Own Your Smile (A Key to Happiness)

Swedenborg Foundation

by Chelsea Rose Odhner

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.

blurofsmile

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 Swedenborgian Perspective on Owning Your Smile

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)

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

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.

http://www.swedenborg.com/

The path to happiness (and why we resist it)

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:

https://newchurch.org/

“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)

DAILY INSPIRATION

“What is marvellous is that every individual thing, even to objects the most minute, is adapted for use. ”

Apocalypse Explained 1191:2

Happy life – Does this require affluence?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

happyWho wouldn’t be happy to have more money? To pay off the credit card or buy that needed furniture. Yet, the huge wealth of the ‘fat cats’ who run large companies in the UK has astonished us. By October 2011 the pay packages of directors of FTSE 100 companies had increased by 49% in a single year. The average figure had then become £2,697,644.

The total rewards of the chief executives of these companies were even higher. Forbes Magazine reported that the ratio of their income to that of the average UK employee rose from 45:1 in 1998 to 120:1 in 2010.

Some might wish them well in their good fortune. Who wouldn’t enjoy having a large yacht, a smart place to live, fast car, and no money worries?  But is it right to assume the happy life requires affluence? That having lots of money is the solution to common frustrations and stress?

Self-awarded rewards and the question of a happy life

In Britain politicians voting themselves high salary increases caused public disquiet. This soon turned to outrage when we discovered that many of them had been collaring small fortunes in expenses for themselves. All at a time when average living standards were being severely squeezed.

This desire for wealth is shown by a stitch up in the boardrooms as directors have awarded their own pay rises succumbing to the temptations of wealth.

We all thought that the shareholders own the company and determine who gets paid what. Also that the executives manage it to develop a more successful venture on a stable footing. But this seems to have changed. Companies have grown. Shareholders are now spread widely. Consequently, there has become a lack of external check on the pay of top managers.

happy‘The actual controllers of the company would cream off the profits into their own pockets, direct profitable business into other companies controlled by themselves, as well as award themselves magnificent salaries.’  (Ferdinand Mount, political commentator)

What has shocked us is the shameless way the top managers in numerous incidents have abused their power. They have taken more out of the company even when its performance has been at best mediocre. The same thing has happened in the large public bodies.

Pursuing an illusion of a happy life?

Grabbing huge pay rises, despite resulting social approbation, indicates a strong belief that wealth will make one happy. It is a common enough attitude. However, is seeking affluence actually the pursuit of an illusion? It would seem so. Study after study by psychologists has shown no association between wealth and happiness. The exceptions are where housing costs are a large proportion of income necessitating long working hours and cases of poverty when extra income does relieve hunger and suffering.

More startling still is research showing the pursuit of money is not only a mistake but also a dangerous one. Psychology professor Tim Kasser discovered that extremely rich people are not significantly happier than people on average income, and suffer from higher levels of depression.

Carolyn Gregoire, writing in The Huffington Post, quotes research that found that where both partners are materialistic, couples have a poorer quality of marital relationship. Also there are findings that students with higher materialistic values tend to have lower-quality relationships and feel less connected to others.

What then does lead to a happy life?

Researchers in positive psychology discovered that a real sense of personal well-being comes from good relationships, meaningful and challenging activities, and a sense of connection to something bigger than us – such as a religion, a political or social cause or a sense of mission.

All of us can hanker after money. According to transpersonal psychologist Steve Taylor, hardship does not drive the appetite for wealth and material goods. Instead, our inner discontent causes it. I would say a self-orientated inner state of mind creates this discontent. In other words what makes one happy is something non-materialistic- deep within one’s being.

Angelic state and the happy life

In his books, mystical writer Emanuel Swedenborg tries to put into words some of his limited experience of the happiness of what he terms an ‘angelic state’ of peace, contentment and joy. He says to be deeply happy involves several things.

  • A loving attitude towards other people. The highest form this takes is wanting to give what is one’s own to others.

Those who are moved by mutual love are constantly approaching the spring-time of their youth….. This process continues for ever, constantly bringing increases in joy and happiness.‘ (Emanuel Swedenborg)

  • Mindful involvement in the present moment. Neither being concerned about the past nor the future leads to happiness. In other words having genuine concern for someone draws us away from our bodily and worldly interests and lifts our mind to heaven and so we are pulled away from things that belong to time.
  • Freedom from feeling self-centered. Instead, of being led by one’s own wishes, happiness comes from identifying with one’s true Self. This means innocently trusting in something beyond one’s false self. It involves following thoughts in line with our image of what is supremely good. Swedenborg points out that this can only come from not falling for the illusion that one is separate and self-contained.

In line with this third point, I believe my good intentions and perceptive insights are not my own. Instead their spiritual Source inspires them into my heart and head..

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

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on 22nd March 2017 Categories Latest post, Meaning of life, Other aspects of meaning Tags , , , , , ,

Happiness can be your choice

by Rev. Clark Echols

Change in our lives is rarely simple, neat and clean. How does one adjust to change and find a renewed sense of happiness?

A grandparent dies. A job is lost. A hurricane interferes with travel plans. A beloved teacher gets replaced by someone new. No matter what age or stage of life we are in, there is one constant: change. Whether changes are happy or sorrowful, expected or surprising, they can cause commotion and turmoil in our well-being. How does one adjust to change and find a renewed sense of happiness?

Change in our lives most often causes turmoil, and even suffering, and we can never completely escape the inevitability of change.

We can be in control of our thoughts and actions

One way to do this is through the following process:

  1. Name the feeling associated with the change (sad, mad, shameful, afraid, etc.)
  2. Notice the thoughts you have that support and justify the feeling (“Everyone close to me always ends up leaving.”)
  3. Take action to help others.

Biblical stories of hard times

In the Bible, there are many stories about the trials and tribulations good people suffer when confronted with changes and challenges. In certain cases, using these techniques brings about positive change. Abraham, for instance, felt sad that he didn’t have children and afraid for his future. However, he was able to radically change his attitude by remembering the promise Jehovah had made that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars! That thought replaced the negative thoughts, and Abraham was able to remain steadfast in his course, staying open to the blessings of the present and the possibilities of the future.

It is always helpful to remember our childhood hopes and dreams, especially when we don’t feel hopeful in the present. Focusing on the thought of future happiness and fulfillment can drive away negative thoughts. Then we will be able to recognize the nature of our feelings, and choose thoughts to support good feelings or change negative feelings.

Another example from the Bible comes from the story of David, who suffered the devastating loss of his son. He was so sad he went to bed and did not intend to return to his royal duties. However, his best friend came to him and roused him up, reminding him of his duties and how the people depended on him. David then stirred himself and returned to his life, although still mourning his loss.

Activity can help

We can also be roused from mental lethargy by remembering how we can serve others (especially when reminded by a friend or loved one). In fact, being active in our life gives us the chance to see how the great change we have experienced has not destroyed our life. We may have lost an important relationship or a job, but we can still find opportunities to connect with other people and to feel useful and needed.

If we practice naming our feelings and acknowledging the thoughts that support those feelings, we will be able to face the difficult spiritual work of obeying the Lord while simultaneously giving Him control of the outcome.

If this technique is new to you, it may take some work to be able to identify your feelings and their associated thoughts. Many people discover that writing in a journal every day for some weeks is transforming. Writing about your feelings and thoughts may be a huge effort, forcing you to give up some other recreation, or stay up late or get up early, but being able to quickly name your feelings and notice the thoughts that support them can offer greater freedom and control over reactions to life’s circumstances.

Change continues to happen. Obviously, we can’t stop it. Occasionally we can slightly bend its course. But most of the time we feel helpless in the face of our circumstances. After identifying your feelings and thoughts, practice accepting what is happening, while thinking of one of the good aspects of your life. This will allow you to freely turn to the Lord and remember (or decide for the first time) that He is in charge. He will do all in His power to bring good out of your life situation.


Clark Echols is the pastor of the Glendale New Church (www.glendalenewchurch.org).

https://newchurch.org/

DAILY INSPIRATION

“Spiritual things are more real than worldly things.”

Apocalypse Explained 1218

Happiness and fulfillment – a spiritual perspective

Are you satisfied with your life?

Or does life sometimes seem unfair? Everyone wants to be happy. But how do you find happiness and contentment?

Happiness and fulfillment – a spiritual perspective

What makes a person happy?

Is it different for each person? Obtaining some new material thing can bring at least some temporary joy; so too can accomplishing some strived-for milestone. Some people feel that having money and success in their job brings happiness. But does it last? We have merely to look at the countless rich people who feel something is still lacking to see that this isn’t the answer. And conversely, we can look at countless people struggling in third world countries who are at peace and happy in their lot. People want to feel that they are relevant; that they have a purpose. How do you do that? Can you find happiness?

New Church theology says that it is actually quite simple. The doctrine of use (or usefulness, or service) tells us that it is important to be useful, to be of service to others, and that this is the key to true happiness.

“The only source of anyone’s true happiness is doing something useful.” (True Christian Religion 735:5)

“[Heavenly joy] is the delight found in doing something useful for ourselves or for others.” (True Christian Religion 734:3)

“God created the universe so that usefulness could exist… Because we, the human race, are the principal reason for creation, it follows that absolutely everything else was created for our sake.” (True Christian Religion 67)

God creates each one of us to be an instrument of His love. When we live useful and productive lives for the sake of others, the love of God passes through us to them, and their lives are impacted for good. At the same time, we experience the happiness and delight that are associated with being of use.

This is not to say that riches or material things are bad in and of themselves, just that these are not what make a person happy over the long term; certainly not in life after death. Christ said:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

So He tells us that the two most important things are to love God and love the neighbor. When we love the neighbor we want to be of service to others; we want to be useful. And when we are helping others, we are helping God and loving God (see the parable in Matthew 25:31-46, “I was hungry and you gave Me food…). Christ said these were the most important commandments because He knew that service and usefulness are what bring happiness, both in this life and the next!

Have you noticed that it is not at all unusual for elderly people to lose their zest for life, to become depressed? Certainly, there can be many reasons for this: infirmity and losing their friends or spouse can be key contributors. But a major reason is feeling the loss of usefulness; feeling that they have nothing left to give; feeling that they have lost relevance. This feeling of a loss of usefulness can also sometimes be seen after a person retires from their work, or has been injured.

It’s important to realize that service and usefulness come in many forms. Some forms of use require strenuous work, or lots of time, or lots of money. But service doesn’t necessarily mean going out of your way to do good. Just having a good attitude in your daily work, or being nice to someone, smiling at them, can mean more than you could imagine to those around you. For other people, usefulness outside their vocation brings them fulfillment. Everyone has gifts which they can volunteer to others. Listening compassionately to a person’s problems will mean so much to them. Look for ways to be of service to others. It may well be hard at first, but it can become a habit, and make a real difference in your life. Give it a try!

More passages about happiness

“Since the angels who are in heaven are in goodness from the Lord, they desire nothing more than to perform useful services. These bring delight to their life, and it is according to useful services that they enjoy bliss and happiness.” (Secrets of Heaven 6073:2)

“Loving the Lord and our neighbor is being of service.” (Heaven and Hell 112)

“All the happiness angels have is found in service, derives from service, and is proportional to service.” (Heaven and Hell 403)

“[The Lord] gives those who are performing useful functions a love for being useful, and also a reward for being useful, which is inner bliss; and this inner bliss is eternal happiness.” (True Christian Religion 736:3)

“We are born for no purpose but to be useful to the community we live in and to our neighbor as long as we are alive in the world, and to serve at the Lord’s good pleasure in the other world.” (Secrets of Heaven 1103:2)

“Life holds no joy unless it is active. Angelic life consists in usefulness and acts of neighborly kindness.” (Secrets of Heaven 454)

https://newchurch.org/

What a Bad Apple Can Teach You About Happiness

Swedenborg Foundation

by Hanna HyattNot much is worse than a bad batch of fruit. An apple can look all delightful and ready to be eaten on the outside, but on the inside it can be a mealy and squishy surprise. An avocado can look like it’s going to be the best thing to happen to the world of guacamole, but on the inside it can be all brown and rotten.

. . . bad apples . . .

. . . bad avocados . . .

What makes these things so bad? Sure, a fruity disappointment is one thing, but human beings are so quick to describe something as bad. From a theological standpoint, what makes something “bad”?

Everyone has ideas about the difference between a bad thing and a good thing. Emanuel Swedenborg discusses this often in his theological works, where he talks about the impact of God’s love and how people can feel heavenly happiness in their own lives. But before things can go from bad to good, he says, we have to understand what makes those two things different from a spiritual perspective.

Can an Apple Be Bad?

blog_badapples

To be truly “bad,” Swedenborg says that beings must be free and able to choose rationally between things that will make them happy in good ways or bad ways. In this scenario, “bad” refers to things that are harmful to those around us (in Swedenborg’s theology, this is what evil means), but that we choose anyhow because it benefits us personally: selfishness, greed, riches—any love that serves the self more than other people.

Objects, however, can’t make that choice. A knife is great while it’s serving a constructive purpose. But when it’s used to harm someone, it is an awful weapon. Swedenborg says that objects cannot be inherently good or bad—they are good or bad depending on how people use them. People are the only things that can be good or bad, depending on the choices they make freely. Someone must decide, without being forced one way or another, to use something for good or bad ends—to either serve selfish loves or serve heavenly and neighbor-loving ones.

“Why, then, ‘tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — William Shakespeare, Hamlet

“Bad Dog!” — Can Dogs be Bad?

Anyone who comes into contact with dogs knows that they make their own decisions—what their owner wants is not always as important as their own instincts. They see a squirrel, and they choose to either run after it and risk their fate to an owner-enforced consequence, or stay and miss the chance to catch that darn squirrel.

However, when a dog jumps up on the counter to eat some fresh-from-the-oven chicken pot pies (or twelve chocolate cupcakes, from personal experience), it’s hard to blame the cute little beast that just had a hankering for some food. Why is it so hard to blame them? Swedenborg writes that in order for one to truly be free to make a choice, they must also be rational.

Rationality is an important concept—it means that people are able to weigh decisions, looking at cost vs. benefit, taking in long-term effects, looking at impact on other areas of life, and being able to be more objective and look at the whole picture rather than just a snapshot. This is why some teenagers seem to make bad decisions. (“Don’t they ever think about the consequences of their decisions?!” says every parent in the history of teenagers.) People have to grow into their ability to consider options objectively and make decisions rationally. This is also why it’s hard to blame dogs for their decisions—they don’t have that rational, considerate type of brain.

Swedenborg asserts that human adults are the only beings that can look at situations and make entirely free and rational decisions. And even adults aren’t always reliable in the rational decisions department—look at most reality TV shows, where the rational brain tends to take a backseat to emotional outbursts. People are only human—prone to mistakes and assumptions. Dogs are not only not human, but tend to be prone to decisions that hurt the people (or squirrels) around them. They aren’t “bad,” just accident-prone, because they lack the rationality to make clear decisions.

“He’s the Bad Guy!” — What about People?

Humans: This is the hardest part, because it involves freedom, rationality, self-awareness, choice, and perspective.

To figure out if a choice is working toward bad things or good things, Swedenborg says that human beings must look at the effects of a decision on their life and the lives of the individuals around them. This means that if someone’s goal is to get their own way in everything, their version of happiness would be to control or manipulate others, to advance their careers at the expense of others, to make money without worrying about the effects their business decisions will have on others. Swedenborg would call these hellish types of happiness.

Now, Swedenborg recommends personal goals that lead toward heaven, as the negative goals lead more toward separation from God and heavenly joy. If someone’s goal is to be “good,” they have to look at the decisions they make and see if the effects are good—does the decision make other people happy? Does it make people happy in good ways, positive ways that lead toward that heavenly happiness we talked about earlier? Does it add positive things to life, or does it tear down positive things?

Whether we chose the negative ends or the positive ones, the cycle is a never-ending one of regeneration—looking for truth, bringing that truth into our life, deciding what our goals are, and making decisions that lead toward those goals. This involves lots of rational ideas, like self-examination and looking at the true happiness of the people around us. No easy task!

However, Swedenborg states again and again that this hard process has the potential for so much love and happiness. People are able to be much happier because they can choose with freedom and rationality and continue to build on their choices to grow closer and closer to God. They can grow to have more and more heavenly happiness (or evil delight), which means they have the potential to be united with the Lord.

Looking back, it’s easy to see that:

  1. Apples can’t be happy. They have no choice.
  2. Dogs can be happy, but they can’t rationally choose it. Happiness is a thing that happens to them, not a thing they create.
  3. People create happiness through freedom and rational decisions, leading them on a path towards their goals.
Apples don’t have the happiness that dogs have. Dogs, as great as they are, don’t have the same happiness that people have. People have the ability to be good or bad because they can choose it, freely and rationally.

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

http://www.staircasepress.com

Posted in god, Inner growth, love, Reality, religion, spirituality, unity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments