Discovering inner health and transformation
Who wouldn’t try to persuade their youngster to study for what they see as a promising career? Who wouldn’t pull out all the stops to influence investors to support their business? Who wouldn’t want to make their spouse feel the same way about having more children or a house move? It is surely normal for me to want the best for someone as I see it? Or is this sometimes as case of me wanting to get my way. Have things as I see fit?
I have to ask myself if my attempts at influencing others amounts to trying to make them think, act, or feel the way I do? All this made me wonder just how I might assess the way I manage other people in my life. Do I try to get my way with others too often?
‘Hang on,’ I hear myself say. ‘I don’t force anyone to do anything. That would be selfish.’ Okay so before the kids left home, I seldom shouted at my teenage daughter to keep her bedroom tidy. I seldom ordered anyone in the family to do their chores. In fact even now I rarely if ever voice explosive anger, never mind any verbal abuse or any threat of violence to get my way. But perhaps I don’t even realise if I use less obvious methods of manipulation?
You may have heard of the young woman who thinks she will be able to change her man after they are married. Make him tidier, stop smoking or whatever. But he may be of a different mind. And when she fails to alter his bad habits, she may end up just nagging him which can cause irritation but no change of ways. Telling someone what to do or what to think doesn’t usually work because people like to decide things for themselves.
Offering a point of view for their consideration and rational arguments to support it can be quite another matter. For this is respecting their personal choice. A father who insists on telling his daughter what to believe about politics, religion and so on, will appear as someone who thinks he knows best.
He may feel certain he is right. However, these days, less and less people will tolerate being told what to think. They really do prefer to make up their own minds. By claiming absolute answers to life’s issues, perhaps without realizing it, the father is arrogantly trying to impose his views. He would be advised to more humbly offer his beliefs for consideration and they even may be welcomed as his gift.
Many parents have learned not to speak dogmatically about matters that are dear to their hearts. But some still don’t want to hear anything that might distract from their agenda. And so they sometimes fall foul of the mistake of turning a deaf ear to their teenager’s point of view.
This shows when they refuse to pay attention to anything that opposes them, saying things like “I don’t want to hear it”. Or they may show a fierce look or glance, unpleasant tone of voice, or make rhetorical comments, or use subtle sarcasm. The trouble is how we come over to others is not always apparent to us, and we can get into unfortunate habits in how we communicate.
Making up excuses is something I have done at some time or other to cover up my embarrassment or mistakes. Perhaps you have taken this a step further and been engaged spinning a yarn to the media on behalf of your company or to your friends regarding your achievements. It is not only ‘spin doctors’ who twist the truth to suit their own ends. The trouble is when dishonesty becomes a habitual method of trying to get our own way.
Like when we refuse to admit something obvious, or use weasel words to give vague, irrelevant, rambling, responses to evade revealing our real intentions. For we hope that only by changing the subject and keeping quiet about what we are up to, instead of giving a straight answer, can we hope to change someone’s mind or actions.
Ray and Star Silverman in their book Rise Above It have given a Swedenborgian perspective on trying to get our own way. Whether we do this coercively or subtly, it is said to be a sign that we want to possess what belongs to another person for our own sake; having charge of what they think and believe.
Any apparent success in controlling someone feeds the ego trip that our ideas are more valid than the other person’s, and the illusion that what we want is more important than what he or she wants. A few people want to possess someone’s aspirations, values and even their deepest desires.
When you notice yourself starting to manipulate other people, perhaps for genuinely held reasons, you might however want instead to hold back. I find it helps me to remember the importance of giving respect to other people who need to find out things for themselves, be free to choose what they want, and take responsibility for their own lives.
Even though we each may have a specific superior talent for something or a more important social responsibility, nevertheless everyone has a significant role to play in the universal human family. Someone controlling their attitudes can rob them of their unique contribution.
In striving to overcome the love of power, I like to think I have discovered the power of love.
Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Posted on30th March 2012
“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)
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.
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.
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
A bit of self-pride seems part of the positive trait of self-esteem.
Yet we speak of pride before a fall. The story of Icarus is about a young man’s attempt to escape from Crete by means of wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. Icarus ignored instructions not to fly too close to the sun, and the melting wax caused him to fall into the sea where he drowned. In flying too high he is often seen as possessing overconfident arrogance. The proverb ‘Pride goes before a fall’ seems apt, implying suffering for those too cocky for their own good.
On the other hand, sounding superior and important are favoured traits in today’s tough competitive economic climate. Even if you are not in business, you need to market your work skills in order to keep your own job or get another one.
“At home I am a nice guy: but I don’t want the world to know. Humble people, I’ve found, don’t get very far.” (Muhammad Ali)
And it is said that it can become counter-productive to be modest because you may not be taken seriously.
So is it really true that you will be like Icarus and suffer in some way as a result of being full of yourself and your ability? What’s so bad about a bit of self-pride?
In his book Essential Spirituality, Roger Walsh writes about noticing the sacred in other people.
He tells a story about an old woman sitting by the roadside outside her town who was approached by a traveller who asked “What kinds of people live in this town?”
“What were the people like in your home town?” queried the old woman.
“Oh, they were terrible!” fumed the traveller. “Liars, cheats, incompetents, you couldn’t trust any of them. I was glad to leave.”
“You’ll find the people in this town just the same.” Responded the old woman.
Not long afterwards, she was approached by a second traveller who also questioned her about the people in the town.
“”What were the people like in your home town?” she asked.
“Oh, they were wonderful!” exclaimed the traveller. “Fine, honest, hard-working, it was a privilege to be with them. I was so sorry to leave.”
“You’ll find the people in this town just the same. “responded the old woman.
So, how you see others and what you say about them reveals more about yourself than about them. You don’t want to seem to be a know-it-all full of self-pride who fails to notice the value in others. Few people want to appear big-headed about their own abilities at the cost of the abilities of others. Moreover, seeing what is valuable about others helps you be honest with yourself about your own limitations even when this is uncomfortable.
Spiritually-minded people acknowledge a source of deeper energy and wisdom beyond their own mind. They ask how can one not feel humbled by the wonders of the universe, or when seeing the power of altruistic love manifest in the most extreme circumstances. We are so often exposed to the scientific view, of an evolution without purpose and a universe as a meaningless machine, that no transcendent sacred force — whatever we want to call it — is allowed to exist.
But then we are pulled up short by tantalizing glimpses, of a mysterious quality within nature — perhaps triggered by a beautiful sunset, the wisdom of birds and animals, or the vastness of space — glimpses that offer a truly awe-inspiring experience of something beyond oneself. At such moments the mundane world is transfigured.
Such experiences, can lead to acknowledging a higher good and truth that exists beyond your own ability, and which is the source of inspiration for human effort. In this way of thinking, the focus is not on the strengths of humanity but on the strengths of the Divine presence within the human soul and accepting one’s dependence on this presence for finding tolerance, patience, and other virtue. Not, as do some Christians, in sanctimoniously promoting themselves as Godly and thus betraying a self-pride in being better than others. Instead, by genuinely bowing down to an origin of all that is good, the individual does not feel empty but full.
“Jesus is the God whom we can approach without pride and before whom we can humble ourselves without despair.” (Blaise Pascal)
Neither need one indulge in self-abasement as do some believers but rather celebrate one’s ability to be uplifted and share the spiritual power available: not in denying the inner strength in oneself but rather in recognising that it is received from a higher Divine source. A bit of self-pride might not be an appropriate attitude for those with this kind of true humility.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Preached in Bryn Athyn June 25, 1995
“Settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist” (Luke 21:14,15).
The Lord said these things to followers who were later persecuted and brought before councils. Their accusers thought by confronting them they could weaken the cause of Christianity. But it turned out differently. Those confrontations became opportunities for the strengthening and growth of Christianity.
The boldness and eloquence of the disciples, although they were just fishermen, was nothing short of astonishing. Of one outspoken disciple it is said, “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke” (Acts 6: 10). In the 4th chapter of Acts we read of two disciples who were confronted: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marvelled” (Acts 4:13). (King James Version says “unlearned and ignorant men.”) They had a boldness and assurance, and their answers were powerful.
They were somehow triumphant even when they were beaten and imprisoned, and in some cases put to death (see Luke 21:16). We will mention one example of that in a moment.
The text applies of course to us and, we might say, in a much less dramatic fashion. We will not likely be brought before courts and kings nor openly challenged and assailed by enemies.
But we do stand to be attacked by the enemies of our spiritual life. And the more we learn about the assaults of evil spirits on followers of the Lord, the more do we see that it too is dramatic and momentous. Falsities from hell itself assail the person who is being tempted, and the Writings say that to every falsity the hells inject, there is an answer from the Divine.
What we experience in temptation is anxiety, discouragement even to despair. We do not know that evil spirits from hell are fighting against us, nor do we know that the Lord is fighting for us, and the answers from the Divine to the false accusations and undermining thoughts do not come clearly to our consciousness. Here is what the Writings say: “As regards temptations … the hells fight against man, and the Lord for man; to every falsity the hells inject, there is an answer from the Divine …. The answer from the Divine flows into the internal or spiritual man … and in such a manner that it scarcely comes to the perception otherwise than as hope and consequent consolation, in which there are nevertheless innumerable things of which the man is ignorant” (AC 8159:3). (In that answer which we feel only as hope and comfort there are countless blessings that the person has no knowledge of” – new translation.)
Here is the context of the words of the text: “… they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. … [N]ot a hair of your head shall be lost. In your patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:12-19).
The very first Christian to die for his beliefs found that the confrontation was indeed an occasion for testimony. He was falsely accused and brought before a council to answer. His eloquent speech takes up the whole of the 7th chapter of the book of Acts. It is said, “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. … [T]hey cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord and they cast them out of the city and stoned him” (Acts 7:54,57).
That speech which so affected them had begun thus: “… brethren … listen: the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham” and he told the story through Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Solomon, and when he was finished he gazed up into heaven and saw the glory of God. And as they rained stones on him he said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’ and ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this he fell asleep” (Acts 7:2,59,60). It is said that those who looked at him “saw his face as the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).
A radiant peace surrounded him. The Lord had promised that nothing would harm them. They were at peace even in death.
“Settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer.” Think deliberately about the future, and think of how not to think of the future. In one of the Lord’s parables a man is called foolish because he did not think ahead intelligently. “Foolish one, tonight your soul will be required of you, and then whose will those things be which you have provided?”
Oh, he had thought and meditated within himself about the future. But what was the level of his thinking? To quote the Gospel: “And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do? … I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater … And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years …” (Luke 12:17-21).
He could look down the road years ahead. He could figure out what he was going to do, and what he was going to say, and God called him a fool. How does our future look to us? How much strength and endurance do you have for what lies in store for you? Can you handle what is yet to come? Do you have the wit? Will you have the wit to respond to what may come to pass?
We live in the illusion that our strength, our intelligence, our very life is from ourselves. How big is our reservoir of energy or endurance or prudence? Since it seems that life is our own, we think in terms of calling on our reserves. Once the disciples set off in a boat on a journey with the Lord. And it had slipped their mind that they should have stored some provision. To quote from the Gospel of Mark, “Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat” (8:14). That was what was on their mind, and the Lord said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? … do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up? How is it that you do not understand?”
He got them to answer the question, and He could ask them on a much later occasion, “When I sent you without money bag, sack and sandals, did you lack anything? So they answered, Nothing” (Luke 22:35). Think of the uncertain times of youth that you have passed through. You made it through your teens. Has the Lord kept you safe thus far? Has He provided?
It is too bad that some people have concluded that it is virtuous not to make provision for the future. It’s understandable. The Lord has given us the message that He will provide. Seek the kingdom of God, and these things will be added to you. But the Writings say this does not mean we should not provide ourselves with food, clothing, “and even resources for the time to come; for it is not contrary to order for anyone to be provident for himself and his own.” The new translation speaks of “resources for the future; for it is not contrary to order to make provision for oneself and one’s dependents” (J. Elliott’s translation).
But there is the matter of putting trust in the Divine. Notice the verb tribuo, something you do. It is translated to “attribute” or to “ascribe.” See how it is used in this teaching about charity in a person engaged in business. “He thinks of the morrow, and yet does not think of it. He thinks of what should be done on the morrow, and how it should be done; and yet does not think of the morrow, because he ascribes the future to the Divine Providence and not to his own prudence.” And then it adds, “Even his prudence he ascribes to the Divine Providence” (Charity 167).
Does that fortunate person who ascribes the future to the Divine just do this at one point in life? Or is it not something to be done deliberately through the progressing stages of life?
Settle it in your hearts. Deliberately ascribe the future to the Lord’s Providence, and do so, if you can, until you can feel a sense of relief as if someone had removed a false burden from you.
Do not think of this merely as “either/or,” as if to say, either you trust in Divine Providence or you do not. It can be a quantitative thing. Some attribute a little bit to the Divine Providence and a lot to themselves (see AC 2694:2). The Writings use the phrase “the more”: the more they ascribe, the stronger or wiser they are (see AC 4932). In our lives we gradually come to ascribe more to the Lord and less to ourselves (see TCR 610 and 105).
The disciples were to learn that peace, the wonderful prize of peace, is to be found in the Lord Himself. He said, “These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world” (Luke 16e). En to cosmo thlipsin exete alla tharsete – In the world you will have affliction, trouble, but take heart. Have courage. I have defeated. I have conquered. I have overcome the world.
Our picture of the future can become less a matter of speculation and worry and more and more a picture of the Lord as one in whom to confide and one who grants peace. Peace has in it confidence in the Lord that He will provide, and that He leads to a good end. “When someone is in this faith, he is in peace, for he then fears nothing and no solicitude about future things disquiets him” (AC 8455).
We sometimes say that the future looks dark. And the unknown is a kind of darkness. But when we ascribe the future to the Lord, we may say at any time in history or at any stage of our life, that the future has light in it, being in the hands of Him who is the light of the world.
Settle it in your hearts anew today. Ascribe the future to the Lord. And He will give you what to think and do, and He will give you peace. Amen.
Lessons: Matt. 10:16-31, DP 179, AC 2493
Divine Providence 179
As a foreknowledge of future events destroys the human itself, which is to act from freedom according to reason, therefore it is not granted to anyone to know the future; but everyone is permitted to form conclusions concerning future events from the reason; hence reason with all that pertains to it enters into man’s life. It is on this account that a man does not know his lot after death, or know of any event before he is involved in it. For if he knew this, he would no longer think from his interior self how he should act or how he should live in order to meet the event, but he would only think from his exterior self that he was meeting it. Now this state closes the interiors of his mind in which the two faculties of his life, liberty and rationality, especially reside. A longing to know the future is innate with most people, but this longing derives its origin from the love of evil. It is therefore taken away from those who believe in the Divine Providence, and there is given them a trust that the Lord is disposing their lot. Consequently they do not desire to know it beforehand lest they should in any way set themselves against the Divine Providence. This the Lord teaches by many passages in Luke (12:14-48).
That this is a law of the Divine Providence may be confirmed by many things from the spiritual world. Most persons when they enter that world after death desire to know their lot. They are told that if they have lived well their lot is in heaven, and if they have lived wickedly it is in hell. But as all, even the wicked, fear hell, they ask what they should do and what they should believe to enter heaven. They are told that they may do and believe as they will, but that they should know that in hell, good is not done and truth is not believed, but only in heaven. To each one the answer is: “Seek out what is good and what is true; then think the truth and do the good, if you are able.” So in the spiritual world as in the natural world all are left to act from freedom according to reason; but as they have acted in this world so do they act in the spiritual world. His own life awaits everyone and consequently his own lot, for the lot pertains to the life.
Arcana Coelestia 2493
1 have spoken with the angels concerning the memory of things past, and the consequent anxiety regarding things to come; and I have been instructed that the more interior and perfect the angels are, the less do they care for past things, and the less do they think of things to come; and also that from this comes their happiness. They say that the Lord gives them every moment what to think, and this with blessedness and happiness; and that they are thus free from cares and anxieties. Also, that this was meant in the internal sense by the manna being received daily from heaven; and by the daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer; and likewise by the instruction not to be solicitous about what they should eat and drink, and wherewithal they should be clothed. But although the angels do not care for past things, and are not solicitous about things to come, they nevertheless have the most perfect recollection of past things, and the most perfect mental view of things to come; because in all their present there are both the past and the future. Thus they have a more perfect memory than can ever be thought of or expressed.