Anxiety And Depression In The Spiritual Life

Today we are going to be looking at anxiety and depression and how such states can be understood from a spiritual perspective in relation to the shifts and changes that a person’s sense of self undergoes as they engage in spiritual work. We need to emphasise that in dealing with this topic we are taking a perspective on anxiety and depression as it relates to states that arise from the ongoing work of self-examination and repentance and the impact this has on the structure of our sense of self. What we will be endeavouring to do is to provide an overview of the dynamic collective nature of the structure of the self as expounded in the doctrines for Spirituality Christianity, and it is hoped that this will provide a basis to help us to better understand the spiritual causes of states of anxiety and depression.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”…He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you…For he will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways…“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him…” (Psalm 91:1-16)

“’For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, for I myself will help you,’ declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14)

Before the natural man is joined to the spiritual, or the external man to the internal, he is left to consider whether he wants the strong desires that spring from self-love and love of the world, also such ideas as he has used to defend those desires, to be done away with, and whether he wants to surrender dominion to the spiritual or internal man. He is left to consider this so that he may choose in freedom what he pleases. When the natural man without the spiritual contemplates this possibility he rejects it; for he loves his strong evil desires for the reason that he loves himself and the world. Such a contemplation fills him with anxiety and he imagines that if those desires are done away with his life would be finished; for he locates everything in the natural or external man. Alternatively he imagines that after they have been done away with he will be left with no power of his own and that all his thought, will, and action will come to him through heaven, so that he will no longer have any responsibility for these. Once the natural man has been left to himself in this condition, he draws back and becomes resistant. But when some light flows from the Lord through heaven into his natural he starts to think differently. That is to say, he now prefers the spiritual man to have dominion, for then he is able to think what is true and to will what is good and so is able to enter heaven, which is not possible if the natural man has dominion. And when he considers that all the angels in the whole of heaven are like this and as a consequence experience joy defying description, he goes to war with the natural man and at length wishes to make the same subject to the spiritual. This is the condition into which someone who is to be regenerated is brought, so that he can in freedom turn where he wills; and insofar as he does in freedom turn in that direction he is being regenerated. (Arcana Coelestia 5650)

…the natural man is insane in spiritual things; for he is against them, and therefore embraces only natural, sensual, and corporeal delights. (Conjugial Love 4)4

The realisation that the proprium is insane is something few ever come to see, at least in this life. But if we observe it in the light of what truths teach, in those moments of lucidness that truths provide, the obviousness of this fact is there for anyone to see. Anxieties and depressions, that are directly linked to inner spiritual work, are psychological states that arise due to shifts or changes taking place in the structure of our sense of self. These shifts are the effect of truths doing their work to expose previously unconscious patterns of feeling and thinking that are detrimental to our overall spiritual well-being. For it is our investment in these patterns of feeling and thinking as our sense of self, that sees any challenge to them as an attack on our very identity. So, when truths are exposing the false beliefs on which our sense of identity stands, we often end up resisting them as something which is seeking to do us harm. This places us in a sense of self that is opposed to truths, and as a result, and to the degree that the perceived threat to our identity is felt to be real, we become susceptible to experiencing heightened levels of anxiety. We may even find ourselves in a real battle to maintain a sense of mental stability in what feels like a battle for our life. And should the states of fear and anxiety persist we may even find ourselves in a struggle against feelings of depression due to the rising hopelessness of ever finding our way clear of these unwanted states of mind.

A spiritual crisis is often a crisis of identity. Common terms used in the Word in for such states are temptations, desolations, and vastations. These terms point to what’s involved in separating a person’s sense of self from those things that can no longer support their spiritual life so that what can support their regeneration can be strengthened. When the self-image that we hold to is brought before the light of what truths teach, and a crisis in identity ensues, it is often because the process leads us to see that we are not who we thought we were. A strong sense of identity is integral to maintaining states of psychological stability through which we are able to experience a sense of well-being but contrary to popular belief, spiritual work is not about maintaining a sense of well-being. It is about acquiring a being that is well, in the sense of being whole. The point is that a “sense of well-being” isn’t necessarily an indication of being well, or whole, spiritually speaking. In Logopraxis work we are deliberately shining a light onto a self (the proprium) that is anything but whole, and the presence of that light creates disruption because it confronts us with the many contradictions that exist in what we take to be our self. We begin to come to see, through reflecting on our states of mind and life, that how we like to see ourselves is not supported by the feelings, thoughts, and behaviours we habitually engage in. Honest self-examination reveals that the vision of the self that Lord offers us through His Word is nothing like that self we have been living from for most of our life, and this can be extremely unsettling.

…all who come suddenly from self-life into any spiritual life are at first afraid, but their life is renewed by the Lord. This renewal is effected in this way that the Divine presence, and fear on account of it, are accommodated to reception. The Lord is present, indeed, with all in the universe, but more nearly or remotely according to the reception of good by means of truths with them from Him. For good is that in which the Lord is present with angel, spirit, and man; therefore the extent and quality of good from the Lord with them are what determine the extent and quality of His presence; if the presence goes beyond this, there is anguish and tremor; but by accommodation to reception there is renewal of life (Apocalypse Explained 80)

The Word makes it clear that no one exists as an independent self or has an existence apart from others. This can certainly be appreciated on the external plane of life if we care to reflect on just how much our sense of who we are is tied to our connection with others. This connection with others, as a basis for our identity, is even more true internally, on the level of our spirit. The picture that the Word offers us of what we take to be our “self” is of a being made up of countless other beings so interconnected that, when viewed from the highest perspective, appears as a one, collective human being. So the structure of the self on the level of our spirit is a multiplicity involving many spiritual beings each of which draws its sense of identity from its connections with every other spiritual being in the whole complex. The Word points out that our existence is so entwined with other spirits that should these connections be severed so that we stood alone, we would effectively cease to exist.

…the fact of the matter is that man, as regards his spirit, is joined to those outside of him in such a way that if he were deprived of that connection he would not remain alive for a single instant. This may also be recognized from the consideration that anything unconnected cannot possibly exist, and that anything unconnected perishes in an instant. (Arcana Coelestia 2556)

What hell’s opening is, meant by ‘the gate’ of this camp, must be stated briefly. Each hell is closed all the way around it, but it is opened above as necessity and need demand. It is an opening into the world of spirits, the world that lies midway between heaven and hell; for that world serves as the upper boundary of the hells and as the lower boundary of the heavens, 5852. The reason for saying that they are opened as necessity and need demand is that each person in the world has spirits present with him from hell, and angels from heaven. The spirits from hell are present in his bodily and worldly loves, and the angels from heaven in those which are celestial and spiritual; for without the spirits the person can have no life at all. If the spirits were taken away from him he would drop dead as a stone. Consequently to enable a person to lead a life in keeping with his loves the hells are opened of necessity and as need demands, and from there such spirits come out to him as are ruled by loves similar to his. (Arcana Coelestia 10483 {2})

Yet this interconnection with others as the basis for our life is not how it appears to us on this plane of life. We appear to exist as an independent autonomous self, that is in possession of its own life. Our felt-sense of life is that it is intrinsic to us. Yet we know that there is but one life and that that life is the Lord who alone has life in Himself. All others are in the appearance of having life in themselves for they receive their life from that one life. It is impossible for any finite being to receive the Infinite Divine Life into themselves directly and be a self-conscious being. The Divine Life has to be moderated if it is to be received so as to appear as our own thus giving rise to the experience of being a conscious being. The way this is achieved is through a series of accommodations by which the inflow of Divine Life is stepped down to our level or finited. It’s important to see however that the Lord’s life doesn’t undergo any change in itself whereby what is infinite somehow becomes finite, but that His life becomes as if it were finite in those receivers of His life who are finite. It is the inherent limitations found in the finite minds of angels, spirits, and people, that gives the appearance of a change in the quality of the Lord’s life and it is this that provides finite beings with the experience of having life in themselves.

Certain persons, who believed that they live from themselves, were let into the state of persuasion in which those are, who believe that they do not live from themselves, but that life flows into them from other spirits, thus, from the community [communi]. When they had come into this state, they said they could not thus live; and I perceived they were tormented with a certain anxiety. From which fact it may be concluded, that if a man, who believes that he lives from himself, and that his life does not flow into him, were to come into such a state, as to be persuaded that he does not live from himself, but from the Lord’s life; and that the Lord’s life flows into him through angels, and, at the same time, believed that he is governed by spirits, he could scarcely live, although he was scientifically or experimentally persuaded that it is so, as was the case with certain spirits; -in a word, his life would, in the highest degree, be anxious; wherefore, it is permitted that a man should think that his life is his own [inherent in himself] although it is a mere fallacy of the senses. – 1748, October 14. (Spiritual Diaries 3571)

Every spiritual being stands in relation to the Lord and each other according to its capacity to receive life or, what is the same thing, love and wisdom from the Lord. That capacity is determined by the form of the love a spirit or angel is as the love is the core organising principle which gives the specific form to each mind. The affections and thoughts that make up the conscious mental life of a spirit or angel corresponds to the quality of the love they are and it is the similarity or dissimilarity of these that organises how each individual mind is adjoined to other individual minds to give form to a collective shared sense of self. All minds or spirits are interconnected and so give form to whole communities of spirits who share in a common use or quality of affection. Thus all who share in a common use or affection affirm, and give expression to various forms of thought that are shared between everyone who shares in that collective self. While individuals in this spiritual network draw from this stream of mental activity what’s needed to support their individual mental life, it is still the case that no individual has a sense of self that isn’t a part of a collective self. For most of us living in the natural world, there is little direct awareness of the collective dynamic nature of our sense of self or of the inner spiritual connections by which our sense of self is communicated to us. Yet despite the appearance of an individual autonomous self, it is our spirit’s participation in these spiritual networks that actually impresses upon us our sense of who we are.

Our sense of self is thus derived from an incredibly complex network of countless spiritual communities organised into a single organic being that is in the human form. In fact, one of the remarkable insights the Word provides us with is the holographic nature of the human form when viewed from a spiritual perspective. Not only is the whole of the spiritual world a complete human form but so is every community and every individual who makes up those communities. This form is the Divine form itself, for it is the Divine life flowing into all things that serves as the supreme organising power that gives every part its form and joins each part to the whole. We can see from this that the structure of our sense of identity, as we experience it internally, is intermeshed with the identity of other spiritual beings of whom we are unconscious, and who, are as dependent on us for their sense of identity as we are on them. In other words, we can’t separate our sense of self from the sense of self of those we are in connection with without bringing about a major disruption to the integrity of the whole spiritual structure. Because of this, every spiritual being in the network works to ensure that the self they are identified with remains intact.

To see the implications of this we first have to understand that the other thing a “self” can’t be separated from, if it is to remain intact, are the specific patterns of habitual thoughts and affections that go into making it up. It is the presence of these familiar patterns of thought and affection that we experience as our mental life that helps to provide an experience of a self that is stable and continuous over time. We see then that the term “self” can be thought of as a container that holds together a specific arrangement of affections and thoughts in an organic form. If we drill down a little further we find that the patterns of affections and thoughts that give form to a self, depending on their overall quality, are made up of an arrangement of either goods and truths or evils and falsities. This is confirmed by the Word where we find that spiritual beings are in fact described as forms of goods and truths or evils and falsities and are, in a more abstract sense, the goods and truths or evils and falsities themselves.

For ‘desolate’, when used in reference to the Church within a person, means a deficiency of truth and good, thus also a deficiency of spiritual life since that life is provided by these. The implications of this, that there is a deficiency and little spiritual life if falsities and evils are removed hurriedly, are that when a person undergoes regeneration, which is accomplished by the implantation of spiritual truth and good, and at the same time by the removal of falsity and evil, the regeneration is not hurried but takes place slowly.

The reason for this is that all the things the person has thought, intended, or done since early childhood have entered into the composition of his life. They have also formed themselves into a network which is such that one cannot be moved without all of them together being moved. For a wicked person is an image of hell, and a good person is an image of heaven; and also the evils and falsities with a wicked person are interconnected in the same way as the communities of hell are with one another, of which that person is a part, while the forms of good and the truths with a good person are interconnected in the same way as heavenly communities are with one another, of which this person is a part. From this it is evident that the evils and falsities with a wicked person cannot be removed suddenly from where they are. They can be removed only in the measure that forms of good and truths in their proper order have been implanted more deeply within the person; for heaven with a person removes hell. If the removal were done suddenly the person would pass out, for the whole network of things, every single one, would be thrown into confusion and deprive him of his life. (Arcana Coelestia 9334{1&2})

We can now perhaps begin to see why the regeneration of the human mind has to be centred on the acquisition and application of truths to the life of the mind. The self or proprium is made up of patterns of affections and thoughts grounded in the loves of self and the world which have become established in us, as us. The regeneration of the human mind is a process in which our sense of self is gradually separated from its identification with evils and falsities belonging to the loves of self and the world and transplanted into what is good and true from the Word. In this way, we are given a new self or proprium that sees us grafted by the Lord or Word into the loves of heaven as the basis for our life. This process is carefully managed by the Lord so that our sense of self is maintained as something continuous throughout the transition. The transition is gradual, and it has to be, due to the fact that any change in any part of the structure of the mind on an individual level requires a readjustment across the whole on the collective level. This impacts on every spiritual being that is dependent on the integrity of the spiritual network for their sense of self and well-being. It is not just our sense of self that shifts when we are being regenerated. The impact of any shift in the structure of our affections and thoughts, due to the operation of truths from the Word working in our life, reverberates throughout that whole collective self leading to its reorganisation to accommodate the change.

All the affections of love in a person, and so all his perceptions of wisdom, are arranged in a most perfect order, so that together they form a harmonious and thus united whole. These affections and perceptions have substantial existence; for substances are their vessels. So, then, since the human form is composed of these constituents, it is plain that, if a love is attacked, the entire form, with each and all of the elements in it, is at once and at the same time attacked. Moreover, because all living things have implanted in them from creation a will to remain in their own form, the whole organism wills this on behalf of its single parts, and the single parts on behalf of the whole. Therefore, when a love is attacked, it defends itself through its intellect, and the intellect through rational and conjectural appraisals, by which it pictures to itself the outcome. Especially does it do so by such contemplations as are bound together with the love that is being attacked. If it did not do this, by the loss of that love the whole form would be upset.

So it is, then, that, to repel attacks, love hardens the substances of its form and erects them, so to speak, into crests, like so many bristles; that is to say, it stiffens itself. Such is the nature of love when provoked, which is called zeal. Accordingly, if it is not given a chance to resist, anxiety and anguish arise, because it foresees the destruction of its inner life and the delights accompanying it. On the other hand, if the love is placated and soothed, that form relaxes, softens and expands; and the substances of the form become soft, mild, gentle, and pleasant. (Conjugial Love 361{1&2})

So, from a Logopraxis perspective, we see that as soon as we begin to apply truths from the Word to examine the quality of the affections and thoughts arising in our awareness some level of internal disruption can be expected. The intentional practice of applying truths to the life of the mind, in the work of self-examination and repentance, immediately places stress on the established spiritual structure that gives form to the collective self. This, in turn, causes a reactive response from those who depend on the collective self for their identity as they seek to do whatever they can to reduce the threat to the integrity of the structure. Understandably levels of fear and anxiety are likely to increase within the collective self as the realisation dawns on those who make it up that they face the very real prospect of losing the basis for their life. On the natural plane of our awareness, a kind of transference may occur by which the fear and anxiety belonging to these spiritual associates get communicated through influx to us. In such cases, we may find ourselves experiencing feelings of anxiety and or depression that we can’t attribute to any obvious cause other than our work with truths from the Word. The temptation is to draw back from working with truths in the hope that this will return us to a more pleasant state of mind. But if we can see such states as a defensive strategy of the proprium to pressure us to withdraw from working with truths to examine our mental life, then perhaps we will be better equipped to navigate states of mental discomfort in order to see the process through to its end.

The reason why there was grief at first is that when truths are brought into association with natural good they give rise to grief initially since they weigh down the conscience and cause feelings of anxiety owing to the presence of cravings with which spiritual truth conflicts. But this initial grief lessens gradually and at length disappears. It is like the body, when feeble and ill, having to be restored to health by painful remedies. While in that condition it at first suffers pain and grief. (Arcana Coelestia 3471{2}).

And great fear fell upon them that saw them, signifies commotion of mind and consternation at Divine truths. “Fear” has various significations according to the thing which causes it; here “great fear” signifies commotion of mind, and consternation at Divine truths; for Divine truths have these effects with the evil, for they terrify them when at the same time they hear of hell and eternal damnation. (Apocalypse Revealed 511)

…All who are in evil and who have established themselves in falsities in opposition to the truths of the Church, especially those who have rejected the Word, flee from the light of heaven and take refuge in caves that appear at their openings to be densely dark, also in clefts of rocks, and there they hide themselves; and this because they have loved falsities and hated truths; for such caves and clefts of rocks, as well as darkness, correspond to falsities, as light corresponds to truths. It is their delight to dwell in such places, and undelightful to dwell in the open country. (Heaven and Hell 488)

So long as we remain identified with the proprial self as our self, there will be an active resistance to the implantation of truths into our life in which a new sense of self can be established. The false beliefs and evil delights we are identified with as our self have to be displaced first before a new identity (or proprium) can be built up grounded in the goods and truths which we have acquired from the Word. The difficulties we face on our side of this process is that it all mostly takes place on the unconscious level of the mind or spiritual world. Feelings of anxiety and depression that arise due to shifts and changes in the structure of the self aren’t generally accompanied with a clear sense of what’s happening to us. But we can be reassured that such states are to be expected when we are engaged in inner work, these being an outworking of our work with truths weakening our attachment to evils and falsities so that what is of the Lord and heaven can be firmly established in us as the basis for a new regenerated sense of self.

Major transitions in the spiritual life invariably involve states of chaos before there can be a reordering of our spiritual associations and a return to a relatively stable state. One of the benefits of having a better understanding of these kinds of processes is that it can help us to maintain some level of detachment from the negative states that arise in the process. We see that we shall be returned to a state of peace once the turmoil has passed and in the meantime, we can have confidence that the Word is well able to carry us through phases of disruption and the reordering of our identity.

Before anything is reduced into a state of order, it is most usual that things should be reduced into a confused mass, or chaos as it were, so that those which do not well cohere together may be separated, and when they are separated, then the Lord disposes them into order. This process may be compared with what takes place in nature, where all things in general and singly are first reduced to a confused mass, before being disposed into order. ( Arcana Coelestia 482{3})

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him. (Psalm 40:1-3)

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