Too many people only want to go were they can find acceptance (they even expect this from God). But God and heaven’s angels already accepteveryoneinto their kingdom of mutual love. So what keeps people from enjoying heavenly peace and eternal happiness?
Eternal peace and happiness is not someplace where other souls treat you right. It is a deep state of mind and quality acquired by individuals who are willing to probe their inner dirt and who consciously choose to remove these negative aspects from their lives (with the Lord’s help).
This process can be truly unflattering (and no angel will ever flatter or validate you if that is what you seek). So, a certain kind of bravery is called for and a certain kind ofendurancemust be created from our own efforts in self-examination.
If these negative aspects are not explored, challenged and resisted, our best deeds will always be stained by worldly elements of pride, vanity, status, and self-importance, which keep us away from heaven’s environment ofinnocence.
The trick is not to become good people, but to attract God’s goodness into our lives, which comes only from the removal of our harmful types of behavior.
This is why becoming a member of a Heavenly society requires self-initiation. We are each personally responsible for the quality of our own soul.
If you believe that there is no life beyond this earthly plane, then it is the starving child that we should focus on. But if you believe in a spiritual world beyond this one, then it is the rich who may really need your prayers and support the most.
While the Holy Bible states that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven, it is not the cash in his pockets that is blocking the way.
Spiritually speaking, the “rich” in this case symbolize those who falsely believe (from egoism) that they own everything important to life, but who actually are quite empty (and starving) deep within. Since the kingdom of heaven is within us all, a materially and outwardly rich person can only enter, after the physical death of the body, into an eternal place of similar emptiness—and deserves our concern.
A starving child, on the other hand, has innocence. If one dies in innocence then one becomes an angel and is assured of everlasting happiness. Heaven is primarily a place (inner state) of innocence.
So don’t let your eyes fool you when determining whom you should help
“All the gold which is under or upon the earth is not enough to give in exchange for virtue.”(Plato, philosopher)
The idea of virtue can feel a little scary. Surely no-one can be such a worthy human being as to do no wrong, show courage at all times, and be full of generosity and kindness with everybody? To do good all the time doesn’t feel like the real me. I suspect few people feel they are born like this and I certainly don’t. And what is virtue anyway? Do we have to be so extremely good in order to show virtue? Is this not an excessive expectation?
Virtue in contemporary spirituality
Modern spiritual writers are interested in universal ideas common to different traditions. For example Roger Walsh encourages the reader to recognise and cultivate higher values. Examples are justice, altruism, beauty, the sacred and understanding truth.
Walsh contrasts these with lower values such as money, possessions, bodily pleasure, power, and fame. He finds virtue in the higher values. In contrast, he says neglecting spiritual principles and focusing on lower values can result in a lack of well-being. You are more likely to suffer from boredom, craving, cynicism, alienation, stress, and lack of meaning in your life when you prioritise lower values unrelated to virtue.
Virtue as understood in ancient Greece
The way the ancient Greeks thought about virtue is of relevance. Plato thought that virtue is associated with being wise.
Similarly, Aristotle wrote that virtue is excellence at being human and thus involves understanding what is right for the situation.
“At the right times, about the right things, towards the right people, for the right end, and in the right way, is the intermediate and best condition, and this is proper to virtue.”(Aristotle, philosopher)
In other words virtue is taking into account rational considerations when being courageous, generous, or kind according to the circumstances. I think Aristotle is saying doing what is worthy and good doesn’t necessarily mean behaving in an excessive way.
“Exactness and neatness in moderation is a virtue, but carried to extremes narrows the mind.”(Francois Fenelon)
Virtue could thus be said to be acting in between two extremes in a rational light.
For example courage is a virtue that lies between cowardice and foolhardiness. You can foolishly throw away your life by thoughtlessly doing something beyond your ability.
Generosity is between miserliness and being recklessly profligate with one’s money. You can imprudently neglect your own needs, and the needs of your own family, by being overgenerous.
I see kindness as between indifference and doing too much. Fixing things by solving problems doesn’t enable children to learn things for themselves. Doing too much for the elderly can foster unnecessary dependence.
There is no virtue in taking things too far by mindlessly not considering consequences for what you do.
Virtue in tradition of Western World and Middle East
The ten commandments are less well known these days and are often regarded as old hat. Some of them are however the basis for our criminal law. We might want to bring our understanding of them up to date. If we look for a spirit of virtue within them, do these rules also require wisdom for their practice?
Arguably, the command ‘Do not kill’ is saying don’t become hateful or violent. Perhaps the spirit behind this is urging us to enhance life by nurturing, protecting, showing kindness and being useful. However, is it going too far to never get angry even when such a response is justified?
The command about not bearing false witness is about not telling lies. A deeper understanding of this might be being honest with others and with oneself. Also keeping promises and living with integrity. But could one unwisely take this command to its extreme? For example, by being too honest, tactlessly pointing negative things out to others at the wrong time, or ruminating on one’s own trivial mistakes.
There is a command about not committing adultery. Isn’t the spirit of this law to do with nurturing the family bond by being loyal to one’s partner and not acting seductively with others? Taken to extremes, one condemns and avoids all expressions of sexuality in the arts or in normal leisure contexts.
One command ‘Do not steal’ in effect tells us to respect the property and ideas of others, and give credit for them. More extreme than this would be to maintain upright respectability with false modesty about one’s own law-abiding citizenship.
“Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.”(Grover Norquist)
In other words, what is good in these rules can be distorted because of a lack of wisdom in their application.
Wisdom and virtue
One can point to a distinction between what is naturally and spiritually good. With the former there is no truth of wisdom.
“People … whose good is merely natural can be carried away by falsity as easily as by truth, provided that in outward appearance the falsity looks like truth. They can also be led as easily by evil as by good, provided that the evil is presented as good. They are like feathers in the wind.”(Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)
In other words, true virtue is a developed quality of character rather than the impulse of one’s natural disposition. It is a rock in the face of the winds of life.
We may not naturally have much in the way of virtue – forgiveness, kindness, courage, humour, generosity, humility, contentment, or honesty. However, I conclude that doing good in an enlightened manner leads to a sense of well-being and feeling energised by life. I would say, virtue is achievable, as long as you seek the wisdom of rational thought needed to make use of good inclinations.
Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
A Buddhist makes the claim that the self does not exist. In Sanskrit this is calledanâtman. In other words my notion of I or myself is an illusion.
When people first hear this, they are astonished. How can anyone deny they exist? Don’t we have our own thoughts and feelings? Don’t we act in ways we choose? No, the Buddhist sees you as having no genuine identity, no selfhood of your own.
According to this Buddhist view, there is no self or soul which could survive the death of the body. A human person is simply a transient bundle of energies which come together briefly and then separate.
Before rejecting the Buddhist view out of hand, perhaps we need to ask whether there might be some element of value in it? After all, appearances can be misleading. The sun rises and sets apparently circling the world. But this is a fallacy. The pleasures of the body appear to offer the best enjoyment in life. But they soon pall and become boring if over-indulged in.
We can forget ourselves
We speak of sometimes forgetting ourselves. Usually I am concerned about the way others see me. But if I were to angrily lose my temper then this sense of self is forgotten. I’m too busy expressing an emotion.
Some times we may acknowledge our limitations and humbly seek guidance. Is this not an example of forgetting one’s ego?
Another example of forgetting ourselves is the experience of meditation. In a state of higher consciousness, meditators see their thoughts, but they become convinced that they the person meditating is in some sense not the thing that generated the thoughts. They forget themselves.
We can be selfless
The sense of selfhood can also be said to not exist in states of compassion or generosity. In selfless thinking the idea of oneself is forgotten and put to one side because one is compassionately focused on the needs of those suffering hardship or pain.
How very different this state of mind is from that of the self-centred person who may indulge in the fantasy that he or she is more important or attractive than others. Or those people who fancy they deserve special treatment.
The Buddhists would say that our lives are about extinguishing the flames of desire which only cause suffering. What people say is self needs emptying out.
A human being it is argued consists of no more than various energies such as bodily form, sensations, thoughts, and feelings. None of these, Buddhists say are permanent or can be controlled. For example we cannot prevent our physical body ending at death. And so they say there is no self.
It is true that any beginner starting to meditate will confirm how impossible it is to feel responsible for and control the mind chatter that goes on at the fringe of awareness.
Also I can acknowledge that my thoughts are not my own: they come from various influences around me. Ideas, sentiments, even fantasies seem to come unbidden.
However, I would argue that I can still identify myself as an observing self who can be aware of all this mental stuff without owning it.
Individual free choice
I can go along with the suggestion that all images, feelings, ideas, sentiments originate somewhere beyond me. And that I can take no credit for them. In other words I haven’t a self in the sense of one that has life of itself. Instead I see myself as a mere receptacle who receives a flow of good and bad influences that come from elsewhere.
Yet I would say there is a me – a self – that makes personal choices.
I feel inwardly free to choose between different ideas, between different interests, and between different ideologies. And in so doing aren’t I making such personal choices my own. Part of me?
Even if the idea of self were an illusion, it seems to me to be a necessary illusion. Without such a sense of me how could I take responsibility for my personal choices?
Don’t habits of conduct also form as we make the same choice in similar situations? Choices about for example being patient or impatient, truthful or insincere, generous or mean.
In other words character traits form as we face the ordinary choices of daily life. I make deeper ideas my own as I reflect on various ways of thinking and choose between them. Eventually I will adopt certain basic stances to life, an overriding interest in something that I have come to really value. Perhaps a dominant love of composing uplifting music, or wanting to be famous in order to receive the acclaim of fans, or of doing my job well to the satisfaction of my boss and customers. Whatever the ruling interest is, doesn’t it define me as a person? This is me. This is what I stand for. This is who I want to be.
Conclusion about Buddhistanâtman
I feel I am a receptacle of sensations, thoughts, emotions that come to me. They flow into me. I don’t create them.
It follows that an awareness of myself as being the origin of this mental life is an illusion.
But I think this notion of a separate self is a necessary illusion. One that allows me to make choices and take responsibility. By exercising free choice don’t we gradually form character? And why shouldn’t such a character last beyond time and place? Beyond physical death. Whatever its quality.
I act as of myself but believe that any good in me comes from a higher source working in me and by me. I therefore conclude that no one’s life is self-existent.
The journey of life is letting go of oneself – one’s self-reliance, one’s pride, one’s egoism. For me to be spiritual is being open to, and thereby united with, the universal Self in contrast with the delusion of our separate selves.
Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
The idea that science has replaced religion has become popular these days. Some put religion to one side as now of date. People are noticing a huge development in research into the working of the human brain which seems to support this view.
New imaging technologies allow science to measure blood flow and neural activity whilst people are meditating and praying. Science claims it can predict and measure religious experience in this way. Atheists like Richard Dawkins are saying this is evidence that religious experience is nothing more than natural activity in certain parts of the brain. From this they conclude that there is no such thing as any supernatural reality.
What science has found
It has been found that intense or mystical experiences associate themselves with co-ordinated activity in certain areas of the brain and absence of activity in other parts. For example both meditating Buddhist monks and praying Catholic nuns demonstrate a decreased activity in the parietal lobes. This is a brain region responsible for spatial orientation. They also show increased activity in their frontal lobes. This is a brain region responsible for concentration. Similar patterns of brain activity are observed for singing, meditation and prayer regardless of the specific spiritual belief of the people studied.
There is an alternative interpretation. Just because religious experiences are accompanied by predictable brain activity, why should this mean they are caused by it? When two things go together, we don’t know which of them influences the other. Alternatively, some third factor might influence both.
One cannot expect science to investigate spiritual factors that might be involved. Quite rightly researchers depend on using natural tools to measure phenomena. Science practices methodological naturalism. This is a strategy for studying the world, by which scientists choose not to consider supernatural causes – even as a remote possibility. So, science does not theorise about any unnatural causes of what it studies.
Drug induced religious experience
Those who are sceptical about religion say if psychedelic drugs can produce mystical and religious experiences then religion is due to brain chemistry and not to God. Users of such substances report that they have remarkably spiritual experiences.
These drugs produce a wide range of often extraordinarily vivid perceptions. The kind of experience depends on several factors including the individual’s type of spiritual orientation, and the expectations of the social setting, as well as the specific drug and its dosage. Since the early 1960’s researchers have shown that, for many, such chemicals have induced positive benign and blissful mystical and religious states. However some have agonising encounters with loneliness, hopelessness, guilt and visions of dark forces.
When we are in an altered state of consciousness something releases the mind from its attachment to, and its rational awareness of, the external material world. I would suggest then we become more aware of a normally hidden inner world of spirit. I would say this inner world consists of both a presence of timelessness and unity but also a presence of dark forces. So these drugs expose full awareness of this inner world which is not observable using our physical senses.
To my way of thinking we make a huge mistake to suppose that the mere swallowing of a pill can yield the same results as years of spiritual discipline and growth. Also it is an error to suppose that religious experience is nothing more than a brain in a certain chemical state.
Science and religion
So do you think that science invalidates religion? Or do you think, as I do, that when some argue that only science has the truth, they are not arguing scientifically at all. Actually, I would say they are stepping beyond the scope of science into discourses of meaning and purpose.
It is good for us to have factual knowledge. Without it we cannot build up our rational understanding of ordinary things. Science provides many opportunities to look for and find God in nature and to reflect on belief.
Hinduism has historically embraced reason and empiricism, holding that science brings legitimate, but incomplete knowledge of the world. Most Buddhists today view science as complementary to their beliefs.
According to Emanuel Swedenborg Christian philosopher, the danger comes when we only see things in a natural light. We also need to use a spiritual light which is available to us. In other words, the worldly and bodily-minded individual makes a mistake to imagine one can use sensory evidence alone to see what is really important in life for oneself.
I rather like the view of the son of the founder of the Bahá’í religion. He said that religion without science is superstition and that science without religion is materialism.
Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Spiritual traditions like Buddhism speak of enlightenment as promising a state of wisdom, happiness and freedom from the troubles we usually have to deal with in life. So what actually is enlightenment? How can we understand what the term means?
Physical light and well-being
The word enlightenment obviously is based on the word ‘light’. So can we learn anything about enlightenment from what we know what is good about light?
Sunlight, stimulates our bodies to manufacture vitamin D, it plays a major role in synchronising fundamental biochemical and hormonal rhythms of the body, affecting both physical and psychological well-being. Studies show that it relieves the depression of those suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Curiously, research has also found that light has an altruistic effect: for example it disposes people to be more helpful to a would-be interviewer and to leave a waitress more generous tips.
The word light used in common parlance
When we go around in darkness without a torch we are confused and get lost. But light shows us the way. More generally, when we understand something we speak ofseeingwhat is meant.The light dawnedand I now understand. I hope tothrow some lighton these matters. So light seems to be pretty central to the issue of enlightenment.
The Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment in the 18thcentury came to advance ideals like liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state. This period is said to have brought in rational thought to challenge superstitious thinking. The leading thinkers of the time found logic and reason superior to traditional assumptions and beliefs.
Symbolism of light in religious traditions
The ancient Egyptians saw Re, the sun god, as the supreme creator that sustained life. In the Rig Veda, the earliest of Hindu scriptures, the sun is described as ‘the atman – the Self – of all things’, the god of gods. This idea was in contrast to a literal-minded attitude about the sun. In other Hindu texts Krishna and Vishnu reveal themselves in flashes of dazzling light. The appearance of a succession of mystical coloured lights marks the stages of progression towards illumination in the yogic tradition. Light is a recurring theme in the Christian gospels. In a vision his followers said they saw Christ’s face shine like the sun and his clothes become white as light. The divine apparently was flowing strongly into him on that occasion.
Amida, the Buddha of Infinite Light, is the central figure of a mystical tradition that ascribes great importance to the experience of the light that signifies encounter with ultimate reality. The symbolism of light is also conspicuous in other traditions including the Taoist, Zoroastrian, Islamic, and Jewish.
Enlightenment in Zen Buddhism.
The experience of enlightenment, according to Zen Buddhism, does not rely on argument or philosophical reasoning. Instead adherents assume it is a direct intuition of the mind. Everything is still what it was, except they see things with a new perspective. This means going beyond empty knowledge even about higher ideas, by noticing what is marvellous in the humdrum. One experiences an awakened awareness of timeless reality beyond the world of appearances.
Having self-insight into one’s actual and potential nature.
Many people who are part of western world spirituality believe that human desires and passions come both from inherited tendencies as well as acquired conventional attitudes. The latter are learned through social conditioning. One aspect of enlightened thinking is thus a realisation of one’s inner freedom to rise above such external factors. In other words finding the warmth of feelings for what is good, and the discernment & creativity of one’s true self
The vision of a mystical sun
Contemporary research suggests that mystical experience still commonly contains the appearance of light; for example the experience of being bathed in light. The appearance of a being of light is also a common finding amongst those having ‘the near death experience’.
The mystic Emanuel Swedenborg reports his vision of a spiritual sun. This non-physical sun he says represents the divine origin of wisdom. It’s rays of light illuminate the ideas we have picked up from around us so we see them with greater depth of perception.
We often find heat and light together. And so Swedenborg says the visionary sun represents the divine origin of love as well as of wisdom. Similarly, the rays of the physical sun deliver heat as well as light. The spiritual sun enlightens what we see with our minds as well as warming the feelings our heart. Our interest in a subject makes it easier to understand. Love is quick to perceive. This raises the suggestion that wisdom comes not from knowledge alone but with the effort to do right with an earnest heart.
Divine Source for enlightenment.
If the sun seen in vision is spiritually real and not just a symbol then is Swedenborg correct in saying it is the origin of all clear thinking and warm affection?
Physical light does not last, but departs with the sun. We can see from this that our discernment enjoys a light other than that of our eyes, and that this light comes from a different source.(Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)
According to his writing what enlightened good we do is from our Divine Source. This Swedenborg calls the Lord, mystically acting in us and by us.
Enlightenment comes and goes.
We do not precisely know the details of Siddhartha Gautama who lived over two thousand years ago. And so the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment probably contains elements of folk history. Enlightenment transformed him after he sat meditating under the Bodhi tree.
Swedenborg’s suggests however that enlightened understanding doesn’t all of a sudden come and stay all at once although there is gradual improvement as a person’s character improves. In other words the inner light comes and goes according to our varying spiritual states. Enlightenment according to him is basically when we fully appreciate that of ourselves we cannot independently achieve good separate from its Divine Source.
Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
A materialistic way of thinking assumes that science is the be-all and end-all of human knowledge. Those who have this outlook claim that the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything
“Science provides all the significant truths about reality and knowing such truths is what real understanding is about.” (Alex Rosenberg, philosopher of science)
It is not so surprising that some people are starry eyed about science. It has such a huge beneficial impact on daily life in the western world. Smart phones, laptops, airplanes, television, domestic appliances etc. are all around us. Science, and the technology arising from it, greatly helps us to communicate, easily gain information, be entertained, visit foreign countries, and reduce domestic drudgery.
But should we really treat science as our exclusive guide to reality? Are there no other credible sources of knowledge and understanding about our existence?
Science and materialistic thinking
Science does provide us with reliable and valid facts about the world e.g. about electronics, chemistry, and biology. Great curiosity, together with rigorous observation and experiment, all lead to amazing discoveries.
But does this mean that we should dismiss non-scientific sources of knowledge as unreliable? I’m thinking of many common sense beliefs not based on science that we can test using our ordinary experience: for example the truth about vegetable growing, football tactics, personal relationships. And what about what some call enlightened understanding arising from states of meditation or spiritual knowledge derived from sacred writing.
Grand unifying theories
Science offers grand unifying ways of understanding reality whether it be in terms of evolutionary theory, the electromagnetic spectrum, the periodic table of elements, and so on.
However, the scope of the scientific instruments used to gather information limits the available evidence for any all-embracing theory of everything. In only championing theories built on data provided by the tools of science, are those with the outlook of materialistic thinking actually dismissing things that science cannot directly know about?
For example a materialistic outlook denies the existence of any supernatural beings such as angels, demons, and spirits. But there is no telescope, microscope or electrical device that scientists could use to investigate the existence or non-existence of such things. Are not the visions of those having near death experiences, or the mystical experiences of ordinary people of some relevance? Also are not personal insights, moral intuition or maybe religious experience also sources of information worthy of consideration?
Determinism of materialistic science
Science has discovered much about the causes of phenomena. Like accounting for chemical reactions in terms of molecular theory, the movement of planets in terms of the theory of gravity and the behaviour of animals in terms of their instincts and conditioning.
Actually, the working assumption of scientists is that some natural cause determines every single thing they study. Since something causes every event in nature and since human beings exist in nature, the science of psychology assumes that something natural determines human acts and choices.
In this way of materialistic thinking there can be no such thing as inner human free-will. You make a personal choice – say about what subjects to study or what partner to take and have children with – but science does not respect freedom of volition as a cause of your actions. Instead it assumes only external causes such as your inherited natural disposition and your experience of social learning can be responsible for your decision.
Reductionism of materialistic science
Scientific reductionism is the idea of reducing complex interactions and entities to the sum of their constituent parts, in order to make them easier to study. So science wants to explain the phenomena of psychology like temperament in terms of biology. In turn, chemistry explains the facts of biology like digestion. And physics explains the findings of chemistry like oxidisation.
Scientists likewise want to reduce what is not physical to something physical. So they try to explain human consciousness as nothing more than electrical activity in the brain.
Swedenborg on discrete degrees
Philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg offers us a way of understanding how materialistic thinking can be considered in terms of distinct degrees of the human mind. He suggests that even some intelligent individuals close their minds to deeper considerations. They adopt an external way of thinking and their reasoning is confined to natural facts. Such information limits their deepest beliefs. They do not raise their minds to think in terms of ends. They stick with natural causes and effects. This makes them natural-minded.
I suspect that those who donotadopt a materialistic science outlook, have a more inward perception of reality. This is because they use a distinctly higher level of mind to reflect about life. They are spiritually minded. They think more abstractly in the sense of not fixing their thoughts on matter. Neither do they confine themselves to ideas limited to self, person, space or time.
Instead they are in touch with the child’s sense of wonder at what is behind the amazing things in nature. The intuition that we all have each been created for some good purpose. That there is a world of meaning behind the sensations and appearances of the world. That there is a reality of love and wisdom which is the spiritual source of all that is good and true. That we will live for ever.
Which is more rational? To think about life only in terms of natural phenomena? Or in terms of a deeper dimension to existence? To be a materialistic thinker or spiritually-minded?
Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
spiritual questions and answers discovering Inner Health and transformation
Guilty feelings mistaken or helpful?
Health education points out the dangers of over-indulgence in eating and drinking and sitting around. You may take the view that if you really like doing something, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Or you may think you should moderate your guilty pleasures when they negatively affect others.
Then again you may think you ought to spend less time or money on yourself for the sake of the family. Also remain loyal to your partner despite temptation to carry on behind their back with some other attractive person. Or perhaps you believe that infidelity can be guilt free and harms no one as long as it remains a secret liaison. When you are feeling guilty what should you do? Shrug your shoulders and try to forget the unpleasant feeling? Or deal with it in some other way? Are your guilty feelings mistaken or potentially helpful to you?
Anxiety, shame and guilty feelings
It’s difficult to disentangle guilt, anxiety and shame.
You may be in charge of a child who has a temper tantrum in a supermarket. Not your fault – but that doesn’t prevent you feeling deeply self-conscious and embarrassed by the stares and ‘tut tuts’ of other shoppers who are assuming it is. It might not even be your child. You’ve done nothing against your conscience to warrant any guilty feeling.
When the second world-war ended some French women underwent public humiliation by having their heads shaved for sleeping with the enemy. Their conduct had been okay by them as long as it gave them nice things and favours.
Guilt does not apply if only getting exposed to public gaze is the problem. Like the person who has no conscience and thus no guilt about secretly having more than one sexual partner. Only anxiety about being found out.
Mistaken guilt feelings
There seem to be inborn individual differences in conscientiousness. Some people have a tendency towards thoughtfulness and impulse control. They tend to complete tasks. Others are less thoughtful and more inclined towards impulsiveness taking less care of things. The conscientious ones are more prone to guilt feelings.
When you notice a guilty feeling you may be being unfair on yourself. Your guilt may be illogical and mistaken or at any rate exaggerated. But nevertheless you end up going on a guilt trip. So you keep quiet about whatever it is you have a guilty feeling about. You keep it secret because you think you will be judged by it. But you have already judged yourself. You may be afraid to tell the truth as it will be proof that you are unworthy and unlovable.
For many years this was true of Ronda Brittain. She was the middle child of three girls, and was the target of her divorced father’s physical and emotional abuse. At the age of 14, she was the only witness to her father shooting and killing her mother and then shooting himself. She tried to commit suicide three times until she realised that she was being unfair on herself.
“I thought the world was going to swallow me whole. But instead, I found that I was the only one who had been judging me.”(Ronda Brittain founder of the Fearless Living Institute)
Awakening to a spiritual dimension
But are all guilt feelings based on a mistaken conscience? Those who are starting to awaken to the spiritual dimension of life might well develop a conscience about conspicuous consumption; feeling guilty about spending money on the latest gizmo, a more powerful car, fashionable property, or an expensive foreign holiday.
“Anyone who has a sensible conscience will inevitably feel anxiety of guilt whenever they go against it. It may be going against what deep down one realises is just and fair.”(Harry Barnitz, philosopher and Swedenborgian)
Sometimes we act against a heartfelt and deep awareness of what we feel to be right – not acting against a mistaken conscience but against a true one. We rightly feel bad about it even if sometimes we have acted in error on impulse without thinking. Not only feeling guilty about what we have been doing that we know deep down in our hearts is wrong but also what we have failed to do; the so-called sins of omission and unfulfilled potential.
Potential helpfulness of guilty feelings
Sooner or later we all do bad or foolish things that we feel tarnish or taint us.
“Anger, intoxication, obstinacy, bigotry, deceit, envy, grandiloquence, pride and conceit, intimacy with the unjust, this is what defiles one.”(Sutta-Nipata, ii, 2,7. – Buddhist tradition)
The existential psychotherapists have pointed out that one cannot reason away those guilt feelings which come from an awareness of actual transgressions. The important thing is to try to disentangle feelings of guilt arising because of a true conscience from feelings of guilt arising from other causes.
No longer can the individual comfortably rely on such alibis as ‘I didn’t mean it’, ‘It was an accident’, ‘I couldn’t help it’, and ‘I followed an irresistible impulse’. Instead, acknowledgment of guilt arising from a true conscience is helpful if it can lead to a change of behaviour. It is easier to feel a sense of forgiveness when we change our actions for the better. Change get rids of that guilty feeling and encourages forward thinking.
“I’m just going to say it: I’m pro-guilt. Guilt is good. Guilt helps us stay on track because it’s about our behavior. It occurs when we compare something we’ve done – or failed to do – with our personal values.”(Brene Brown, professor of social work)
Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Spiritual awakening in children – Is this possible?
At times children seem untidy, noisy, and demanding. Some appear even empty-headed, selfish, and endlessly bickering. At the same time many of us feel a sense of vague longing for our own childhood. There is something about being a child that pulls at our heart strings. Probably this is to do with how in children the ‘here and now’ is central. They are said to live in the moment and have a natural energy and spontaneity about them. But do children show any signs of spiritual awakening? Do they have transcendent awareness?
William Blake and William Wordsworth in their poetry Songs of Innocence and Ode: Intimations of Immortalityevoked the awakening of a magical freshness of childhood perception as well as a natural kinship with all that is seen.
Ideas about spiritual awakening during childhood
Abraham Maslow who studied ‘peak’ experiences in adults, thought that children also undergo an awakening of visionary experiences but usually lack the words to talk about them. Even if you happen to remember having a deeply moving event many decades ago, you may not recall it with total accuracy.
Dr. Elisabeth Kűbler-Ross, famous for her books about the terminally ill, surprised medical science in the late 1970’s by revealing in her book On Children and Death, the transcendent perceptions of her patients.
“It is impossible to ignore the thousands of stories that dying patients – children and adults – have shared with me. These illuminations cannot be explained in scientific language.”
Hoffman’s findings about children
Clinical psychologist, Edward Hoffman collected memories from adults regarding inspirational awakening during their early life. He discovered a pattern of childhood spirituality in the memories of early years detailed in his book Visions of Childhood.
These involved deep meaning, beauty and great harmony, often involving the awareness of a different kind of reality. Uplifting experiences happened in ordinary places, as well as whilst encountering nature, and during near death or crisis episodes.
Remembered are spontaneous moments of bliss, and profound insights about life and oneself in childhood: memories having an enduring significance into adulthood.
Profound intuitions in children
Hoffman’s respondents reported accounts of experiences when as children they speculated about life and death, and engaged in reflections regarding personal existence and self-transcendence.
For example a man reported that as a child his family had a mortuary in a small town in Colorado. Consequently, he grew up with a certain familiarity with death. He remembers constantly pondering where dead people go. “Do they just go into a hole in the ground? What does it feel like to be dead?” When aged nine he recalls sitting on a park bench imagining his dead grandfather being in a dark, lonely, black expanse of ‘nothing and no one’ forever and ever.
A terrible and chilling dread came over his entire body. But then instantly it vanished. It was replaced by a warm comfortable, and bright feeling – and a kind and loving presence. “I seemed to hear my grandpa saying, ‘See, it’s all right. I’m just in a place that’s different.’ ”
From that day on he remembers “I never again had a fear of death.”
One woman from Connecticut reported that her older child when aged three would occasionally ask her questions about God. One day he was standing still for a long time next to a window in their home. Just staring and not moving. An unusual thing to see in someone so young. Eventually he moved away and when asked what he was doing he replied in a matter-of-fact way “I was talking with God”. He remained subdued and then went on playing as usual. He didn’t want to share the experience with her and when asked about the incident at a later point in his life apparently didn’t recall it.
How common is spiritual awakening in children?
Are deeper experiences common but stay hidden from ourselves? That would be true if misunderstood by the child experiencing them. Or perhaps they seem unusual because they were never shared with others due to being so private, hard to put into words and unique to the individual. Or perhaps parents and childhood friends reacted negatively causing the child to clam up?
Implanting of spiritual feelings in children
One way of understanding what is going on is the idea of spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. He suggests the infant mind is especially open to what might be called the heaven of innocence.
So states of wonder and trust in life being basically good inflow into little children from a higher spiritual realm. As a result of this inflow the young child looks with eyes of wonder, thinks with a mind of imagination and feels with a heart of innocence.
Part of this state of innocence is a willingness to believe one does not produce all the good things which come to one. It is acknowledging a certain insufficiency.
Also the heavenly trust in the divine reality and consequent sense of the ‘eternal now’ can arguably be seen in the infant’s lack of any sense of time.
He suggests the inflowing higher feelings about the goodness of life vary according to age.
Little children trusting in life as good.
In middle childhood wanting to know about what is good.
In adolescence wanting to understand why it is good.
According to this view when we are young these unconscious feelings and inner awareness forms deep intuitions, like seeds that remain dormant as we grow up. But later we need to draw on them for our spiritual awakening in adulthood.
Importance of re-connecting to our childhood spirituality
These memories of our early years suggest there is ‘a small forgotten child who is our past self’ yet who ‘still lives within each of us’. Hoffman maintains that strengthening the link to our childhood is crucial for achieving greater happiness. Not only connecting to both the wounded child within but also to those moments of spiritual awakening in childhood.
The notion that the innocence of childhood may harbour special intuitive and spiritual sensitivity is reflected in the words of Jesus Christ who said
“Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
spiritual questions and answers discovering inner health and transformation
Satisfaction – How to find and keep it?
Do you ever find yourself wondering “Is this all there is? This home? This partner? This job? Shouldn’t things be better?” The popularity of the song ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’ by the Rolling Stones suggests that a certain element of impatience with life, even futility and disillusionment, is not uncommon.
“I can’t get no satisfaction ‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try I can’t get no, I can’t get no When I’m drivin’ in my car And that man comes on the radio And he’s tellin’ me more and more About some useless information Supposed to fire my imagination I can’t get no, oh no no no”
So why can’t we find and keep that feeling of satisfaction?
A perspective from positive psychology
The field of positive psychology suggests some obstacles to satisfaction.
The first obstacle is a hedonistic attitude. This is mistakenly assuming personal satisfaction only comes from ‘wine, women and song’. The sensory pleasure of the moment may come from any number of things e.g. watching exciting sport or letting your hair down at a party, or enjoying good drink and food. But by prioritising pleasure one neglects engagement in meaningful activity and personal relationships that furnish a sense of satisfying purpose to your life.
A second obstacle to satisfaction is being focused on possible dangers around us. This is having a negativity bias. For example being more likely to remember and take seriously a putdown, criticism or insult than a piece of positive feedback or compliment. No wonder you are unhappy if this is preoccupying your thoughts.
A third obstacle is the attitude of ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ Comparing oneself with others often results in feeling diminished e.g. if our furniture, car, holiday, or clothes happen to be less smart than theirs.
A fourth obstacle is having low self-control. We tend to act as if satisfaction results from giving in to our natural desires. So we want something now rather than later. However, it is the controlling of such impulses that actually leads to happiness in the longer run. Putting off pleasures until later is necessary if we are to consistently pursue goals. For example if our aim is to repay a debt, then we may never achieve this if we spend money when we feel like it. Being impulsive can just create problems and frustration.
A spiritual perspective on satisfaction
I would suggest that a deeper appreciation of who we are profoundly influences our state of happiness. The obstacle here is our natural minded tendency. We each have a strong natural sense of self-awareness as a self-contained individual. We think ‘I am myself.’ ‘This is my body’. ‘This is my mind’. So we each seem to have a separate consciousness and life of our own. We live as if we were each an island unto ourselves. Out of contact with the notion of being connected to something bigger.
How then can this self-awareness reduce satisfaction? After all, my sense of self is crucial. It gives me a sense of individuality and thus an important feeling of freedom and responsibility for personal choices.
We feel full of life, we have the experience of feeling and thought. So it comes as a bit of shock to hear it suggested that we’re actually not what we think we are. That all our feelings and thoughts are not our own but come from outside of ourselves.
Yet this is exactly what several spiritual traditions maintain. They say this perception of oneself as independently real is a mistake. Instead, it is suggested that there actually is only one Self. Not myself but rather the Self that is my creative origin and spiritual source. The Self that is for example the higher power of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement which has the ability to transform and heal the addict.
Or the Self of the mystics who speak of the One as the only reality. The one goodness we can all learn to experience. Theravada Buddhists analyse the human mind and soul as a cluster of forces. So they have a doctrine of no-self meaning that one’s self-hood is an illusion. Christians say God created us. Our life is not our own but a gift. For the Christian inspiration, higher thought and good intentions are actually the Spirit of God’s life present in us.
Likewise, the spiritual philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg teaches that the only real life that gives happiness and satisfaction comes from the Divine Source Itself. If all of nature on earth is created by this spiritual origin of life, then it follows that we have no life of ourselves and are merely receivers of life from a higher source. In other words, as long as we only rely on ourselves for happiness then we will never gain real peace and satisfaction.
By the way this is not a way of claiming we cannot accept responsibility for how we lead our lives. I would suggest we have been gifted the freedom to choose to turn one way or the other. Nevertheless, if all goodness comes from the Source of Goodness then it follows that just of ourselves we have no power to do good or make ourselves happy.
Illusion as an obstacle to satisfaction
I’m saying then that this natural fallacy of the senses – that we possess life, abilities, strength and goodness of our own – can lead us astray.
Furthermore, because of the illusion of having life of oneself, we are at risk of falling into self-orientation with its dangers of self-serving and self-interested behaviour. Aren’t we thus liable to forget the needs of others, of the principles of living we have learned, and lapse into a state of feeling alone, empty and dissatisfied with life?
“In this negative state we are open to all the evils that accompany it. And closed to all that is good and true”(Michael Stanley, spiritual teacher).
Egotistically, believing in only ourselves, we come to assume that happiness can only come from bodily comfort, social status and power.
Copyright 2018 Stephen Russell-Lacy Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Although all newborn babies look remarkably similar in a wrinkled, reddish sort of way, each child is a unique and fascinatingly complex individual. Each child possesses a physical, emotional and intellectual inheritance from both its parents. Scientists can now trace back the patterns of our genetic inheritance almost into the mists of time and are constantly discovering different ways in which this inheritance impacts not only on our physical characteristics but also on our personality and its growth. But not only do we have a natural inheritance we also have a spiritual inheritance, latent potentialities towards self-centredness, that can ultimately lead us to live contrary to the wish of our loving Creator.
The physical birth and nurturing process in a newly born child reflects and parallels the process of regeneration in a mature adult. Just as the creation of an adult from a baby is a lengthy process so is the creation of a spiritually reborn adult a lifelong process. We are all, like small children, essentially self centred, and just as a young child has to become aware that he/she is not the centre of the universe and that others have needs, so we too need to be aware that spiritually speaking God should be at the centre of our life and love and that humanity should take precedence over ourselves.
Our environment affects our physical and intellectual growth in the natural world and adds its layers to our basic personality. Our parents, our family, our friends, our religious upbringing, our education all contribute to the making of the adult from the child. It may seem that some individuals may have unfair advantages over others, but God always seeks to provide a person with a basic store of loving experiences at some stage in the early years of his/ her early natural life and provides unseen spiritual opportunities for an individual to follow the right pathway. Emanuel Swedenborg refers to this ‘store of loving experiences’ using the term remains as in this quotation from Arcana Caelestia:
Remains are all things of innocence, all those of charity, all those of mercy, and all those of the truth of faith, which a person has acquired from God and learned since early childhood. Every single one of them lies stored away. And if a person did not acquire them, no innocence, charity, or mercy could possibly be present in his thinking and actions, and so no good and truth at all could be present.
A young child needs to know that he/she is loved and cherished and in the same way we need to know that we too are loved unconditionally by our Heavenly Father who seeks always what is best for us. Just as a child needs to be fed, a human being also needs to be fed spiritually. We are fed spiritually by the teachings given to us in the Word of God, by the good examples that other people set us and by the myriad everyday experiences that help to develop our attitudes and our characters. This spiritual learning is vital for our inner development and growth.
As a child grows it acquires knowledge at an amazing rate. The understanding of the knowledge that is acquired usually comes much later. For example we may know that you divide two fractions by turning the second one upside down and multiplying but a true understanding of the reasons why may not come until much later. In the same way in our regeneration, as we read and learn about God and his purposes, a fuller understanding and perhaps most importantly an affection or love for that wisdom develops. This takes a lifetime to acquire, not just in this world but to eternity.
Wisdom once was a universally admired quality. In the present world this has changed especially in the “developed” Western world where there is an ambivalence about it. In the world of commerce and government where the emphasis is on materialism, knowledge, competitive performance, efficiency and results, wisdom tends to be dismissed. But at the same time amongst the public there is a demand for books of the collected wisdom from different cultures.
For Swedenborg wisdom cannot be found in a book. It is not a collection of ideas but, along with love, it is an essential of a truly human life. He explains that everyone is born with two receptacles to receive life from God, the will and the understanding. The will receives love and the understanding wisdom. They are completely interdependent. Love is dependent on the quality of its wisdom and vice versa. Their relationship is like that of the heat and light of a flame.
It is this association of heat with love and light with wisdom that is the origin of the use of heat and light in many sacred scriptures.
As part of the gift of life we are given free will and an ability to reason. So we have a choice about the kind of love we have and whether or not we become wise.
To be truly wise a person loves God and their neighbour and therefore they love what is good and true because it is good and true. A person who has no such love but only loves the self and world may be theologically knowledgeable and intellectually clever but will never be spiritually wise because he has no desire for genuine wisdom. Neither will a person who dismisses spiritual things and relies solely on worldly and natural ideas because spiritual wisdom is based on spiritual concepts and awareness. People such as these may be “wise” in the eyes of the world but they cannot be truly wise.
In ancient cultures wisdom was often associated with not only spirituality but also old age because people only reach their potential by making a spiritual journey. They move from a self-centred love to a God centred and unselfish love. This takes a lifetime so true wisdom became associated with age.
A wise person develops many qualities, such as, a love for what is good and true, humility, integrity, compassion, empathy, honesty, justice, and innocence. Throughout the history of every culture and religion these are the qualities that have been recognised in people who are wise. This does not mean that they become naïve. As Jesus succinctly put it, “Be as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves”
It is encouraging to read of a few people such as Charles Handy in his book “The Hungry Spirit” stating that such qualities are essential in the modern Western world and no business or political party can continue to function for long if they ignore or dismiss them.
Here are three quotes on wisdom:
It is obvious from actual experience that love generates warmth and wisdom generates light. When we feel love, we become warmer, and when we think from wisdom, it is like seeing things in the light. We can see from this that the first thing that emanates from love is warmth and that the first thing that emanates from wisdom is light. Emanuel Swedenborg in Divine Love and Wisdom 95
Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it Albert Einstein
Wisdom ceases to be wisdom when it becomes too proud to weep, too grave to laugh, and too selfish to seek other than itself. Kahlil Gilbran
“Smile, God loves you” is an easy thing to say but if God loves us why does he allow us to suffer? How can we reconcile a God of Love with our everyday experience of the world in which we live?
To try and get some idea of how God loves us we could start by thinking about parents and their children. It is a very human thing for parents to try to love their children equally whatever their different characters and abilities and to seek the best for them as individuals whatever happens. Now parenthood is tough and however idealistically parents approach the bringing up of their children it is often the case that one child will think that mother or father loves their sister or brother more than them. And yet that is not what the parents really want or strive to achieve. And if children grow up and go in very different directions to those envisaged by their parents, truly loving parents will continue to love their children just the same.
Now God loves his children, you, me and everyone else, not with the imperfect love which we express in our lives, that has limits and conditions, but with an unconditional love that has no limits and no boundaries and is shared equally with all. And it is the nature of God’s love that it is given with the freedom for us to accept it, reject it or misuse it – there are no conditions in which God’s love is not given – it is unconditional.
In our human relationships we know how wonderful it is if our love for someone else is freely returned – not because they have to love us but because they want to love us. Paradoxically the more freedom we give to those whom we love the greater and stronger is the love that is returned. Force someone to love you and no real mutual love develops. Now offering to love someone and leaving them the freedom to respond or not is a high risk and potentially painful strategy – as most people find out at some stage in their lives when love is not returned.
And this, in a very human and finite way, is an image and likeness of how God loves us. He offers us love and gives us the freedom to say yes or no. God knows that if we return his love then a deep relationship can develop but if we are unable to respond to his love then he feels pain for what might have been.
One of the hardest things a parent has to do is to let their child make mistakes – despite realising the probable pain and suffering that will ensue. Children have to grow and develop and make their own way in the world and not feel they are being manipulated or directed by their parents. They will make the right decisions and the wrong decisions and yet the loving parent has to stand back and not intervene. They just offer advice to their child as to what they should do and then leave their child the freedom to make up their own mind.
And this is how God’s love works with us. God wants us to be happy and to be fulfilled. He wants us to respond to his love in freedom and he shows us how we should live. But because God values our freedom above all else he cannot intervene when he sees things going wrong. If he intervened in the greatest disasters that beset mankind surely he would also have to intervene in even the smallest personal problems in life and then where would we be – we would be like puppets being controlled by God in the play of life.
Bad things happen. God does not want them to happen. But God cannot intervene because of the freedom he gives us to choose to respond or not to his unconditional love. This is the nature of the God who loves you. God loves everyone equally but what we receive of his love depends on our openness to his love and our acknowledgement that all love comes from God. If we respond to his love we can feel loved, free and forgiven and we will then want to share God’s love with those around us.
There are three things which make up the essence of God’s love – loving others more than oneself, wishing to be one with them, and devoting oneself to their happiness.
It should be known that God is constantly present, continually striving and acting on a person, and touching his free will but never forcing it. For if God were to force a person’s free will, his dwelling in God would be destroyed, and he would be left only with God’s dwelling in him.
Boxing Day 2004 was shattered by the developing news of the tsunami disaster in the Indian ocean and as more and more details of the horrific results of this tragedy emerged we have had to try to come to terms with one of the greatest natural disasters of the last 50 years.
Of course ‘disasters’ happen all the time and often they are close and personal or in our extended families. And then there are the larger events such as train crashes which affect dozens of lives. But this ‘tsunami’ event we have witnessed has affected millions of lives across many countries not just because of the widespread effect of the giant waves crossing the ocean but also because of the large number of people on holiday in those parts. It is, perhaps, this all encompassing effect that has made this tragedy so prominent in our news programmes and newspapers and such a challenge to our thinking about God and the way God works in the world.
To those who profess no belief in God, such a violent and destructive event tends to reinforce those views. To those who do believe in God, it raises questions about why God allows such things and why he does not intervene – and these questions inevitably bring doubt and disbelief. After all we might not be surprised if bad things happened to bad people but when bad things happen to good people or innocent people we are at a loss to explain it.
But how might we begin to try and make sense of all of this?
I think we need to start with asking ourselves who we really are. Are we just a wonderful human body driven by a vastly complex brain and so able to operate in the natural world around us? Or are we really deep inner spiritual beings with the potential to grow as we come to terms with the events that affect our lives?
I certainly feel that we are indeed spiritual beings and that the greatest gift God gives us is the freedom to choose on the one hand to be selflessly loving in our relationships with others or on the other hand to be selfishly loving towards ourselves. As we take what this freedom offers and choose the selfless pathway, then we grow spiritually, and this growth can continue past the death of our physical bodies and on to eternity.
But what if God did intervene in a disaster? What scale of disaster would merit this divine intervention? Would it only be something on the scale of the ‘tsunami’ event or would smaller scale disasters also receive God’s attention? Would family tragedies also be avoided by God’s intervention? Commonsense suggests that if God intervened at all there would be no limit to that intervention and ultimately nothing in the world would go wrong, whether caused by nature or caused by men and women. Our world would become a world in which we existed like robots, with no problems or difficulties to face and where choices to act selflessly or selfishly would be meaningless.
So we have an apparent paradox that whilst we can think of God as all powerful, nevertheless God cannot act against his love that we should live in freedom. God doesn’t want disasters or accidents or terminal illness but these are allowed because only in that way can true spiritual freedom be maintained.
Now this is an easy thing to say if you are not watching a loved one being swept away by a tidal wave or if you are not caring for someone dying as a result of some terrible accident. In these situations no words can really give comfort, however true they maybe, it is only love that can make a difference.
But don’t we often say that God is Love?. We might ask the question – “where is God at work in the ‘tsunami’ disaster?” and if we cannot find an answer it is probably because our understanding of God is limited in some way (perhaps by thinking that God should act as we act in a “quick fix” kind of way). But if this is so then we should ask instead – “where is Love in this disaster?” And surely an answer to this question comes immediately! We have seen love at work in the desperate attempts by people to save those overwhelmed by the gigantic waves, even if in that attempt they lost their own lives. We have seen love at work in the rescue workers searching hour after hour, day after day, to find those whose lives could be saved. We have seen love at work in the outpouring of concern and giving around the world. And in all this love, is God.
Bad things happen. We know that from our own personal experience and we also know it from observing the world around us. But however bad the situation it is love that can lift us up and lead us forward again. And the source of all the true love we can experience and share with others is God.
“Saying that God allows something to happen does not mean that he wants it to happen but that he cannot prevent it because of his goal, which is our salvation.”
Have you ever stopped to think “why am I here?”. We are born, we live, we die. Why? Somewhere along the way we might be married, and have children. But what is the purpose of all this and do we have a purpose driven life?
OK, so we are born because, nine months previously, our parents conceived us. We die because our bodies get worn out, or are attacked by illness of some sort, or we suffer a serious accident. But what is death, really? Does it all stop at that point?
It can all seem so mundane. Sure, there may be exciting trappings like nice clothes, big houses, fast cars, exotic holidays, having fun, but is this really the point? We could live without these things, and many people do.
Surely there must be a higher purpose than this, a real reason for our existence?
There is. Emanuel Swedenborg explains that the universe is a single unit coherently organised from beginning to end, because in creating it God had one end in view, which was to establish and maintain a heaven of angels from the human race. This includes all human beings, not just those of a particular religion or sect.
Surely it doesn’t all end when our bodies die? It doesn’t. Swedenborg tells us that people’s lives from infancy to old age are nothing else than an advance from this world towards an unending life in the spiritual world, the last stage of which is death and the actual transition from this life to the next. Our lives in this world train us for our lives in the next. In fact, we will find that a life of love and usefulness gives us a deep sense of purpose that results in further fulfilment in heaven.
Does it help to think that we are all potential angels? Does it help to think that there is a real purpose to our births, lives, and transition into the next life? Does it help to realise that, despite the trials and tribulations of this life, there is a happy and fulfilling next life? For me, it does.