Draws links between the psycho-spiritual teachings of the eighteenth century philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg and current ideas in therapy and psychology.
As a clinical psychologist Russell-Lacy has spent a lifetime helping to alleviate the distress and suffering of emotionally and psychologically disturbed individuals. Unusually, he draws in his work upon the psycho-spiritual insights and ideas of the religious philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, and in this book he relates these to the theory and practice of cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy.
The book is eminently practical and is divided into chapters concerned with many of the emotional problems that can and do afflict us. The author also offers an intriguing, spiritually based approach to solving such problems.
Everybody is in the same boat. We all have to face the challenge of the negative side of life. This may entail a feeling of unhappiness and a sense of being apart from other people and not really belonging.
It may mean worry and unease about things going wrong and for some people it may mean great suffering.
Alternatively, it may involve being puzzled about just being alive in the world. What is it all about then? Where do we come from and where are we going? In addition, perhaps more importantly, how do we deal with what life throws at us now?
Some of us learn from our anxiety, depression and anger and learn to deal with these emotional states. Others of us indulge them and allow our lives to be filled by them giving them the energy to harm us and others around us.
What follows is my own attempt – as a cognitive-behavioural therapist and a student of Swedenborg’s spiritual philosophy – to throw some light on how we can put these personal issues and emotional states into words and respond to them in a straightforward down-to-earth way.
It is about what ideas we can consider that might give us a more positive perspective on life, and what things we can do to help us cope better with our lives and relationships. I hope this book will suit those who are interested in finding new ways of seeing life or who want to think about the choices that are open to them.
To this end I have drawn on some practical notions in modern psychological therapy. Sometimes just describing a problematic situation or a self-defeating way of thinking or behaving can lead to seeing a possible solution.
More often however, whenever we spiral down in unhealthy thoughts, desires and actions, these all reinforce each other. Breaking the pattern requires much reflection and resolve.
Nevertheless, it is possible to change negative habits of thought that adversely affect us. Once we bring such attitudes out into the open, we can examine them in the light of day and challenge them if unrealistic, and look to making some real changes in our attitudes and behaviour in relationships.
Holistic Approach – Heart, Head and Hands
These days it is widely recognised that, in dealing with personal problems, we need to help the whole person. The mind, the body and the spirit are considered together rather than focussing on any one of these in isolation. For example, it is advisable to not only allow a tired body sufficient rest, but also to provide conditions be provided for a relaxed mind and time to be created for the reflection of the spirit. In other words, health-care, counselling and therapy professionals generally believe a holistic approach is necessary. This is the heart, head and hands of personal life - the emotional awareness of the heart, the ideas in the head, and the activity of the hands.
In what follows, I have linked some ideas in the fields of psychology and psychotherapy with those contained in the books of the eighteenth century visionary and spiritual philosopher, Emanuel Swedenborg
This book is aimed at all who wish to better understand how to tackle the personal issues in life with which we are all challenged and in particular those who might be favourably inclined towards Swedenborg because of what they have heard or read of him as theologian, philosopher, scientist, or medium. I feel that more people would want to be made aware of the relevance of his system of thought concerning human spirituality and how this relates to, and can profoundly benefit, our individual lives.
In this book I have endeavoured to couple my own interpretation of his psychospiritual writings with the modern psychology of personal well-being and individual development. Like many modern transpersonal psychologists I believe spiritual teachings deepen and enrich psychological ideas, and that the latter can help to put the flesh on the bones of the former.
A major point of interest is the topic of personal development - one that goes beyond a concern with simply the psychological well-being of the individual. So for example, this book looks at how we can deal with the anger, depression and anxiety that form part of milder emotional disorders in a way that can enhance our inner growth.
Correspondence of Inner and Outer
Swedenborg’s spiritual ideas have often been associated either with the paranormal or with religion and thus do not appear to fit in easily with the prevalent belief in Western culture that it is only the things that scientists can examine that can possibly provide the answers to our
questions about the world in which we live.
It is difficult enough to find scientific evidence for the clairvoyant claims of psychics let alone for the existence of God. It is much easier to research into what can be observed for example plant cells and rock formations.
On the other hand, spiritual teachers throughout history have encouraged us to focus more on the inner things of the heart and mind. In this way, the external problems of life should affect our inner life less negatively.
“He whose soul is not attached to external objects obtains the happiness that is in one’s self.”
(Krishna. Bhagavad-Gita, v, 21 – Hindu tradition)
“The wise man is concerned with inner things, he is not concerned with outer things.”
(Lao Tse. Tao Teb King, xii. – Taoist tradition)
In directing attention towards the inner life of the soul, Swedenborg talks of a correspondence that exists between inner and outer things.2 .
We recognise someone’s inner feeling by observing the outer expressions on their face. A smile, frown or glare is a physical change in the facial muscles that is a sign of the inner state of the person – unless he or she happens to be a skilled actor or a hypocrite! Likewise, a beckoning motion of the hands and arms can convey a welcoming attitude. A soothing or harsh tone of voice conveys kindness or anger.
We find it easier to speak explicitly about inner things in terms of outer ones. For example when we refer to vision, we mean understanding – as in `I see what you mean’, or `the light is dawning’. When we talk of the heart, we mean feeling – as in `hard-hearted’, `broken-hearted’.
As adults, we do not much use the language of our private inner world except perhaps in intimate disclosure with a close friend or when talking with our therapist or when discussing a novel. At other times such matters may enter dialogue only tangentially as we focus on the practical aspects of earning a living, getting on with other people and managing our financial and domestic life.
Although psychologists are interested in how we talk about the physical things we see in the world about us, they also study non-literal aspects of language where things referred to are not as they seem; where the full meaning cannot be comprehended from the literal sense.
Young children are known to take a literal view of things, not understanding the frequent metaphor and irony used by adults. Sarcasm is another example of a linguistic form that requires our re-interpretation as in `That was a brilliant thing to do’, said of an obviously stupid action.
Another example is hyperbole, as when we say `There are millions of people in our office’ suggesting there are many people we have to get along with at work but clearly not millions. In line with this work is the study of the way people speak using one word or phrase to represent another.
Metaphors have been called `double-aspect’ terms 3 because they have connected meanings in both the material and the inner personal domains. To illustrate, we apply the word `strength’ both to physical strength and to strength of character. The world of nature can be seen to reflect the mind’s inner appreciation of life. For example:
· Flowers echo the tender loving thoughts that are so beautiful while they last.
· A storm with torrential rain and hail reflects what is fierce and cruel.
We can learn much about the human spirit by watching what nature is teaching us.
“As above, so below; as below, so above”
(Sayings of the medieval alchemists)
Swedenborg has not as yet been widely recognised as an important source of psychological ideas. One reason is probably because his books were published in the 18th century in Latin and even in modern English translation they are not easily readable.
Yet I believe they contain many startling thoughts regarding a dimension to life that often we miss, being caught up, as we are, in so many of the illusory appearances of the world around us.
One example concerns the way our dreams express unconscious creative and destructive impulses that inwardly motivate us. He wrote about this over a hundred years before Sigmund Freud who, in exploring the symbolism of dreams, declared that dreams are the “the royal road to the unconscious.”
For me, Swedenborg’s writings often have a distinctly practical psychological stance. This may sound surprising to those who know him more as an intellectual writer. However, this practicality is the case in so far as he deals with a psycho-spiritual dimension to life.
For he is concerned not only with the inclinations of human nature, and the factors that motivate us but also with such subjects as individual personal growth, the inner aspects of the sexual relationship, human rationality and inner liberty. I hope this introduction to some of his ideas will suggest their relevance to the topics covered as well as to their application to our individual mental health and well-being.
In most chapters, I have tried to provide material from the field of cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy. This type of psychotherapy focuses on the teaching of how to examine, challenge, and replace those self-defeating habits of thought and behaviour that maintain an individual’s emotional or relationship problems.
I then attempt to also link psycho-spiritual teachings gleaned from Swedenborg with each topic; the final chapter drawing his ideas together.
When I started to write this book I thought I was writing about things from the human perspective. It was to be more a book of psychology than theology. I know many people have been put off religion and so I wanted to show the relevance of the spiritual to the personal side of our lives.
However, I discovered it was near nigh impossible for me not to give lot of mention to the divine creative source. Try as I might, I just could not leave out God from the picture. Perhaps this should not have surprised me but it did. I suppose the result reflects on my own basic faith and convictions and someone with a different background would have produced a different emphasis.
At the end of the book, there is a section of Chapter Notes containing suggested further reading relevant to each chapter. For example, in the chapter notes for this Introduction, I have listed a number of biographies for those readers who might be interested in the many facetted life of Swedenborg the man.
NEW PUBLICATION Heart, Head and Hands
Reviewed by Brian O’Neill, co-director of the Illawarra Gestalt Centre, Wollongong, and a Counsellor with Relationships Australia. I approached this book with some misgivings I must admit, as the author is described as a cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist who has trained as a clinical psychologist. The exciting juxtaposition though, which intrigued and interested me, was that this was also a book related to Swedenborg and that Stephen is also a tutor at the Swedenborg Open Learning Centre in Manchester.
While I have taught behaviour therapy and cognitive behaviour therapy at university myself, I had found it somewhat overly reductionist in its orientation and not overly open to a wider holistic perspective, particularly to the extension of spirituality in general and Swedenborg in particular.
I need not have worried about that with this book being thoroughly open minded and holistic. It includes all the major therapies within the discussions of the various chapters and the author demonstrates a wide understanding of the various approaches to psychotherapy and schools of psychology, as well as a range of religions and spiritual disciplines. He also effortlessly integrates these with the writings of Swedenborg in a way that is enjoyable and practical. Far from being a narrow approach to life and spirituality this is a remarkable book in its ability to cover so much territory in such a short space of time.
The book is also by no means for the narrow academic audience and while it is written with an erudite and knowledgeable style, the author tackles a range of real life issues in a direct and matter of fact way. The topics range from love and sex; being acceptable, gaining self control and finding forgiveness; through to working with anger, our flaws, learning to trust; and then for good measure attends to such issues as dealing with death, surviving a catastrophe, and even coming to terms with Voices. Then for good measure he presents material on shaking off unhappy moods, reacting to wrong doers and overcoming obsessions. And if that isn’t enough, there’s more! He finishes by considering how to discover confidence, live through crisis and receive hope through despair.
If this seems encyclopaedic don’t be too concerned. Many of these chapters are short and brief. Some are only three pages long and the average is probably 6-7 pages. Yet in the brevity of each chapter he covers a surprising range of territory and in a very practical way. He is clear on discriminating between what he believes, what he recommends and what is more scientific opinion and Swedenborgian perspective, so that one is aware of our choice between what the author believes himself as compared to what is recommended as a professional. This is refreshing and makes the book easy to read.
Are there drawbacks to the book? The only one apparent to me are that some of the chapters are rather brief for the topic concerned and so this may be less than expected for the reader who might like a more thorough coverage of some of the issues at a more in-depth level. However for those who do require this there are admirable chapter notes with references which link the reader to further resources and more in depth reading, if required. This does not take away from the range and scope of the book for while the author may deal succinctly with each issue in each chapter, he obviously has read wide and far himself and is able to distil this knowledge and understanding into a very readable and useful collection of ideas and comments.
I would suggest an alternative use of this book, rather than that of an extensive scoping of each topic. It strikes me that, with the relative brevity of each chapter, it would be perfect for those who like to dip into a book each day and find thoughts and considerations for that day. Each chapter is complete in itself allowing the reader to seek out topics at will and of interest. It is thus the sort of book which we can pick up for help in troubled times and find answers to these troubles that are both sound in psychology and spirituality. It is also a good book for those who like a daily meditation or contemplation around relevant life issues – offering a sense of how to turn the theory presented into practical exercises for the “hands” as well as the heart and head. The book presents ideas which might help us gain a more positive perspective on life and relationships, with some new ways of seeing life and the choices open to us.
So I thoroughly recommend this book, whether you are a lay person, a person interested in psychology or spirituality or all these together. There is, I guarantee, something in this book for everyone – as the author says at the beginning – “Everybody is in the same boat”.
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