Spiritual Mirages

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

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I wonder whether you have ever seen a mirage?

Mirages occur in our physical world; in the desert the interface of hot and cold air creates to the eye the appearance or illusion of water. For a time the eye is misled into seeing what is not there – it is not real. Mirages can pull us away from our true course -and when we reach this destination we discover it to be unreal – empty of any substance …….

There are other appearances that occur in our physical world. Every day of our lives the sun rises in our sky to herald the beginning of a new day. But this is an illusion, an appearance that we live in and take for granted. The reality is that we and our bit of the earth that we live on has turned towards the sun – and those who live on the other side of the world have turned away from the sun and so are experiencing darkness and night.

I also have illusions or appearances of truth that I hold to be ‘the truth’. And this is so for all people; all of us journey towards discovering more and more what is real and unlearning what we thought was real. It is easier to look back and see what one has outgrown than to see what illusions one presently inhabits. Once I believed that attaining qualifications would give me self-esteem; but I have come to see that this is a mirage, as certificates and pieces of paper are external things and therefore doesn’t heal anything inside me. I was looking in the wrong place and for the wrong remedy.

I can be easily fooled by what happens on a superficial level. Ego, in particular, is fooled by what is outward and external.

I reflect on the appearance of the sun rising to begin the day. If I look at what lies behind this appearance, it shows me an inner reality that God/the Divine always has his/her focus towards me even at times when I feel distanced and unconnected. But if I fall for what the appearance is (that the sun/Divine moves away from me) then I am sucked into thoughts of being isolated and apart from the source of life, love and wisdom.

The world is not focused around me and my stuff, however much it feels that way. When I just focus on my concerns this turns me away from the Divine and reality. What is real is focused on things that endure – Love that comes from the Divine and the insight that is given through how this Love is to be expressed and lived.

Insight is given, it flows in. In-sight or inner sight that enables each of us to see more clearly the reality of a situation, a relationship …… and so the mirage is dispelled and we renew our connection with whatever path we are on towards what is the highest good or the divine will. The following quotation expresses the contrast between outer and inner sight:

Thought from the eye closes the understanding,

but thought from the understanding opens the eye.

We attain enlightenment when we love truth

for the sake of truth, and not for the sake

of self-promotion or worldly gain.

 If we look at the world with our outer sight alone, which is from a materialistic viewpoint, only the superficial, material world will be seen. Focusing on this level alone closes the inner or spiritual sight. How can we look up if we are looking down? How can we look within if we are looking without? But when we shift our focus to what is spiritual, searching for the ultimate truth behind the veils of the way things appear, we find true understanding of life on all levels.

Emanuel Swedenborg, Way of Wisdom

When I read this it reminds me to look more deeply, to open myself to in-sight; so I can see my way forward and the next step on my path. The mirages dissolve into nothingness…..

Copyright 2013 Helen Brown

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Posted on 5th February 2013Categories Consciousness, Meaning and inspirationTags , , , , , , , , , , ,  Leave a comment

 

Beliefs – Why do people differ so much?

beliefsWe seem to be surrounded by so much tension and conflict in the world today. With all the prejudice, discrimination and violence associated with strongly held beliefs, it would be nice to work out why people disagree so much. So what causes us to each believe certain things and be sniffy about opposing ideas?

I imagine we pickup ideas from all around us. Beliefs that have seeped through from current and past thinking in politics, philosophy, religion and so on. I’m sure I am influenced by my family upbringing, the traditions of my culture, the mass media and books I watch and read, what my teachers told me, and what newspapers I choose to read.

In a multicultural society where a pluralistic mentality has influenced our individual consciousness, it is quite difficult if not impossible to disentangle the effects of all these factors.

Beliefs affected by tough and tender mindedness

A first specific reason I can offer for our differing beliefs is to do with what some psychologists have supposed regarding ‘tough’ or ‘tender’ mindedness. The idea here is that we all differ in our social attitudes and values partly according to something which underlies our political leanings. For example a tough-minded conservative perspective on fairness means people should get what they deserve based on the amount of effort they have put in. What is fair from a tender-minded liberal point of view, is sharing resources equally and caring for people who are vulnerable.

Liberals are commonly said to value individualism and democratic participation as these are seen by them as conducive to progressive innovation. On the other hand conservatives tend to emphasise loyalty and authority which they see as helpful for maintaining a stable society. You can guess which side tolerate open-ended questions as opposed to wanting structure and clear answers.

So where does this tough minded-tender minded factor come from? Apparently, individual differences in personality are a leading candidate. Using data compiled from nearly 20,000 respondents, researcher Dana Carney and colleagues at Columbia University found that two common personality traits reliably differentiated individuals with liberal or conservative identifications. Liberals reported greater openness to new experience whereas conservatives reported higher conscientiousness. This means that liberals (at least in their own estimation) see themselves as more creative, flexible, tolerant of ambiguity, and open to new ideas and experiences. Conservatives see themselves as more persistent, orderly, moralistic and methodical.

Religious beliefs and other world-views

Is not an important cause of difference in social attitude to do with religion? If you come from a particular tradition – faith or secular – I reckon this will probably have an important bearing on the way you think about ethical and related matters; regarding the meaning of life, one’s final destiny, human suffering, the paranormal and so on. Here is then a second reason for differing beliefs.

Those we strongly disagree with may not be immoral but be simply individuals applying similar values to our own in different ways. If this were true then some of the conflict one finds between those of opposing views might subside. For example one conservative religious mind-set is be a good steward of the earth, to protect God’s creation – a view that is quite compatible with the green energy and conservation liberal policies.

I would suggest that those people, who acknowledge a higher consciousness beyond their ordinary awareness of life, are more likely to try to meditate deeply. Similarly, those theists, who happen to believe in a compassionate rather than a punitive deity, are more likely to engage in regular conversational prayer with their God. I imagine that those people who believe in an afterlife and also believe in the human capacity for inner free-will – as opposed to having a fatalistic attitude – would try to live life now as they mean to carry on doing to eternity. Finally I can point to those who believe in the golden rule of ‘doing to others as you would wish others to do to you’ as consequently playing fair by other people even if it is possible to get away with deception without being found out.

Beliefs that can be enlightened

Spiritual theory talks of enlightenment. And this points to a third reason why people differ in their beliefs. In other words even if understanding is limited, what is known has the capacity to hold a higher truth within it. According to this view we can distinguish between what might be called surface beliefs and deeper intuition. What is true for you depends on your individual level of enlightenment – the degree of illuminating light thrown on to what you know. Without such deeper perception one may be stuck in illusion.

One example of this relates to the belief in God as someone who rewards good and punishes bad behaviour. This is how divine justice appears to a simple-minded individual like a child. But look deeper and I would suggest one can find a more enlightened view of the matter in terms of positive and negative spiritual consequences that we bring on ourselves because a spiritual state is inherent in all what we do.

Beliefs in illusions and appearances

Some ideas about the universe have been shown to be illusory but other theories although a huge improvement can only ever be an approximation of what is really true. Scientists want the truth about nature but they can only come up with theories which continually change in the light of new evidence.

Similarly spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, wrote about personally relevant beliefs such as ethical and spiritual beliefs. He maintained that one never discovers what is really true: all insights are only appearances of genuine reality – adapted to different perception inherent in human circumstances.

Our individual conception of what is true is given to us according to what we are able to grasp. Given the huge range of the human condition and individual enlightenment, no wonder people believe different things.

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

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 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