Anxiety – Can spiritual learning help reduce it?

anxiety
Nigella Lawson

 

Nigella Lawson is well known as a television cook who takes a relaxed and casual approach to cooking for her own pleasure.  However, it seems like most of us she is not immune from anxiety.

“At some stages of your life you will deal with things and at others you are overwhelmed with misery and anxiety.” (Nigella Lawson)

The trouble with anxiety is that there is usually no specific fear you can see to tackle; just a very alarming sense of danger or threat.

Some people are more vulnerable to anxiety – for example those who have had emotionally absent parents during childhood, who have an emotionally unstable temperament, or who have a currently stressful life-style.

However, anxiety is quite common. Many elderly people for example have anxiety about getting old, anxieties about health, mobility, access to facilities, and simple routine care and attention. and many younger people from time to time experience stress-related illness, bodily tension, worry, unease, even panic. Anxiety is so common a problem in fact that there just aren’t enough counsellors to go round to help us all feel better.

The question thus arises is there anything you can learn that will equip you to deal with life more calmly? Is there any spiritual knowledge that can effectively help reduce anxiety?

Jim’s anxiety

Jim’s problem of anxious worry concerned his sports injury. He was plagued with the idea that he was never going to recover full use of his arm. His thoughts about this kept going around in circles without getting anywhere. They kept him awake most of the night.

Jim is a young man. He said that his anxiety is worse in the morning or on weekends when he hadn’t so much to do. I do reckon that focusing on some useful activity does help distract one’s mind from one’s concerns.

“An idle mind is the devil’s playground.”

Jim found it helped to talk to a friend who was sympathetic to how he felt and who tried to put things in perspective and to see things from a different angle. The trouble was Jim kept asking the same person over and over again for reassurance, which unfortunately was beginning to drive that person to distraction.

Distraction and ventilation can only postpone anxiety. The same goes for tablets from the doctor or for that matter any drug such as alcohol. Something more radical is needed.

Anxiety and CBT

Cognitive-behaviour therapists maintain that it is possible to change anxious habits of thought that adversely affect us. Once you bring such attitudes out into the open, you can examine them in the light of day and challenge them if unrealistic. Looking for more sensible ways of thinking it becomes possible to adopt a calmer attitude.

They thus encourage the anxious person to notice the illogical thoughts which accompany anxiety and discard them as mere habits of thought, which can be replaced by some rational common sense.

Anxiety and Swedenborg

An idea along these lines, but in my view a little more powerful, can be found in the books of the eighteenth century mystic and philosopher, Emanuel Swedenborg. He has given posterity a great deal of meticulously recorded information regarding what he claimed were his daily awareness of spirits inwardly present with him. He writes about certain spirits who he says he has seen and heard in a psychic way, and who, when present with him, were the source of an anxious state of mind.

“I have talked with them, they have been driven off and the anxiety has ceased, they have come back and the anxiety has returned, I have observed its increase and decrease as they drew near and moved away.” (Emanuel Swedenborg)

Anxiety and Buddhism

Professor David Loy whose studies in comparative philosophy and religion have been published widely, points out that Swedenborg’s startling and counter-intuitive idea – that we don’t really generate our own thoughts – is also found in Buddhism’s doctrine of ‘no self’ where it is said to be an illusion of self-hood.

“Since there has never been a self, only the illusion of self, the point of the Buddhist path is not to eliminate the self but forget oneself, which is accomplished by becoming so absorbed into one’s meditation exercise that one becomes it. For Swedenborg as much as the Buddhism, the path is letting go of oneself.” (David Loy)

For Swedenborg the reason for the illusion are spirits inflowing their thoughts and feelings into our consciousness. He is saying we don’t create our own thoughts because they come to us from elsewhere. A spirit is unconsciously present within our mind if it can harmonise with our desires: he or she secretly enters our way of thinking and is accepted by us as our own.  According to this view, the influence, of calming thoughts from angels and anxiety-laden thoughts from lower spirits, accounts for much of what we understand as our mental and emotional life.

In line with this way of thinking, as long as you identify with your anxiety-laden thoughts, then unfortunately you will continue to be under their control. The alternative is to be mindful of such anxious thoughts, learn to dis-identify with them, let go of them, neglect them, become unattached to them, and see them for what they are, the harmful fantasies of unwanted secret companions with whom you are free to distance your self.

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

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on3rd April 2014CategoriesConsciousness, Spirit awarenessTags, , , , , , , Leave a comment

Dream sleep — How to understand it?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

dreamPeople have random eye movements under closed eyelids (REM) from time to time when they are asleep and if wakened at these times they report  dreaming. In this way sleep researchers found that most people dream for about a fifth of their sleeping time. A person of age seventy-five will not only have  slept twenty-five years, but will have spent five years dreaming! We need this  for, if deprived of REM sleep for a while, we become disturbed and even psychotic. Although occasionally there is speech in dreams, it is mostly composed of dramatic visual representations. There are no proven scientific theories to explain the experience. So why is it important? How can we understand it?

Why your dream is not easy to understand

Clinical psychologist Wilson Van Dusen, wrote that dreams tend to deal with a wide range of present-life concerns of the person. The precise meaning of any one  however is unclear, even though it makes use of people, situations and objects familiar to the sleeper.

Because of familiarity with the content, it isn’t immediately apparent that the dream uses things and people in a symbolic manner. In this way whilst getting an inkling of what is going on — we are protected from a blunt expression of those inner concerns and desires we would rather keep from daytime awareness.

Dreaming is thus a personal process that need to be understood in a personal way. And so a book offering a general meaning of dream symbols is probably not valid.

If you haven’t worked with your own dreams, they can easily seem to be a mishmash of elements into which one could read almost anything.

How to understand a dream

  • When you next wake up after the dream, jot down a phrase or two about it in order to jog your memory later.
  • The next day try to get back into the dream, reliving it. Slowly tell the dream to yourself. What were you feeling at different points. Ask yourself, ‘What did it feel like when …. ?’ ‘How is that like my life?’
  • Pretend to be a person you dreamed of, and tell the dream story from this perspective. You may get clues as to what the individual figure represents in you.
  • Assume everything in the dream is you. Your most conscious day-time  feelings and thoughts are shown by you in the dream. Less conscious aspects are represented by others eg one’s future potential, choice points, what is hoped for. See what you associate with each person, place or thing in the dream.
  • Summarise the dream and listen to the summary for its meaning.
  • Reflect a little on the rest of the dream’s connections during the day and you may find the remaining meanings.
  • The only valid interpretation of a dream is that which you, the dreamer, give to it.

Revelatory nature of dreams

In using images in a symbolic way it is as if the dream is allowing you, the dreamer, to remain in freedom to listen or ignore its message. If your dream simply said you boast too much or waste too much money, it would not only would be a distressing insult but one you could not fail to see. Instead it offers an intriguing drama you can try to remember and work out only if you wish.

Carl Gustav Jung suggested that dreams come from a level more objective than one’s subjective point of view. Dream images are not from the dreamer’s usual subjective sphere of thought and language. It is as if what the dream is saying goes beyond our daytime conscious understanding to reveal something true about the inner quality of our life. It possesses a higher wisdom and knowledge about all our memories, hopes and fears.

The reality of our inner mind

In his books The Natural Depth In Man and The Presence Of Other Worlds, Van Dusen gives a clear picture of the hidden reality of our inner world. His understanding not only comes from his own experience as a psychotherapist working with his patients dreams but also his study of Eastern and Western philosophy, particularly the extraordinary insights and often frightening experiences of Emanuel Swedenborg. Van Dusen concludes that in a wide range of states of consciousness (including that of dreaming) an inner world is revealed as precisely Swedenborg describes.

This is a hidden realm of spirit which will become fully conscious to us all following our bodily death: a spiritual world which permeates all our human minds, whilst we still live on earth, with inflow of high and low desires, pure and corrupt thoughts, as well as beneficial and harmful impulses; an influx of good and bad influences that are perfectly balanced to preserve our inner human freedom.

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on18th December 2012CategoriesConsciousness, Spirit awarenessTags, , , , , , , , ,, , , , Leave a comment

Heaven and Hell

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Heaven and Hell

You must be joking! ‘Heaven and Hell,’ what images do they conjure up in today’s world. Heaven- cute little cherubs with wings, sitting on fluffy clouds, playing harps or feasting in paradise without ‘Weight watchers’; Hell- mediaeval tortures, spooky red devils with horns and tails, furnaces, fire and brimstone (whatever that is.) Either way count me out!

And yet do you, like me, have a sneaky suspicion that there must be something more to this life. Do you ever wonder whether life carries on in another dimension and if so what it could be like? Do you ever think that there just might be some grain of truth in these out dated concepts of heaven and hell?

We often use words like heaven and hell to describe our own inner feelings. If everything goes wrong at work and the things that we attempt are thwarted and leave us frustrated we might feel that we have had a ‘hell of a day.’  If things go right and we feel pleased and happy we talk about ‘being in heaven.’ We can see from this that there is a relationship between how we feel and heaven and hell. Heaven and hell essentially are states of our mind or inner being and not physical places of either bliss or torment. Our actions and reactions, our thoughts and deeds, our loves and desires build heaven or hell within us.

Emanuel Swedenborg tells us that when our physical body dies the essential person, the spirit or soul passes into the spiritual world. Although the spiritual world may appear insubstantial to us on earth it is ultimate reality.

In the spiritual world there are communities where groups of people live and work together as in this natural world. We ultimately find ourselves living with communities with whom we feel at ‘home’ and who have similar natures to our own. If, whilst on earth, we have tried to think of others before ourselves, have had a belief in an entity greater than ourselves and tried to live according to principles then we should find ourselves living in a heavenly society. We really should be ‘in heaven.’

If, on the other hand, we have spent our lives being awkward, miserable, intolerant, selfish and dare we say plain ‘evil,’ then it is easy to see that being in a community of ‘angelic’ people would be anathema to us. We would be happier being in a company of like- minded people where we could continue to ‘make life hell.’

The choice is ours.

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Living in Two Worlds                       

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One of the problems with our busy materialistic world is that we seem to get very little time to think more deeply about what is going on in our lives. Everyday is made up of all sorts of practical and physical activities. We go to the shops and buy food. We cook our meals and wash up. We clean the house and read the newspaper. We mow the lawn or put our feet up in front of the television. We go to work by car or bus or train and come back late and tired. So much can get crammed into one day that we begin to feel unable to cope or at the other end of the scale we may have so little we can do that we feel lonely and cut off from the world around. If we are blessed with all our senses we can see the world around us, we can hear it, touch it, smell it and taste it. And particularly in spring and summer, when all sorts of flowers are coming into bloom, the physical world around us offers a wonderful array of stimulants for our senses. And we mustn’t forget our interactions with other people: a wave across the street, a smile to a passer-by, a chat over coffee, a lengthy phone call, a letter from a friend, a kind word or a loving kiss. There is so much going on in our physical world that it is not surprising that many people live as though there is nothing else – that everything that goes on in our lives can be explained in physical terms.

But is this really so?

red roseImagine you are holding a fragrant rose in your hand. You see the wonderful colour and texture of the flower, you touch its soft and smooth petals and you smell its intoxicating fragrance. So far you have been involved in a physical way with this rose but how does it make you feel? Do you feel happier and a little brighter inside, does a smile come over your face, does it evoke distant memories, do you feel more peaceful, do you feel more loved or more loving? In a wonderful way that rose, out there in the physical world around us, has touched something deep inside you and you have responded.

Or imagine that you have just received a letter from somebody you knew a long time ago. You open the letter, see who it is from, and read the first few lines. They are just ink on paper but how do you feel? Do you feel surprised and pleased, does a feeling of warmth grow within as you recall your past friendship, are you transported back to another time and place, do you now feel close once again? Just like the rose, something as physical as ink and paper has touched you deep inside and you have responded.

These are just two examples of the countless situations we can find ourselves in when we realise that there is something much deeper to our lives than our physical being. Whilst our lives appear dominated by the physical world around us there is another world within us of feeling and thought where our deepest experiences take place and where we develop our real character. It is our inner world where, for example, we can feel deep joy when we are very close to someone we love and deep pain when we are separated.

Throughout the ages wise people have realised that we live in two worlds at the same time, a physical outer world and a deeper inner spiritual world. The problem is that we get so absorbed by the state of our physical outer world that we don’t spend enough time on the spiritual world within us. How many people, for example, struggling in a gym to improve their physical well-being, would spend just a little time on spiritual exercises to help them develop their inner world? Is this not a distorted view of our priorities?

Jesus highlighted the need to change our priorities in favour of the inner spiritual life when he said:

“Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you”.  Luke 12:29-31

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the visionary Jesuit priest, wrote in the 20th century:

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience”.

Emanuel Swedenborg not only recognised that we are living in two worlds but also that when we die our real inner spiritual self goes on living:

“As regards the soul, which – it is said – goes on living after death, it is nothing else than the actual person living in the body. That is, the soul is the person’s inner self acting in the world by means of the body and imparting life to the body. When his inner self is released from the body the person is called a spirit and then appears in a completely human form”. Arcana Caelestia 6054

Should not our emphasis be on developing the quality of our inner life rather than worrying excessively as we do about our outer physical world?

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart.”  Helen Keller

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Scholars on Swedenborg: Did Swedenborg See the Bible as Historically True?

Swedenborg Foundation

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By Stuart Shotwell, Managing Editor, New Century Edition

“The Bible is literally true” is a claim that is at least theoretically accepted by a broad swath of Christian readers today, who thus speak of the inerrancy of scripture. Swedenborg would agree that in its higher sense, scripture (the Word) does not err; but at the same time, he would be the first to insist that in its literal sense it appears inconsistent:

Statements in the Word often seem to differ with and almost contradict each other. For instance, there are statements that the Lord leads us into trial and other statements that he does not; statements that the Lord repents and other statements that he does not; statements that the Lord acts in anger and wrath and other statements that he acts with pure compassion and mercy; statements that the soul faces judgment immediately after death and other statements that it waits till the Last Judgment; and so on. (Secrets of Heaven 9025)

But Swedenborg would also be the first to insist, and in very strenuous terms, on the indispensability of the literal meaning:

The Word without its literal meaning would be like a temple containing an abundance of holy objects, with a central inner sanctum, but without a roof or walls to contain them. If these were lacking or were taken away, its holy contents would be plundered by thieves or torn apart by the beasts of the earth and the birds of heaven, and would therefore be scattered far and wide. (Sacred Scripture 33)

According to Swedenborg, then, parts of the Bible’s literal content may be both apparently untrue and yet critically important to the structure of the Bible’s truth. How can this be?

One of the themes Swedenborg has in common with Neoplatonism is the notion that all manifested being radiates from God at the center and “steps down” by degrees until it reaches its outermost limit in materiality. He described this series of degrees in the following terms:

In every work of God there is something first, something intermediate, and something last; and what is first works through what is intermediate to what is last and in this way becomes manifest and persists, so what is last is a foundation. The first is also in the intermediate, and through the intermediate is in what is last, so what is last is a container; and since what is last is a container and a foundation, it is also a support. (Sacred Scripture 27)

And this same system is applied to the Bible:

There are three levels of meaning in the Word. . . . The heavenly meaning is its first level, the spiritual meaning its intermediate level, and the earthly meaning its last level. This enables anyone who thinks rationally to conclude that the first level of the Word, the heavenly, works through its intermediate, which is the spiritual, to the last level, which is the earthly. We can also conclude that the last level is therefore a foundation. We can conclude further that the first level (the heavenly) is within the intermediate level (the spiritual), and through this in the last level (the earthly), which means that the last level (the earthly), which is the literal meaning of the Word, is a container; and since it is a container and a foundation, it is also a support. (Sacred Scripture 31)

The literal meaning, then, provides a container for the inner meaning, just as the body (which as a physical thing is part of the last, outermost extent of the outflow from the divine center) provides a container for the soul.

The disconnect between Swedenborg’s understanding and that of much of contemporary Christianity occurs in his definition of “the literal.” By this term he means the narrative detail of the text, not its historicity; that is, he means what the story describes as happening in any particular passage. Whether those events ever actually occurred is of little interest to him. Some passages he accepts as historical, and others he does not. His point in insisting on the need for a container for the inner meaning is that there must be some ideational structure to hold meaning. Thus the schema of regeneration he lays out in his exegesis of Genesis 1 depends on the details of the creation of the world in the biblical account. The parables of Jesus form an obvious parallel: remove the details of the prodigal son who spends his inheritance, and there is no substructure on which the inner meaning of the tale can rest. One has to have notes to have music. Thus for Swedenborg, the Bible is true and inerrant with respect to its inner meaning, even if it is not necessarily true and inerrant in respect to the historical accuracy of every story it recounts.

According to his system, “out here,” far from the deep center of all from which God radiates forth love and wisdom—in this material world that Swedenborg calls the ultima, the “farthest things”—we need that literal meaning, just as our souls require a body in which to dwell. The angels, by contrast, do not need the “story facts” of the Word; they can directly understand the inner meaning of the Word, just as they can live without physical bodies:

They understand in a spiritual way the details that we understand in an earthly way, and they understand what those details really mean. This is the inner or spiritual meaning of the Word. (New Jerusalem 1:2)

This understanding of the “literal meaning” of the Bible as detached from any question of actual historicity is by no means exclusive to Swedenborg. In fact, it was the most prominent understanding of the literal until claims of the historical inerrancy of the Bible came to the fore in Protestant movements during the nineteenth century. Some fathers of the church show little interest in the historical accuracy of the biblical accounts; see, for example, Origen’s description of the story of the Garden of Eden as having an appropriately allegorical meaning rather than being historically true (Against Celsus 4:39). In that respect, Swedenborg is working in a long and well-accepted tradition.

 

References

Origen. Against Celsus. Translated by Frederick Crombie. In The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4, edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994.

Swedenborg, Emanuel. New Jerusalem (unpublished translation by George F. Dole, November 10, 2015).

Swedenborg, Emanuel. Sacred Scripture / White Horse. Translated by George F. Dole. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2015.

Swedenborg, Emanuel. Secrets of Heaven (unpublished translation by Lisa Hyatt Cooper, November 10, 2015).

Visit our Swedenborg Studies bookstore page to explore our series of scholarly titles >

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The World Needs More Love Letters

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Discovering inner health and transformation

Hannah Brencher
Hannah Brencher

Hannah Brencher age 24 years felt lonely in the big city. Two and a half years ago she found a way of easing her own feelings of sadness and at the same time helping other isolated people.

She began writing letters to strangers and leaving them all over New York city to find tucked into park benches or magazines in cafes. Words of encouragement like “Don’t give up on your dreams” and “Someone believes in you.”

This all started as a comforting habit but as others joined in it turned into The World Needs More Love Letters project as now there are approximately 13,000 people involved. Now a veritable army of volunteer letter writers has formed and Brencher’s spark of an idea is spreading around the world.

Hannah, who is originally from New Haven in Connecticut, tells Positive News: “My hope was that people would feel like they would be given a proactive recipe: that they could become folded into something larger than themselves – something that blesses the days of others. My letters were filled with honesty and encouragement and words of love. I wanted the recipients to know love wherever they were standing.”

There are now approximately 13,000 people involved, young and old, men and women, from all walks of life.

And judging by the response to the projects web site this is really helping people find connection and encouragement they need.

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Posted on25th April 2013CategoriesMeaning and inspiration Leave a comment

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Cats Don’t Get It!

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Discovering inner health and transformation

Lucy seeks and shows affection in the way she nuzzles up to me. She meows gently and quietly — not stridently and persistently like the un-neutered tom who visits our garden making a thorough nuisance of himself.

I often have on hand a glass of orange or lemon squash to sip from. But if she thinks she will get away with it, my furry friend will not hesitate to jump up on to the coffee table to have a quick drink — just too lazy to walk into the kitchen where her bowl of water is always available.

Another thing — the soft chairs in our hall are full of torn fabric where she sharpens her claws even though I have placed a log of wood conveniently outside the kitchen door for her sole use. Yes she has her faults and definitely needs to change her attitude!

But is she capable of change?  I haven’t seen any signs of what I would call a social conscience in her makeup. No contrition at all when I tick her off. She looks at me as if I were just exercising my lungs. Animals of course learn how to gain rewards and avoid punishment. But no public prosecutor would take an animal to court on a criminal charge. Cats are known to be self-willed. But we don’t blame them for doing their own thing – for following their natural inclinations.

It’s otherwise with human beings. We also have a will but is ours not one based on rational understanding? For unlike animals have we not a higher degree of mind that can see beyond the things of the senses? — into a human realm of aesthetics, moral values, and spiritual principles. Not everybody seems to recognise this spiritual dimension to life.  However, many writers such as H.T. Hamblin and Emanuel Swedenborg have pointed to an ineffable realm apart from place, time and even person. An ‘eternal now’ where they found something deeply moving yet not easy to convey in natural language.

And does this higher perception not allow us to reflect on our own actions? A self-examination of which my cat is incapable. On the one hand we are free to make mistakes, rebel against what we know to be good and proper. But on the other hand we have a tremendous opportunity to face in a new direction, to turn our lives round, and even be transformed.

But why would we want to make any personal changes? One reason can be to do with wanting deeper happiness. If you have had a glimpse of something wonderful and beautiful you long to have it back.

Walking through the woods near my home, the other day, I saw a dead branch of a tree without any new growth that you would expect at this time of year – and I smiled ruefully to myself, for I felt a bit like that dead bit of wood. A bit lifeless inside. It was only when the fragrance from the wild flowers were pointed out to me that I took any notice. I saw the bluebells shooting up all over the place and heard the birds singing but they didn’t have the usual uplifting effect on me.

I have noticed this kind of negative state seems to come along when I have become pre-occupied with the wrong things. I have come to learn that personal change for me means less attachment to the things of self; less concern with what others think of me and of getting my own way in things; less priority given to bodily comfort and pleasure.

It is only when we change radio stations and switch into the things of spirit can we hope to feel enlivened and illuminated by the divine source to life. It is not surprising,  that I lacked the zest for life I had previously enjoyed, for I had been turning my back on the divine within; orientating myself away from the mystery that is the changeless force within our being. Without that Christ force we cannot change. But with it anything is possible.

First published in New Vision Magazine

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy

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7th July 2011CategoriesPrivate EthicsTags, , , , , , ,, , , ,  Leave a comment