We hear of thousands of ordinary people who have lost their lives or been severely traumatised by civil war, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, invasion, slavery and so on. Where is the meaning of life in this innocent suffering? If humankind has a humane spirit of care, generosity and goodwill that respects the rights of others, where does social coercion and violent aggression come from? If there is an all-powerful divine force within the universe, why are tyrants and suicide bombers allowed to cause such misery?
Similar questions arise in connection with natural events. Some people in the world, through no fault of their own, have experienced devastating earthquake, like the one in Haiti, not to mention volcanic eruption, tsunami, hurricane, flood, or famine. These events can result in much suffering and many casualties. And then there is disease. Which of us, during the course of our lives, will have to endure serious injury, congenital disability, or progressive, mental or terminal illness?
The creator seems careless about creation. If there is a perfect force that made the natural world, why are there imperfections in nature?
Pretend to yourself that around you is a white sandy beach. It is early in the morning and you can see the sun rising slowly. You just about notice its warm rays. You are feeling comfortable and pleased. You can feel a gently breeze stroke your face. As the boat drifts it rocks gently in … Continue reading How can I find stillness?
Many people sense that there is a deeper aspect of reality. A spiritual force behind the universe. To my mind this divine level of what is real is pure love and the source of all that explains the meaning of life. It is wisely working away in our hearts and minds. This is the infinite and eternal God of religion, beyond gender, beyond the bounds of space and time, and beyond our full comprehension.
According to much western world religion, this mighty spiritual force is manifest as the Christ within the human soul who inspires our feelings and thoughts with his altruistic love and higher intelligence. A new way of expressing this is as follows. We are an image of Christ’s divine humanity who like us has heart, head and hands – although in his case it is a heart of compassion, a head of wisdom and hands of power.
Some people are just harder to get on with than others. Obvious examples are those who are highly strung, aggressive or manipulative. They may need spiritual healing, but what do we need? What is the secret to avoiding unpleasant scenes with people who cause us a bit of grief from time to time? To better deal with the awkward mob?
A clue can be found in the study of social perception. Research psychologist Daniel T. Gilbert, University of Texas at Austin has pointed out:
“We may strive to see others as they really are, but all too often the charlatan wins our praise and the altruist our scorn. Juries misjudge defendants, voters misjudge candidates, lovers misjudge each other.”
Social psychologists have researched the way we see others in terms of attribution theory. This is studying how people make inferences about the causes of a person’s actions. One thing they have observed is how our expectations about how other people will behave can distort our interpretations. We may assume that the little old lady who bumps into us at the supermarket is someone with unintended poor balance whereas the tattooed hooded youth might be thought to be trying to pick our pockets. Mistaken perception can thus arise from social stereotypes, such as race, sex and age.
When I was considerably younger than I am today, I used to think I was lucky; fortunate not to often get het up, upset or worried like individuals I noticed around me. Then I met the real world – the demanding boss, the troublesome colleague, the awkward neighbour – and I realised I could get as emotional as the next person. I do feel irritated when things go wrong; I do get angry when people are inconsiderate; I do find myself nervous in unfamiliar social situations.
We get so immersed in the hectic daily round that we forget those past occasions – perhaps infrequent and brief ones – when we actually felt content with life, and there was a sense of inner peace; when the meaning of life seemed clear. Only when we concentrate hard do we vaguely recall having had that state of mind – when the stress of everyday life was forgotten, when we were becalmed in what had been a stormy sea, and when we sensed a harmony with everything around.
It’s never too late to change – or so my mother used to tell me. But I need spiritual healing as sometimes I feel I’ve missed the boat. Others have said the same thing. The more we indulge our weaknesses, the more our flaws seem to take hold; and the more we avoid those difficult challenges, the more dissatisfied with ourselves we become – and wonder whether ingrained personal habits can ever be broken.
Some of us may realise that we’ve stopped moving along our path in life. For the warning signs have appeared – a medical complaint caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, a developing coldness due to the neglect of one’s close friends, a loss of interest and energy for something we should be doing that we know deep down is important.
Not moving along life’s path is literally true for me. In my case it is a canal tow-path near my home which I should be using for much needed daily exercise. They say, ‘A healthy mind needs a healthy body’, but mine is getting to be no longer ‘fit for purpose,’ sadly through a long time of overindulgence. Sometimes I think I’m just naturally lazy and so have been quick to forget about the problem. And when I’m shaken out of my complacency, I only make an effort in stops and starts.