Insights Into States of Anxiety And Depression In The Spiritual Life

Below you will find relevant quotes on the topic of anxiety and depression from the doctrines for Spiritual Christianity, along with some reflections offered .

…a person who would live in peace must be in a passive state, not ever in an active one [see 620] except by reaction and responsive action, which likewise come from the Lord, so that the state is still a passive one, resistant or compliant. Such is the state of the angels, who live in peace, while the rest, believing they govern themselves, are continually being disquieted. For they lead themselves into various desires, thus into anxiety; and even though they are [really] being aroused by others, and in fact by very many, nevertheless each and all believe that the [evil aroused in them] is their own, or from themselves. This is why it remains with them, and takes root as something pertaining to or proper to themselves, something their own, and so also it is accounted to them. (Spiritual Diary 635)

Here we are given insight into how our state of belief about our life can foster a sense of peace or anxiety. Peace, where it aligns with what truths teach and anxiety, when opposed to this. Those who remain in a “passive” state of mind are those who find themselves at peace, whereas those who are in an “active” state of mind are subject to anxieties. By “passive” is understood a state of acknowledgement that the ability to comply with, or resist, what’s presenting in our awareness is to be done “as if of self” all the while recognising that this ability is from the Lord and is in fact, the Lord working in us, in contrast to an “active” state which is to believe that we have life in our self. This latter state is to act from what is our own or proprium.  The reason this state is prone to anxiety is due to believing the appearance/feeling that life is sourced in ourselves, to be true. This belief is false of course, and because it is fallacious, it opens the door to many other false beliefs, both conscious and unconscious, that produce fears which drive us to do everything in our power to preserve our ownership over our sense of life. These fears demand that we live in states of denial and avoidance of the truth – that what we feel as our life inflows from the source of life itself, this being the Lord. The fear that we can lose our life opens the way for the inflow of hellish influences and associations that can’t but produce states of anxiety and depression. It is the presence of the Lord alone that brings peace, for He is peace itself. That presence can only be something real for a person when they believe in, and live from, what the Word says is true rather than from what their senses say is true.

I have also been permitted to know the source of human anxiety, grief of mind (animus), and interior sadness, which is called melancholy. There are spirits not as yet in conjunction with hell, because they are in their first state; these will be described in the following pages where the world of spirits is dealt with. These spirits love things undigested and unprofitable, such as pertain to food becoming foul in the stomach. Consequently, they are present where such things are with man, because they find delight in them; and they talk there with one another from their own evil affection. The affection that is in their speech inflows from this source with man; and when this affection is the opposite of man’s affection it becomes in him sadness and melancholy anxiety; but when it is in agreement it becomes in him gladness and cheerfulness. These spirits appear near to the stomach, some to the left and some to the right of it, and some beneath and some above, also nearer and more remote, thus variously in accordance with the affections in which they are. That this is the source of anxiety of mind has been shown and proved to me by much experience. I have seen these spirits, I have heard them, I have felt the anxieties arising from them, I have talked with them; when they have been driven away the anxiety ceased; when they returned the anxiety returned; and I have noted the increase and decrease of it according to their approach and removal. (Heaven and Hell 29)

In this remarkable number, we are given a vivid image of the source of human anxiety, grief of mind, and interior sadness, which is called melancholy. There are, we are told, spirits of questionable character who, being in the first stage of preparation, have yet to be integrated into the societies of hell to which their life inclines. Being in the World of Spirits, between Heaven and Hell where all who live on the natural plane of life dwell even now as to their own spirit, they are able to exert an influence and affect those who live in the world with melancholy (anxiety and depression). They love and therefore gravitate towards things undigested and unprofitable, such as food becoming foul in the stomach. This is speaking of course in the imagery of correspondences. The principle involved is that things undigested become foul due to not being processed in a way where they can serve a useful function, thus they are described as unprofitable. The mental stomach in which the spiritual food of ideas and experiences are stored is the memory (see the work Divine Providence 233.8).

The memory serves to preserve things in a rudimentary form so that they can be accessed as food for the spiritual body. For this mental food to be processed it first must be selected and lifted from the memory by means of the understanding where it is broken down and processed, so that what is useful to the spirit can be absorbed, while what is unprofitable can be expelled.  What is useful and what is unprofitable is determined by what agrees or disagrees with the affectional inclinations and thoughts a person’s sense of self is in. The implication of the number above is that there are things that enter the memory that should be processed but are not and therefore remain undigested and so become foul. They then attract those spirits (feelings and thoughts) who find their delight in such things, and that when these spirits commune together they affect (note: spirits as affections and thoughts affect those within their sphere of influence) the person’s state of mind. It is the level of similarity or dissimilarity a person’s state of life has with that of the spirits attracted to these unprocessed things that will determine whether what is experienced is a sense of joy and delight, or of anxiety and depression.

By way of illustration connected to spiritual work consider the following scenario…

We suffer some form of emotional trauma which deeply affects us and enters our memory. This evokes a whole range of conflicting emotional responses and thoughts, we find ourselves replaying the memory of the event and running various scenarios of what we should have done and what we’ll do next time we come into contact with the people involved. We’ve been hurt and find ourselves seeking to justify the way we are feeling, of talking to people to elicit their support so that we can have the injustice we feel affirmed. We are often swamped with emotions related to the event to the point that we relive the situation all over again. Yet despite all this we know deep down that the emotionally driven responses arising out of our hurt are not going to help us move through and resolve the trauma. We somehow need to be able to access higher spiritual principles and truths and have these brought to bear on what presenting for us. As difficult as this may be, an effort must be made to lift the memory of this into the understanding in the light of a higher spiritual perspective offered from the Word, for this is the only way that the trauma processed and be resolved. By bringing spiritual principles to bear on the situation then what is useful in the light of spiritual ends can be extracted and what is unprofitable be discarded. The alternative is to leave the memory unprocessed where it remains an open wound that feeds negative spiritual associations which impact negatively our quality of life.

…when spirits speak to each other about a matter delightful to the man, or which favors his loves, the man is joyful, glad, and in a state of delight; likewise, that when they speak of such things as are adverse to his loves, he is in undelightfulness and sadness: hence comes melancholy. For instance, when they are with the avaricious and those who are fearful for the future, and speak to each other about the loss of wealth and of such things as relate to its loss, and about the state in the future, the man becomes anxious. These appeared about the stomach in the abdominal region. Anxiety is from this source…I also observed, that heaven inflows into the internal in a similar way, and that as the angels speak to each other, so the man is affected. Angels do not speak anything else than those things which are of wisdom, faith and love, and of happiness therefrom: these interiorly affect the man who is in them. It is hence manifest, that, so far as the external man acts as one with the internal, so far the man can be led by the Lord; for through the internal, the infesting things and evils which are introduced by evil spirits are dispersed – removed as hell is by heaven: it is otherwise if the external and internal man are not conjoined. I also observed that it is inevitable that the internal man should be closed with those who are in evil or in the delight of evil, because nothing of joy and of delight can be received out of heaven, for there is not any reception: in fact, so far as the angels operate, so far is such a one sensible of sadness and distress; for [angels] operate such things as are contrary to the loves of self and of the world. Hence it was also evident to me how the Lord reduces the external man to subordination to the internal, so that they act as one, and that this takes place through the whole life of man: consequently, how the regeneration of man occurs, and that it happens in countless ways. It was also observed, that, so far as man acts from proprium, that is, without the living faith that all good is from the Lord, what is from the Lord is not able to flow in, nor anything be arranged into order in the external man. Proprium is that which is contrary to the Divine: it appears also as black, not receptive of anything out of heaven. (Spiritual Diary 5778)

This number expands a little further on the previous number and offers a few additional points related to the causal factors involved in anxiety and depression. We see that in contrast to unresolved emotional trauma there are more subtle influences that give rise to mental or spiritual states of melancholy that have to do with the influx of affections and thoughts from spirits in the spiritual world which are opposed to those things a person finds the delight of their life in. Anything of a heavenly origin that impinges on the delights of the loves of self and the world may give rise to feelings of anxiety and sadness, where our sense of self is invested in the delights those loves provide. The opposite of this is also true. Aspects of our life that are disordered, in which we are in a state of resisting prompts from our understanding of what truths teach, creates a form cognitive dissonance linked to some aspect of conscience and thus can also give rise to feelings of anxiety and depression. Such states are part of the processes involved in the regeneration of the human mind and can be expected as the Lord by means of His Word seeks to bring the external mind into subordination to the internal mind. Just as pain in the body is how our attention is drawn to something that needs attending to, so the mental distress of anxious and depressed states in the spiritual life can serve to bring our attention to something in the life of our spirit that needs attending to, if the external mind is to be further organised to more closely reflect a heavenly form.

And Jacob was exceedingly afraid, and was distressed’ means the state when it is being changed. This is clear from the fact that fear and distress are the first stage in temptations, and that they are precursors to the turning round or the change taking place within a state. The arcana which lie deeper still within these details – that is to say, Esau’s coming to meet Jacob with four hundred men, and Jacob’s consequent fear and distress – cannot be explained easily and intelligibly since they are rather more internal ones. Let just this one be brought forward here. When good takes up the first position and subordinates truths to itself, as happens when a person undergoes spiritual temptations, the good which flows in from the interior is accompanied by very many truths which have been stored away in the person’s interior man. Those truths cannot come into focus and be seen by him until good is playing the leading role, for when this happens the natural starts to receive light from good, and it is apparent to him which things in the natural agree and which ones do not. And this is what gives rise to the fear and distress that are the precursors to spiritual temptation. For spiritual temptation acts upon the conscience, which is an attribute of the interior man, and therefore when entering such temptation a person does not know the origin of his fear and distress. But the angels present with him know it full well. Indeed temptation has its origin in angels’ maintenance of the person in goods and truths, while evil spirits maintain him in evils and falsities.

[2] The things that occur among the spirits and angels present with a person are perceived by him purely as things going on within himself. For while he lives in the body and does not believe that everything within him flows in from somewhere other than himself, he imagines that the causes of the things that go on within him do not lie outside himself but that all causes lie within him and are his own – which is not in fact the case. For whatever a person thinks and what he wills, that is, all his thought and all his affection, originate either in hell or in heaven. When he thinks and wills anything evil and as a consequence takes delight in falsities, let him realize that his thoughts and affections originate in hell; but when he thinks and wills anything good and as a consequence takes delight in truths, let him realize that these originate in heaven, that is, in the Lord by way of heaven. But the person’s thoughts and affections more often than not take on a different outward appearance. A conflict between evil spirits and angels, for example, arising from the things in one who is to be regenerated, takes on the different outward appearance of fear and distress, and of temptation.

[3] These matters are bound to seem paradoxes to man, for almost every member of the Church at the present day believes that all the truth he thinks, and the good he wills and does, originate in himself, even though he says something other than that when speaking from doctrine taught by faith. Indeed his nature is such that if anyone told him that spirits from hell exist who flow into his thought and will when he thinks and wills anything evil, and angels from heaven when he thinks and wills anything good, he would be dumbfounded at anyone putting forward such an idea, for he would say that he can feel the life within himself and that he thinks from himself and wills from himself. His belief is based on that feeling and not on what doctrine teaches. Yet that doctrine is true and such feeling deceptive. This I have been allowed to know from almost uninterrupted experience lasting several years now, and to know it in such a way as to leave me in no doubt whatsoever. (Arcana Coelestia 4249)

This number provides insights into what’s going on, on the deeper, unconscious, levels of the mind that manifest in a person as feelings of fear and anxiety.  We see that the anxiety associated with spiritual temptations and struggles involve a conflict between angels and evil spirits and that it is this that gives rise to what is often experienced as generalise states of anxiety arising within “oneself.”


The following insights arising from working with this number were offered by a Logopractitioner to their group, they are provided here with permission…

“ ‘And Jacob was exceedingly afraid, and was distressed’ means the state when it is being changed. This is clear from the fact that fear and distress are the first stage in temptations, and they are the precursors to the turning round or the change taking place within a state…..and it is apparent to him which things in the natural agree and which ones do not…..

The things that occur among the spirits and angels present with a person are perceived by him purely as things going on within himself…. which is not, in fact, the case…… all his thoughts and affections, originate either in hell or heaven.”

This passage brought an existence altering experience.

I had come to grips with long-term anxiety in myself as a chemical expression that was not wished on me, and I was not responsible for. Logopraxis was the place that I began to name anxiety in its spiritual sense, as a dysfunction resulting from avoidance of God’s truth- a mistrust of Divine Providence. I hold fast in the chemical component of its nature. Anxiety to me was just a natural condition as the result of living in the natural world. I didn’t think it was necessarily my fault that I suffered from anxiety, just that it was my job to accept it, and push through as best I could, and learn where I could.

That belief has been the cornerstone of my work for a long time. I read the passage I quoted at the beginning here, and it was like my reality was split in two, by the idea that anxiety and fear are necessities in temptation, and regardless of their origin ( chemical or spiritual ) they are experiences of the state of temptation. I was so attached to the idea that anxiety was a chemical experience, just contained in me, that I never saw until now that the anxiety could be a permission to allow me to experience temptations.

In the text, we worked with Laban recently, and we delved into the idea of mediate good. A lot of my group discussed mediate good, as something they struggled to identify. I see now that my belief about anxiety as my own, contained in me as a chemical experience, was a mediate good, a belief I could cling to while I weathered the experiences of the years until the Lord could find enough purchase to introduce something cleaner and clearer.

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