a way of expressing our unique individuality?”

To answer “yes” to these questions may be correct for some but it is to miss a spiritual principle, for it ignores the idea of a growing union of mature love between two people. There are many reasons for coldness developing between a couple but one of the most damaging tends to be the sense of hurt and distrust in one partner caused by the other becoming sexually drawn to another person.

In Britain these days, people tend to speak as if it were tolerable to have more than one sexual partner as long as you do not deceive anyone. Consequently, a few people have a so-called `open’ relationship. More common is an apparent social norm of `serial monogamy’. In line with this view, one should finish a sexual relationship before taking up with someone else. However many people in a relationship seem to be vulnerable to sexual wandering. A casual attitude to sex can lead us to make light of any indiscretions.

A lot of things in life particularly in the mass media seem to have become sexualised these days – from small girls clothes to cars and even chocolate. It has been suggested that a casual attitude to infidelity can develop as one starts to watch extra-marital passions on TV or at the cinema. It also grows if we linger on the pages of a magazine with sexually provocative advertising, if we fixedly gaze at the figure of an attractive man or woman in a way that arouses sexual feelings or if we engage in any sexual fantasy not involving our partner. I would suggest that people more at risk are those without an interest in any productive activity such as study or business. This can result in a wandering desire. With nothing else to absorb our interest, it is perhaps only natural that our thoughts might turn to sex! But:

“I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
(Matt 5:28)

“Right action is to abstain from sexual lust”
(The Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism)

Noticing an attractive person other than one’s lover is naturally likely to happen most of the time. I would argue one can appreciate good physical looks while at the same time respecting the person. However, there are increasing degrees of disloyalty – for example flirting, spending time with this other person, sharing intimate confidences, lingering kissing or embracing as part of social greetings and farewells, not to mention engaging in physical intimacies when alone together.

Mature Love

Young adults tend to fall in love. Sometimes this is falling in love with love – romanticising the other person, as the embodiment of all we consider to be ideal. Sometimes this is called the `halo’ effect when we notice just one aspect of the other person that particularly appeals such as their bravery or kind-heartedness and become enamoured with just that one aspect regardless of their other characteristics. Sometimes our infatuation is really all about physical attraction, or the perceived glamour, power or wealth of the other person.

We might possibly be trying to fill loneliness or an emotional vacuum with a love relationship. Some psychotherapists have written about this kind of immature love. They say this follows the principle “I love because I am loved.” “ I love you because I need you.” On the other hand they say that mature love follows the principle `I am loved because I love,” “I need you because I love you.”

In addition to giving, mature love implies other basic elements such as concern for the life and growth of the other, responding to their needs, respect for their uniqueness, seeing them as they really are and helping them to grow and unfold in their own ways, for their own sake and not for serving oneself. Seeing one’s partner accurately is possible only when one transcends one’s self-concern and needs, seeing  the other person in the other’s own terms. One needs to listen and to enter and become familiar with the private world of the lover, to live in the other’s life and sense his or her meanings and experiences.

I believe the union of mature love preserves our integrity and paradoxically our individuality. When in intimate love two beings become one in heart and mind, Swedenborg calls it a state of `conjugial love’. By this, he partly means a deeper level of love in which the couple have grown closely together in mutual trust and affection.

Sexually Loving Only One Other Person

We can compare an interest in having more than one sexual relationship with having a desire for intimacy with only one lover. We can distinguish between love of the opposite sex and intimate love of one person of the opposite sex – between on the one hand a roving desire with on the other an exclusive commitment. The latter is a chaste kind of attitude. Chastity is a somewhat antiquated term in today’s world. However, it conveys a sense of purity, innocence, and decency with respect to sexual partnership. It also unfortunately has a connotation of not letting oneself have any fun, and of prudishness, but this is not what Swedenborg means by the word. A chaste attitude for him is not to be confused with sexual abstinence. Rather it is primarily concerned with what is going on in a person’s heart and mind – with the purity and cleanness of a person’s feelings and thoughts. A chaste attitude is a deep desire for a one to one relationship solely with one other person.

In other words, sexual desire is not an unchaste thing in itself. However relationships of a sexual nature with someone other than one’s spouse involves a disregard of the trust and intimacy that has been shared in marriage that is extremely hurtful to the innocent partner. The idea of extra-marital relationships is sometimes softened to such terms as: `fooling around’, `sleeping around’, `flings’, `affairs’ and `dalliances’; suggesting that infidelity can be guilt free and harms no one. If people are not looking for a conjugial relationship, then it is possible to understand how they might come to believe in the myth that extra-marital relationships are harmless.

Conjugial love 

The aim within conjugial love is a closer linking of minds and profound linking of lives in intimate friendship and love – the essence of a harmonious long-lasting personal and valued sexual relationship. On the other hand using another person as a sex object demonstrates a complete lack of true caring. It is not showing love to someone as a person, but simply using their body as a source of excitement, physical pleasure and perhaps conquest. Why cause hurt to one’s partner by carrying on with someone else? Loose sexual conduct is likely to tie in with self-justification and a lack of interest in the spiritual healing dynamic of conjugial love.

According to Swedenborg the origin of conjugial love is spiritual. The conjugial state mirrors the state that Swedenborg terms, the `heavenly marriage’ within a person. This is a harmony between feeling and ideas when a desire for what is good matches a wise thought. These do not harmonise for example when we are feeling resentful towards a workmate whilst realising we are being unfair. Another example is blaming a neighbour for a problem in the garden when one knows this to be unjustified. The spiritual state of the heavenly marriage can be present within even a single person who has no close relationships for this is the basis of finding the meaning of life. Such a person would be ready to receive the spirit of conjugial love if a suitable partner becomes available.

Gender

Much controversy surrounds the subject of male and female gender roles. I believe neither sex is superior to the other – just different. Modern feminism is less concerned these days about proving women can do what men can do. Instead, it places more emphasis on feminine values and interests. We do well what we are interested in. This might be successfully helping to create a collaborative mood within a professional meeting or calm atmosphere within the home. Women tend to give importance to feelings and relationship whereas men tend to act in terms of rules, and what they judge to be right.

Thus the sexes complement each other according to their tendency to have different interests or as Swedenborg would say what they each love.

An objective stance is thinking about the external aspect of things whereas a subjective one is seeing things from a personal angle. Men have no exclusive hold over objectivity in their thinking but they tend to be more interested in this stance than women. Neither have women any exclusive orientation towards subjectivity but they have a tendency to be drawn to this approach than men.  In common parlance we speak of feminine intuition.

Partnership

In my view these differences are the basic reason why an erotic interest usually develops between the sexes; why male and female get together. They say opposites attract. When a man and woman are in harmony as to what they think and feel, do and say, then a conjugial partnership can potentially be formed. Each partner can develop to be a different side of the same coin; growing together they may become as one. The husband tends to love having ideas, ideals and projects to accomplish, whilst his wife tends to love nurturing and embodying them in their relationships together and with others.

Each individual sees their happiness in the life of their partnership. When the couple are devoted to each other and growing together spiritually, they increasingly act as together as one unit – they are working in harmony and finding spiritual healing. Seeing their ideas and feelings reflected in each other they are then drawn away from self-orientation. As far as their ideas and feelings are good, they receive heavenly innocence, peace, and tranquillity.

“Conjugial love is directed to and shared with one person of the other sex. Love directed to and shared with several persons is natural love, for man has this in common with animals and birds, which are natural creatures. But conjugial love is spiritual, special and proper to human beings, because human beings were created, and are therefore born, to become spiritual”.

(Swedenborg. Conjugial Love: section 48)

Extracted from the book Heart, Head and Hands by Stephen Russell-Lacy