Many people are afraid of old age. They fear the loneliness of isolation, the unattractiveness of wrinkles and sagging skin, or the impairment of infirmity. But according to psychologist Marie de Hennezel, old age is an attitude of mind. She suggests it can be a period of contentment, and happiness that comes with letting go of old attachments and finding new roles. Here are some tips based on her book The Warmth Of The Heart Prevents Your Body From Rusting.
Be realistic about becoming old. Accept that biological aging is unstoppable. Do not be ashamed of losing your seductive shape in old age. Accept you cannot change the loss of former physical powers, and previous economic and social roles.
Look after yourself. Make room for bodily pleasure whilst eating moderately, keeping alcohol to a minimum and avoiding drugs and tobacco. Stay physically active, doing things at your own pace. One can get more out of life in old age with a body that is functioning to its maximum potential.
Take advantage of your new stage in life to look for things you can now do which you were not able to do when you were young – having more time for yourself with no responsibility of parenthood and earning a living and with greater freedom of speech to say what you think.
Accept the inevitable degree of solitude that comes with living alone in old age and not going out to work, not as isolation but as a freedom to meet ones own inner spirit and be oneself and to discover unsuspected resources and release latent energy.
Maintain a social life when you can, forgetting yourself a little and taking an interest in others, using a pleasant tone of voice, making yourself agreeable, cultivating your charm, giving and receiving and showing generosity. Then smiles and kindness, respect and affection will do you good. Friendship means a chance to share your worries.
Keep contact with the younger generation. This is still possible despite today no longer being an era of the extended family which had meant naturally occurring contact across the generations. The trick is to be young at heart, not expecting too much of others who have their own busy lives but simply being receptive, retaining a taste for life and a desire to pass on one’s experiences and lessons learned.
Make the best of your looks and find new ways of making love to your partner. Don’t bury your own sensuality and desire in old age. When we grow old we are not in love with the other person’s physique but with his or her presence. Think of beauty as something intimately tied to emotion. It is what we call charm: the depth of a look, an expression in the eyes, a dazzling smile. Charm does not grow old, nor does emotion. In fact, both can even gain in depth and intensity with age. Learn about the tradition of the Tao of Love a Chinese spiritual path. It recognises that it takes longer and is more difficult to attain orgasm if you are old. Although sexual relations may be slower and less active it can become more sensual. Sou-Nu the governess of Emperor Huang-Ti declared ‘A firm hard member which is thrust roughly in and out, is of less value than a weak soft member which moves gently and delicately.’
If you are widowed, and the loss of the partner was a great ordeal, it is possible to work through a bereavement by internalising the company of the deceased loved one and still feeling their protecting presence.
Live in the present moment by savouring the good times and forgetting the bad. Rediscover your ability to be enchanted and amazed, in old age allowing your curiosity to be stimulated by being open to new experiences. You can still learn from life for old age can bring new things.
Find peace with the past and with yourself by taking stock of your life. Ask yourself ‘What was it all about?’ Give expression to unshed tears, repressed anger, and self-delusions. Forgive yourself for your failures. Be prepared if necessary to pay for past mistakes and negligence and put your life in order before leaving the world’s stage. It’s never too late to change for example from being a bit of a grumpy, selfish depressive individual who spends life complaining and annoying others: but to do so will require an inner awakening and great effort and forbearance.
Accept help when it is needed. Make needed changes to where you live. Do not feel diminished by receiving personal care. It is possible to entrust your own body to the care of others without embarrassment or sense of humiliation.
With old age, one realises that everything of this transient world passes away. Why not try searching to find something that doesn’t pass away? This could mean listening to what is inside you; an inner part of yourself that is more important than your external side. If you have the courage to explore your own depths you can draw upon them. Allow the part of yourself that does not grow old to live.
Those who have explored this spiritual path have let go of worldly things they had been attached to and said they have found something eternal in which they felt they could put their hope and trust. Paul wrote in the Bible ‘Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.’ (2 Corinthians 4:16). In other words one can leave one’s ‘little me’ and receive a higher consciousness: when one is in contact with the Spirit inside oneself, one never feels isolated or cut off.
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
The Book of Genesis says that “it is not good for man to be alone.”
Ain’t that the truth! And yet loneliness is so common! According to one study, one person in five in our world today suffers from chronic loneliness. Another study estimated that one in every three New Yorkers lives alone – suggesting that this is something most of us have to deal with at one time or another. I’m not talking about whether a person is an introvert or not, rather moments we feel isolated or cut-off from others. I think of the quote by Mother Theresa who said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the worst form of poverty.”
Loneliness and isolation are common experiences that we all encounter.
We can feel lonely at parties, We can feel it at work even when in the company of others. We can feel it in the solitude of the night when no one is awake to offer us companionship. These feelings are different than the solitude one feels in times of peaceful independence. We are not talking about a personal disposition of being introverted. Wikipedia defines loneliness as “a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation or the lack of companionship. Loneliness typically includes anxious feelings about a lack of connectedness or communality with other beings both in the present and extending into the future. As such, loneliness can be felt even when surrounded by other people.”
It could be said that a church is all about leading toward companionship and connectedness.
New Church theology teaches that three essential properties of divine love are
- the desire to love others,
- the will to partner with them, and
- the effort to bless them or make them happy.
One could say these three essentials are a part of every healthy human relationship. So based on this, a church could be thought of as a healthy church to the degree that loving others outside of self, a desire to partner with others, and a desire to render others blessed shows up in every effort the church makes. As such, its theology becomes a tool used to provide healthy connection and relationships with God and with others outside of the organization. Guided my this imprint, a church can provide tremendous, joyful connection and community for people who are looking for loving relationships that are deep and that can go the distance. This is why churches are called “communions of saints,” or “communities of saints” – not because everyone in the community has it all figured out and is free from struggle or temptation, but rather they are a community that is counted in the sacredness of God’s transcendent love. There’s a soft spot in all of us wanting some sort of a companionship in our lives. We all strive for connection with another, with someone outside of ourselves. Loneliness, while uncomfortable and should by no means be sought
Getting out of a state of loneliness
I have found a teaching in the New Church theology that has been helpful for me in getting out of a state of loneliness; in the book Divine Love and Wisdom, we read that “to feel the joy of another as joy oneself – that is loving” (47). This teaching suggests to me that in order to really find connection that is meaningful with others, I must put aside my own desires, thoughts, and judgments about some one else learn to listen intently so that I might discover, understand, feel, and experience someone else’s joys as if they are my own. I have found that my own prejudgments, thoughts and feelings usually are distractions that interfere with my being able to connect with another person. This takes some effort, but when I intentionally step out of myself in order to be present for someone else in this way, I find that the downward spiral or loneliness I had been experiencing is instantly broken and replaced with a sense of connection and companionship. I have to admit that while doing it I am sure that I don’t always fully understand or comprehend what the other person is going through. I suppose this is always a weakness of interpersonal communication while we are in this natural world because there are so many ways to misinterpret the things another is saying especially when coupled with body language and what is going on in the vicinity of the communication. Communication is a skill that is honed and improved over time. However, even as imperfect as my communication skills might be, I find that the effort to experience another person’s joy (or sadness for that matter) does breakdown my own feeling of loneliness. Try it and see if it makes a difference in your life.
Helen Keller wisely said once that “alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” This quote captures for me how a church has tremendous potential for bringing joy to others lives through a cooperative effort to reach out to others be deeply listening and connecting with what they are feeling. Think of how people who are feeling lonely and broken can feel renewed when others take the time to really be present with them and listen.
Does that not create the space that is inhabited by God?
(top photo by Jason Buss)
“If a person shuns an evil as a sin, they come into the good opposite to the evil. The good opposite to the evil which is meant by murder is the good of love towards the neighbor.”
Doctrine of Life 70
Discovering inner health and transformation
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:
- Name the feeling associated with the change (sad, mad, shameful, afraid, etc.)
- Notice the thoughts you have that support and justify the feeling (“Everyone close to me always ends up leaving.”)
- 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).
“Spiritual things are more real than worldly things.”
Apocalypse Explained 1218
How to be happy in your marriage
Often on television today weddings are portrayed as joyful events while marriages look like a burden. Carry the contentment and joy of your wedding day on into your life together.
We live in a world that is saturated with images of happiness. I can be driving along contentedly when I see a billboard that instantly convinces me that I would be happier if I stopped and bought fries and a cola. But wait! I don’t even like soda! Other commercials convince me that happiness comes with a new car. Without my paying attention, that message takes root in my brain. Ideas of what happiness looks like are imposed on me from the outside all the time. But, I can also choose to take the lead. I can promote feelings of contentment with what I already have.
I heard of a man who loved and missed his wife deeply after she died. One way he nourished that love was to take her framed picture with him wherever he traveled, unpack it first and put it up in plain view. Another couple I know say their wedding vows on the first day of every month, to strengthen their commitment. Sometimes they are not feeling especially happy when they start, but we can lead our feelings with greater intention than comes from glancing at a billboard.
My own dear husband has a new motto. He says “You are my highest priority.” Sometimes it is completely heartfelt, and other times I wonder if he is reminding himself. I, too, have been known to forget. Often in our marriage support groups we start by inviting couples to tell the story of how they fell in love. It is delightful to see the change in them as they speak, taking out memories and dusting them off.
I have never played football. But I have watched movies of people who do. I have seen teams that were discouraged slump in at halftime and hear a pep talk that rejuvenates their resolve and sends them tearing back onto the field. They have learned ways to shift from hopelessness to cheering with abandon.
Recently, there were people who went to great lengths to get tickets to the World Series games in Philadelphia. In a depressed economy they were still highly motivated to spend a month’s mortgage to be at a game in the pouring rain that they could have watched from their cozy living rooms. Imagine if we put a similar amount of effort and commitment into creating happiness in our marriages!
We can choose good things for our marriages. We can look at pictures of our ideals instead of advertising for fast food and cars. We can recite the words that once came so easily, and so invite those feelings to return. We can tell our own stories and hear them anew. We can find a coach or mentor who can cheer us on at halftime. We can choose to attend a conference that surrounds us with a community of love for marriage. And maybe we will find ourselves in the midst of a jubilant parade, celebrating the victory of marriage.
Lori Odhner is the Director of the Caring for Marriage program. Learn more at www.caringformarriage.org
“When truth is used in life, it becomes good.”
Apocalypse Revealed 17
Ten steps to bring the magic back into your life by Steve Wetton Aber Publishing 2007 pp 144
By his own admission, the author is no intellectual, yet neither is he a fantasist and what he reports has the ring of authenticity. He offers us the chance to create a better life for ourselves and he does this by discussing his approach to positive mental attitude and the idea that whatever we get out of life depends on what we’ve put into it.
He takes the view that many of us consistently undervalue our own potential. But more dramatically he illustrates his theme, encouraging us to learn from his mistakes. He shares his own experiences and that of others he knows – real life stories that keep one’s attention.
Wetton tells us something of his younger days – excessive alcohol consumption, womanising, and sometimes violence. Someone who hated all the numerous jobs he tried. Spiritually speaking he was lost. But he eventually found a path.
One job he had involved driving around in a little van visiting customers on a door-to-door basis selling stuff and collecting weekly payments. One particular day he was running late rushing away from a house call when he got back into his van that was parked on the driveway.
“I looked over my shoulder and prepared to zoom into the street without any obstructions to worry about. But for some unaccountable reason I found my foot lifting off the accelerator and slamming down on the brakes before I’d moved at all.”
He slipped the gear into neutral, rechecked both wing mirrors, and even turned completely round in his seat looking through the rear window thinking he was wasting valuable time. For some unaccountable reason he switched off the engine and got out to find a small child sitting very quietly just inches from the rear bumper happily playing with a toy and completely oblivious to any danger. It transpired she had come from an adjoining garden.
However, no summary by me can do justice to this or any of the string of personal anecdotes that have to be read in full before the credibility of what they reveal can be grasped.
The reader is not asked to accept that a strange spiritual power definitely exists but only the possibility that it might do so. For it is understandable that many people might tend to believe instead that things just happen by chance and because of natural causes. However, I would suggest that those who cannot put to one side an attitude of cynical disbelief, will not like this book.
Having said that, I suspect they are in a minority. If approached with an open mind this book will be rewarding. Its honest and fascinating glimpses into meaningful coincidences and helpful premonitions, can give credibility to the idea that we can all be guided by a higher power and shared psychic realm. The way Wetton puts it is to suggest
“We are all connected to each other at a spiritual level and connected to some invisible something else that’s part of the life force itself.”
Choose Happiness is drawn with a light touch and makes for easy reading. For me it does what it claims and brings a touch of magic to the meaning of life.
Copyright 2010 Stephen Russell-Lacy
“I grew up as this very carefree, happy kid then things turned darker for me. Maybe it was because I saw that the world wasn’t as happy a place as I had hoped it would be for me.” (Angelina Jolie)
They all sang ‘Happy birthday’ to you and wished you ‘Happy Christmas’ but they didn’t tell you how to do it.
“It’s a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.” (Lucille Ball)
Plenty of theories about how to be happy
So important is this question of how to be happy, there is even a branch of science looking at it. But would you trust science to discover the answer?
“I went to a happiness conference; researchers looked very unhappy.” (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)
There are plenty of theories. They vary from bodily pleasure, social status, power, achievement, loving relationships, a sense of belonging, absorbing interests and more. All often thought to be the answer to the question how to be happy. You might be wondering about the money that is needed for these. Yet:
“Money doesn’t make you happy. I now have $50 million but I was just as happy when I had $48 million.” (Arnold Schwarzenegger)
Being rich is probably not the answer.
Misguided notions on how to be happy
Emanuel Swedenborg the 18th century philosopher claimed to experience a hidden world of spirit. In an altered state of consciousness, he observed spirit people doing what they thought would make them happy. Each group thought it knew how to be happy. One lot assumed this would be engaging in witty and intelligent conversation, another in enjoying the delights of a garden of paradise, another in feasting on excellent food and drink, and another in having unbounded wealth and power.
Swedenborg said he was aware of following one group into a large house. In each of the many rooms a different topic was eagerly discussed — politics, morality, business, sexual relationships, religion. At one point he noticed individuals leaving to go out. Following one of them to the door where several sad-faced people sat he asked. “Why are you so sad?”
“After three days in here we cannot bear the sound of talking! We were told that one may enter this house but never leave! We must remain and enjoy the activity we had chosen how to be happy. Now we are desperate.”
He recounts that another group were led through a lofty gate and along winding paths from one lovely garden to another where they could stay among the beautiful flowers, fruit trees and fountains. Some played games, others enjoyed conversation and jokes. Some gathered and ate the many delicious fruits, sang or relaxed in small delightful summer houses. They wandered through grove to grove, through a maze of hedged avenues. All thinking they knew how to be happy. At last Swedenborg came upon a number of people sitting in a rose garden, their faces drawn and sorrowful.
“This is our seventh day in paradise. At first it was wonderful, but now we’ve had enough. We tried to find a way out, but have only gone deeper into this maze. We were told we must stay here for ever because this is our idea of heaven, but we are sick of the sight of it.”
You might think that it might be easy for any of us to fall for a fool’s paradise.
How to be happy spiritually speaking
Swedenborg comments that a happiness that lasts does not come from external pleasures of the world which of themselves are lifeless and soon dull the senses. Instead how to be happy comes from doing something useful for oneself and to others. Unless this is part of one’s life, pleasurable leisure alone becomes empty and wearisome.
In his ‘Sermon on the mount’ Jesus Christ spoke about states of inner happiness. To my mind his message is that happy contentment, peace and joy comes to those when they acknowledge their poverty of spiritual understanding, are sad about times when they have acted selfishly, are humble enough to appreciate that of themselves they lack inner goodness, and when they hunger and thirst for what is good and right, try to be concerned and caring towards others, turn away from what is seen to be impure in thought and work for the active presence of goodwill and peace.
In other words chasing happiness is like trying to grasp a shadow. You can’t find happiness, no matter how hard you look: it finds you. Like the Buddhists say, how to be happy comes as a by-product when you aim instead at the inner life — its values, principles and virtues rather than craving after the things of external life.
“Men can only be happy when they do not assume that the object of life is happiness.” (George Orwell)
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Not everyone is born with a sunny disposition, but commentators tend to suggest we can all learn how to bring more meaning and satisfaction into our lives. From an academic perspective you have some control over your own emotions because personal choice, genetics and life circumstances all interact. It seems to be generally agreed that as long as one’s basic financial needs are met, any increase in wealth is not an important factor in making you happy.
“Money can’t buy happiness, but it can make you awfully comfortable while you’re being miserable.” (Clare Boothe Luce)
So what does make us happy?
Praise and happiness
Who doesn’t like being well thought of by others. Take this to the extreme and you find vain people basking in the praise of others. For example there is the celebrity who craves the public gaze for the pleasure of being admired. There are those who are happiest when their ego is massaged in ways you might find objectionable like the inner-city gang leader who is pleased when followers show “respect” by kow-tow-ing and giving subservience.
“If your happiness depends on what somebody else does, I guess you do have a problem.” (Richard Bach)
Other people in the limelight recognise they need the esteem of others if they are to be successful: like film actors who are cast in productions because of their reputation and popularity. For some of them, the praise they get may simply be a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.
Power and happiness
There are people who enjoy getting their own way and, in whatever walk of life they happen to find themselves, strive for a position of power over others. History is full of tyrants who have taken delight in being cruel, expressing contempt or getting revenge towards those who oppose them.
Yet, are there not also some politicians and leaders of industry who enjoy the power they wield mainly for the sake of getting useful things done?
“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” (Mahatma Gandhi)
Bodily pleasure and happiness
Who does not enjoy good food and drink, sexual pleasure, rest and comfort? However an addiction to these pleasures can mean they no longer provide relaxation and refreshment for living one’s life to the full in valued roles. The enjoyment of the addict only lasts until the next fix.
The spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg comments that a deeper happiness that lasts does not come from external pleasures of the world which of themselves are lifeless and soon dull the senses. Instead it comes from doing something useful for oneself and for others. Unless this is part of one’s life, pleasurable leisure alone becomes empty and wearisome.
“True happiness… is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” (Helen Keller)
Swedenborg goes on to point out that what makes us happy depends on what we most love – what we most want in life. In line with his writing, I would suggest there are four main types of motivation which can be thought of in terms of:
1. attachment to the physical side of life,
2. self-centred love,
3. concern for others
4. love of the Divine spirit of what is good and true.
Attachment to the physical side of life
By this Swedenborg means being worldly: setting one’s heart on wealth, excessive consumption, and neglecting loving commitment in favour of the pleasures of sexual infidelity, and sacrificing moderation in favour of greed. In Buddhism, ultimate happiness is only achieved by overcoming craving in all forms.
We might think we can be happy by thinking first about oneself: asking “What’s in it for me”. This might mean not caring about anyone unless they are your ally: not really being concerned about the business at hand except in terms of what one wants for oneself: helping others solely for the sake of one’s own reputation: and through self-pride failing to recognise the useful contributions of others.
Concern for others
A Harvard Business School study found that “spending money on others actually makes us happier than spending it on ourselves”. However, Swedenborg’s idea of concern for others is more general than giving to charity and also includes an interest in doing what is good and useful to the community for its own sake.
Love of the Spirit of good and truth
I would suggest that insofar as we are doing things for the sake of what is good and right for our community then we are being led by the Divine spirit. From the perspective of a religious person, the source of all that is human happiness is a God of love. And so such a person is interested in being led by God’s spirit rather than in being led by his own or her own inclinations. We might wonder if this is the reason why research shows that happier people are more likely to be religious.
I do believe that we cannot of ourselves create the kind of deep happiness that will endure all the hardships and difficulties of ordinary living. Happiness has to flow into us from its Divine source. But to receive it we have to face the right direction.
Happiness for the self-centered and worldly-minded person is a pale reflection of happiness experienced by the person who is concerned for others and is willing to be led by the divine spirit of good and truth.
My recommendation is that we face away from what we each know in our hearts is bad. In so doing we will be facing the right direction to receive the inspiration of creativity, hope, and discernment and thus the spiritual gifts of peace, contentment and joy.
Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems