Spiritual Mirages

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation


I wonder whether you have ever seen a mirage?

Mirages occur in our physical world; in the desert the interface of hot and cold air creates to the eye the appearance or illusion of water. For a time the eye is misled into seeing what is not there – it is not real. Mirages can pull us away from our true course -and when we reach this destination we discover it to be unreal – empty of any substance …….

There are other appearances that occur in our physical world. Every day of our lives the sun rises in our sky to herald the beginning of a new day. But this is an illusion, an appearance that we live in and take for granted. The reality is that we and our bit of the earth that we live on has turned towards the sun – and those who live on the other side of the world have turned away from the sun and so are experiencing darkness and night.

I also have illusions or appearances of truth that I hold to be ‘the truth’. And this is so for all people; all of us journey towards discovering more and more what is real and unlearning what we thought was real. It is easier to look back and see what one has outgrown than to see what illusions one presently inhabits. Once I believed that attaining qualifications would give me self-esteem; but I have come to see that this is a mirage, as certificates and pieces of paper are external things and therefore doesn’t heal anything inside me. I was looking in the wrong place and for the wrong remedy.

I can be easily fooled by what happens on a superficial level. Ego, in particular, is fooled by what is outward and external.

I reflect on the appearance of the sun rising to begin the day. If I look at what lies behind this appearance, it shows me an inner reality that God/the Divine always has his/her focus towards me even at times when I feel distanced and unconnected. But if I fall for what the appearance is (that the sun/Divine moves away from me) then I am sucked into thoughts of being isolated and apart from the source of life, love and wisdom.

The world is not focused around me and my stuff, however much it feels that way. When I just focus on my concerns this turns me away from the Divine and reality. What is real is focused on things that endure – Love that comes from the Divine and the insight that is given through how this Love is to be expressed and lived.

Insight is given, it flows in. In-sight or inner sight that enables each of us to see more clearly the reality of a situation, a relationship …… and so the mirage is dispelled and we renew our connection with whatever path we are on towards what is the highest good or the divine will. The following quotation expresses the contrast between outer and inner sight:

Thought from the eye closes the understanding,

but thought from the understanding opens the eye.

We attain enlightenment when we love truth

for the sake of truth, and not for the sake

of self-promotion or worldly gain.

 If we look at the world with our outer sight alone, which is from a materialistic viewpoint, only the superficial, material world will be seen. Focusing on this level alone closes the inner or spiritual sight. How can we look up if we are looking down? How can we look within if we are looking without? But when we shift our focus to what is spiritual, searching for the ultimate truth behind the veils of the way things appear, we find true understanding of life on all levels.

Emanuel Swedenborg, Way of Wisdom

When I read this it reminds me to look more deeply, to open myself to in-sight; so I can see my way forward and the next step on my path. The mirages dissolve into nothingness…..

Copyright 2013 Helen Brown


Posted on 5th February 2013Categories Consciousness, Meaning and inspirationTags , , , , , , , , , , ,  Leave a comment


Gossip – Is it good for the soul?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation


Pat: We need the chance to gossip about people and what they get up to – especially the shenanigans of the high and mighty.  How else would we have found out about say the serial sexual seductions of Dominique Straus-Khan, managing director of the IMF? This is someone who was heading for high political office. These acts were covered up and apparently regarded as uncontroversial in elite French society.

Chris: But to gossip about such celebrities as Ryan Giggs, the Manchester United footballer, and his widely reported affair with Big Brother star Imogen Thomas, doesn’t help his family. Surely their right to a private life is more important than the mass media’s freedom of expression?

Pat: People should be interested in the real character of those people who act as important role models. They should have public exposure.

Chris: Don’t you think that we all need to keep back something secret about our inner lives in order to function as human beings? Unless we each retain a degree of privacy we lose a sense of who we are. What only I know about myself gives me a sense of my individual self. It is an important way that makes me a feel like a different person from other people. Don’t public figures also have this need?

Pat: Maybe, but the private lives of politicians and faith leaders who are shaping views and making laws should be open to scrutiny. Their personal integrity is a model for the kind of society they wish to lead us towards – one involving trust in relationships, keeping promises, telling the truth and so on. This doesn’t work unless there is consistency between what such leaders publicly say and privately do.

Chris: You’re confusing what the public are interested in as opposed to what is in the ‘public interest.’ There is a difference between what society wants to know and gossip about and what it needs to know and examine.

Pat: Gossip is fun. What’s so bad about getting a kick from bringing the mighty down to size? It is a way of pricking the oversized celebrity ego.

Chris: No, gossip is not fun. It is actually a mean spirited disagreeable attitude towards those with power or privilege. Such gossip is simply fed by disappointment in a fallen hero or envy of the rich and famous.

Pat: People don’t only gossip about the rich and famous. There is no shortage of chat down the pub and on the street corner about what other people in one’s social network get up to in their private lives.

Chris: Looking at the British prurient press one can’t help thinking that hearing about private affairs of others whether or not they are public figures arouses a universal voyeurism in everyone, titillating baser interests. And that applies as much to private individuals as public figures.

Pat: Okay, perhaps the simplistic opinions of the tabloid newspapers attract those readers who are not required to try to think through complex issues. It is easy enough to jump to conclusions about somebody.  But, just because it is difficult to make an overall judgment about anyone, it doesn’t mean one we should be satisfied with part of the story. I’m mindful of what Christ once said.

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

We need to get at the whole truth about the person.

Chris: Hang on. In the public world how can this happen? For example, Twitter is full of unsubstantiated allegations upon which moral judgements are made. This scandal mongering is disreputable and damaging. It seems obvious to me that gossip can only involve Chinese whispers where opinions get passed on from one to another and the original information inevitably suffers distortion.

Pat: Hasn’t shame a potentially important role in the way politician’s behaviour is monitored and corrected. Isn’t this why we have a justice system that punishes wrongdoing like fraudulent expense claims?

Chris: Yes, but only in a court of law can you have any chance of getting at the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Not the kangaroo court that is the typical tabloid newspaper. Exposure there is done for reasons of entertainment masked as information provision.

Even juries cannot be expected to judge an accused inner character – only the likelihood that he or she is guilty of committing the offence. This means judging and discriminating fairly rather than being judgmental or prejudiced.

When some sections of the press make moral judgments in very black and white terms, a previously admired person becomes the object of contempt. Perhaps the judgmental tone appeals because it is so much easier for the reader to play the blame game — to condemn fallibilities in others rather than criticise one’s own foibles.

Don’t you think this is also true for all of us to some extent? Don’t you sometimes hold onto a grievance? Are you not as forgiving as you might want to be? Small frailties get exaggerated. Going round judging others can lead to a hypocritical or sanctimonious society where people fail to examine their own souls. This links in with another thing Christ said

Do not judge, or you too will be judged’. (Matt 7:1-3)

I could be wrong but I can’t get rid of a suspicion that a lot of social gossip is negative. I rather like a well-known saying ‘If you can’t say anything good then don’t say anything at all.’ It reminds me of what Emanuel Swedenborg described as an angelic disposition – that of looking for the good in others.

“Those among them who are like angels …intend nothing but good towards their neighbour; and if they notice anything bad in someone they make allowances for it.”
(Swedenborg. Arcana Coelestia section 6655)


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


Posted on31st May 2011CategoriesEthics, Interpersonal EthicsTags,, , , , ,, , , , , ,, , , , ,, , ,  Leave a comment

Why Even Great Leaders Can Fall Into Scandal

How is this possible? How can these transgressions happen, especially when many such individuals often expound noble behavior? They clearly have a sense of right and wrong.

The problem is not civility or morality. It is one’s spirituality. Misconduct is not simply a “slip” or a temporary mental state of bad judgment. It is the rejection of the concept of sin.

Many dynamic individuals may understand that certain behavior is immoral and loudly condemn such behavior as going against the public good. But if these things are not seen as sins, they remain soldering in the heart and are merely kept hidden from the world for the sake of reputation.

This is why Scripture warns us to “clean the inside of the cup” (Matthew 23:26). If something is not viewed as a sin, the inside of the cup remains as it is.

What is not usually taken into account is that humans have an inner and an outer reality. Humans are both physical and spiritual beings. But these two realities of our life can be completely separated from each other. We can be outwardly good but inwardly challenged. This leads to hypocrisy.

This inner deceit has led to a faulty reasoning of modernity which has adopted the life-slogan and inner conviction that, “something is wrong only if you get caught.” But how is it that such individuals can do great things for humanity and gain our deepest respect and praise?

Great things can be, and indeed are, accomplished by those who do not inspect their inner reality. In fact, they are often more motivated to accomplish great things which can benefit others than those of a more humble animus. The reason is quite simple. Such individuals are inwardly driven by the powerful principle of self-love and have pride from the glory of their own self-intelligence. So, in order to succeed and gain proper recognition, they push themselves more than others to accomplish great things.

The Lord God often makes wise use of those who are intoxicated by the power of self-love. For instance, various ego-centered individuals have been quite successful in spreading the Holy Word throughout the world by their immoderate passion for quoting scripture and speaking about God from the pulpit.

The problem is that while such individuals can be of real value to others, they shoot themselves in the foot. The spiritual world (heaven and hell) consists of the inner realities of people. That can be either a comforting or scary thought.

It is wrong to think we screw up because “to be human is to err.” We get our humanness from God and increase it through following spiritual tenets and the Commandments. God is always focused on our inner realities.

Do you think the concepts of “sin” and “evil” have relevancy in our post-modern world, or are they simply archaic terms used by the unenlightened?

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Admiration – Do you deserve it?

Silvio Berlusconi

You have seen the young pop performers, posturing on stage, pretentious, reeking of youthful ego and full of their celebrity status. And you wonder if you could have gone up on stage yourself and done that too. Maybe not! But what about something else you do that deserves attention — great disco dancing, passing of academic tests, goal scoring on the sports field?  Don’t you too deserve some admiration?

A politician wanting admiration

Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi apparently thinks so. Why else at the age of 74 does he surround himself with a bevy of bimbo escorts and sexual scandal? Is this not an attempt to cut a fine figure wanting the image of admiration, adulation, and adoration?

Admiration for those with power, sexual allure & expertise

This desire for others to have a high opinion of oneself shows in other ways. The over-sensitivities of gangland city youth come to mind. With gang leaders it can be difficult, however carefully you choose your words, to talk frankly without making their hackles rise.  ‘We beat him up because he didn’t respect me’. By respect the gang leader meant ‘cow-towing’.

In addition wanting to be well thought of is seen in the victim of plastic surgery desperate for a ‘boob job’ that will give the allure of sexual status. It is also present in the interest in social standing in those who are proud and touchy over questions of social precedence and correct forms of address on formal occasions.

This apparent need for status can also be apparent in the way business people communicate with each other. Use of specialist language can save time when specialists talk together. But sometimes clarity and succinctness go out of the window when people strive to conform to what they imagine is high status ways of talking. One example is the use of phrases like ‘benchmarking’, ‘roll-out’, ‘synergies’ and other management-speak which is tired and discredited by the time it is introduced into a local setting.

But are the rest of us so radically different? Some of us wouldn’t easily admit it but can we too not be a little touchy over the amount of courtesy shown us by strangers, or the degree of deference we imagine we are due on account of our professional reputation? Of course in traditional British culture, if you want to keep the good regard of others, you don’t make the mistake of allowing any boastful note to creep into how you talk about any achievements. No, you have to show off in more subtle ways!

Admiration and ego

According to Emanuel Swedenborg, in the spiritually transformed person, the needs of ego are set to one side – not annihilated contrary to what some spiritual teachers say — but only put to bed.

The writer Dr Michael Stanley puts it this way

All our troubles “stem from believing in the ego’s illusion – that one is separate and self-contained, and what is in one is one’s own. Cease to fall for this error, and heavenly states are experienced – especially peace.”

Admiration for the source of love and light

Instead of egoism with its showing off and concern for status in the eyes of others, a spiritually changed  person chooses to turn to the source of love and light and as a result is filled with a more elevated state of mind that gives an overriding desire to please others for their sake.

Swedenborg’s visionary experiences of a higher heavenly realm is filled with such angelic people who do not think or speak from self yet experience the sublime feelings of content, joy and peace.   The way such individuals vary is seen in terms of the quality of their useful functions rather than any sense of social class, stigma, or fame carried over from the world.  No concern about status there. Just an interest in allowing the divine life to flow through one’s being.

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

Mental health – Same as spiritual health?

For over thirty years I worked as a psychological therapist in the British National Health Service. I helped patients start to manage and deal with their mental health problems. The service expected me to discharge each case as soon as possible so I could see the next patient on the long public waiting list. Following treatment, the individual received no further active professional help. All I did were follow-ups to check on progress.

Many who had finished therapy had successfully started to better deal with past traumatic experiences, long-term negative situations, and current stressful difficulties. They had become free of their worst symptoms of mental ill-health.

Mental health

However, despite their improvements, I believed many of the discharged patients would have benefited from further help. The condition of mental health is not just the absence of mental health problems.

Mental health is usually seen as a state of subjective well-being. A satisfactory adjustment to personal circumstances and a resilience in facing life’s demands. Some definitions also include personal competence, a balance of autonomy and dependence, and reaching one’s potentials. In other words ‘the capacity to work and to love’ as said by Sigmund Freud.

Spiritual terminology

mental health
Professor Julie Exline

Actually, recent research by Julie Exline, at Western Reserve University, has found that people who more fully embrace struggles with fundamental beliefs and values report better mental health than those who don’t. She identified this in spiritual terms.

“Regular spiritual avoidance can make it difficult to identify, work toward or experience the qualities that lend a sense of purpose to life” (Julie Exline)

In other words, help is needed for people fearful of confronting the tensions and conflicts brought on by existential concerns—the “big questions” of life.

However, in mental health circles at the time I was working, there was still an attitude of negativity or indifference towards spirituality and religion. I am pleased that in more recent times this is slowly changing. There is now much more openness and positive attention given. Hence psychotherapists, at least in North America, are now encouraged to be more active in stimulating patients, if they wish, to explore the spiritual dimension in their lives.

But do the words ‘mental’ and ‘spiritual’ mean different things? Are ‘mental health’ and ‘spiritual health’ not the same? Does spirituality really add an extra dimension?

Transpersonal psychology

mental health
Dr. Steve Taylor

Transpersonal psychologist Steve Taylor studies:

“Experiences in which the sense of identity or self extends beyond the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche or cosmos”. (R. Walsh, and F. Vaughan)

Taylor has written about an inner suffering of the mind he calls ‘psychological discord’. It is when we have a sense of loneliness, foreboding, dissatisfaction, boredom. I would say you don’t have to have a mental-health problem to experience this emptiness within yourself.

Effects of psychological discord

As a result of this inner disharmony, we want to be taken out of ourselves, to compensate for our dissatisfaction and discord. We seek to defend our fragile ego and build it up. So we react angrily to anyone causing us offence. Or we might put a lot of energy into acquiring material things, social status, power or fame.

We want to latch our attention on to something external to our own discord. So we are also prone to frequently use electronic gadgets to engage in unnecessary activity such as accessing social media, games, television. We spend this time in a passive state where there is no real challenge and we don’t have to engage our deeper nature.

Also we fall into daydreaming or rumination about the past or future rather than being mindful of the present moment. Part of our minds are elsewhere rather than being alive to opportunities for living life to the full. Often we aren’t even properly present to the people we meet throughout the day. Not giving our full attention when we talk to them.

Cause of psychological discord

Taylor says that this state of inner disharmony and discord is normal. We need to learn to inwardly grow as people to transcend it. He attributes it to what he calls a common condition of ‘humania’. This is defined as one of isolation, and incompleteness inherent in our superficial sense of self-hood. He contrasts this sense of ‘I’ with a different state of consciousness he calls the ‘witnessing self’ which is more fundamental.

This concept of ‘humania’ is not so very different from the concept of ‘proprium’ written about by the spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. For him, this is the non-spiritual awareness we have of being a separate, self-contained individual with a mind and body of our own quite apart from other people, the world around us and our divine Source.

“By proprium no one understands anything else than that he lives from himself, and consequently thinks and wills from himself.”(Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)

Spiritual health

Instead of operating at the level of lower ego or propium, people, have traditionally understood spiritual health to refer to a higher consciousness of ennobling thoughts. It is to do with contentment and peacefulness. Experiencing generosity and a joy of doing good service for others, living ethically, and rising above the natural desires and attachments of the material plane.

Scholars interpret most of the sacred writings of the world’s great religions as referring to an enlightened understanding of life and liberation from wayward motives. Many writers refer to spiritual health as death of an old ‘false self’ and uncovering of one’s ‘true Self’.

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems