Stella English

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

Stella with Alan Sugar

Stella is known as a winner of BBC tv’s The Apprentice

Her childhood was a painful one. “It was quite a lonely hard time for me.” Her father had abandoned her at a young age, leaving her mother Drusilla unable to care for her due to psychological ill-health. It wasn’t deliberate neglect. Her mother couldn’t look after herself let alone a daughter.

Stella was able to do more or less what she wanted and she didn’t know right from wrong. She says she didn’t go to school much because of being bullied there due to her appearance.

She also spent time in children’s care homes and was taken in by her great aunt, Mrs Brockman, (also called Stella) who raised her in loco parentis. However she missed her real mother and moved back with her when aged 14 – only to find her lifestyle was more chaotic. At 15 she was living alone in a run-down bedsit.

Thamesmead a place Stella once called home. It is a social housing development built in the 1960s on former marshland with a population of some 50,000 people. It has graffiti-lined avenues known for their high crime levels and grey concrete buildings.

It  has had the worst record for credit card fraud of any postal address in the country. In the 1990’s teenage gangs intimitated people on the streets. The area was then known to be associated with poverty, gang violence and race wars. There were racially motivated murders although these days there is better racial co-existence in sharp contrast with the not so distant past.

Stella mixed with some hard people, is street-wise and knows how to look after herself. She drank in one of London’s roughest pubs, The Wildflower, in the heart of Thamesmead where gangs with knives and clubs would fight after hours.

Stella however has made something of her life. She studied a one-year business course before adding City firms such as Merrill Lynch, Nomura and Daiwa Securities to her CV.
She won the prestigious BBC business Apprentice contest.  She lives in St Albans with her partner and 2 sons.

Stella has bettered herself. If she can do it, anyone can. As she says ‘You are in charge of your own destiny’. She has shown a lot of determination.

Stella was cared for by great-aunt then aged 72. Stella says ‘Her fostering me was life-changing.   “She was very strict. I went from having no rules – or if there were any, ignoring them – to having lots of rules”. “She made me do 3 hours of homework a night.”

Stella now wants to help find foster homes for the thousands of youngsters in the care
system. A report to mark the start of Barnardo’s  Fostering and Adoption week now reveals at least 8,750 new foster families are urgently needed.

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Posted on11th January 2012CategoriesEthics & Children, Meaning and inspirationTags, , , , , ,  Leave a comment

Real challenges: addictive behavior in a loved one.

Real challenges: addictive behavior in a loved one.

When someone close to you is struggling with addiction, how can you help them?

If a good friend accidentally splashed coffee onto your dress shirt, you might quickly assure him, “Don’t worry, no harm done. I’ll just put a little soap on it, and I’m sure it will come out.” Not many of us would raise our eyebrows and say, “This shirt cost me fifty bucks. Fork it over! I want you to experience the consequence of your mistake.” In this kind of situation, playing hardball seems a little insensitive. So where do we draw the line between helping others and enabling destructive behavior?

When it comes to everyday interactions, most of us enjoy being able to make another person’s life a little easier. We hold the door open for the person with her hands full; we turn the light on for the friend who’s reading in a dimly lit room; we hand a tissue to the kid who has the sniffles. These things allow us to feel that we’re having a positive effect on the world.

It becomes much harder, though, when we’re dealing with someone who struggles with an addiction. Should we help him recover from his hangover in the morning? Should we call her office and tell them she’s “sick”? Should we loan him money to pay for the car accident he had while under the influence? Should we patch up the hole in the wall and pretend nothing happened? Should we tell her that she can stay with us when she’s kicked out of her home?

When our conscience seems to pull us in two different directions, the teachings of the New Church may help us determine the best course of action. In the Writings of the New Church, Emanuel Swedenborg conveys the idea that real charity involves careful discretion, which he calls “prudence.” He writes that when we give assistance to someone who’s involved in poor behavior, we actually end up hurting others through this person: “for through the assistance which we render, we confirm him in evil, and supply him with the means of doing evil to others” (New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 100).

So what can we do? One thing we can do is refuse to undo the consequences that result from an addiction. This can be very difficult. We may suffer embarrassment, exposure, loss of familiar situations, loss of financial stability, or temporary separation. The benefits come later, though, as the gradual process of healing begins. One woman told a story about how surprised and hurt she’d felt when her mother forced her to leave home, after discovering her crack addiction. Years later, having hit “rock bottom” and slowly learned to face her own fears, the recovering daughter spoke with gratitude about the courage and strength of her mother’s decision.

Another step we can take when a loved one has an addiction is to begin finding peace within ourselves. It can help to take time each day to reflect, noticing the ways we’ve been reacting to upsetting situations, and beginning to learn healthier responses. It may also help to seek the advice of professionals who are trained in dealing with addiction.

Learning how to best support a loved one who suffers from addiction can be a tremendous struggle, but there is also enormous opportunity for growth, when it is undertaken with patience, prudence and prayer. If you are currently in this situation, may the Lord bless you and the ones you love on your journey to emotional health and recovery.

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DAILY INSPIRATION

“People who are in heaven are in the Lord.”

Arcana Coelestia 3637

Being born again?

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A marvel in nature: a fern unfolds.

Beginning a new life is – in some ways – the ONE spiritual topic that people have to get right.

In John, there’s the famous statement by Jesus: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3).

What does Jesus mean? He’s saying that we all need to – with the Lord’s help – stop doing evil things, and start doing good things. When we do that, we are essentially being reborn spiritually.

Some Christian churches teach that this process of rebirth happens at the moment that we accept Jesus Christ has our personal savior; other churches teach that it happens little by little, over time, as we root out bad habit and bad thought patterns, and develop good ones.

There’s much more that could be said on this topic, but… one thing that we’ve encountered recently that will be of interest to many Bible readers is the “Begin a New Life” workshop developed by Rev. Mark Pendleton, in Illinois, USA.

It’s easy to want to change your life, but it’s not easy to actually do it. Mark has developed – during many years as a pastor – a universal, faith-based program that helps you make and sustain any life change that you want or need to make—one or two changes at a time.

Here’s what he says about it: “It doesn’t matter how big or small the change is, this program can help. As you go through the program for different issues in your life, your life is steadily, even miraculously transformed—from outside in, and inside out. You grow in personal clarity and power to choose, and you rise to new levels of hope and promise that are meaningful and real.”

One inspirational passage that helps drive the first step in the program is found in Psalms 139:23-24.

This link will take you to the home page for this program: http://www.beginanewlife.info

http://newchristianbiblestudy.org/

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Hope – But what to pin it on?

Turn on the television news, look at your bank statement, listen to your friend’s woes. Faced with the basic problems of living who hasn’t despaired of things ever turning out okay? How are you to be delivered from all that is going wrong with the world – the hate and violence, crime, stress, family breakdown, business dishonesty? What power for good is going to make a real difference? In what can you turn to for confidence about things improving?

Hope in bodily pleasure

One answer is to rely on bodily pleasure. Who doesn’t look forward to escaping home at the end of a fraught day and crashing out. Some people get a bit tipsy after work trying to forget their troubles. Or indulge in comfort eating. Those who are bored with life perhaps look forward to the excitement of a new sexual thrill or dangerous sport. Others may take recreational drugs to enhance their mood.

Whatever your fix, you will know deep down that it can’t be relied upon to make things better other than on a temporary basis. Bodily indulgence is just a temporary distraction that never really solves anything.

Hope in technology

How about counting on technological invention to permanently make life very different? Given time, engineers, who designed vacuum cleaners and washing machines, will probably create other labour saving equipment in the home. The electronics industry will probably change your life as much as did computers and smart phones.

But do machines make you any more contented? Do they reduce work stress or just give us more emails to answer? Do they help us cope with personal relationships or just take away our privacy whilst using social media? Do they liberate human beings from mundane work or just make people redundant?

Hope in politics

You might be banking on politics to make a real difference to your life. The hope is that it may produce a better world to live in. National government can provide solutions to social and economic problems by ensuring good public services such as education and health care. Can politicians do all this and at the same time protect the environment, encourage commercial enterprise and pay for our security? Certainly, they are happy to appeal for votes with policies claimed to meet the country’s need for good housing, high rates of employment, a sense of social justice, and a level of socially cohesion that enables good community relations.

The trouble is there seems in Britain to be a widespread disenchantment with the main political parties. Can we really hope politicians will offer us salvation from our economic and social woes or will they just be too busy slagging off the other side creating falsehood, fear and smear? How can national policies expect to radically change the way human beings behave towards each other in the home, and in the workplace? What the government do cannot make us show more respect for others, give us a social conscience, and reduce our self-interest.

Hope in therapy

Perhaps you should be looking to some form of counselling to rid you of unpleasant feelings like anxiety and depression. Talking with a friend or with a professional therapist is for you when going through a bad time or when you have emotional problems you can’t sort out on your own. You can hope that life will be made easier if you look at your problems in a different way and learn new personal skills.

Critics, however, point out that with over a 25% drop out rate from professional therapy, what may count is how you and the other person get on. What is called the quality of the therapeutic relationship. But choosing who is best for you to work with in confidence is virtually impossible in advance. Also although therapists may be seen as the new high priests, they can’t actually solve the deeper issues of life – tissues to do with your sense of identity, the meaning you attach to being alive, your eventual death and an unknowable future. Nor can they alleviate the socially caused problems that beset you, over which you have no influence.

Hope in oneself

Many will feel that if you want a job doing well then do it yourself. In other words in the end one has to put one’s hope in one’s own solutions to difficulties. Don’t depend on others but become more self-reliant. Taking responsibility for dealing with the mess you find yourself in can be liberating. It can reduce the feeling of helpless dejection by giving a new sense of control. This self-confidence may seem to be a good idea for those who feel they are managing life’s difficulties.

But when you are in crisis being confronted by failure, and factors beyond your own influence then you will be brought up sharp by the burdens of reality and a sense of helplessness. The need is to turn to something that is stronger then yourself to effect change. Members of AA turn to a higher power to help them abstain from alcohol.

Hope in the transcendent

In my view, in rightly rejecting the punitive and judgmental ideas of traditional religion, many people today nevertheless believe in a life force that gives nature its vitality. Others recognize a universal spirit which inspires humane compassion and love; and a divine providence that provides us with the opportunities for learning life’s lessons so that we can become wiser and calmer in the face of adversity.

hopeI happen to believe that what saves you, from all that is bad, is a humble acknowledgment that what is good ultimately does not come from the world or from yourself. For we humans are finite. Instead it originates in an infinite source of goodness itself, far beyond your or my own strength to create. A source of divine love and wisdom which is both mysteriously simultaneously transcendent beyond us and immanently present within us. To find a lasting sense of hope is to put one’s faith in this divine power. Perhaps that is why even in these secular times in Britain many people in crisis, who do not normally do so, pray to God when they are desperate for help.

Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

 

Disappointment: a blessing in disguise?

disappointment
Blessing in disguise?

The disappointing terrorist attack of 9/11 was clearly not a blessing in disguise. Evil got its way and many people were very badly physically and emotionally hurt. Nor in any conceivable way can many a disappointing setback be described as a piece of good fortune even if tiny morsels of something positive might be salvaged from such events. On the other hand sometimes a personal trouble can have a unexpected opportunity for a helpful outcome. For example occasionally a bout of illness can help a patient re-appraise an unhealthy lifestyle. The difficulty is in recognising what might possibly be a blessing when your expectations are so severely dashed against the painful rocks of reality. Here are 5 questions that will help you look for any blessing in disguise after you suffer a disappointment.

Was the disappointment due to your unrealistic expectations?

Sometimes when you think life is predictable, the universe has other plans. You may be taken by surprise, if for some reason you complacently suppose calamity will always affect somebody else and not yourself. Yet people do get injured on the roads in large numbers. Nobody can tell what is around the corner. Who can say one won’t get run over by a bus tomorrow?

You may assume you always get your just deserts. Don’t we reap what we deserve? But actually this is may not be the case. A drunken driver or a badly maintained aircraft can be the sole cause of mayhem to innocent passengers.

Was the disappointment something of your own making?

Not everyone learns from their own mistakes. The painful inflamed tendon in my arm was frustrating as it forced me to rest and ration my work of splitting logs instead of overdoing it everyday. It was my wife, who rightly pointed out, that I needed to learn to pace myself in re-using muscles and tendons which have grown tight and weak due to under-use. Apparently it is a common problem for gardeners to rush out in the spring and strain their backs after a winter of inactivity.

Did the disappointment show greater effort was needed?

I got excessively cross with my young grandson who was refusing to abide by the rules of the board game we were playing. Sometimes adults forget just how noisy, untidy and demanding they themselves were when children. My emotionality spoiled what should have been a leisurely family occasion. I have now resolved to try harder to be more patient with the boy whilst still remaining firm about the rules.

“What keeps me going is a constant sense of disappointment with what I’ve already done.” (Robert Wyatt, rock musician)

If we see a setback as a challenge then it can be a stimulant for bigger effort.

Did the disappointment broaden your horizons?

Say you were to suffer a major misfortune such as losing your job through redundancy, or your spouse through marital breakdown or death. Then you would be faced with a huge challenge. Perhaps having to find a livelihood doing a different kind of work. Or having to cope as a single person with no partner to intimately support you face life. In either case you will probably be obliged to get out of your comfort zone: deal with new kinds of situation: learn new skills: meet new people.

“Disenchantment, whether it is a minor disappointment or a major shock, is the signal that things are moving into transition in our lives.” (William Throsby Bridges, senior military officer)

If you happened to have a tendency towards self-pity here is an opportunity to stop adopting the victim role. This role seeks to focus on blaming something or someone else for one’s troubles. If you are such a person you will have a chance to learn instead the role of the survivor and adopt the courage that is required to tackle the unknown and experience the new confidence that comes from success.

Did the disappointment mean you need to put your hope in something beyond yourself?

When you feel like you don’t have the physical, mental, or emotional strength to pull through, you are challenged to possibly put trust in something more than yourself – whatever that may be.

” As someone who has faced as much disappointment as most people, I’ve come to trust not that events will always unfold exactly as I want, but that I will be fine either way.” (Marianne Williamson, spiritual teacher)

This reminds me of the biblical story of Jonah. His conscience told him to go to do a job of work but he didn’t want to do it and so he journeyed in the opposite direction only to end up in the sea and swallowed by a whale. In his distress he called to his God for help, vowing to make amends for his disobedience. The whale vomited him safely on to dry land.

Conclusion on disappointment

I would suggest there is no such thing as bad luck. Facing and dealing with setbacks is a part of life for all of us.

If you will, you can choose to find only the negative in your disappointment.

“When disappointment festers in our soul, it leads to discouragement.” (Joyce Meyer, Christian speaker)

Or you can look for possible blessings in disguise.

“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.” (Henry David Thoreau, transcendentalist poet)

Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher, claimed there is a loving Divine Providence, under whose rule, bad things are allowed to happen, if some lessons of life can result. According to this view, your time here on earth can teach you how to be more spiritually mature and thus experience a deeper long-lasting happiness.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., Christian activist)

Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on26th February 2015CategoriesConsciousness, Latest post, Meaning and inspiration, Meaning of life, SufferingTags, ,, , ,

Illusions that destroy hope.

No future? Lost hope? Can’t see how things might improve? When we get into this negative state of mind, we lack energy even to do the easiest of things and nothing gives us much pleasure.

For Macbeth, life seemed to have a future — one of power and status. illusions Yet he also felt such things were insignificant. For he said:

“Life is but a walking shadow… a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury – signifying nothing.”

Perhaps he was feeling that only what the world could offer were mere illusions.

Yet buying into illusions can be what gets us down in the first place.

Illusions of alienation

To lose contact with people we felt at home with, when we’ve gone away into situations that were unfamiliar and unknown, can be extremely disorientating and disagreeable. One feels different, separated from normal ways of thinking and doing things and unsure of the way forward. We come to mistakenly believe that there is no-one with whom we could share our interests and concerns. No community to which we feel we could belong.

Seen from a spiritual perspective, there are certain triggers for this type of thinking that have grown in recent times. They are to do with our automated life and bureaucratic society and of the widespread materialist sense of values. Existential thinkers have put into words this state of estrangement from any truly human sense of reality and community.

The thoughts that support a feeling of alienation are mistaken. This is because there is always the opportunity of making new friends; always the chance to communicate on a deeper level; always the prospect of joining a social network or local group. It simply involves being oneself rather than pretending to be someone one is not. It involves searching out like-minded people.

Illusions of meaninglessness

One may come to believe that there is nothing that means anything any more. Not just a lack of meaningful relationships but a lack of meaning in life itself. When we start to fall for this way of thinking we are tempted to ask about any point in staying alive.

Yet there are many things we can do that can give satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment, as long as we are engaged with some activity. When we can see what is needed in a situation and start to do something about it, then we can become energised and find a meaningful purpose.

It can lead to a sense of accomplishment, the appreciation from a neighbour, or the interest of a fellow worker – all meaningful experiences. Also our ideals and ethical principles of living can develop and take on new meaning as we try to follow them in daily life.

Illusions of condemnation

A third basic fallacy that leads to depression is to do with a feeling of guilt. One may have done something about which one is truly ashamed or on the other hand be unfairly blaming oneself; one’s self-assessment may have been realistic or unrealistic.  We are at risk of losing hope when we dwell on the illusion that we will suffer a future of punishment and torment.

Yet, let us realise that there are darker forces within the mind encouraging our self-condemnation and that we can gain some control over these. Just as we can receive creative inspiration from a higher source, so we are capable of receiving destructive impulses from a lower one.

Our power over our illusions

Emanuel Swedenborg’s visions of the spiritual realm, convinced him there are those he called lower spirits who desire nothing more than to pop into our minds self-damaging thoughts – illusions which take away hope and inspiration.

Yet, Swedenborg testifies to the unconscious presence with us also of higher spirits who illuminate in us what we have known to be right, defending us against irrational illusions. He wrote that the higher ones have the power of restraining the lower ones, defending us against their malicious influence. So there is help within the human mind to balance out depressing feelings and the illusions that bring them on.

The battle ground may be within the individual soul. But the person can take a conscious hand in the outcome. The important point to remember is we can turn our backs on illusion because negative thoughts can have no power over us as long as we do not identify with them as our own.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Despair – How to conjure up hope?

despairOn an off day, Stuart would privately think that life had little to offer him and he even sometimes felt that all he was doing was going through the motions of living. Money was tight, and in a time of recession there were poor prospects of job advancement. Although working as an estate agent, he had started to despair that he could do anything about finding any way of earning a living in a meaningful role in line with his youthful ideals.

Whatever he did wasn’t satisfying for very long and from time to time the feelings of hopelessness would return. He kept busy and this was his way of avoiding what he didn’t realize was a state of inner despair. He had been an idealist when younger, very keen to help bring about a world where the natural environment was protected, business people were honest, and social justice was the norm.

Now days he felt depressed whenever he read a newspaper or watched a newscast that clearly showed the opposite of his vision. He had switched from being very positive to very negative in his hopes. He was starting to feel like a failure and trapped by his situation, with a reducing willpower left for continuing the struggle with the disappointments of daily living.

How can someone like Stuart change this state of despair and find something to give hope and energy?

Despair resulting from lack of belief

There is nothing wrong with having a vision of a better world. Many of us like Stuart have imagined a human society uncorrupted by warfare and other social evils; or a natural environment with its beauty not exploited by greed; or a community of mutually supportive people with real concern for the public good, that gives everyone a sense of belonging and being included. Whatever idea of the future that excites us, it can serve to energise our best efforts.

I feel Stuarts’s problem however was that he had no deep belief to sustain his endurance when set-backs and adversity got in the way: nothing to hold on to that had the power to transform society: no spiritual framework of ideas to sustain his youthful vision, to give it credibility in the long run as an achievable objective, and to enable his wishes to survive a rational appraisal of what is possible. When there is nothing on which one can pin one’s hopes, then despair is likely to be the result.

If you despair, in what can you put your faith?

In other words, I am trying to argue that what is crucially needed is something beyond oneself, that transcends the material realm, and in which one can put one’s faith: an entity greater than oneself: that goes beyond the ‘little me’ with my petty concerns: that offers a timeless vision of life.

The way you think affects the way you feel. This is a psychological process known about by psychologists and used in CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). Consequently, it is key to examine whether the belief that sustains your hopes is a reasonable one. Stuart’s despair seems to come from his denial of any divine spark within and beyond humanity that could help us think further than self.

But how to be convinced? How to find a rational faith that could challenge the setbacks and illusions that destroy hope? The illusions of meaninglessness, alienation and self-condemnation?

Persuasive belief and despair

One answer comes from the spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. He writes about a limited type of belief that results from being persuaded by some ideology such as a political or religious teaching: often this is a belief of convenience so our attitudes unconsciously fit in with those of our family and friends. He claims that it is possible for such a belief to be  part of the thinking mind, but not also part of the feeling heart: if so he says it cannot endure. For example being persuaded that it is wrong to steal cannot transform a person from being a robber at heart unless there is a desire to be honest, so that thought and feeling are in harmony. Incongruity between head and heart accounts for the hypocrisy seen in some of the history of religion including Christianity. It can also account for lost hope and despair.

Swedenborg contrasts persuasive belief with a genuine faith in a higher power. He maintains real faith is to do with trust and confidence: it is knowing in your heart with an inner conviction for example that there is a divine providence behind the universe beyond all the ability of material science to observe. So just how can one find such an inner conviction that sustains hope? What do you do to be convinced deep down?

Despair or receiving confident hope through faith

Swedenborg’s answer is that such a faith is a spiritual gift – not something we can create for ourselves but rather something that we can receive: a gift only for those who are ready to receive it: who are willing to give something of themselves in order to receive.

But give what? Things that occur to me are:

  1. Giving an open mind to the possibility of a higher spiritual power that we can source to change things for the better,
  2. Giving the time to try to understand what this would mean,
  3. Giving our effort to try to lead a way of life in line with what we are persuaded is true.

If all this is correct then to find confidence in justice and peace, one needs to attempt to act  fairly with others. Likewise to have a deep trust in a creative force within the universe, one needs to oneself start nurturing the natural environment. Also to believe in the reality of the power of compassion, then one needs to begin practicing a caring attitude towards those with whom we come into contact. I believe this is the way to receive the gift of inner conviction.

Without confidence and conviction there can be no sustainable hope. Without hope there is despair.

“Give and you will receive”
“Search and you will find”
(Jesus Christ)

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems