Discovering inner health and transformation
Sports fans are enthralled when they happen to witness something special – a great solo run, a penetrating pass, or a brilliant shot at goal from a seemingly impossible angle. The player has had an inspired moment which takes your breath away.
Brilliant insight can also take place in science, like when Archimedes jumped from his bath when he experienced a leap of understanding about the principle of displacement and when Kekule had a flash of illumination regarding the ring structure of the benzene molecule, when he imagined a snake chasing its tale.
Kenneth Ring, professor of psychology, has found that people have often been inspired by a near death experience to find a greater appreciation for life, greater compassion for others, a heightened sense of purpose, and greater planetary concern etc.
I would argue that inspiration can take place in every area of human activity — whether it be in musical composition, private meditation, poetry, the visual arts, military combat, technological invention or even political speech-making. Such moments involve clarity and vivid awareness of some new possibility. When inspiration takes place it raises our spirits and fills us with wonder.
Whatever one’s individual situation and personal experience, who wouldn’t want to feel inspired? Surely it would add excitement and greater interest to normal living. So what does it actually feel like to be inspired and how can you bring it on?
The common factor across all instances seems to be an awakening to something new, better or more important, and going beyond one’s previous concerns and habits of looking at things. Instead of being tied to the old way of doing something, a world of possibility opens up, and what is new is created. Some have said that this state of human consciousness is a spiritual gift which happens to you and takes you away from your normal self-serving limitations and puts you into closer contact with the divine spark.
Karrie Landsverk, educationalist and professional speaker, has suggested that inspiration can readily be seen in ordinary life.
“There are amazing people all around us doing every day things but doing so in a way that is inspiring. It may be they work or volunteer with a cheerful heart, they are always willing to lend a hand and stop what they are doing if someone is in need, they are always learning, they are always teaching, they are always creating and so on. Nature is inspiring and beautiful as it transforms throughout each season. God’s word is absolutely inspiring to meditate on each day. I agree our children’s innocence and pure hearts are some of the best inspiration we could ever find. The point is – open your eyes, look around and you can’t help but be inspired.”
Todd Thrash and Andrew Elliot at the University of Rochester have conducted some psychological research into some of the factors which may be conducive to inspiration. In line with Karrie Landsverk’s views, they found that openness to experience often came before inspiration, suggesting that those who are more open to inspiration are more likely to experience it. Also in line with her views they found a link with the spiritual: students studying the humanities such as art, religion and philosophy were more likely to feel inspired: these being all subjects concerned with transcendent values such as beauty, goodness and truth.
Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher, has written extensively regarding what he describes as the enlivening of the human spirit when you turn towards the spiritual with your heart as well as your mind. When you intend what is good then you will start to feel gratitude, joy, happiness, love. Then your understanding of the desirability of these things is no longer just in your head but also in your heart.
It is said that creative writing is 99% perspiration and one percent inspiration. While inspiration is not the same as effort, effort is an essential condition for inspiration. By acting on ones visionary insights you open the door to further inspiration.
Todd Thrash and Andrew Elliot would agree. They point out that both insight and the desire to act on it are both crucially important. The way they put it is to say that Yang (being inspired to) without Yin (being inspired by) is devoid of meaning and so Yin without Yang is spiritual stagnancy. In other words trying to act on one’s vision is the way to be open to further inspiration.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Posted on 14th November 2013
“Smile, God loves you” is an easy thing to say but if God loves us why does he allow us to suffer? How can we reconcile a God of Love with our everyday experience of the world in which we live?
To try and get some idea of how God loves us we could start by thinking about parents and their children. It is a very human thing for parents to try to love their children equally whatever their different characters and abilities and to seek the best for them as individuals whatever happens. Now parenthood is tough and however idealistically parents approach the bringing up of their children it is often the case that one child will think that mother or father loves their sister or brother more than them. And yet that is not what the parents really want or strive to achieve. And if children grow up and go in very different directions to those envisaged by their parents, truly loving parents will continue to love their children just the same.
Now God loves his children, you, me and everyone else, not with the imperfect love which we express in our lives, that has limits and conditions, but with an unconditional love that has no limits and no boundaries and is shared equally with all. And it is the nature of God’s love that it is given with the freedom for us to accept it, reject it or misuse it – there are no conditions in which God’s love is not given – it is unconditional.
In our human relationships we know how wonderful it is if our love for someone else is freely returned – not because they have to love us but because they want to love us. Paradoxically the more freedom we give to those whom we love the greater and stronger is the love that is returned. Force someone to love you and no real mutual love develops. Now offering to love someone and leaving them the freedom to respond or not is a high risk and potentially painful strategy – as most people find out at some stage in their lives when love is not returned.
And this, in a very human and finite way, is an image and likeness of how God loves us. He offers us love and gives us the freedom to say yes or no. God knows that if we return his love then a deep relationship can develop but if we are unable to respond to his love then he feels pain for what might have been.
One of the hardest things a parent has to do is to let their child make mistakes – despite realising the probable pain and suffering that will ensue. Children have to grow and develop and make their own way in the world and not feel they are being manipulated or directed by their parents. They will make the right decisions and the wrong decisions and yet the loving parent has to stand back and not intervene. They just offer advice to their child as to what they should do and then leave their child the freedom to make up their own mind.
And this is how God’s love works with us. God wants us to be happy and to be fulfilled. He wants us to respond to his love in freedom and he shows us how we should live. But because God values our freedom above all else he cannot intervene when he sees things going wrong. If he intervened in the greatest disasters that beset mankind surely he would also have to intervene in even the smallest personal problems in life and then where would we be – we would be like puppets being controlled by God in the play of life.
Bad things happen. God does not want them to happen. But God cannot intervene because of the freedom he gives us to choose to respond or not to his unconditional love. This is the nature of the God who loves you. God loves everyone equally but what we receive of his love depends on our openness to his love and our acknowledgement that all love comes from God. If we respond to his love we can feel loved, free and forgiven and we will then want to share God’s love with those around us.
The love of God is broad like beech and meadow,
wide as the wind, and an eternal home.
God leaves us free to seek him or reject him,
he gives us room to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’
There are three things which make up the essence of God’s love – loving others more than oneself, wishing to be one with them, and devoting oneself to their happiness.
It should be known that God is constantly present, continually striving and acting on a person, and touching his free will but never forcing it. For if God were to force a person’s free will, his dwelling in God would be destroyed, and he would be left only with God’s dwelling in him.
Have you ever been so appreciative of a quality in another person that you had to tell them immediately because you felt you might burst otherwise? Or have you ever participated in an group exercise of naming characteristics you love in each other? I recently led an exercise in a church service where I called on someone in the room, and everyone else in the room spoke of the positive qualities they saw in that person. It was a powerful, even sacred experience. These are amazing experiences, because something holy happens in those moments of expressing love. Something changes as we focus our love for one another and speak it aloud.
One of the things that has been striking me profoundly in the last couple years is what the New Church tells us about love. A beautiful teaching is that love, by its very definition can’t keep itself to itself, it has to be shared.
“The essence of love is loving others than oneself, wishing to be one with them and devoting oneself to their happiness…. The third essential of God’s love, to devote Himself to the happiness of others, is to be recognized in everlasting life, which is blessedness, bliss and happiness without end, which He gives to those who receive His love into themselves. For God, just as He is Love itself, is also blessedness itself. For every love breathes out an aura of joy from itself, and the Divine Love breathes out the very height of blessedness, bliss and happiness forever” (Emanuel Swedenborg, True Christianity 43).
Love cannot exist unless there is something that it loves; it needs a receptacle.
“The hallmark of love is not loving ourselves but loving others and being united to them through love. The hallmark of love is also being loved by others because this is how we are united. Truly, the essence of all love is to be found in union, in the life of love that we call joy, delight, pleasure, sweetness, blessedness, contentment, and happiness. The essence of love is that what is ours should belong to someone else. Feeling the joy of someone else as joy within ourselves—that is loving” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom 47).
God is love, and His love is the reason we were created. So you were breathed into existence out of God’s love, for the purpose of God’s love. That is the reason you exist, so that God can love you. What an amazing thought! And if any of us were not here, there would be some unique expression of God’s love which we are each an instrument of in someone else’s life that would be missing from their life and from the world. That is an incredible thing to think about. Each of our lives is meant to be an instrument of that love which would be missing in other people’s lives without us.
It is up to us to share that love, share that expression of the Lord that we were created for, with others. We need to carry that same conviction into our interactions with all the people in our lives so that when we use the words “God is Love,” and when we talk about how the Lord loves all His children, everyone we come in contact with will come to really believe it. We need to make sure people feel and trust that our love for them is coming from a heartfelt conviction and that we care more about them than we do about what’s comfortable for us. Not just for our friends, but everyone around us, on both an individual and a global scale.
The Lord has called each of us by name and is lifting us up to new lives. This is where all hope comes from.
Take this challenge:
“In its essence, marriage love is nothing else than the willing of two to be one, that is, their desire that the two lives shall become one life.”
Married Love 215
I put myself in an intense spiritual practice training regimen. It’s a simple style, but it requires every ounce of intention I can muster. By the second day, I already wanted to quit. What is it? Smiling. Maybe you’ve heard of the popular, albeit crass, term “resting bitch face” (RBF). You could call my new practice “purposeful resting smile face” or PRSF. I’m the goofy looking person you drive by that seems to be smiling happily at nothing when you pass them in the intersection. I don’t know how long I’ll last, but the insights I’ve had so far have been revelatory.
Why am I smiling? Not because anyone is telling me to. Not to try to counteract my RBF. There’s nothing wrong with RBF. Some sources define RBF simply as an expressionless face. The fact that a woman’s neutral expression gets categorized as bitchy is symptomatic of the pervasive sexism in our culture. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh started a public art series in 2012 called Stop Telling Women to Smile. It addresses gender-based street harassment. The project has struck a chord in women around the world, myself included. I’m reminded of a time I walked into Whole Foods and a gentleman whom I passed as he was leaving thought it was worth voicing that I should smile. Apparently, the neutral position of my cheeks and lips weren’t satisfactory. Hillary Clinton’s smile continues to be the target of commentary this U.S. election year. It seems no woman is exempt from being told by men to smile more, and media sources continue to use this convergence of experiences to shine a greater light on this often overlooked form of sexism.
A smile is a powerful thing. It’s also a very personal thing. There’s a stark difference between the experience of choosing to smile and being told to smile, whether directly or indirectly. Swedenborg writes that this difference marks a boundary that is integral to our soul:
What is inside us resists compulsion from the outside so definitely that it turns the other way. This is because our inner nature wants to be in freedom and loves its freedom. (Divine Providence §136:3)
Freedom is a critical element of our spiritual growth. And as antithetical as compulsion from the outside is to that growth, our freedom to compel ourselves is paramount. Demanding someone to smile is overstepping bounds. Self-compulsion, on the other hand, is not at odds with our freedom, even though technically we’re often forcing ourselves to do something that on some level we don’t want to do. Swedenborg writes,
Self-compulsion is not inconsistent with rationality and freedom. . . . Since we are human because of our inner thought, which is actually the human spirit, it follows that we are compelling ourselves when we force our outer thought processes to consent, or to accept the pleasures of our inner desires, the benefits that arise from our caring. We can see that this is not inconsistent but in accord with our rationality and freedom, since it is our rationality that starts this struggle and our freedom that pursues it. Our essential freedom, together with our rationality, dwells in our inner self, and comes into our outer self from there. So when the inner conquers (which happens when the inner self has brought the outer self into agreement and compliance) then we are given true freedom and true rationality by the Lord. Then, that is, the Lord brings us out of that hellish freedom that is really slavery and into the heavenly freedom that is truly, inherently free. (Divine Providence §145:1, 3–4)
It turns out, the greatest freedom we have is in what we choose to compel ourselves to do. Self-compulsion is the tool with which we shape our identity. It’s a sacred personal space. This is why inwardly we can feel so alone when faced with life’s most weighty decisions. God gives us the Word, exhorts us to follow it, but does not and cannot compel us to do so. It’s up to us, if we want to.
Self-compulsion as a spiritual practice could be called, in contemporary terms, “living with intention.” Our intention has the power to shift our spiritual association from hell to heaven:
The purpose that focuses our inner sight or thought is our volition, since our intentions determine our aims and our aims determine our thoughts. So if we aim for heaven, we focus our thinking on it, and with our thinking, our whole mind, which is therefore in heaven. (Heaven and Hell §532:3)
My smiling as spiritual practice came about when I was reading Sadhana of the Heart: A Collection of Talks on Spiritual Life by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. In one chapter, she encourages the reader to “smile at your destiny” (pp. 69–92). The phrase struck me. From a Swedenborgian perspective, the idea of smiling at your destiny hits a sweet spot between acknowledging divine providence and emphasizing our personal engagement with life. I decided to take the bait and try literally smiling at my destiny as a daily practice.
The very first thing my destiny had in store for me was to drive my youngest to preschool just after the large school bus drove by our house to pick up the horde of elementary school children waiting on the corner. We were stuck behind it. “Smile at your destiny,” the words echoed in my mind. I did not feel like smiling, but I forced one. If someone caught a glimpse of me in that moment, it probably looked more like a grimace. But I kept at it as I watched parents help their kids onto the bus and then stand back to wave them goodbye. Then several of the parents began to sign “I love you” by pointing to their eye, their heart, and their child—the exact same way I sign “I love you” to my kids. Something clicked, and my smile became genuine. I was laughing at the sweetness of the moment.
I had forced a smile, not because anyone told me to, not for perfection or to align with a societal expectation, but for freedom—choosing to smile at my destiny.
I was still smiling when the bus left and I could make the turn to head to the preschool. In a glance, I caught the eyes of a mother getting into her car. And in a flash, her expression bloomed into the sweetest smile reflecting mine. I had forgotten that I was even smiling, but I had inadvertently inspired a smile in another! My own happiness surged in response.
Since that day, I’ve held the intention to practice smiling—PRSF: smiling at my destiny. It has brought a valuable level of contrast into my spiritual awareness. I’ve realized I can have mental cloud cover for hours and even days on end and that I just get used to it. Whenever I remember to smile-as-neutral, it’s like light cutting through. It doesn’t clear the clouds away, but I then see plainly the negative fog I’ve been functioning in as if it were my only neutral option.
Some days get really hard. And certain times of day are the hardest. At bedtime with my children, at the end of a long day, I feel like something in a chronic state of having too much static electricity: anything that reaches my senses gets zapped. But I think, “Smile.” I force a smile. I tighten the muscles in my cheeks, the edges of my mouth stretch to the sides and tip upward slightly. Then I add the eyes. Smile in my eyes. And something happens. I remember what it feels like to be happy. It feels like a shell of happiness, but that’s when the thought dawns in my mind that even though I can choose happiness, I can’t create it. And at that moment, when I’ve chosen it knowing full well I can’t create it, I begin to feel how there is a very full presence of a power much greater than me that is happiness, that can make it feel real, that wants to help me, and that has no interest in holding on to whatever state was gripping me before. It’s just happy I opened the door. I soften into the sunlight and let go of the cloud I thought was mine.
Chelsea Rose Odhner is a freelance writer who contributes regularly to the Swedenborg & Life show on the offTheLeftEye YouTube channel.
by Rev. Grant Odhner
The path to happiness is one we can choose to walk daily.
We will find happiness when we make wise choices. It is easy to blame our poor choices on circumstances, and to say, “Given the right circumstances I would have chosen well and wisely.” But to think this way is to fail to see our true freedom, and to fail to accept the growth opportunities that the Lord is continually providing for us, both when outer circumstances are positive and when they are difficult. The Lord challenges us to lay up treasures in heaven, not on earth (Matthew 6:19-20). He encourages us to keep our outlook clear—“the lamp of our eye single”—if we want to have light (Matthew 6:22). We must keep our spiritual focus and purpose. And with that focus, we must face the decision of whether to serve God or riches; we can’t serve both (Matthew 6:24). These verses remind us that we must choose, and we will be blessed if we choose a spiritual focus. The Lord encourages us to trust Him. Sometimes we may worry that by choosing a spiritual path we will make life more difficult. But this is not true. He will take care of us if we seek first His kingdom and its righteousness. It is this innocent trust in Him that opens us up to receive His power to choose the higher path, the path that ultimately leads to happiness.
Let me tell you about the experiences of a man we’ll call “John.” John is in a slump. His job is irksome to him—too many routine tasks, nothing exciting on the horizon, not enough challenge. Chores are mounting at home. The cars are due for inspection. Fire wood needs splitting. The deck furniture needs storing. His shirts need ironing, and the list goes on. There are things he’d rather do, but they don’t seem like possibilities. Things are not great with his wife. She has seemed wrapped up in her own busyness. And the children always seem to be her priority. John’s mind wanders away from what he truly values. The choices he makes begin a descent into dark places, and into the consequences : shame, self-loathing, and isolation. It’s a grim place. He does not emerge from it quickly or easily.
Now, a month or so later, things are different for John. There have been changes in his outlook: some hard learning, some better choices through his efforts to turn to God. There have not been great changes at work, and home-life still holds many responsibilities, yet they don’t seem so burdensome. Life with his wife is not all that different, but he feels “closer” to her. He even takes pleasure in her busy life-style and in the way she pays attention to the children’s lives. John feels a satisfying sense of connection with others and a certain contentedness with his life. And when faced with a tempting situation, he chooses not to wander. He’s got better things to do. He’s got a higher sense of direction.
There is no explaining human choice. It’s easy to point to circumstances and excuse John, explaining away his poor choice and saying he wasn’t really free. But he was free. In fact, those situations could be re-cast so that things were going well in his outer life, and yet he might still make that bad choice. And when things were down for him, he might have “toughed it out,” resisted the urge to be selfish, and gained strength and a greater measure of happiness from that choice. There is no explaining human choice.
Consider the experience of Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who survived life in a Nazi concentration camp (his wife and parents did not survive). In studying his own and others’ responses to life under those horrendous conditions, he concluded that the meaning of life is found in every moment of living, good and bad, and that we truly are free to choose our response. He wrote:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
In considering the issue of our making wise choices, the first thing that we need to accept is that we are free to choose, that we must choose, and that we are responsible for our choices. New Church theology says:
“Let anyone, if he wishes, ask himself whether he can think seventy times a day, or three hundred times a week, about God…and…the spiritual matters of the church. Is he at that moment aware of any compulsion …, whether or not he has faith? Test yourself too, whatever your present state, to see if you can think anything at all without free will, whether in your conversation, [or] in your prayers to God…. Is not freedom of choice the all-important feature in these actions?” ( True Christian Religion 480; cf. 497)
We are free. And that means that regardless of our situation we can say “Good morning” to the person who has greeted us and mean it. We can let a positive thought “trump” the spontaneous negative thoughts that come to mind. We are free, and responsible. (Victor Frankl noted that we have a Statue of Liberty on the east coast of the USA; he thought we should have a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast.)
Make no mistake: there is pleasure to be had in putting ourselves first in all things, in the challenge of forging our own happiness—engaging in our friendships, in our church life, in our work, with primarily ourselves in mind. There are satisfying things about managing our life for our own convenience, acquiring economic security, maintaining our creature comforts.
These are real pleasures. Choosing them does have some negative consequences. But the path to heaven has negative consequences for the natural part of us, and it always will. That part of us will always need to face short-term barriers to its delights and be required to wait and subordinate itself. The point is that whether we choose heaven or hell there are consequences which we accept as part of that choice. One choice is not inherently less desirable than the other. Heaven is truly a better choice; but what we find more “desirable” no one but ourselves can decide. The individual decides which choice is “life” for him or her, and which one is “death.”
We tip the balance with our choice. Nothing is stopping us from going this way or that. We choose. With equal pressure on us from both sides, why choose to believe in the Lord and follow Him? Why lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven and not just go for the tangible ones we find on earth? Why believe that His way is good and leads to greater blessing?
Ultimately, we believe in the Lord and choose His way because we want to. We all continually feel the pressure to act for self-advantage. There are short-term benefits and pleasures in doing that. We can look back at a history of acting-for- self and think that it’s the easiest thing to do. On the other hand, we can also look back at a rich history of having experienced the satisfaction of denying self and putting ideals first. We’ve all experienced the profound joy of cooperation, and of mutuality in a relationship. We’ve felt the joy of serving without thought of reward. And though we come into times of struggle and doubt and must fight to stay on the path, fight to reassert that choice, fight for what we love, our faith in the Lord sustains us. We know that we will find deeper happiness if we choose His way. We trust Him. We are touched by His truth. We believe His promises. And we are inspired to choose wisely, to choose to be happy, when He reassures us:
“Therefore do not be anxious, 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 shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6.25-33)
“What is marvellous is that every individual thing, even to objects the most minute, is adapted for use. ”
Apocalypse Explained 1191:2
Discovering inner health and transformation