Positive awareness – How to find it?

positiveThere probably were some positive experiences you have had recently. Just small things really. Like the delight of bumping into a friend at the supermarket, a warm glow felt when someone shows you some consideration, or the delight you felt in observing your small grandchildren playing.

But when bad things also happen, how easy it is to forget the positives. The washing machine develops a fault. Someone at work has a go at you. You sleep badly because of a sore throat. If you focus on the bad stuff, you quickly forget any pleasant experiences and instead develop a negative frame of mind. So much so that you are in danger of noticing no hint of anything good and seeing what is bad in everything. So if you have this damaging tendency, how determined are you to start to see things differently? To notice more about the magic of life? And how in practice could you go about this?

Blocks that hinder you noticing the magic of life

You can be inwardly deadened by the noise and pollution of our urban environments, the endless information and the drudge of work. The temptation is to mindlessly sleepwalk through this kind of life; allowing past memories and future fantasies to dominate your consciousness as a way of escaping from the reality of the present moment. Then of course you become absent-minded; too alienated from the needs of the moment to notice the here and now with its ordinary crop of positive, albeit fleeting, experiences.

“The past is history,
The future a mystery,
At this moment is a gift.
Which is why it is called `the present.’ ”
(Unknown author)

Another factor that can hinder us in getting in contact with the positive uplifting side of life is that of materialistic science. The spiritual writer Roger Walsh has pointed out the blinding power of science, saying that we are so bombarded by its way of looking at the universe as a great meaningless machine that we are led into a kind of cynicism regarding any meaning and purpose behind our world.

A third factor I would like to mention, is that of attachment to bodily pleasure and worldly concerns. For example developing an emotional, if not physical, dependence on alcohol, drugs, food, competition for social status, excessive consumption, and over identification with one’s ‘tribe’.  Preoccupied with the material side of life can corrupt any vision of the spiritual.

Exercise focusing on positive experiences

One way of combating these problems is the 15 minute exercise of noticing the positives in your day. Here are some instructions.

1.      In the evening, sit down alone comfortably in a quiet place with paper and pen.

2.      Reflect on the day’s events; what you did, who you spoke with and what was said, where you were and what you saw.

3.      For each of these remembered ordinary moments, pause and consider anything positive. Were you touched by anything good about the experience? Perhaps it was a fleeting or subtle moment when you felt pleased or impressed.  May be you were even caught by a beauty of the situation.

4.      There would have been what was negative mixed up in what was positive. But write one sentence for each time about any positive aspect.

5.      When you have finished reread your list.

“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind.” (Ashley Smith)

Benefits of recognising the positive

Looking for the positive each evening can have an accumulative beneficial effect. But to gain this benefit you need to make an effort.

“You need to stop. Wake up. Be more aware. Be conscious and recognise that something good is happening.” (William Bloom)

When you are searching for positives you are likely to feel watchful, more relaxed and better humoured. Try to be mindful of how your mood has changed. Surrender to the experience. If it feels uplifting then think of it as a moment of spiritual connection even if it lasts only a few seconds. It is not true that spiritual experiences are only rare and intense. A positive experience can be common and ordinary such as simply a feeling of uplift from a chance conversation, a brief flash of insight, or a moment of laughter.

As you start to take more notice of good experiences, you are likely to want to search them out. And so many people actively seek some connection with the wonder and energy of life through the natural environment. They find the ambience of some landscapes takes them into a different mood and they become more sensitive to even a whisper of magic. Others hope to find something essentially good and wonderful about life in a friendly crowd or in intimacy with their loved one, or when caught up in a team of fellow workers in full and creative flow.

Swedenborgian point

A relevant Swedenborgian maxim is ‘influx adapts itself to efflux.’ In other words, inflow into the mind is proportional to outflow of the mind: perception from a higher level is proportional to the mindset of the observer. If you look for something you are more likely to notice it. But if you are resistant to the possibility of seeing the spiritual, you will be blind to it.

“Seek and you will find” (Jesus Christ)

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

Spiritual awakening – How to discover it?

Who doesn’t wonder whether happiness that lasts is ever possible and if so what does one have to do to bring it about? Will this need to involve some form of spiritual awakening and if so how do you discover it?

Spiritual awakening and contemporary culture

Much of materialist science has it that we are slaves to our inherited nature, family upbringing and economic constraints of adult life. In other words we are led to believe that our personal destiny is more or less already predictable and that we have little or no personal choice in the matter. Contemporary commentators thus suggest that the only way for improving things is to try to change the external world and thus the circumstances of the people in it – their economic, social and political experience and so on.  As a result, knowledge and understanding of spiritual ideas are often sidelined.

It may be the case that the very need for spiritual awakening is challenged implicitly in our Western culture. Nevertheless, I suspect many people privately wonder whether they need to undergo some sort of personal transformation if they are to be really happy. This would be very much in line with what deep thinkers say about the need for spiritual awakening if one is ever to become a better person.

The trouble is this deeper form of personal change can seem to be a mystifying process.

Spiritual awakening and Observing Spirit

In the book Observing Spirit, Peter Rhodes however clarifies the process; for example showing how spiritual awakening involves self-awareness and being fully alert to inner experience.

spiritual awakeningObserving Spirit: Evaluating your daily progress on the path to heaven with Gurdjieff and Swedenborg by Peter Rhodes, 2005 Chrysalis Books ISBN 0-87785-316-9

The reader is offered a series of useful spiritual exercises and the necessary theoretical understanding to foster spiritual awakening and the personal benefits it can bring. These can be substantial; including heightened awareness and vitality, a focusing of one’s energy and sense of individuality and authenticity.

Personal self-help books are in plentiful supply. Often they beg the question whether it is possible to use a technique or task apart from the framework of spiritual ideas which underlie it. For example do we need spiritual beliefs regarding what states of mind spiritual awakening can lead us into?

Spiritual awakening and world religions

The world’s religions have plenty to say about human destiny, and morality. The unavoidable experience of confronting death is seen as a key spiritual test for liberating us from excessive material preoccupation.

In the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, destiny is framed in terms of our individual identity surviving death in an eternal afterlife. Phillip Sheldrake has pointed out that this vision, in broader terms, embraces judgement in relation to our conduct of life, sometimes an intermediate state of waiting or re-schooling and then, either ultimate union with the divine (called heaven or paradise), or in a state of ultimate separation from the divine (referred to as hell). In Hinduism there is said to be a continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (reincarnation) until – through right action, an increase in selflessness and the practice of a spiritual path – the cycle eventually ends in release from suffering and merging with the divine.

But such religious traditions have less to show how their teachings can be applied by the spiritual seeker who lives outside of the sacred customs, practices and rites of a religious culture: how can such a person use theology to engage in healing of the spirit?

Peter Rhodes offers an answer. On a personal level he had found what to believe about life and death in the Bible and Emanuel Swedenborg’s interpretation of it. However, it was in the books of Gurdjieff and his associates that Rhodes discovered a very practical spiritual methodology for applying Swedenborg’s religious thought to the difficulties of personal change.

Deeper ideas and tasks for spiritual awakening

Once central idea in the Swedenborgian approach, is that effort must be made to turn away from or put aside whatever is not good about the way one is living. Observing Spirit offers both some deeper ideas and tasks in relation to waking up to :-

  • Where you are and where you want to go,
  • Your effects on others,
  • Prevailing negatives in your character,
  • Your developing aims,
  • Your natural side in service to your spiritual side,
  • Freedom from natural time,
  • Space for a spiritual life,
  • Remembering yourself,
  • Being conscious of another person’s difficulties
  • Removing barriers,
  • A real sense of self,
  • Being shocked by what is true,

For me this inspiring book shows that it is essential to wake up to the nature of our illusions and false attachments and to gain spiritual knowledge and understanding about ourselves and the divine source of all that is good and true. At the same time what is also needed is a heartfelt acceptance of the factors that stand in the way of our journey of personal transformation and a willingness to work on personal change.

The process of spiritual growth described in Observing Spirit is challenging. It takes effort, and there are times when spiritual enlightenment about yourself will not be a particularly pleasant experience. But that with the spiritual power of the divine working within oneself, it is so much easier for you to see your true intentions and to listen to other people and appreciate the goodness in them.

I believe the book will greatly help its readers to behave more in accordance with their true values and to pay better attention to the subtle yet inspiring thoughts and feelings present within the human soul.

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

Psychiatric illness

Harvard Medical School
Harvard Medical School

David Rosmarin Harvard Medical School talking about his study of 159 patients said:

“Our work suggests that people with a moderate to high level of belief in a higher power do significantly better in short-term psychiatric treatment than those without, regardless of their religious affiliation. Belief was associated with not only improved psychological wellbeing, but decreases in depression and intention to self-harm,”

Of the patients sampled, more than 30 percent claimed no specific religious affiliation yet still saw the same benefits in treatment if their belief in a higher power was rated as moderately or very high. Patients with “no” or only “slight” belief in God were twice as likely not to respond to treatment than patients with higher levels of belief.

Further information here

 

The frustrations of email

The frustrations of email! I’m trying to get a message to someone and it is coming back – not because of anything I’ve done wrong but because their mailbox is full.

Until things clear down there is no room for new messages to get through, so they are returned to the sender. At least this means I know the message hasn’t been received, but it is still rather awkward as I now have to reach the person by another route.

The same sort of thing gets in the way of communication when we try to phone, only then it is the engaged signal or a voicemail message. Leaving a message may be alright, but there is no way of knowing when or if it is picked up and understood. Sometimes the only way to be sure is to actually talk – which was the point of the phone call in the first place.

When we communicate with each other we are making all kinds of little connections. There may be a definite purpose to it – to give or receive information or to make arrangements, but we can equally want to make contact just to be sociable, just to keep friendships running smoothly, or to let the other person know that we think of them and care about them.

There are so many ways to keep in touch; email and text messaging may not suit everyone, but the popularity of social networking, making new contacts and then using the technology to keep updated about people’s lives is too popular to be dismissed.

Feeling that we matter to someone is very important to us, but it can be very hard for us to accept that we are of individual and very special importance to God. If you are a believer, why not take a little time to check where your relationship with Him is at the moment.

How much of our life is taken up with refusing to listen to the incoming spiritual messages – we have our own priorities for the day and don’t like to deviate from our set ideas. I believe the Lord always has us, each and every individual, as his priority. He is always ready for us to make contact. There are no full mailboxes, no engaged tone or unobtainable numbers; He will always listen and hear us. Personal time with the Lord may not be something we give much thought to, but it is a contact and a relationship I feel I should be making an effort to establish and maintain.

My understanding is the Lord is always ready for us to talk with Him, but he’s not going to force us. He is always close, but doesn’t invade our sense of independent life – it is our choice to make enough space in our life, our mind and our heart to make real contact. I began with the frustration of finding an email returned; a way of saying that you must try again if you want the message to get through.

I am sure the Lord always tries again, He doesn’t give up, get bored or go away to follow up a more promising line of enquiry elsewhere: He is there for us whenever we choose to listen.

Based on material by Christine Bank

The pace of life — How to reduce it?

Pace of lifeThe pace of life seems to have increased. Do you long for a break from the merry-go-round of deadlines, things that must be done, demands from relatives, children, and the job? Do you often feel that you never having enough time in the day to fit everything in?

In an ICM poll, half of British adults said their hectic pace of life had caused them to lose touch with friends — doing overtime to make ends meet, or doing extra unpaid work at home, getting the kids to playgroup or school, improving the garden, shopping for the latest fashions and gadgets, going along to an art course, grabbing the odd moment with one’s partner etc. What with the rush of cramming so much in, people are desperate for a rest and it is perhaps no surprise that stress-related illness has become common — whether it be headache, sleeping poorly, high blood pressure, breathing problems.

Reasons for the pace of life today

There are one or two obvious reasons for the higher pace of life. One is information over-load. There just isn’t enough time to respond to all the information that bombards us from mobile phone, text messages, email, TV, radio. Another reason for time shortage is the huge rise in house prices in Britain over recent years which means people have the burden of working longer to pay the higher mortgage repayments.

Deeper causes

But we may also wonder if there are some deeper causes. Is part of the problem that we tend to assume that our well-being depends on filling every moment with some thing? That being less economically active not only stops us getting on in life but also leads to boredom and not keeping up with others? Perhaps this assumption is right, but don’t we sometimes take it a bit too far? In a Reed Survey of 5000 UK workers, 60% said they would not be using their full holiday entitlement in 2003

Perhaps part of the problem of the hectic pace of life is to do with our attitude to time. The book In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré draws attention to this. If the biggest deadline of all is seen as death then no wonder we feel that time is short and we ought to make every moment count! However, the consequences of not hurrying is getting more out of the things: not trying to speed-read the newspaper or novel but allowing ourselves to become absorbed in the material. We may not get through so many articles or books but what we do have is quality over quantity. And this applies to everything. Is it not preferable  to do fewer things better than more things worse?

The idea here is that every living being, event, process or object has its own inherent time or pace. It is soothing to walk slowly. Honoré says that doing things at the right tempo may mean doing less things but it will result in better health, better work, better business, better family life, better cuisine, better exercise, better sex. The proverb ‘Less haste and more speed’ springs to mind as does the fable of the race between the tortoise and the hare. The pace of life can ease.

Spiritual dimension

Every religion teaches the need to slow down in order to connect with the self, with others and with a higher force. The Bible says

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

The non-religious can recognise in this the need to create time for a meaningful connection with the deeper side of being, reflecting on the values and things we hold sacred, and being mindful of the situations we are encountering. In this way the pace of life can slow down.

In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes of an incessant mental noise in our ordinary consciousness which prevents awareness of an inner realm of stillness. He suggests it is possible to find an inner calm when the individual starts to mindfully reflect on the present moment instead of living in the past and worrying about the future – a state of consciousness, free of the burden of time.

In Emanuel Swedenborg’s Divine Love and Wisdom  we read about the difference between material time and spiritual time. In his day the measurement of the former depended  on movement through space, specifically the orbital motion of the earth around the sun. However, he also describes a spiritual world with its own time. This spiritual world is said to be a non-physical reality within our minds of which we become aware after the death of the physical body. The pace of life there reflects the pace of life in our minds.

Spiritual time seems to be similar to what we think of as subjective time which passes too quickly when you are enjoying yourself and too slowly when you are bored. Thus in the spirit, time appears to be real but actually corresponds to one’s inner state of mind.

Further he says that when people are not in touch with the spiritual dimension they are time-bound. According to this view when we have the spiritual more closely present with us, we are less troubled by time: just as the spiritual is from a God of infinity not of space, so it is from an eternity not of time.

Conclusion

So what is my conclusion? That we can reduce the pace of life in several ways. We can basically transcend our time-bound problems by getting more in touch with the presence of the spiritual dimension of life.

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

Adventure – How to find it for free?

adventureEver gone travelling off the beaten track looking for adventure? Young people may do this before they embark on a new career and those recently retired from an old one can also seek somewhere different. They go off on an adventure to exotic locations to discover what is there and at the same time find out something about themselves. Perhaps we all need a thrilling time occasionally, to get away from the hum-drum aspects of everyday life.

Adventure of an inner journey

Travelling is not an option for everyone.  However, the journey can be found in other ways. George Eliot wrote, ‘Adventure is not outside man; it is within.’  In other words, we can wake-up to the excitement of life within the confines of our normal circumstances. Many have reported on inner journeys they have taken that opened up new horizons for them.

As an example, I would like to mention Emanuel Swedenborg, a man born in 17th century Stockholm.  In young adulthood he had leisure for full-time study and travel. He lived at a time when it was still possible to have a wide grasp of the knowledge of the day.  Later he worked as an engineer and geologist and wrote science such as physics and biology.

Swedenborg’s adventure exploring his dreams

Emanuel had been on an intellectual quest to find a scientific understanding of the human soul.  In his fifties he started noticing his dreams and reflecting on them. This was to be an inner journey; not only one of self-learning but also one of personal change. He was an intellectual man not in touch with the feeling and intuitive side of life. To explore the latter was like an adventure for him because it required great daring to tap the depths of personality, and gain something new.

Whenever someone showed a lack of respect for him he felt self-righteous indignation. Likewise he would tend to think about how his next book would make him famous. Reflecting on this self-pride, he was brought to his knees in humility.  He learned to be more aware of his thoughts and to turn away from those that he judged as wrong. With this new-found effort to stand firm he became more confident that he would be forgiven and helped to find a new attitude.

Another discovery in his dreams was his sexual fantasies.  He realised how he would be looking at a woman and thinking lustfully.  He tried to resist such impure thoughts because he believed God wanted people to enjoy sex only as part of a monogamous loving relationship.

Nevertheless a woman was what was missing in his life. Someone perhaps to put flowers on his desk, to add decorations to his home, to encourage him to enjoy walks and music. Arguably, womanhood symbolises the warm nurturing side of life. There were women in his dreams but when awake he had prohibited all close relations with them.  His aim had been to find God alone.  But the kind of God he envisaged had been one to support his academic life by providing him with scientific answers like some sort of super-professor.  He wondered… had God chosen to provide women in his dreams because that warm,
loving side of his makeup must be developed if he were to have any hope of understanding the Divine Source?

Adventure of following the lead of the Divine Spirit

Swedenborg’s inner journey taught him that ultimately he was dependent on God and this meant following God’s lead.

As HT Hamblin says, ‘The only way to harmony and to peace is to
follow the leading of the Spirit, and this is the most adventurous life of
all.’

It seemed to have worked for Emanuel. He abandoned his scientific books and focused instead on the personal and spiritual side to life. For him the personal and spiritual journey of adventure were the same thing.  How better can you learn than by struggling?  His books now would be based on personal knowledge rather than on academic reading of other writers’ books.  He now wanted to explore religion from the perspective of this dimension.  During this process of personal discovery, he had felt called to a higher vocation – one of exploring theology and spiritual philosophy.  Increasingly, he used the intuitions he gained from his inner visionary experience, presenting them as rationally as he was able.

I guess the challenge for us is to more deeply listen to the leading of the Spirit and daring to accept whatever challenges of conscience we find. The promise is extra energy, the thrill of the new and the delight of a higher life.

‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And venture belongs to the adventurous.’ (Navjot Singh Sidhu)

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Go with the flow – But what does this mean?

go with the flowDo you feel things could run more smoothly with less frustration to tire you out? Like  mislaying the garden tools or the favourite recipe book for that special meal, not to mention difficulty finding a satisfying job, loving partner, comfortable home? When you seem to be swimming against the current of life, then don’t you feel dispirited and drained? Wouldn’t you rather go with the flow?

Animals in their natural habitats don’t have these difficulties. They seem to be in harmony with the flow of nature. Call it instinct but they have less trouble finding food to eat, building their shelter, finding their mate, caring for their young and all this without having any instruction or money.

So how does one go with the flow?

Go with the flow by getting absorbed in the ‘here and now’

Part of the trick is getting absorbed in the ‘here and now’. Focusing your entire mind on what is happening in the present moment. This means no spare time to worry about the future or feel guilty about the past. In other words to go with the flow is similar to what they say in Buddhist circles about mindfulness. They are talking about attentive awareness to the reality of things. Mindfulness practice, is increasingly being employed in Western psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and in the prevention of relapse in depression and drug addiction. One needs to lose oneself in the flow of life in order to find oneself.

Part of an inner focus of mindfulness is an attitude of fully engaging in what one is doing. It means facing experience head on and accepting whatever the challenges and opportunities it offers instead of avoiding it or trying to make it into something else. Dealing with the immediacy of the current situation, rather than possible futures or the past. The Zen Buddhist masters used every conceivable means to awaken their students to the ‘eternal now’. The ultimate reality is seen to lie right at the heart of daily existence, if one but knows how the grasp the absolute moment.

Go with the flow in ordinary situations

Adrenaline junkies seek out dangerous situations like snowboarding down mountains. It’s as if they cannot experience a sense of being really alive in just ordinary situations. They are missing out on the ‘power of now’ to give them any buzz in their normal life at home and work.

Perhaps they don’t know about, what has been called, the ‘illusion of senses’. This is holding to a mistaken notion that the external side of life determines one’s inner sense of well-being. According to many spiritual thinkers, the reality is different.

Go with the flow of spiritual life from within the soul

What exists within the human spirit flows into what is on the external side of life. In other words, happiness, contentment, excitement flows from the divine presence within our soul to the outer part of experience and not the other way round. It is not what happens to us that matters but our attitude towards it. The mystic can fathom this, by standing aside from sensory impressions:  instead to go with the flow from what is within.

But for the rest of us existence seems very different. There is a sense of self as being somehow apart from the rest of life, apart from the one – the one source of all life, the one creator of everything, the one divine source of life. We are caught up in how life appears – our own individual interpretations, our own reconstructed memories, our own misconceptions. We follow what self-intelligence sees as the appearance rather than trusting in the reality.

Go with the flow of heat and light from the Divine

Swedenborg suggests that this notion of inflow of divine reality can be seen by comparing it with the flow of heat and light from the sun into earthly objects, which for example gives rise to plant-life producing different colours. And so going with the flow involves recognising the inflow of the divine into the mundane. Spiritual heat creates warm-heartedness and spiritual light causes an enlightened understanding.

Seeing the flow into our experiences of what is uplifting, creative, illuminating, and fortunately co-incidental, will inspire hope, love, trust. When things go pear-shaped the flow of illumination can show us where we are going wrong and we can learn from our mistakes.

Go with the flow of the stream of Providence

Going with the flow also means learning to trust in what Swedenborg calls the ‘stream of providence’ instead of trusting in oneself. Life’s journey is a bit like floating down a river. This will involve going with a gentle flow but it also could mean getting stranded on mudflats, blocked midstream by rocky outcrops, having to cope with rapids, and cross-currents. The point is no matter what life throws at you, it is possible to keep one’s balance by believing that what is needed will be provided, what is vulnerable to harm will be protected, what is lost will be found. In other words trusting in the stream of divine providence.

Swedenborg also points out that orientating towards the divine flow however requires the individual to no longer be orientated towards self. No longer watching out for what suits one-self, how things impinge on one’s comfort zone. For when the love of self no longer rules your heart, then you  rise above your worries concerning the transient things of the world.

 Those are not in the stream of Providence who trust in themselves alone and attribute all things to themselves… Be it known also that insofar as anyone is in the stream of Providence, so far he is in a stateof peace.

(Swedenborg. Arcana Coelestia section 8478 4)

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems