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

Heal distress — Can spiritual practices help?

 

healAccording 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

Depressed mood – Does spiritual awareness help?

depressedYour pet cannot tell you when it feels depressed – at least not in so many words. Perhaps there is a clue in the noises it makes and what it does. More and more vets are prescribing tablets because of behaviour problems; and so huge numbers of dogs in America for example are on antidepressants.

Surely, animals in their natural habitat don’t need drugs. Maybe it’s because the pets are cooped up in houses whilst their owners are at work, or exposed to noisy traffic and neighbours or subjected to constant television. Enough to make anyone depressed I would have thought.

Depressed humans

As someone who was a therapist working with depressed patients for over thirty years, what is even more shocking for me is the way that human beings take the same medication in even larger numbers. Antidepressants are now the most frequently used tablets among Americans between the ages of 18 and 44. Severe depression can be an indescribable emotional pain. But whatever one’s severity of depression, I would like to suggest that like the animals, we humans also need to get back in touch with the ebb and flow of life of the natural world.

Low risk of depressed mood

It surely is no accident that horticultural workers usually come near the top on occupational surveys of subjective happiness. Are they not all enjoying fresh air, getting regular physical activity? Perhaps it is something to do with hearing the birds that sing, or touching the earth, or smelling flowers that give off their wonderful fragrance.

Reducing depressed mood

I would suggest that sometimes when we feel depressed it is because we are lonely, bored, or licking our wounds after some loss and thus in some way are less connected with the usual inflow of positive energy and warmth that can enliven the day. One common remedy is getting out for a walk and reflecting on something different from our own negative thoughts and feelings.

“I’ve treated my own depression for many years with exercise  and meditation, and I’ve found that to be a tremendous help.” (Judy Collins, singer and social activist)

This makes sense to me because physical activity out of doors as well as meditating on nature often means being more in touch with what I see as the creative force behind life itself. Meeting up with nature gets us away from the depressing world of people with their self-orientated and materialistic concerns and at times their crime and corruption.

“The culture is going into a psychological depression. We are concerned about our place in the world, about being competitive: Will my children have as much as I have? Will I ever own my own home? How can I pay for a new car? Are immigrants taking away my white world?” (James Hillman, Jungian psychologist)

How the natural environment reduces depressed mood

Look around what nature has to offer and you can easily see beauty or grandeur, and, if you are lucky, the wonders of an unspoilt environment. You are more likely to notice the rain-clouds in the sky and thus be reminded of the life-sustaining water they provide. Or the hills and mountains that can be said to mirror peak experiences of illumination and inspiration that capture for a short while the potential summit of one’s life’s journey. Or maybe consider the trees in the woodland and forests with their endurance and strength. Do these not reflect the reality of personal growth over many years? Useful ideas can take root, blossom into action and produce fruits of our labours.

“Time spent in nature is the most cost-effective and powerful way to counteract the burnout and sort of depression that we feel when we sit in front of a computer all day.” (Richard Louv, nonfiction writer & journalist)

I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. You can choose to open your eyes to the wider horizon of the soul or you can remain fixed in the narrow concerns of ego: be moved by the inspiration of something beyond the self, or suffer from the negativity of your frustrated ambition: be uplifted by the evidence of a creative life force all around or be depressed by the separate little world of individual self-hood.

“You can walk around the busy streets of a city and feel like you are completely isolated from the people hurrying along. Alternatively, you may choose to see God in the smile on a person’s face, feel the warmth of Divine love in the sun on the face, and see hope of new things in the green shoots in the park. It is all a matter of perception as to what is the reality of life.” (Helen Newton and Becky Jarratt, spiritual writers).

Choosing between spirit and ego

Having a choice between a spiritual or egoistic way of seeing, doesn’t mean that we are free all of a sudden to directly swap depressive feelings for happy ones. However, I would suggest that we do have some inner freedom to turn towards or turn our backs on what is revealed to us in the world of nature. Therapists for depressed people know that insofar as we have some insight into our own positive and negative states and ways of automatic thinking, then we do have some freedom to choose which to identify with.

Sometimes it might be difficult to move towards the change that is needed. It may help to visualise this freedom in terms of tuning the dial on a radio. We can listen in, either, on the one hand, to material that is uplifting and inspiring, or on the other hand, listen to what reinforces our sense of grievance, intolerance, and complaint.

The challenge of a depressed mood

Let no one minimise the challenge of trying to get to grips with depressed mood. There are no simple answers. But I do believe one useful strand is a clearer appreciation of the Divine source of life as an uplifting and healing force for the mind.

“Inmost angels perceive how much comes from the Lord and how much from themselves, but that in so far as it comes from the Lord they know happiness and insofar as it comes from themselves they do not.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems