How do I find my spiritual source?

Experiencing my centre and spiritual source isn’t something that just happens for me. I find I need to make a conscious effort to search out this higher power and that means turning in the right direction. But you can’t turn round unless you first recognise which way you are currently facing.

Perhaps this is why I couldn’t write this article yesterday. There was ample time available and plenty of peace and quiet around me. But to focus your mind on something as profound as one’s spiritual source you really have to be in the right place within yourself. And I just wasn’t there. Too busy hankering after something that I know deep down isn’t part of the uplifting journey of my life. Too occupied with what I greedily wanted rather than prioritising food for the soul. I had to remind myself that if I really wanted the creative juices to flow, and get some inspiration, then I really must stop indulging in what is harmful to my inner life and instead turn towards something higher and better.

spiritual sourceThe sun as a symbol of the spiritual source

One symbol for what is highest and best that I find helpful is that of the sun. Without its warmth and light no plant would grow or animal survive. Likewise, is there not a fundamental centre to existence that supplies us with loving feeling and enlightened thought? Without a divine source for warmth and light, how can humanity develop and prosper?

The sun appears to us as small, yet it is really enormous. Similarly, although the creative source of all that we know is infinite, doesn’t it seem to us that, when we are wrapped up in our own concerns, the God of religion is small and often goes without notice?

The sun hides away at night and there is darkness but really, it is there all the time: it is just that as the earth spins on its axis, we occasionally turn away and face the opposite direction. Don’t we also have times when we feel perplexed and puzzled trying to see our way through the difficulties of daily living? It seems to us at the time that we are in the dark about what to do for the best. Perhaps we are facing in the wrong direction.

We think the sun’s heat and light is different in summer and winter but actually they never vary. It is only the tilt of the earth in its orbit that causes the seasons. In the same way, don’t we at times turn our backs on loving feelings and the light of true conscience, thus tilting ourselves away from the principles which had guided our life?  Love and light were there all the time, just hidden by our worry, fear, and negative mood.

Conscious turning towards our spiritual source

All this highlights for me the need for a conscious turning towards my spiritual source. Without effort to take stock and reflect on my inner state, I am not going to notice my complacency. Only when I remember just how much my life needs to turn round, and how inadequate I am of myself for this task of personal transformation, am I energised to try to seek the spiritual power that can really improve me. Only when I turn towards my spiritual sun can I hope to receive the gift of genuine warm-heartedness and illuminated insight. Only when I throw away the illusion that love and light are hidden will I trust I can find them again.

“In order to find God, and to become changed into the Divine likeness, and to pass from death into life, we have to seek God with great fervour and intensity.  We seem to be encased in a hard shell of complacency; or to be suffering from an hypnotic spell, which prevents us from becoming sufficiently awake and alert and in earnest to seek God and Reality in such a way as to bring results.” (Christian mystic, HT Hamblin)

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

How bad a person am I?

How bad am IYou may feel undeserving of any happy destiny because you are fundamentally not okay with yourself. Well, for all I know you might well be consumed by a huge ego, be selfish, vain, bitchy, resentful, etc.  But I would like to ask how do we really know when we are basically bad? That would be quite a big conclusion to carry around on one’s shoulders. Here are four questions that might help your spiritual self-assessment.

1.      How judgmental are you about yourself?

You may not be as bad as you think if you have been focusing on or exaggerating the negative side and ignoring or minimising the positive.

“For all right judgment of any man or things it is useful, nay, essential, to see his good qualities before pronouncing on his bad.” (Thomas Carlyle)

We may be quick to pin labels on people. That’s why the tabloid newspapers sell so well. But being judgmental about oneself is a similar attitude. One can search out for and exaggerate one’s own defects just as easily as finding fault in others. Seeing oneself just in terms of one’s negative characteristics means forgetting such positives as one’s generosity of spirit or one’s desire to better understand the deeper side of life.

2.      Are you biased by an illusion of condemnation?

In many mythological, folklore and religious traditions, hell is a place of damnation i.e. eternal torture and punishment for bad conduct during life on earth. Even today we are influenced by this tradition. Condemnation of others can be paralleled by self-condemnation. The persecutory notion that bad people deserve to suffer is mirrored by the guilty idea that I, who am bad, deserve to suffer.

A very different view of hell however shows up the illusion of self-condemnation.  It is Emanuel Swedenborg’s teaching that in the next life no-one suffers punishment for any past misdeeds however wicked the person committed in the world. According to this view, what punishments do occur do not go on continually for ever because they are not retributions for wrongdoing committed on earth, but rather disciplinary reactions to minimise and deter criminal acts that selfish and cruel people commit in hell. Thus punishments in hell cease when external order has been restored.

From a similar spiritual perspective, it could be said that a loving attitude towards oneself would means cutting out all on-going guilt or self-punishment for any past bad conduct. In evaluating our  character we  shouldn’t be biased by any desire to condemn ourselves for past conduct however bad it was. A sense of self-acceptance is part of the healing process.

Easier said than done you might think. And so those drawn to religion hope they can find a sense of divine forgiveness to compensate for their difficulty in self-acceptance.

3.      Are you being premature in trying to reach any firm conclusions about yourself?

I guess we are all a bit of a mixture of good and bad.

“There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Sometimes we obey the law and behave ethically out of love for doing what is good and right for its own sake. Other times we only do what is good out of self-interest and would behave badly if we thought we could get away with it.

Psychological theories of personal development tend to focus on the notion of integration. Disparate personal fragments in our make up slowly begin to harmonise as our character is formed. My take on this is to say that the process is either one of regeneration or degeneration; spiritual growth or spiritual decline. I believe that over a life-time we gradually are forming for ourselves an all-pervading motivation for something good or something bad and are integrating all subsidiary compatible desires and discarding all incompatible ones.

However, according to spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, this process of integration is not complete in this life: the values that deep down influence our hearts do not always come to the surface and unrelated feeling, pretentiousness  and difficulty co-exist and are manifest in different situations.

He says it is only at some point in the next life that we do eventually fully get in touch with our true self (what he calls our ruling love) when the spirit of who we are slowly begins to really show and the process of separating disparate elements can be accomplished.

 “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” (Luke 12:2)

Swedenborg’s evidence for his position was his own experience. Subjectively he was able to become conscious of an invisible realm in which his spirit existed and that as part of his journey within a spirit world he encountered both angelic people and also some very unpleasant individuals. Many of the self-centred spirit people wanted to be obeyed and praised and were quick to feel slighted feeling various shades of contempt, vengefulness, nastiness and cruelty. The caring unselfish ones however had the opposite feelings.

4.      To what extent does your bad side now rule your life?

Does your greed, vengefulness, or being unfaithful to your partner, amount to a spontaneous unconsidered urge? One view these days is that behaving badly is nothing much more than making an impulsive mistake through ignorance of what being good involves; not realising the consequences. On the other hand mistakes can somehow get intentionally repeated.

“To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character.” (Dale Turner)

I would suggest giving in to some bad impulse is one thing. Worse than this is deliberately intending to do something bad when knowing it is wrong in one’s heart such as using trickery and deceit, having contempt for others, etc Worst still is habitually delighting in such wrong-doing and looking for reasons to justify such behaviour. Worst of all is fully convincing oneself that such things are allowable and smart.

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

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