Dealing With Fear And Anxiety

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A Sermon by the Rev. Erik J. Buss

What is anxiety? Many of us feel anxious about our jobs, or our marriages, or our friendships, or our children, quite regularly. We have all probably felt that tightening of our stomach that comes with feelings of anxiety. Maybe we can’t fall asleep at night, because we just can’t stop worrying about our latest problem. Yet how many of us could give a good definition of anxiety, one that would tell us where the true causes of it lie? When is anxiety good, spurring us to act, and when is it destructive, paralyzing us with doubt? Here are some of the teachings of the New Church on the subject.
First, we need to ask ourselves what exactly anxiety is. We often say “I’m a bit tense today” or speak of feeling anxious about something. But aren’t we normally describing the symptoms? We say we are anxious or tense when we feel tension in our shoulders or stomach, or when we get a certain kind of headache, or when we get irritable for no reason, or when we feel unaccountably tired. Even Webster’s Dictionary defines anxiety as a “painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind, usually over an impending or anticipated ill.” It goes on to describe how it can show itself as sweating, tension, increased pulse. This definition is describing symptoms.
The definition that Swedenborg’s Writings give goes to the root of the problem of anxiety. This definition is that anxiety arises “from being deprived of what … which we love. Those who are affected only with bodily and worldly pleasures, or who love only such concerns, grieve when they are deprived of them; but those who are affected with spiritual goods and truths and love them, grieve when they are deprived of them” (AC 2689:2). Isn’t that so simple and clear, encompassing all kinds of anxiety? If we feel anxious about getting up in front of a crowd or talking to a stranger, isn’t it from fear of losing that person’s good opinion of us by coming across as stupid or wrong? When we feel anxious about whether we are good enough to get to heaven, aren’t we fearing that we will lose the good in heaven which we love? When we feel anxious about making a long-term commitment in a relationship, don’t we fear losing our self-respect if that person dumps us because we opened up to them and they rejected what they saw, or if we make a big mistake and blow it ourselves?
The teachings for the New Church tell us even more about the source of anxiety. Anxiety is caused by the presence of spirits with us. The spiritual world is very real, and influences us all the time. Some spirits delight in stirring up our minds and making us feel anxious. Why is this significant to us? Well, isn’t it easier to fight someone else than to fight against ourselves? When we see anxiety as coming from a source outside of ourselves, we don’t have to chastise ourselves for feeling anxious, afraid or depressed. We can chastise the spirits with us. And instead of asking the Lord to, as it were, carve out the evil part of us, we can ask Him to cut off the influence of these spirits. In other words, by recognizing that anxiety comes from spirits with us, we objectify our problem and make it easier to deal with.
We can be helped by recognizing that anxiety is a fear of losing something we love, and comes from spirits with us. However, we need to distinguish what kind of anxiety it is. Some kinds of anxiety are useful for us to feel, and some are destructive. For instance, the Swedenborg says that we always feel anxiety when we are tempted. When we are tempted some good love we have is threatened and we come to doubt that it can survive this onslaught of evil it is facing. A person can have his commitment to a spouse tempted by a strong desire to commit adultery. This desire threatens the marriage, and because the person loves the marriage he feels anxiety about the conflict. If he didn’t love marriage, the thought of cheating would cause no anxiety and there would be no temptation. He wouldn’t even stop to think about not doing it.
Another reason the Lord allows us to feel anxiety for a good reason is to spur us to action. For instance, if we have done something wrong, the pangs of conscience we feel immediately afterward cause anxiety. That is good, because the feeling makes us resolved not to do it again. The Lord also allows us to feel anxiety when we learn a new truth and realize that it is telling us we need to change our lives. In this instance we are probably feeling anxiety at having to give up an evil way of living that we don’t want to. For example, a businessperson who realizes that not telling the whole truth about his product is actually lying and stealing might feel anxiety that he will lose business or his position in his company if he changes to a more honest approach and doesn’t make as many sales.
Anxiety does not have to focus on a loss we personally will feel. A person can feel anxiety at being unable to help other people she loves.
For instance, parents often have to let children make choices that they know are damaging to them. They won’t stop the child because they respect the child’s right to make choices. Parents can feel lots of anxiety and fear for the child because they know he is damaging good loves from the Lord. Worry for others probably feels worse than any other kind of anxiety because there is nothing we can do to make the problem go away. All we can do is trust that the Lord is taking care of that person as well as anyone possibly could.
Misfortune and grief we experience also can make us feel anxiety. This is good because it can cause us to elevate our thoughts to spiritual issues. It gives us a chance to think about the Lord’s governance of the world and our own lives. For instance, the pain and suffering of many in the world has caused anxiety for many. It has led them to wonder why God allows these events, and what it says about the nature of God, of His respect for our free will, of the nature of evil, and how we respond to it. Because a value is threatened – in this instance our love for peace, we can feel anxiety even though nothing threatens us directly.
These kinds of anxiety are good because they all arise from a good love. They are a sign that we are spiritually healthy. If we didn’t have good loves, we wouldn’t feel these kinds of anxiety. The challenge we face is that a good feeling can turn into something destructive if we focus too much on it. One of the leading causes of destructive anxiety comes from focusing too much on something that once was positive. For instance, the anxiety we feel in temptation, which makes us feel that we will never get to heaven, is good because it makes us realize how much we need the Lord’s help. However, when we dwell on it and lament about our evil and wonder whether it is worth the effort to try being good since we are on our way to hell anyway, then the anxiety becomes destructive. Similarly, a parent can feel a healthy worry for a child who is choosing a harmful path, but when they can’t stop thinking about it, can’t sleep because of it, and decide they are a worthless parent, that anxiety becomes destructive. Anxiety is like an adrenaline rush. It can be useful to push us through a hard time because it gives us that extra bit of energy we need. However, just as adrenaline is harmful to the body when it stays for too long, so anxiety becomes destructive when we dwell on it.
Another major cause of anxiety that is destructive is fear of losing something in the future that is not essential to our long-term happiness. It is so easy to get caught up in our worldly possessions that we lose track of their importance. Money can easily become the foremost issue in our lives, even when we have enough and to spare. The Lord teaches that good people are not anxious, and that they define care for the morrow, or unnecessary anxiety as “suffering about losing or not receiving things that are not necessary to life’s useful employments” (HH 278:2). In other words, they worry about money only when it impacts on their ability to be useful people.
I should mention one other cause for anxiety that the Heavenly Doctrines for the New Church give. That is mental disorder of some sort. If our minds are disturbed, we are wide open to the influence of our destructive tendencies, to hell within ourselves. We can find ourselves anxious over every little problem without any cause. Although everyone needs the Lord’s help in their lives, these people need to get their bodies and minds fixed before the Lord can work with their spirits. This is an important factor to be aware of.
Isn’t it interesting that the Lord gives us many good reasons why we might feel anxious, but only a few that are destructive? Maybe this fact can lead us to look at anxiety in a different light. Maybe we can see that much of the time we feel it, it is productive, some sadness the Lord is allowing us to feel now so we can feel greater happiness later. As with anything good the Lord gives us, the hells affecting us will try to turn it into something destructive. But in itself, anxiety is a useful tool.
With this idea in mind, we can approach anxiety with a far more calm attitude. We can ask ourselves, “Is this anxiety now serving any useful purpose? Am I motivated to do what is useful? Am I acting in a loving way because of it?” If yes, we can say a quiet thank you to the Lord for it. If not, we can reject it as an influence of hell, something we want to have nothing to do with. Either way, we are in control of our anxiety, instead of having it control us.
One final teaching about anxiety offers us a hope for what our lives can become like. It is that anxiety becomes less and less an issue in our lives as we progress spiritually. Most of us are probably at the point where the Lord’s words about worrying apply to us: “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.” As we become more advanced, we become more content in the Lord and become more willing to accept the Lord’s guidance in our lives. Listen to the description of how angelic people think about the events that occur in their lives: “Very different is the case with those who trust in the Divine. These people, despite the fact that they are concerned about future events, still are not, because they do not think of the morrow with worry, still less with anxiety. Their spirit is unruffled whether they obtain the objects of their desire, or not; and they do not grieve over the loss of them, being content with their lot. If they become rich, they do not set their hearts on riches; if they are raised to honors, they do not regard themselves as more worthy than others; if they become poor, they are not made sad; if their circumstances are meager, they are not dejected. They know that for those who trust in the Divine all things advance toward a happy state to eternity, and that whatever befalls them in time still leads towards it.” (AC 8478:3). We can all eventually come to feel this in our hearts. For now, we can be content that the Lord is slowly guiding us to that time when anxiety will no longer be an issue in our lives. We can use the anxiety we feel to become happier, more productive people.
Lessons: Matt 6:25-34, AC 2689:2, AC 8478:3

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Dealing with depression

 by Rev. Clark Echols

Dealing with depressionSadness, like joy, anger and fear, is a normal human emotion. It is a gift from the Lord because it allows us to be conscious of who and what we love; we cannot experience love without feeling some sadness. People have noticed for millennia that going through periods of sadness or grief restores one’s mental, emotional, and spiritual balance.

However, sometimes a person is unable to manage his sadness on his own. Depression exists for many individuals, often brought on by a traumatic experience or a chemical imbalance in the brain. The medical community has helped by defining the disease of depression as a physical ailment that begins in the brain, and is felt in all parts of the body in a variety of ways.

In many cases, depression is caused when there is an interruption in either the brain’s production or reception of dopamine, the chemical that induces our feeling of joy.

There is a very real spiritual component to this ailment as well. As described in Divine Providence, “The state of the mind depends on that of the body. When the body is afflicted, the mind is as well, if only by being out of touch with the world” (142). It helps people to know that depression is a physical disease. It frees them from uselessly and harmfully blaming themselves for the ailment. It frees them to take a very wide view of what they can do to be cured. And it is quite common for depression to be cured if it can be attended to early in its appearance.

Therapists have a short, simple list of remedies for depression, although actually doing them requires more or less strength, courage and stamina depending on the severity of the illness. The list begins with physical behaviors – sleeping, eating and exercise in the right amounts in a structured routine. Then there is the mental skills – relaxation, focus, presence, attentiveness, which are grouped together as mindfulness practices. And finally, there is the spiritual component.

The spiritual component is not a physical discipline or a mental practice, although it needs to be expressed in our body and in our thought and feeling. An effective therapist will help the person identify their higher power, the Divine, God, or Lord as a loving, helpful, healing source of their life. And then the person seeks a spiritual sense of connection to their God. For instance, it is common for a person suffering depression to report that they feel forgotten by God.

The cure for depression involves all of these pieces. It is critical for there to be a stable, helpful relationship with God, a mindful way of thinking and feeling, and healthy behaviors. Each supports the other, and the cure is harder to achieve if one or more of them is not fully utilized by the person.

A typical scenario for a person is that they are traumatized by a loss. They can’t sleep, eat poorly, and don’t leave their bed, or at least their house, as much as a healthy person does. And then their thinking and feeling – the activity of their brains – is affected and they give a lot of time and energy to negative thoughts about themselves, their circumstances and the future (as distinct from sadness, anger or fear about these areas of their life). It is then that spirits associated with evil and false notions and desires are attracted to the person, and are able to attach themselves to the unconscious level of the person’s spirit.

The cure for depression can begin in any one of these aspects or as a combination. A person who has had a strong faith – a significant sense of dependence on God and appreciation of His presence in their lives – can be encouraged by a spiritual guide or therapist to be mindful of that faith, and can be instructed to use energy, thought and feeling, to create a sacred space where they can spend time in devotion. Perhaps they use Scripture, music, guided meditation or singing to bring the benefits of positive spirits into their unconscious. These spirits will restore the person’s balanced view of their life, and remind them of the inner strengths they have from their God.

A spouse or close family member can be with the person, and as they talk about the person’s thinking and feeling, they are able to reflect the function and dysfunctional patterns of thinking. The person can be alerted to the connection they maintain between negative thoughts and feelings by a person listening carefully.

A friend can take the person to, or bring in, a meal of good food, and go with them for a walk. Or if there is a form of recreation the person has loved, a companion in that activity can be encouraging.

The cure is achieved when the person’s spirit is fully engaged again in their thinking, feeling and acting. The person then not only feels connected to their God, but also to their community. They feel the fulfillment and joy of a life of usefulness, which is generated by an inner desire to love their God and do their neighbor good.


Clark Echols is a licensed counselor, and pastor of the Glendale New Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. For more information, visit www.clarkechols.com.

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DAILY INSPIRATION

“Divine Providence has as its end in view a person’s eternal salvation, thus not their great happiness in the world, not – that is to say – wealthiness and eminence which people during their lifetime think real happiness consists in.”

Arcana Coelestia 6481

 

Looting America And God’s Gifts

 

Money has a cultural hold on all of us. It is quite hypnotic. Money has put us into a trance so profound that our cognitive ability has diminished to the point of simply knowing the price of things at the expense of being able to discern the true value of things.

Like modern physics, we have divorced ourselves from a life of meaning and values. In America, money is how one keeps score.

Money thwarts our search for meaning yet it exerts a powerful pressure on us that is constant. It is hard to become spiritual when our stomachs are empty and we have no roof over our heads. Even worse, spiritual growth has been almost completely abandoned as a means to finding happiness. Instead, we will not be happy until we keep up with and finally surpass the Joneses.

We better ourselves by bettering someone else. This economic philosophy is contrary to God’s great commandment of loving the neighbor.

Do not get me wrong. Money is important. But more and more, it is being made from cunning and cleverness rather than from a sincere desire to be of service to others. In most cases, we seek to help ourselves rather than to improve the well-being of others.

The big problem is that we have separated the acquiring of money from the enrichment of our innermost being. Making money enters into everything we do EXCEPT for our spiritual growth. But making money should be intimately involved with our spiritual growth as well!

Why? Because, making money should be the “fruit” of our God-given talents. These talents are lost in the corporate scheme of things where one is swimming among sharks and looking to gain some advantage.

We are in our current financial crisis because greed, envy, and self-identity have taken the cockpit in the acquisition of money. Rather than happiness, any success at making money leads to fear in keeping it—to the point that nothing can be really enjoyed anymore.

Surveys often show that many of the most “successful” people feel they are missing something in their lives. Acquiring riches can dull us to the richness of life and love. Such individuals have not paid attention to their souls. This type of success poisons everything.

All wars, all forms of social injustice, crime, and the destruction of the environment, emerge from this blind striving towards wealth and power.

How we acquire money and spend it shows WHAT WE ARE. We are looting America and God’s gifts.

How do we escape this financial and social captivity?

First we must not live above our means. Next we should work on our relationships with friends and family (before we find ourselves making this discovery on our deathbeds). Finally, we must either do the jobs we have from a sincere principle of mutual love and service, or find new ways to make a living that offer us true self-worth and deep satisfaction.

Follow this simple path and you will begin to experience heaven itself.

Posted on October 10, 2008by thegodguy

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A Heavy Cross or an Easy Yoke?

 

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Matt Walsh has a typically provocative post up on The Blaze entitled “If you find it easy to be a Christian, you probably aren’t one.” Is he right? There are certainly passages from the New Testament that would seem to suggest so. Jesus did say,

If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

But there are other New Testament passages that seem to suggest the opposite, that the Christian life should be easy. Most notable are Jesus’ words in Matthew:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

So which is it? Is the Christian life a heavy cross or a light burden? The answer, of course, is both. But the “easiness” of a genuine Christian life is far different from the “easiness” of nominal Christianity, a Christianity that requires nothing from its adherents.

Freedom or Servitude?

Walsh argues that the biggest obstacle to genuine Christianity in America is not persecution, but temptation to sin. There are countless versions of Christianity (and other faiths) to choose from, and you’re bound to be able to find one that will excuse whatever sin you happen to be drawn to.

But isn’t it good to have options? Isn’t freedom part of the point of being a Christian? Walsh nicely sums up the difference between genuine freedom and false freedom:

That’s the easy faith. The tempting one. The faith that preaches a Christ who died so that we may be freed to sin, rather than freed from sin. A difference of only one word, but the gap between them is as wide as the gap between Heaven and Hell.

It’s a good point, and important to keep in mind. But it’s also important to remember that living a Christian life should lead to a sense of genuine freedom and relief even in this lifetime. There are millions of Christians who will attest to way that their faith brought them out of harmful lifestyles or addiction. But that kind of freedom happens as a result of a willing submission to the Lord’s Word. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). First we abide in His Word as disciples, then we know the truth, and only then are we made free.

Peace or a Sword?

That kind of freedom brings with it a great sense of peace. Jesus said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). But again, this kind of peace only comes about after a willing submission to the Lord’s Word – and that takes an act of will, a battle between our new man and our old man. It’s a fight. Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Paul exhorted the Ephesians to take up the whole armor of God in battle against the powers of evil:

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:14-17)

The Doctrine of the New Church puts this in terms of fighting against sin as if of ourselves while acknowledging that it the Lord Jesus Christ acting in us and through us. We need to know that it won’t feel like the Lord acting through us when we fight against the urge to tear someone else down. It’s only in retrospect that we realize that it was only by His grace that we were able to resist.

Even here, though, there can be a kind of peace within the conflict, a peace in knowing that we are acting in the Lord. A passage from Arcana Coelestia puts it this way:

A person who is being regenerated first experiences a state of serenity, but as he moves on into the new life so he moves into a state that is not serene. For evils and falsities which he has taken into himself previously now emerge and show themselves, and these trouble him, so much so at length that he undergoes temptations and trials from the devil’s crew who try all the time to destroy his state of new life. But despite this a state of peace exists with him inmostly. …In all the conflicts he experiences he sees that state as the end in view…, and this is what enables him to overcome. (Arcana Coelestia §3696)

“Fear Not” or “Fear and Trembling”?

In his final point, Walsh stresses the need for continuous repentance. He writes,

“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” St. Paul tells the Philippians. To which the modern Christian says, “Dude, chill.” I think we’re safer adopting St. Paul’s approach than that of the super chill psuedo-Christian. What reaction can we have but fear and trembling when we honestly confront the vileness of our sin? How many of us have even attempted such a confrontation?”

Genuine introspection can be a terrifying thing to do. I happen to be preaching on fear and courage next Sunday, and in the course of my research I came across this great passage from True Christian Religion, explaining why repentance was not widely practiced in the Protestant world:

The reason is that some are unwilling and some are afraid to repent, and lack of practice turns into a habit and leads to unwillingness, and eventually to acquiescence as the result of reasoning by the understanding. In some cases it leads to sorrow, fear and terror at the idea of repentance… [I spoke to some,] and they said that when they have it in mind to examine themselves, they are struck by fear and terror, as if they saw a monster beside their bed in the twilight.

It is genuinely frightening to start the work of self-examination and repentance. It’s hard to face the reality of what’s inside us. But it does get easier with practice. As with servitude that turns into freedom and the sword that turns into peace, this fear can be transformed into a kind of joy in repentance. Eventually, rebuke from God can be experienced as a blessing; the Lord says in Revelation 3:19, “Those whom I love I rebuke and chasten,” and the Psalmist writes, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:71).

This doesn’t mean the fear of finding sin in ourselves ever goes away, but I it is transformed. It’s here that I might part ways with Walsh. Walsh writes, “I’m not really convinced that it’s possible to feel too guilty for your sin or too afraid of the eternal fire, but I’m sure those who cross that line, wherever it is, are in far better shape than those who never approach it.” I agree to a point – we should never lose the horror at the evil we’re capable of, and that does start as a fear of going to hell. But as a person grows spiritually, that fear becomes less one of “the eternal fire,” and more a fear of being hellish – a fear of letting down the Lord, a fear of doing anything that will hurt others. It becomes a fear that is actually love at its heart. From Arcana Coelestia:

As regards the holy fear which is signified in the Word by “the fear of God,” be it known that this fear is love, but love such as is the love of little children toward their parents, of parents toward their children, of consorts toward each other, who fear to do anything which displeases, thus which in any way does injury to love. (Arcana Coelestia §8925)

The Race of Faith

So is the Christian life difficult or easy? It’s both. The best way of reconciling this seeming contradiction is through the metaphor of the Christian life as a race. As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews put it:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1)

It is hard to run a race. It takes training, dedication, and perseverance. But if you talk to any long distance runner, they’ll tell you that at some point while they’re running, they get a second wind. (As it happens, the word for “wind” in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin is the same as the word for both “breath” and “spirit.” Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.) Runners push themselves to the point of exhaustion – muscles burning, breath difficult, sweat pouring out. And then – something changes, and they find that their body is almost running itself. They are “being run.” They still have to work at it, their muscles and breath are still straining – but they find that in some sense it has become easy.

To couch potatoes, all that might seem pointless. Sure, maybe running gets easy at some point, but it’s even easier to sit around and watch TV. Those people miss the reality that the easiness of a second wind is deep, fulfilling, and life-giving – the opposite of the bored ennui of laziness. But unless those couch dwellers decide to start moving themselves, they’ll never really get the difference.

It’s the same with couch Christians vs. marathon Christians. Being a couch Christian – a Christian in name only, who maybe said the sinner’s prayer once and puts up Christmas lights – feels easy, but it’s not authentic. Being a marathon Christian takes work – but even in that work there is a joy. Even before reaching the destination there are second winds and experiences of ease – experiences of a genuine peace that surpasses anything a couch Christian can imagine.

One final point, lest I come across as holier-than-thou. I try to be a marathon Christian, but sometimes I slow down and get out of shape. And every time that happens (as anyone who has stopped exercising will tell you), it’s hard to get started again. It takes effort to do the challenging work of introspection and continuous repentance. But it’s worth it. There is joy and peace and ease not just at the finish line, but in the running of the race itself.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Image copyright: balefire9 / 123RF Stock Photo

February 10, 2017 by 0 Comments

Evil – Can anyone be so characterised?

evil
Ratko Mladic

Ratko Mladic was the key player and commander of the Bosnian Serb forces that tried to eliminate Muslims from large parts of Bosnia. His forces were responsible for much social evil, massacring eight thousand Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995: the brutal siege of Sarajevo between 1992 and 1995 resulted in the death of 10,000 people. His capture and trial for war crimes reminds us of the torture, mass rape, arson and genocide that formed part of this ‘ethnic cleansing’.

How does one explain these evil crimes against humanity? How could someone like Mladic fundamentally go against human values, and be outside of what civilisation universally sees as acceptable behaviour?

Can a person be evil?

When someone, like Mladic, or one of his followers, harms another person, should they be considered as evil? Or are they so out of harmony with themselves, they should be seen as sick or ill rather than wicked? This may be so. But even if no individual person is evil, this does not mean that some human behaviour cannot be properly considered evil. According to this second view evil is part of the process of individual choice rather than the quality of the person doing the choosing.

Is evil a useful term?

Some people ask whether the social context in which harm to human beings is done, calls into question the idea that such acts can be universally considered as evil. For them, standards of good and evil are only products of local culture, custom, or prejudice and that the very word ‘evil’ is an outmoded concept no longer fit for purpose.

However, others point out that what counts as evil is all to do with the individual intent, independent of culture. Arguably, those who are willing to go against moral codes will justify their actions if it suits them to do so, whether they be those ship captains and plantation owners who engaged in the slave trade, the Nazis who found mass extermination of the Jews acceptable, or the leadership of the United States Union Army’s massacre of “savage” Native American Indians.

Is evil an illusion?

The results of evil intent are real enough whether they be seen in times of war, suffering of victims of serious crime, or simply those on the end of spiteful gossip. But should we understand evil as a powerful identity that causes suffering in the world? Or is it just a man-made idea that has no reality? Should we ditch the idea of Satan as just old hat?

In one sense perhaps we should. Ever since Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic Church has defined evil as the absence of good. Just as cold is defined as the lack of warmth, and darkness the deprivation of light, so evil is defined in terms of good. To understand evil one thus needs to understand what is meant by good. For evil is its opposite. To appreciate cruelty one first needs to experience tender care. To comprehend malice one needs to know love. To understand a state of ignorance one needs to fathom a state of knowledge.

Where does evil come from?

Likewise for Swedenborg, evil is the inversion of good. He reckons disorder is the inversion of order, and falsity the inversion of truth. Evil is a quality of life which has no independent origin, but is a distortion of the one Divine life.

Using his psychic vision, he describes a way of life of human spirits in a hidden spirit realm, who choose hatred over love, and crime over justice. One is not normally conscious of their influence but if one continually allows their presence into one’s heart and mind, they are said to then prompt and urge cruelty, sexual violence, and self-ascendancy without any concern for human suffering. We don’t know if people like Mladic will join them in his after-life. But allowing himself to be constantly swayed by their impulses and thoughts, he can become crazed with evil, caught up in a crowd baying for blood. The madness feels overpowering and the individual is swept along apparently helpless to fight against the current.

Actually, Swedenborg says this seeming overwhelming power of evil is an illusion. For there is also a divine sphere of justice and humane concern which is available to us all. This good balances the evil flow. And so we have the freedom to inwardly turn in which direction we wish. But without turning towards what is good we would all be vulnerable to the inflow of cruelty and malice.

Many of us human beings sometimes choose to turn our back on the one Source of happiness and opening ourselves to evil impulses. This is when we put self above all else. That is when what we want determines all our actions together with the fear, pride and greed that accompanies self-love. Just look in at the criminal courts of justice and see what trouble can then be reeked; never mind the international court in the Hague where crimes against humanity are tried. Perhaps the Serb nationalists who still support Mladic will then realise the full extent of the evil their hero has really caused.

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

Work life balance – How do I achieve it?

A poor work life balance can be addressed through psycho-spiritual considerations as well as renegotiation.

work life balance

The signs of poor work life balance are feeling overloaded, taken for granted, and drained. Working parents may become a little detached from the children and feel what they do is not good enough. So what causes this state of affairs and what can you do about it?

Cultural change and the work life balance

Until a few years ago professional workers who were obliged to take work home, set aside time there in order to get the work done when it would not impinge upon their personal life.

Since then technology has become more sophisticated. The “2015 Workplace Flexibility Study.” was based on a survey in the USA. It found that 64% of managers expect their employees to be reachable outside of the office in their personal time. This trend has now reached Europe.

The lack of work life balance becomes more acute for parents, particularly mothers. This is because of the increase in their numbers in the workforce, together with the unwitting expectation that they will continue to shoulder most of the responsibilities of child-rearing and domesticity.

Self-care and the work life balance

Most of us know only too well that looking after oneself is crucial for health and well-being. This means time to get a proper night’s rest – doctors recommend 7-8 hours: time to have a little regular physical exercise which helps to relieve stress: and time to renew batteries through being on one’s own and having meaningful contact with family and friends.

These sound like the bare minimum for self-care. Yet, even these are under threat from the office email demanding some immediate response. How can one switch off one’s mind from the demands of the world if one’s smart phone is always switched on? And even if you do turn it off, you are likely to regularly turn it back on just to see if anything has turned up whilst it was off.

“Technology has expanded the 9-to-5 workday into the 24/7 workday, which has made it extremely difficult for employees to have personal time”
(Dan Schawbel, Founder of WorkplaceTrends.com)

Addictive technology and the work life balance

When people use this technology at work it can be adopted for their interests at home e.g. social media and use of search engines. Often a lot of this is in some way work-related e.g. professional networking, and information gathering. There is thus a blurred line between work responsibilities and personal life. The frequent use of Twitter, Facebook, Google etc at home can be so habit-forming as to even be seen as an addiction.

Fear and the work life balance

The fear is in missing something important through not being constantly connected. What if a crisis occurred and they couldn’t contact me? Or something happening which I feel I need to know about?

Often the fear is partly rational with some element of exaggeration. Is it really the end of the world if you don’t respond to that enquiry during unsocial hours? Or to that international customer from another time zone? Unless you are on call and working for an emergency service, you are not going to respond to a text message during the middle of the night – or are you?

An underlying unreasonable fear may be one of catastrophic failure, making obvious mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized. Why not replace this desire for faultlessness with being “good enough.” After all no one is perfect.

Negotiation with the boss about work life balance

Re-negotiating boundaries should not be considered as negative. Rather, it is a way of affirming something about one’s own self-worth and is a path to sanity. Saying ‘no’ to unreasonable demands can be an important first step in bargaining. One compromise deal might be not taking the work smart phone on holiday but giving your private phone number just to the boss on the understanding you may be called only in a dire emergency.

A reasonable boss, who values your work, may be willing to do a deal. If there is no organisational policy regarding a general flexibility for employees’ work life balance, this may be just a private understanding only with you. Such a deal may or may not be at the cost of reducing your further advancement within the company.

Other managers, however, may be intransigent and refuse to compromise. And so it may not be possible to strike a compromise in favour of a better work life balance. In such a scenario you possibly will need to consider looking for another job where the need for worker flexibility is better understood and where work goals better resonate with you. However this could mean having to accept lower pay.

Staying attuned spiritually and the work life balance

One way of dealing with our fears is to get some perspective on them by getting in touch with the higher dimension to life.

With late night and Sunday opening, modern secular life doesn’t allow for any special day of the week. Yet, according to the biblical legend, even God rested on the seventh day of creation! Perhaps we do need permission to keep one day for ourselves. A chance, without the ubiquitous smart phone, to get out into the fresh air, connect to nature, or listen to music. This creates space for personal reflection focusing on the deeper things of life: considering what really matters.

Look at what the world’s religions teach about the importance of meditation and prayer. Such spiritual disciplines calm the spirit and help you focus less on mistakes and the bad things and instead remember what is going right and what it means to you.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Socrates)

Swedenborg on the work life balance

Spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg wrote about the religious significance of the seventh day of the week. According to him, people with inner religious faith want regular time to devote themselves to getting in touch with their image of God. This means reflecting on spiritual lessons and allowing oneself to be led by the ‘Divine within’ rather than by the demands of the world. In so doing they are said to find the tranquillity of ‘peace that passes all understanding’

Copyright 2015 Stephen & Carole Russell-Lacy

Stephen Russell-Lacy is author Heart, Head & Hands (http://spiritualquestions.org.uk/2012/10/heart-head-hands-ebook/)

Muslim attitudes and Western fear.

Most of us will recall where we were on 9/11.

jihadist muslimI was in my studio when the announcement came and, like so many others, knew the world would never be the same again. That afternoon I collected my six year old granddaughter from her after-school club. As we drove away, slowing down at the T junction, a boy, brown skinned (Asian, British Asian, Muslim, who knows) of about eleven, still in his school uniform, was sitting on the road sign. He looked me straight in the eye and grinned. I guess that boy will now be in his twenties. Was he a jihadist Muslim in the making? I’ll never know.

Well the world hasn’t been the same. The bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan, supposedly in order to destroy Islamist jihadists then called Al-Qaida, has probably led to the rise of an even more extreme group in ISIS. Western cities have been attacked by suicide bombers and in our own country we see reports of increasing attacks on innocent Muslim people, usually women wearing the hijab.

People look at what’s happening in the world today and many point to religion as the cause of the world’s conflicts both past and present. Wherever you look, religious persuasions have always been used to justify wars and hateful actions with both sides often believing that ‘God’, ‘Allah’, ‘Jehovah’ – or whatever name they might give to their version of the Divine Creator – is on their side. We have always been adept at creating a god in our own image.

It is said that fear is the opposite of love and that hatred is a symptom of fear; the fear of the oppressed and the fear, and perhaps guilt, of the oppressor. If we use the mountain as a metaphor for the Divine Creator, we are all coming up the mountain from different sides, different cultures and belief systems, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist etc that at the ‘extremes’ of the mountain are totally ‘foreign’ to us (how language can be so loaded and appear politically incorrect!) Following that metaphor, it is as we draw up to the Light at the top that differences fade away and there is no longer a place for the shadows of fear and hatred as we see each other as brothers and sisters in the light of Love. In today’s world the top of the mountain seems a long way off.

What can we do about it? Not a lot you might think as we leave our elected leaders to argue it out whether more air strikes and bombing or troops on the ground are the best option against Muslim jihadists in Syria. In the words of the song, ‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me’, this is the only place we can start. If life is about anything, it’s about learning to recognise our own personal shortcomings, prejudices and fears, challenging them, and bringing them to the Light.

Going back to the boy on the street sign. Every child will pick up all sorts of things from us adults, including our prejudice and fear. They will accept, and may later reject, many of our interests, opinions, loves and hates. It is up to us to question the influence we have on them, encouraging them to see all sides of a situation (the mountain) and hopefully give them a ‘leg up’ to a higher starting point on their journey towards the Light.

Copyright 2015 Carole Lacy