Drifting through life – How to stop?

drifting
Drifting in the arctic

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

Drifting as a Pre-disposition

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

The freedom to change

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

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

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

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

One’s readiness to accept responsibility.

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

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

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

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

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

Courage for change

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

A longer version of this article

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

Courage

Courage

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

revcooper.ca


Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

When the children of Israel finally reached the Jordan River, the Lord selected Joshua to lead them into their new home in the promised land. We remember how when the Lord first commanded them to enter the land of Canaan and conquer it with His help, they were too afraid, they were unable to trust the Lord’s guidance; and we remember how as a result of their fears and lack of confidence in the Lord they had to wander for forty years, until every single person who had been in slavery in Egypt had died and a new generation, born and bred in the difficult conditions of life in the wilderness, had taken their place.

Joshua and Caleb were the only two of the Egyptian Hebrews to enter Canaan because they alone were constant in their trust in the Lord and courageous in their willingness to do His bidding. They knew the risks they faced. But they had also seen the 10 Plagues in Egypt, and had seen Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Red Sea. They had genuine courage based on trust in the Lord’s power.

Now it was time for Joshua to lead his own army, forged in the desert heat by his own hand, guided by the Lord, into the Land of Canaan. Joshua called the people together and spoke to them of the task ahead of them, and reminded them, as Moses had before him, that if they would only have courage, if they would only trust in the Lord’s help, that they would soon have their promised rest. “Be strong and of good courage,” Joshua told them, “for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (text)

It is remarkable to note that although the Word is full of stories of courageous men, that the Heavenly Doctrines have very little to say on the subject of courage. Perhaps this is because the doctrines have so much to say about the human emotion that is conquered by courage, that is, fear. Therefore we must learn about courage by considering the nature of fear.

There are people in the world who claim to be, or seem to be, fearless. These men are not brave or courageous if they actually are without fear, for courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the ability to function in the presence of fear. Everyone has fears of many kinds, so much so that the Heavenly Doctrines speak of fear as the “common bond” among men (see AC 7280) meaning that fear of one sort or another is the one thing that every human being has in common with every other human being — including those living in the spiritual world!

To understand how it is possible for angels to have fears, it is necessary to understand that there are two kinds of fear; internal and external. In the heavens, there is only internal fear, in hell, only external. With men in the world there is a mixture of internal and external fears according to and depending upon each individual’s spiritual development. External fear is the fear experienced by those in hell. It is the fear that external things might be lost or destroyed. The examples given in the Heavenly Doctrines are:

the fear of the loss of one’s reputation among men;

the fear of the loss of one’s honors;

the fear of the loss of wealth;

the fear of punishment;

and the fear of death. (See Ibid.)

On the other hand is internal fear, or, as it is sometimes called in the Word, “holy fear”. This is a fear or anxiety for the sake of something good, that is, a fear that something or someone might be harmed by one’s action, or by one’s failure to act. When a parent holds a newborn baby for the first time, there is a fear that they might hurt the child because it is so small and tender. Parents’ fears for their children continue through childhood as they struggle to find the appropriate balance between learning through experience and perfect safety.

Angels do not experience much anxiety or fear on a daily basis. The fears that they have would most likely take the form of careful thought about what would be a kind and helpful thing to do for their partner, a companion, or their heavenly society. The angels would be most careful and thoughtful to see that the things they do for one another are really appropriate and delightful. The fear of the angels would not seem to be bothersome to them, but rather, it should be seen as a loving concern for the welfare of others, that others might not be harmed or offended in any way by their actions.

In the natural world, as we are caught between the influences of the spiritual worlds and our own varying states, our fears are not clearly defined as being only external or internal. The quality and kind of fear we experience is related to the state of our ruling love, and to external circumstances that are beyond our control.

We cannot simply say that the fear of the loss of wealth, for example, is an external or hellish fear. We may fear the loss of wealth because we love money, or we may fear its loss because without it we cannot properly care for and nurture those under our protection. In the case of children and young people, the fear of punishment is an external fear, but for them it is a step on the road toward having a genuine conscience, and is therefore an acceptable means to instruct them in the way of life according to spiritual principles. Again, we may think we are experiencing an internal fear when we are anxious about the welfare of another, but we may only be anxious because we fear that they will blame us for their misfortune. The examples could go on and on, but the essential point remains that all humans have a common bond in that we all fear something, and courage is how we deal with that fear.

Let us reflect for a moment on our fears, and how we deal with them. Think about something that causes anxious moments, such as walking down a dark street, working late in an empty building, being in a high place, taking a trip in an airplane, or whatever. Everyone, when faced with doing something they fear, will instinctively wish that there was someone else around to be with them, to keep them company. A dark hallway never seems so frightening when you walk down it engaged in a cheerful conversation with a friend. It doesn’t even matter if your companion couldn’t possibly protect you. You still feel better. The dark is always darker, the monster always lurking when we think we are alone.

The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC were bad enough in themselves, but far worse is the byproduct of fear. Suddenly we are forced by the actions of evil men to look for the possibility of mortal danger in such everyday things as a rental truck, a trip by commercial airliner, a simple envelope that arrives in the mail. The Sniper crisis made it feel dangerous just to go outdoors. Safety, and the apparent lack thereof, has become a central feature of our lives, even to the point that we are beginning to speak and act as if the only function of government is to keep us all safe, not only from foreign enemies, but even from our own foolish choices. We are beginning to act and speak as if safety itself is a reasonable goal of life on earth. When was the last time a kid yelled through the screen door, “Me and the guys are goin’ for a bike ride” and all Mom said in reply was “Be home before dark”? Today, just the thought of a bunch of kids going off exploring on their bikes, without helmets and possibly accompanied by one or more dogs – causes us to be fearful.

The Lord teaches in Divine Providence 139 that no one is reformed in a state of fear, because fear closes the interiors of the mind, thus taking away rationality and freedom of thought in spiritual things. Love opens the interiors of the mind, but fear closes them, leaving only a few thoughts – those that present themselves to his animus or to the level of the senses.

Fear, then, must be conquered in order for the rational mind to be able to function, and the rational must be opened in order for the adult mind to prepare itself for heaven. As said before, courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to overcome our fears, to do what is right and proper and necessary in spite of the risks. Life requires us to learn how to be courageous by first facing little fears on the playgrounds, and then, little by little, taking on greater and greater challenges. We must to do this, or we will never be prepared to face the really frightening prospect of facing up to our own evils. One of the features of adult life is that we must, with the Lord’s help, confront hell. We are not going to be able to do that without practice, without learning to be courageous by facing other, smaller battles first. As in all things, balance, perspective, and judgment are all essential, and most important of all is being able to see the “big picture” – that it’s not about getting through childhood without and illness or an injury, but learning how to cross the wilderness first, so we can cross the Jordan later and begin the real battles with our hereditary evils

War is the most fearful thing imaginable, and it both represents our spirituals battles as well as serves to illustrate the point about feeling alone. Because of the incredible fears that must be faced, soldiers form exceptionally strong bonds with one another, based upon their mutual support in the face of fear. War is horrible, yet in the face of its horror men perform heroic, courageous acts of self-sacrifice for the sake of their friends, for the sake of civilian strangers, for the sake of their country, for the sake of high principles. Where do people get this courage? How can we learn from them to face the misfortunes and difficulties of our own lives with their confidence? Such courage comes from the acknowledgment of the heart that no one is ever really alone, that no one ever has to walk a dark hallway alone, because the Lord is with them.

Before the battle (the soldier) raises his mind to the Lord, and commends his life into His hand; and, after he has done this, he lets his mind down from its elevation into the body, and becomes brave; the thought of the Lord, which he is then unconscious of, remaining still in his mind, above the bravery. And then, if he dies, he dies in the Lord; if he lives, he lives in the Lord. (Charity 166)

It is a simple matter to carry this description of a soldier battling for his life, and in simple humility putting his life in the hands of the Lord over into our own lives, our own experience in the battles against evils and falsities. We may think that warfare, with its bombs and guns, pain and death, is the most horrible thing there is; but consider our own spiritual temptations for a moment. When a soldier dies in battle, he loses his natural life, but he dies “in the Lord.” The man who loses his spiritual battles has lost his spiritual life. As the Lord said, “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body.… Fear Him who, after He has killed, has the power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4,5)

Our spiritual battles are represented by Joshua’s entrance into the land of Canaan and defeating the various nations found there. Joshua was heroic and courageous as a leader all his life because he knew that the Lord was with him; Joshua lived with the confidence that he would succeed while he did what he was bidden by the Lord, and that the Lord would fight his battles for him, and that the land would eventually be conquered.

The natural world is not always fair. Things happen to us that cause pain and misery. There are things that we have to do that frighten us; and while we are trying to deal with the fears and anxieties of the natural world, we keep being reminded that we are supposed to be fighting spiritual temptation as well! It can seem like too much to bear. We wonder where we will find the strength to carry on, to face the challenges of each new day.

If we try to carry the burden entirely on our own, if we insist that we are the only ones who can do it the right way, then we are doomed to failure. If, on the other hand, we can develop within ourselves the confidence in the Lord’s guidance and protection; if we can examine the course of our lives for the evidence of the Lord’s direction and Divine Providence in the past, and from that evidence assure ourselves of His operation in our present and future; if we can think of Joshua patiently building an army for forty years in the wilderness, and then conquering the land of Canaan for his people while yet giving all the credit to Jehovah, perhaps we can begin to feel, to believe that the Lord is always with us, always seeking to lead us to eternal blessedness and peace, always willing to fight our battles for us if only we would ask Him to. Then we can begin to have the real courage that comes from trust in the Lord’s power to save, and we can courageously meet our spiritual foes – and win. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” (Ps. 23:4) AMEN.


Lessons

First Lesson: Josh 1:1-9

After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, it came to pass that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying: {2} “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them; the children of Israel. {3} “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. {4} “From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. {5} “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. {6} “Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. {7} “Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. {8} “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. {9} “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

2nd Lesson: LUK 2:41-52

His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. {42} And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. {43} When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; {44} but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. {45} So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. {46} Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. {47} And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. {48} So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” {49} And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” {50} But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. {51} Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. {52} And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

3rd Lesson: AC 7280 (port.)

…fear is the one and only means by which those in hell can be constrained and held in bonds. For fear is a bond shared by both those who are upright and those who are evil. But with the upright it is an inward fear, that is, fear for their salvation, or fear lest they should lose their own souls, to be exact, and on that account lest they should do anything contrary to conscience, that is, contrary to the truth and goodness which compose conscience. Consequently they fear lest they should do anything contrary to what is just and fair, thus contrary to their neighbor. But this fear becomes holy fear to the extent that it is wedded to charitable affection in them, and especially to the extent that it is wedded to love to the Lord. Such fear then becomes like that which young children feel towards their parents whom they love. When this happens, then so far as they are governed by the good of love fear is not apparent; but so far as they are not governed by good it is apparent, and develops into anxiety. This is what the fear of God is like to which the Word refers many times.

[2] But with those who are evil there is no inward fear – no fear for their salvation – and therefore no fear that belongs to conscience, for in the world they completely rejected that kind of fear both by the life they led and by basic ideas of falsity that were used to justify it. But in place of inward fear there is with them an outward fear, the fear, to be exact, lest they should be stripped of important positions, monetary gain, and reputation on account of these, be legally punished, and be deprived of life. These are the things that those governed by evil fear for when they are in the world.


Copyright © 1982 – 2006 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

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