True self – How to attain it?

true selfPeople often think that human beings are inherently good. And that personal development simply involves getting in touch with one’s true self. In addition, they see this true self as the potential within us all for being truly good. A life, filled with compassion, joy and peace, defines the true design of each individual.

However, there is a lot of unhappiness around – a far cry from this idea of our true self. We are a bit of a mix. We switch from being generous to being selfish, from being fair to dishonest, from being conscientious to careless. Consequently, I think that unhappiness comes when we follow some of our own negative inclinations.

“We want to be important; we enjoy running people down because it makes us feel superior; we are easily hurt and feel vengeful if we do not get our ‘rights’; we are pleased if we can win an advantage over someone by slightly twisting the truth. And so on.” (Brian Kingslake, spiritual writer)

If no one is perfect then we all need to make some sort of spiritual progress. To find a way of attaining our true self.

How can we do this?   Students of comparative religion have discovered that very similar experiences may be subjected to different and incompatible explanations, according to the spiritual tradition one is familiar with.

Mindfulness meditation and the true self

Mindfulness meditation involves being aware of the various thoughts that enter consciousness. It also requires the person to stay in the observer role without emotionally engaging or identifying with these thoughts. A hard thing to do without much practice.

Initially, without realising it, the myriad concerns and pre-occupations of the unruly mind capture one’s attention . Uncomfortable feelings predominate as we become more self-aware and start to realise the frequency of our anxious and judgmental thoughts. As mindfulness practice becomes firmly embedded in one’s life, although difficult thoughts and feelings still arise, they possess us less often. One can now usually make the conscious choice not to let them overwhelm one.

Eventually, one meets situations, that would have once created anxiety, depression, anger or frustration, with acceptance and equanimity. One gets glimpses of deep peace and clarity that can occur during meditation or arise spontaneously during everyday life.

Confessional prayer and the true self.

Another spiritual practice is confessional prayer. By this I mean an inner conversation with one’s image of a loving Divine Being. It involves honestly acknowledging one’s shortcomings in terms of one’s inner conscience and having genuine remorse. Those who feel a sense of guilt say they experience a sense of forgiveness.

If asking for inner strength in prayer, one can feel greatly encouraged and uplifted in one’s spiritual struggle. I believe that for this spiritual practice to work, two things need to be present. Firstly, resisting the impulse to fall into the same old bad ways. Secondly, acknowledging that the power to do so comes from the Divine Being working in one.

Over-reliance on the head and the true self

Some adherents, of whatever spiritual practice followed, rely on their beliefs for producing spiritual progress. They value the understanding of the head to guide their way forward.

Things can go off-track however with this.

The Pharisees in the Palestine in Christ’s day believed in the Jewish teachings about spiritual living but nevertheless had little or no love for others in their hearts. Consequently, the ‘faith alone’ in their thinking was not enough.

True self
D.T.Suzuki

In the Buddhist tradition, right thinking is not sufficient for the attainment of nirvana.

“No matter how much someone’s understanding advances, when it is not accompanied by feeling, it will hinder that person’s spiritual progress.” (D.T Suzuki Buddhist scholar)

Over-reliance on the hands and the true self

There are those who primarily rely on charitable deeds or spiritual rituals for their spiritual progress. People around them may see them as ‘do-gooders’. The trouble, with this practical hands-on approach to attaining one’s true self, is that all sorts of good actions can sometimes be due to un-spiritual motivations. Hidden desires for future rewards, wanting to look good, to feel superior, or to get one’s own way. One can pay lip service to ways of acting without any change in underlying attitude. The attitude change is a turning round. Facing towards self is being egotistical and prioritising pleasure. The opposite is turning around to look towards the needs of others. Prayer and meditation are no good without this changed attitude.

“Repentance of the lips, and not of the life is not repentance.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, theologian)  

Over-reliance on the heart and the true self

There are also those who over-rely on their good feelings to attain spiritual progress. They may talk a lot about loving intentions and feel that human happiness results only from such feelings. However without regular application and wise thinking such an attitude is in danger of descending into sentimentality.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

In other words, when we procrastinate, our good intentions that lack practical application are of little use. It would be a bit like practicing mindfulness meditation without the rest of the time adopting a mindful attitude. Also, without the guidance of enlightened understanding, even with good intentions, one can be easily sidetracked into unwise actions and mistaken avenues with unforeseen consequences.

Head, hands and hands all needed for attaining the true self

I would say enlightened thoughts alone, good deeds alone or feelings alone don’t lead to the true self.

“Both (Mahayana Buddhism and Swedenborgianism) deny that salvation is effected by performing rituals, or faith alone, or deeds alone, or even by having mystical experiences.” (David Loy, scholar of comparative religion)

According to this view, how we inwardly live our life on a daily basis makes us what we are.

I conclude that whatever one’s spiritual tradition and spiritual practices, it is loving intentions put into practice and guided by right ways of thinking that lead to attaining the true self.

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on27th January 2017CategoriesHealing attitudes, Latest post, Spiritual healingTags, , , , , , ,,

Discontent – Why do I have this?

discontent
Brian Moore

Brian Moore the former English rugby international player sees something of discontent in himself. What he wanted was success. And he pushed himself really hard over and over again to do well. He now recognises that whether it be in sport, business or whatever field you are in, if you are too driven you can drive yourself into the ground.

Some people have high ambition and specific goals to match. But those of them who are too driven have discontent even when they get to where they wanted to be.

Discontent hankering after things

You also may hanker after things you haven’t got; fame, or fortune, people or possessions. For example perhaps all you think you need is just a new sofa and when you get it everything will be sorted. But when it arrives you find there’s something else you must have — a new holiday, a new job. For some people a basic discontent persists no matter what they get or achieve. Something else looms on the horizon and they long for that too. Sooner or later they won’t get what they want because nobody gets all they want in life.

Discontent hanging on to things

When people in India hunt for monkeys, they set out a heavy wooden box with a small hole on top just big enough for a monkey to squeeze a hand through. Inside the box is a banana. A monkey smells the fruit and reaches inside to grab it. The hunters approach to capture him. As it tugs and pulls, it can’t pull the banana through the hole. The strange thing is the monkey refuses to let go and run away before being captured.

Sometimes you may wonder if you too hang on to things no matter what the cost because you assume your happiness depends on having them.

Discontent of envy

In a ‘keeping up with the Jones’ type of society, envy can arise when there is a love of having more and more of the same things that other people have, only better and better things. In a competitive intellectual society, envy can also raise its ugly head. In both cases it is striving for anything which is owned, prized or wanted by others in order to gain their approval and admiration.

According to the major spiritual traditions, these sort of feelings arise when the superficial things of life are the sole centre of attention for their own sake, at the expense of deeper human values, human relationships and social obligations.

Story of Nasrudin

The Islamic mystics tell a story about Nasrudin out walking who found a man sitting on the side of the road crying. He wailed “I am so poor. I have no money and everything I own is in this little bag.”

“Ah-ha!,” said Nasrudin, who immediately grabbed the bag and ran as fast as he could until he was out of sight..

“Now I have nothing at all,” cried the poor man, weeping still harder as he trudged along the road in the direction Nasrudin had gone. A mile away he found his bag sitting in the middle of the road, and he immediately became ecstatic. “Thank God,” he cried out. “I have all my possessions back. Thank you, thank you.”

“How curious!” exclaimed Nasrudin, appearing out of the bushes by the side of the road. “How curious that the same bag that made you weep now makes you ecstatic.”

Discontent not noticing the valuable

Sometimes what is valuable is not noticed. It is hidden away in the simplest things of life but we do not see it or appreciate it because of the frantic pace of our lives. Overwhelmed by numerous commitments, activities and appointments, our lives are filled to the brim with things to do and little time to be – things to achieve and little time to appreciate. Greedy to accomplish more, we pack our daily schedules with things to do and places to go. Believing that achieving our goals is more important than being still to quieten the mind and appreciating the many treasures and simple joys stored up for us within the present moment.

Discontent not trusting in the Divine

Emanuel Swedenborg taught that those who trust in the Divine remain in equanimity whether they obtain their desires or not ; and they do not grieve over the loss of them for they  are content with their lot. If they become wealthy they do not set their hearts on wealth. If they are given social status they do not regard themselves as more worthy than others.

Is this not the route away from discontent and towards satisfaction and peace of mind?

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