Spiritual awareness and insight


Conscious Suffering is Good


Have you ever noticed that spiritual individuals embrace the same kind of suffering all the rest of us are trying to escape?

We all suffer when a loved one dies, or we get ill, or hungry, or run out of money.

Then you have those rare people who seem to relish choosing to live in such conditions and who have consciously adopted the rejection of worldly happiness and comfort. (This is like firemen who rush into a burning building that everyone else is hurriedly running out of.)

These humble types of people seem to have an inner wisdom and contentment that most of us lack.

What is ironic to me is that everyone else knows and grasps the idea of “no pain, no gain.” Suffering has a good side! This rule works for procuring both worldly and spiritual success. The “pain” here is intentionally (and actively) sought and is not the same kind of suffering that happens to other creatures or passive victims.

In this relatively short physical lifetime on earth (that lasts perhaps 80 years), it seems irrational (and delusional) to strive only for temporary self-centered success. Eternal or inner happiness comes from intentionally sacrificing this kind of self-centeredness, which curiously, causes a form of personal suffering and a real sense of loss (of one’s old self).

Some people don’t believe in the existence of God because of all the suffering in the world. Others believe in God because suffering can be turned into a blessing.


Spiritual awareness and insight


Source of life – Gives hope in adversity?

The Source

As we know, social disorder and personal problems exist in human society and in our individual circumstances. We could end up immersing ourselves in negativity about this if we are not careful. Keeping ourselves awake at night with worry. Cursing fate for our plight. We might doubt whether there is any source of goodness around.

Spiritual awareness is rather a vague phrase but nevertheless it can lighten our load. We perceive a deeper side to reality when for example we notice a life force that makes things grow and flourish, whether it be in nature or in one’s personal life.  Or when we feel in tune with a higher inspiration for our creative work. Or when we see evidence of a design within the order of the universe.

In whatever way we think of it, we can see reality as something greater than ourselves: as something beyond what is physical. It transcends our bodily experience and material concerns.


Religious cultures over history have venerated a similar idea envisioned in various supernatural guises.

Today, in western Europe, the churches are declining. However, many non-churchgoers designate themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’. You may not be committed to a taught faith but do try to figure out what’s true, and what’s good, and then to start living a better life.

Western religion has a word in different languages meaning God. Some people, likewise use a capital for the first letter of their word for what they feel to be beyond themselves.  Words used are Being, the Source, the All, the Divine, the Infinite, the Absolute etc. These words may be used slightly differently.

The Source

As I understand it, ‘the Source’ means there is a source of spiritual light and love.

“I am not aligned with a religious belief system but I do have a faith in something bigger, a divinity of some sort. I choose to call it ‘source’.” (Helen Leathers, personal development teacher)

We may sometimes feel separate from this Source. Nevertheless, we may believe we have a continuous connection with it. It is seen as a part of us as we seek wisdom, guidance, intuition, or inspiration. People sometimes say that a focus on this higher energy allows us to remember our mission, our vision, and our reason for being.

If the Source is real and not a figment of the imagination, a question arises. To what extent can we rely on it when times are hard? When we face what is bad in life?

The All of everything

Some speak of the higher reality in terms of ‘the All’, meaning the all of everything. The focus is on the all of life, the all of love, the all of goodness, the all of wisdom. This is a wonderful idea about what can enthuse and move us. However, I notice that the term ‘the All of everything’ also seems to imply the all of disease, the all of selfish desires, and the all of folly.

We are aware of the Holocaust, Stalin’s Gulag, Pol Pot’s Killing Fields. I would argue that we are so horrified by despicable events, as genocide, terrorist killings, and serial murder, that it is insufficient to refer to such atrocities as ‘bad’ or even ‘very bad’. We need to invoke a more basic idea of the ‘evil’ of some actions and of the delusional ideas that attempt to justify them.

The chaos caused by natural disaster, suffering of disease and evil of man’s inhumanity to man, have a very troubling influence on life as we know it.

The question about reliance on the spiritual Source when we face what is bad is a challenging one. What hope and trust can we place in the Source of goodness when we encounter evil? Here are some suggested answers.

Purpose of love

Just as there is a design in the orderliness of nature, so is there not also a creative plan for humanity? An intention within the higher reality to bring about stability and beauty in our lives? If it is love that is the cause of all of what is good, then I would say the Source of love intends our growth and fulfilment.

According to this view there is a purpose of higher reality to bring about human happiness for the sake of love. Love wants the best for who is loved.

“The essence of love is loving others…, wishing to be one with them and devoting oneself to their happiness.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)

This loving purpose might be in the background when we bring on suffering to ourselves. I would say nothing happens by chance. We suffer when we lose our friends, our job, and the good regard of our loved ones. Where is a loving purpose within our unhappiness? Is it not to do with a self-compassion that allows us to learn from our mistakes? Obliging us to face up to the reasons for our loss – perhaps complacency, laziness, or self-centredness.

Power of love

I believe we are all potential channels for the power of love. When we connect wholeheartedly with the Source, love can win if we are faced with scorn, malice or contempt. Its power of healing, through our behaviour can give comfort to those who inwardly suffer from a myriad of various problems. Its power of understanding, through our words can inspire good sense and enlightenment no matter what irrational fears are being experienced.

Evil as no independent force

Another way, to have confidence in the Source, is to not exaggerate any power of evil. I favour the idea that evil, although real enough in its effects if given reign, does not really exist in its own right. In other words, social injustice, pain, misery have never been inevitable. What is chaotic and disorderly comes about because people at times have chosen to stand good on its head. I see the evil of suffering, and hatred as the tragic rejection and thus absence of orderliness, contentment and compassion. In fact, the inversion of all that is good.

I would like to suggest that the cause of chaos and disorder is not an evil power that some religions have sometimes, and mistakenly in my view, referred to as the Devil. Instead, an atmosphere of evil originates in the way humans sometimes have freely chosen to behave.

“It is human spiritual disorders like lust, vengeance, cruelty and oppression that incubate disease and misfortune.” (Bruce Henderson, Swedenborgian writer)

I happen to hold the view that disease and natural disasters are due to the negative side of this spiritual environment around us. Let us then all try to not feed its influence. We could instead turn towards the spirit of love. This is shown by the outpouring of service and kindness in the wake of disasters. Seeing others suffer can help us to be more sensitive and merciful.


We have the potential to be a vehicle for both good and evil. In very trying times, putting one’s hope in the Source of love is not easy. But we all have a part to play in turning back towards Love Itself and helping with its plan to bring happiness in the world.

Copyright 2019 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Sexual imagery – Too explicit these days?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

sexual imageryWhen it comes to discussing sexual imagery in the media, society as a whole tends to take polarised views. Emotive language is used by those on both sides of the debate – one side being labelled as narrow-minded, prudish and moralistic and the other as being decadent, indecent, and exhibitionist.

Attitude to explicit sexual imagery

Those with a more balanced perspective use more moderate language. They ask whether a relaxed attitude, towards public display of explicit sexual imagery, simply amounts to being liberal, open-minded and tolerant. But they also wonder if sexual explicitness is to do with a lack of spiritual awareness about the deeper significance of the sexual relationship. Are we pushing permissiveness too far?

Public sexual imagery has become more explicit

Whatever your view of the rights and wrongs of the situation, there is no doubt that sexual imagery is becoming increasingly overt in the western world. We have started to see the sale of sexually suggestive clothes for children. In Britain the television programmes that people have traditionally watched as family viewing, such as talent shows and soap operas, are starting to push the boundaries of acceptability by including more sexual imagery and suggestiveness.

The rapidly changing technological environment has its benefits in so many ways but has also made the seamier side of humanity inescapable. Sexual imagery  showing provocative dress and intimate contact are being used not only in the content of television programmes, music videos, websites, magazines and newspapers, but also by the commercial world through advertising and marketing.

Boundaries between sexual imagery and soft porn?

There has been a blurring of boundaries between ‘adult soft porn’ material and the mainstream. More television drama and movies depict sexual intercourse as entertainment

In a sense the exercise of sexual freedom means people can be more honest about who they really are; no longer forced to pretend to want to act in certain ways. Many are exercising freedom to express what they want.

Today, those who believe that human beings are sufficiently mature to be trusted with how to live their lives — the right to make choices, not necessarily the best ones — support permissiveness. Liberals support the right to choose because they believe that it is only through having to make choices that people gain the maturity that is needed to conduct their private and public affairs.

Effect on children of sexual imagery

Although there is currently insufficient evidence to prove conclusively there is harm to children caused by an openly sexualized society, the ‘Letting Children Be Children’ Report by the Mothers Union, points out that this does not mean that no harm exists.

According to their research nearly nine out of 10 parents surveyed agreed with the statement that ‘these days children are under pressure to grow up too quickly’ with the pressure to take part in a sexualized life before they are ready to do so being a major factor. Sadly, some parent contributors even felt that there is ‘no escape’ and, for children, no ‘clear space’ where they can simply be themselves. It would seem that many mass media editors are out of touch with concerns of parents.

Attitude to sexual imagery reflects one’s view of sexual relationship

People may ask:

  • Isn’t sex a basic drive that needs to be satisfied, just like hunger and thirst?
  • Isn’t sexual expression one of our inherent freedoms?
  • Isn’t sexuality a way of expressing our unique individuality

To answer yes to these questions may be correct but it is to miss the point, for it ignores the sense of purity, innocence, and decency with respect to a valued sexual partnership. And so how one views sex seems to go to the heart of the matter. Some would say that it is pleasurable experience that can be enjoyed in its own right. For others it is also a way of forging intimate connections. And yet others feel that it is delightful expression of love in a monogamous relationship perhaps leading to procreation.

For Swedenborg sexual union ideally mirrors what he termed ‘conjugial love’, an exclusive close relationship between a man and woman that enables love and wisdom to act together fully in their lives more so than either partner could achieve alone.  And so Swedenborg recommends sexual restraint, modesty and purity of thought.

A deep desire for the success of a one to one relationship means not wanting to hurt your partner by having sexual relationships outside the partnership. According to this view, sexual pleasure can increase alongside the growth of deeper happiness if we do not permit ourselves infidelity. Also if we avoid loose sexual conduct and smutty thoughts about someone. Likewise a Buddhist precept is to avoid sexual misconduct.

Most what I call ‘sexual disorder’ involves error of judgment, human shortcoming, going astray, acting contrary to Divine order, and failing to follow spiritual principles. I believe such behaviour is associated with ignorance, or self-interest and may result in skin-deep pleasure that cannot last.

Spiritual order in moderation and self-control

The argument is that living in spiritual order is being in a better position to receive heavenly influx. It enables people to experience the depth of joy and fulfillment. There is a parallel between order at an individual level and the degree of social order within a group or community. All people ideally need to live in external order.

Brian Kingslake a student of Swedenborg’s writings once wrote:

“The Epicureans in ancient Rome, who made the search for happiness their goal and were the experts on the subject, found that permissiveness was not the solution to their problem. If they over-ate, they got indigestion; if they over-drank, they got a headache, which were far from being happy states! And if they had too much sex, sex ceased to give them pleasure. Their conclusion was that moderation and self-control were necessary if you were to enjoy life to the full.”

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


Posted on21st June 2011CategoriesEthics, Private EthicsTags, ,, , , , , ,, , , , , , , ,, , , , , , , , , , , ,, , ,  Leave a comment