Monday, January 31, 2011

Generic spirituality (part four) – altruistic service

So far in this series we have covered two of the three basic principles of generic spiritual practice – introspection and contemplation. In this fourth and final part, we will discuss what is held by many on this planet to be the real purpose of all spiritual practice – altruistic service.

There are, of course, many avenues of approach when it comes to altruistic service. It would not be possible to cover them all in an article of this scope. I will therefore focus primarily on the altruism of helping others to improve the quality of their personal experience of life, especially within the context of recovering from the devastation – of body, mind, and soul – that occurs in an addiction.

The generic spirituality practiced in Alcoholics Anonymous is the starting point for this series and altruistic service is where it all comes together in 12 Step practice. Especially known for its concept of service to others, the basis for the phenomenal growth and effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous lies in its 12th Step:
“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 106)
The ‘spiritual awakening’ that comes as the result of working through the Steps of A.A.’s program is described as “… a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being” in which the individual has become “… able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone.” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp. 106-107)
The same source further explains:
“The joy of living is the theme of A.A.'s Twelfth Step, and action is its key word. Here we turn outward toward our fellow alcoholics who are still in distress. Here we experience the kind of giving that asks no rewards. Here we begin to practice all Twelve Steps of the program in our daily lives so that we and those about us may find emotional sobriety. When the Twelfth Step is seen in its full implication, it is really talking about the kind of love that has no price tag on it.” (ibid.)
It is a simple matter to establish at least part of Bill Wilson’s source of this idea of selflessness in service to others. The teaching of Jesus of Nazareth drawn from the gospel of Matthew (Matt. 10:8) is directly on display in the text of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:
“This is Twelfth Step work in the very best sense of the word. "Freely ye have received; freely give..." is the core of this part of Step Twelve.” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 110)
In spite of the author’s best efforts to sanitize his A.A. writings of religious and philosophical dogma that would tend to repel alcoholics, Bill’s own Christian background can occasionally be seen in both A.A.’s Big Book and its Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. This is to be expected. We all bring some remnant of our personal traditional background with us as we move through life. And yet, as Bill himself wrote in the 'Big Book' pointing out that A.A. members are supposed to be "non-denominational":
"As non-denominational people, we cannot make up others' minds for them. Each individual should consult his own conscience." (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 131)
Experienced A.A. members report that the most powerful tool for keeping and maintaining their own sobriety is the act of helping others to get and keep theirs. This occurs primarily, but not exclusively, between a ‘sponsor’ and ‘sponsee’. Whether the ‘sponsee’ stays sober or not, the sponsor is usually rewarded with a continuance of his or her own sobriety. Referred to as a ‘divine paradox’ in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (wherein selfless giving becomes receiving), this experience was capitalized on by the early members of A.A. and it continues today.
“Even the newest of newcomers finds undreamed rewards as he tries to help his brother alcoholic, the one who is even blinder than he. This is indeed the kind of giving that actually demands nothing. He does not expect his brother sufferer to pay him, or even to love him. And then he discovers that by the divine paradox of this kind of giving he has found his own reward, whether his brother has yet received anything or not.” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 110, italics added)
The unwritten A.A. maxim version of this is:
"You have to give it away to keep it." (heard in an open A.A. meeting)
Of course, altruistically helping others to achieve and enjoy recovery is not limited strictly to members of 12 Step fellowships. Anyone can help – either formally or informally. One slightly more formal, yet non-clinical example of this type of altruism is the ‘Recovery Coach’.

Primarily grassroots non-profit organizations have training programs whereby interested individuals may be trained in the skills necessary to aid people new in recovery to improve the quality of their lives in a systematic way. One local example would be The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania formerly known as ‘The Bucks County Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency’. Following an established ‘recovery plan’ outline, recovery coaches at 'The Council' help by guiding the person new to recovery to establish and achieve improvement goals in a number of areas of life. The ‘Council’ identifies nine such areas of life in which improvements can be made:
  1. Recovery from Substance Use or Abuse
  2. Employment and/or Financial Independence
  3. Career and/or Education
  4. Relationships and Social Support
  5. Medical Health
  6. Leisure and Recreation
  7. Independence from Legal Problems and Institutions
  8. Mental Wellness and Spirituality
  9. Other
Working together in these areas, the recovery coach and the 'recoveree' envision goals, identify obstacles, research solutions, and lay out plans of action for the recoveree to follow. If a given 'obstacle' is beyond the capacity of the recovery coach/recoveree team to handle, the recoveree is referred to a qualified professional for further assistance. This work is intended to help undo the unmanageable quality that active addiction to alcohol and/or other substances creates in the life of the addict. The end result is hopefully the transformation of an often completely dysfunctional human being into a once more useful and productive member of society.

If you would like to be trained as a volunteer recovery coach for The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania Inc, please contact them at this link.

The power of what A.A.'s co-founder Bill W. called the 'divine paradox' is significant, unquestionable, and best when applied generically - that is, non-denominationally. But where does this power come from?

Spiritual advocates of altruistic service

An acknowledgement of the interdependent nature of all things is inherent in a comprehensive understanding of systems theories - of whatever description. In teaching interdependence, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh uses a blank sheet of paper and asks the audience to look deeply into the piece of paper. He tells them that the piece of paper is made entirely of 'non-paper elements' and asks them to see in the piece of paper the tree, the water, the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the logger, the logger's grandpa... etc. etc. He asks them to see all the non-paper elements without which the piece of paper as it is could not exist. He makes the point that everything is like the piece of paper - interdependent.

Interdependence amounts to a connection of all things with everything else. Doing good, mindful, helpful things to other people, places, or things makes a person a more valuable asset to the interdependent system of which he or she is a part. This creates an increase of positive energy flow in the spiritual economy.

One of the great examples of altruistic service in modern times was that of Mother Teresa. Her work embodied the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth who is cited in the gospel of Matthew:
“Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Indeed, Mother Teresa herself made this point:
“There is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of the work. This is where the respect and the love and the devotion come in - that we do it to God, to Christ, and that's why we try to do it as beautifully as possible.” (Mother Teresa)
"Every day I see Jesus in all his distressing disguises." (Mother Teresa)

It seems that service or usefulness is somehow built into the very fabric of the Universe. A race of beings which, in principle, did nothing of service could probably not survive the onslaught of evolutionary processes. A similar sentiment can be found in the writings of the 18th century mystic and revelator Emanuel Swedenborg whose entire theological thought system revolves around the concept of useful endeavor:
“We are not born for our own sake; we are born for the sake of others. That is, we are not born to live for ourselves alone; we are born to live for others. Otherwise society would not be cohesive and there would be no good in it.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, True Christianity 406)
“God loves every one of us but cannot directly benefit us; he can benefit us only indirectly through each other. For this reason he inspires us with his love.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, True Christianity 457:3)
 “… the Lord performs uses to people through people….” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Apocalypse Explained 1226:6)

“Heaven consists in this, that from the heart we wish better for others than for ourselves, and desire to be of service to others in order to promote their happiness, and this for no selfish end, but from love.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Heavenly Secrets 452)

“The essence of spiritual love is doing good to others, not for the sake of self but for the sake of others; infinitely more is this the essence of Divine Love." (Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom 335)

In the above citations you can see the importance Swedenborg's revelations place on selflessness in one's motivation. One of the more remarkable passages from Swedenborg along these lines is the one that follows. In it Swedenborg is describing the dynamics of the doing of good to others by angels in the spiritual world. Notice that as soon as the actions of the angel become tainted with self the influx (or spiritual energy flow) is dissipated.
“When an angel does good to anyone, he also communicates to him his own good, good fortune, and bliss, and this with the desire to give the other everything, and to retain nothing. When he is in such communication, then good flows in unto him together with good fortune and bliss much more than he gives, and this with continual increase. But as soon as the thought occurs that he desires to communicate what he has for the sake of obtaining in himself this influx of good fortune and bliss, the influx is dissipated; and still more so if any thought comes in of recompense from him to whom he communicates his good. This it has been given me to know from much experience; and from this also it may be seen that the Lord is in every single thing, for the Lord is such that He wills to give Himself to all, and hence good fortune and bliss are increased with those who are images and likenesses of Him.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Heavenly Secrets 6478)
So, the really high octane spiritual energy only flows when selfishness is eliminated from the giving which is the same as saying when the altruistic service is coming from a truly loving place in ourselves. This suggests a level of humility that involves acknowledging the True Source of the power to help. Please see more on the topic of humility at my article The anonymity factor.


World Kindness Movement
The Center for Creative Altruism

Swedenborg, E. (1960). Apocalypse explained (J. Whitehead Trans.). New York, NY: The Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work first published posthumously in Latin 1870)

Swedenborg, E. (1969). Divine love and wisdom (C. & D. H. Harley Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1763)

Swedenborg, E. (1983). Arcana coelestia (J. E. Elliott Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published c. 1749-1756)

Swedenborg, E. (1988). True Christian religion. (J. Chadwick Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1771)

Swedenborg, E. (2006). True Christianity (New Century ed., J. S. Rose Trans.). West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work published 1771)

Wilson, Bill. (1952). Twelve steps and twelve traditions. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (Original work published 1952)

Wilson, Bill. et. al. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous. Fourth edition. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (Original work published 1939)

Copyright © 2011 Jeremy K. Finkeldey; All rights reserved.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Organized religion: You are not special

"You are not special... What answer that the Holy Spirit gives can reach you, when it is your specialness to which you listen, and which asks and answers?" (A Course In Miracles, T-24, II, 4:1-3)
I thought this quote from A Course In Miracles might engender some discussion relevant to the cultural phenomenon of ‘organized religion’. This is a worthy discussion since the ego battles common between differing belief systems often escalate into full-fledged internecine warfare. Such is the troublesome nature of the human ego!

I see organized religion as a manifestation of a greater cultural addiction to egocentrism to which most of our troubles requiring ‘recovery’ (or positive change) can be traced.

In A Course In Miracles, the ego is to the human being something like what sugar is to a diabetic. It's still a necessary part of the operating system but also a deadly enemy requiring constant monitoring lest it get out of control and destroy the structure and function of the rest of the organism. Sound familiar?

Specialness is one of the defining psychodynamics used by the ego to maintain its illusory agenda of separation from other egos and from God. Specialness is the hallmark of most relationships here on psycho-planet, whether 'intimate' or not, until the Holy Spirit has been invited (by at least one of the participants) to come into them and make them holy. This invitation is nothing short of the insemination of an actual spiritual awakening and everything after that is a mere scheduling challenge in the sense of who will wake up next and when.

Why? Because, when the Holy Spirit is sincerely invited by even one person to come into a relationship (or web of relationships) and make it holy, the Holy Spirit responds immediately by replacing the ego's goal with It's (divine) goal. This has the effect of changing the attitudes and behaviors of the participants here in spacetime (which can be quite troubling until you realize what's going on) to be more in conformity to the new goal of the relationship(s).

So, discussion question: how might this apply to church organizations?

Or, maybe better yet, how does this apply to your specific church organization - is yours 'special'?

Let’s talk. Please include your point of view below in the comment section.

Additional reading:
My home page at
My other blog: PaleoPlanet

Also ~ Feel free to join my interfaith Facebook group, “Lay Interfaith Leaderless Alliance”, here

Copyright © 2011 Jeremy K. Finkeldey; All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The anonymity factor

“Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all of our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” (Wilson, 1986, p. 184)

During the course of my study (as a non-A.A. member) of the phenomenon of the most successful treatment for alcoholism ever devised - Alcoholics Anonymous - I have long been curious about the “anonymity” factor. Why are these people so private about being sober now? Is it shame?

Well, it turns out that these sober alcoholics are well-acquainted with themselves. They are familiar with the effect a little notoriety can have on the often grandiose alcoholic mind. Too often it turns into a drink! Imagine that! Getting drunk on the glory of sobriety! Don’t laugh – stranger things have happened. But that is not all.

Why is anonymity important and how is it the “spiritual” foundation of all of A.A.’s traditions? This was a real puzzler until I looked into it a little. Bill Wilson’s discussion of anonymity in the 12 and 12’s text on the Twelfth Tradition links anonymity with humility. It says that “anonymity is real humility at work” (W., Bill. 1986, p. 187). The essay on Step 7 in that same work explains that, “the attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of A.A.’s Twelve Steps.” Humility being a spiritual state of mind, it follows that anonymity (i.e. humility at work) would indeed be the spiritual foundation of all of A.A.’s Twelve Traditions (Wilson, 1986, pp. 70, 184). But is there more?

What else might be “spiritual” about this foundation of A.A. tradition?

It struck me (not all that long ago) that there is a method to God’s ‘madness’ here. When you think about it, it’s not too difficult to see that God him/herself is the ultimate Master of Anonymity. The Absolute anonymity role-model if you will. This is why there are so many atheists running around. Atheists tend to be evidence advocates and would soon be out of business if God were to show up with anything like compelling evidence of her/his Own existence. But God does not compel belief in him/her by breaking his/her Own anonymity at the public level.

In the text of Step Six, Bill Wilson suggests that one of the goals of A.A.’s program of spiritual practice is to grow in the “image and likeness” of the Creator. He writes:

“… any person capable of enough willingness and honesty to try repeatedly Step Six on all his [or her] faults--without any reservations whatever--has indeed come a long way spiritually, and is therefore entitled to be called a [person] who is sincerely trying to grow in the image and likeness of his [or her] own Creator.” (Wilson, 1986, p. 63)

This concept of a person growing in the image and likeness of the Creator can, of course, easily be found in spiritual traditions other than A.A. For example:

“Because altruism is the Creator’s nature, acquiring it equalizes our nature with His, and we begin to think like Him… In Kabbalah, this state is called “equivalence of form,” and this is the purpose of Creation.” (Laitman, 2006)

Since God is the Master of anonymity, one of the things that makes our practice of anonymity “spiritual” is that it is part of our effort to become more God-like. We grow in the image and likeness of our God when we do what we believe that God wants us to do and, also, what God does (e.g. practice anonymity).

The practice of anonymity is one of the manifestations of humility. Humility begins at Step One with the acknowledgement of personal powerlessness over alcohol and the resulting unmanageability of life. Throughout the 12 Steps, this basic acknowledgement is reiterated and implied as well as applied to other aspects of A.A. Stepwork.

One of the many beauties of the A.A. program is that it does not demand that anyone believe anything in particular regarding God. In fact there is only one demand the A.A. program places on its adherents and that is rigorous honesty (Wilson, 2001, pp. 58, 145). And, the only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking alcohol (Wilson, 1986, p. 139). An alcoholic is a member if he or she declares it and has that simple desire.

In a March 1946 A.A. Grapevine article, Bill W. summarizes his thoughts on anonymity as follows:

We ought not disclose ourselves to the general public…. Great modesty and humility are needed by every A.A. for his own permanent recovery. If these virtues are such vital needs to the individual, so must they be to A.A. as a whole.… Our public relations policy should mainly rest upon the principle of attraction and seldom, if ever, upon promotion.” (Wilson, 1946, italics his)

A.A.’s ‘anonymity’ is a vital ingredient in A.A.’s unity because it helps the individual members to continue to grow in the image and likeness of their own Creator. This helps A.A. as a whole to do so as well, and, thereby to stay connected to the power Source.

“… there is One who has all power….” (Wilson, 2001, p. 59)


Laitman, M. (2006). Kabbalah revealed: The ordinary person’s guide to a more peaceful life. Toronto, ON: Laitman Kabbalah Publishers.

Wilson, Bill. (March, 1946). Our anonymity is both inspiration and safety. AA Grapevine, 2(10), Retrieved January 5, 2010, from

Wilson, Bill. (1986). Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (Original work published 1952)

Wilson, Bill. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous. Fourth edition. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (Original work published 1939)

Copyright © 2011 Jeremy K. Finkeldey; All rights reserved.

Please offer comments or questions in the comment section below.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Generic spirituality (part three) - contemplation

The concept of the practice of generic spirituality by Alcoholics Anonymous as a method of recovering from alcoholism was introduced in part one of this series. In part two the generic spiritual principle of ‘introspection’, or ‘self-examination’, was discussed.

Immediately necessary in conscious recovery, introspection continues to be crucial throughout the recovery process. Introspection is a component of both contemplation and altruistic service – which are the next two spiritual principles (or ‘practices’) to be discussed.

For now, contemplation will be defined and reviewed, and later – in part four – we will finish up this series with ‘altruistic service’.

In what follows you will find some background source descriptions of authorities in the areas of prayer, meditation, and spiritual paradigms in general - Emanuel Swedenborg (the 18th century mystic), Father Thomas Merton (a more modern authority on contemplative practice - Trappist style), His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso), and the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh - together with some other Swedenborgian individuals; Rev. Kent Rogers, Rev. Eric Sanstrom, Sr., and Wilson Van Dusen.

You will also find specific instructions for various types of meditation - both eastern and western in origin - some of which I hope you will find helpful - keeping in mind that everything is NOT for everybody. Prayer is first - and then the section on meditation - which is much longer. I confess to thinking of prayer and meditation as being virtually identical - which is why I like to lump it all under the term contemplation as a basic generic spiritual practice. For more on prayer than you will see here, please go to my article Prayer from a Buddhist/Swedenborgian perspective.

My attempt has been to let the sources speak for themselves, and, to challenge you the reader to look past any linguistic bias you may have to the 'medicine in itself' in an effort to garner what is generic, universal, and ultimately useful to you from this article.

One more caveat: this is very long and I apologize for that (however it could not have been one word shorter and still accomplish what I wanted to). Be prepared to put it down if you get tired of it and come back to it later. Enjoy and peace!

Contemplation: prayer

By ‘contemplation’ is meant two things – prayer and meditation. These are a vital part of conscious recovery. By introspecting we discover and accept our personal need for change AND our need for a power greater than we had previously been able to mobilize.

In conscious recovery using the 12 Steps, prayer and meditation are openly recommended in Step 11.
“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, Step Eleven, p. 59)
But prayer and meditation come into play in the program long before the 11th step. In fact, introspection (utilized immediately in Step 1) is a form of meditation because it is a harnessing of the power of the mind to consciously rise above its lower self and reflect on the lower self’s behavior. Although prayer is mentioned in Step 1, the first real directions on prayer in A.A.’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions are in the last paragraph of the text of Step 3 where we find A.A.'s 'little prayer.'
“Once we have come into agreement with these ideas, it is really easy to begin the practice of Step Three. In all times of emotional disturbance or indecision, we can pause, ask for quiet, and in the stillness simply say: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be done." (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp. 40-41)
In my Examiner article, Prayer from a Buddhist/Swedenborgian perspective, you will find a discussion illustrating how two very different worldviews produce very similar ideas regarding the practice of prayer. Important to the discussion there are the topics of:
  • our interdependent connection to God and to others,
  • using visualization to help establish a relationship between ourselves and the one we are praying to,
  • cultivating the energy of love, mindfulness, and right concentration in prayer,
  • the importance of prostration (a humble body position) in prayer, and,
  • the importance of healthy communities and environments for contemplative prayer.
To summarize, Prayer from a Buddhist/Swedenborgian perspective makes the point that, regardless of one's traditional spiritual roots,
"... prayer plays a vital role in spiritual development and thus in consciousness enhancement. It has tremendous value for the individual, and for the group, as a result of its power to conjoin both individuals and groups not only with each other but also with Ultimate Reality – the nature of which is up to the individual practitioner to discover." (Finkeldey, 2011)
The writings of Fr. Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, social activist, and student of comparative religion (whose photograph is shown above), are another excellent source of knowledge concerning contemplation. According to the wikipedia article he was, "... a keen proponent of interfaith understanding" who:
"... pioneered dialogue with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, D.T. Suzuki, the Japanese writer on the Zen tradition, and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh." (Thomas Merton in wikipedia, 2011)
One of Merton's most useful works on this topic of contemplation is Contemplative prayer (1969). In it, he stresses the importance of not feeling accomplished at prayer and meditation - of remaining a beginner in our attitude toward the practice. Drawing on his experience with the Buddhists he writes:
"One cannot begin to face the real difficulties of the life of prayer and meditation unless one is perfectly content to be a beginner and really experience himself as one who knows little or nothing, and has a desperaate need to learn the bare rudiments.... We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners, all our life!" (Merton, 1969, p. 13)
A.A. literature maintains this 'attitude of the novice' throughout as well as advocating action on this practice as soon as possible. It issues a subtle challenge to the resistant newcomer by saying that, "almost the only scoffers at prayer are those who never tried it enough" (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 97).

Contemplation: meditation

I would like to begin this section on meditation with a description of what meditation is according to the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.

Swedenborg offers few details of instruction on what we would think of as the practice or methodology of meditation. In his work Spiritual Experiences he shares about his use of respiration during prayer as a child, while exploring cardiopulmonary harmonies, while deeply engaged in writing, or during absorbing speculations, and later on in life during his conversations with spirits (Swedenborg, 1902, Spiritual Experiences 3464). He writes, “Thus I was introduced by the Lord into interior respirations” (Swedenborg, 1902, ibid.). Mindfulness of breathing is a meditative practice taught by Thich Nhat Hanh and other Buddhists (Hanh, 1996).

Swedenborg is, however, clear on what meditation is in terms of state of mind. For Swedenborg, meditation is spiritual thought, or as he wrote, being “in the thought of [one’s] spirit, which is meditation” (Swedenborg, 1969, Divine Love and Wisdom 404:8). The practice or methodology of meditation consists of actions that help us to transcend natural thought and bring us into the state of being “in the thought of our spirit.”. Meditation becomes a spiritual way of being and the practice of meditation, together with introspection and prayer, brings us into that spiritual state.

Swedenborg makes a distinction between natural thought and spiritual thought. Natural thought is the normal kind of thought with which we, here on the natural level of existence, are all very familiar. For all of its wide range of simplicity and complexity it remains, while we are living in this world, natural. Swedenborg explains that, “there is a correspondence between spiritual thought and natural thought” (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 10604:3), and that, “spiritual thought flows into the natural thought in the external man, and there presents itself to view” (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 10551). He also equates being in the rational degree of the mind with being in spiritual thought as can be seen in the following citation:
“When man is in the world, or lives in the body, his rational is distinct from his natural, insomuch that he can be withdrawn from the external sensuous things of the body, and also in some degree from the interior sensuous things of his natural man, andcan be in his rational, thus in spiritual thought.” (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 3498, emphasis added)
One of the things that distinguishes natural thought from spiritual thought in the Writings of Swedenborg is language or speech. He writes, “the ideas of thought which man comprehends, and which fall into words, are natural” (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 10604:2, emphasis added). Elsewhere he writes:
“… the thought of [one’s] spirit, which is meditation… passes, indeed, into the thought of the body, but into silent thought; for it is above bodily thought, and looks upon what belongs to thought from the memory as below itself, drawing therefrom either conclusions or confirmations.” (Swedenborg, 1969, Divine Love and Wisdom 404:8, emphasis added)
And again:
“… spiritual ideas… are devoid of words of speech… they are of such a nature that a man can in a moment comprehend more things than he is able to express by speech within a considerable time. These ideas of thought belong to his spirit… There is a correspondence between these two classes of ideas; and by means of this correspondence the spiritual ideas are turned into natural ones when the man is speaking. This is not known to the man, because he does not reflect upon it, and none are able to reflect upon it except those who think interiorly, that is, who think in their spirit abstractedly from the body. Sensuous men are quite unable to do this.”  (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 10604:2-3, emphasis added)
It appears, then, that elevating one’s consciousness awareness into that degree of the mind (the rational) in which it is possible to be in spiritual thought may be an experience of very few, if any, natural words. Perhaps this state of mind is what is being referred in the ancient Hindu text “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1:2” where we find the statement that, “Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence” (Shearer, 1982, p. 90)

The other emphasis I have found in Swedenborg where the meditative state is being discussed is that of the ‘lulling’ of the senses and of ‘bodily things’. In Divine Love and Wisdom, Swedenborg explains that a “person in whom the spiritual degree has been opened… may come into [angelic wisdom] as the result of a suspension of his bodily sensations and an influx then from above into the spiritual elements of his mind” (Swedenborg, 1969, Divine Love and Wisdom 257). Arcana Coelestia paragraph number 3498 (cited above) also mentions being “withdrawn from the external sensuous things of the body, and also in some degree from the interior sensuous things of [the] natural man” in order for consciousness to be elevated to the rational degree (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 3498).

Interestingly, something analogous to this can even happen (one might say ‘involuntarily’) with the “unregenerate… [and] the evil also” in certain states where worldly and bodily things are ‘lulled’ namely “when they are in holy meditation, or when the cupidities are lulled, as happens when they are in misfortunes, in sicknesses, and diseases, and especially at the moment of death” (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 2041:3). I include this here to illustrate simply that the meditative state may occur spontaneously apart from spiritual development or practice.

Finally, Swedenborg includes meditation as being one of the “means of separation and purification, and also the ways of withdrawal and removal [from evil]” which is “effected by the Lord in a thousand ways that are most secret” (Swedenborg, 1949, Divine Providence 296:10). The ‘secrecy’ of those thousand most secret ways utilized by the Lord to withdraw us from evil doubtless has to do with the maintenance of our freedom and rationality. Evidently meditation does no harm to freedom and rationality since it has been revealed by Swedenborg as being one of those ways.

I have found little in Swedenborgian collateral literature on the subject of meditation. In 1975, Van Dusen published an article in favor of meditation in The New Philosophy (Van Dusen, 1975). This was followed by an exchange of ‘letters to the editor’ between Van Dusen and Sandstrom wherein Sandstrom cordially took exception to some of the points raised by Van Dusen’s article and Van Dusen cordially explained and defended his views (Sandstrom, 1976a, 1976b; Van Dusen, 1976a, 1976b). In his response to Van Dusen, Sandstrom seems to fear the “Eastern influence” (Sandstrom, 1976a, p. 381). Specifically, Sandstrom’s concern with the “Eastern influence” appears to be that it does not contain enough shunning of evil and in his view advocates a withdrawal “into the realm of the mystical” (Sandstrom, 1976a, p. 381). He also seems to be worried that, “the kind of meditation that seeks to perceive influx… may unwittingly open up a flux from the proprium” (Sandstrom, 1976a, p. 381).

Sandstrom’s concerns certainly have validity in some cases. For example, why waste time meditating if one is not introspecting, seeing one’s evils, and turning away from them? Without charitable mindful living, meditation becomes oxymoronic. As for Sandstrom’s concern regarding withdrawal “into the mystical realm”, while it is true that in some Buddhist traditions there are those very few who choose to become hermits for the purpose of contemplative practice, the vast majority of our eastern friends are well-engaged in a useful life in communities based on loving-kindess and the cultivation of compassion (a.k.a. love to the neighbor). If, in fact, there is a risk in meditation of unwittingly opening up a “flux from the proprium”, would that necessarily be a bad thing? If I can’t see it, how can I turn away from it? According to Swedenborg:
“Every evil that does not become manifest nourishes itself being like fire in wood under the ashes, and like matter in a wound that is not opened; for every evil that is denied an outlet increases and does not abate until the whole has been destroyed.” (Swedenborg, 1949, Divine Providence 278)
Meditating on the Word

In a recent issue of the Swedenborgian periodical Theta Alpha Journal, Rogers offers several visualization-type forms of meditation to be used in meditating on the Word. This involves a preparatory process of meditating on the Lord’s commandments with a view to cleansing and clearing the mind of “self-oriented concerns” and to bringing consciousness to rest “in total trust in the Lord” (Rogers, 2006, p. 18).

This being accomplished, one is then ready to use the imagination to visualize stories from the Word vividly placing oneself in the role of one of the characters in the story, running through the story, and observing whatever this meditation might evoke. Another visualization offered by Rogers is that of visualizing the Lord (in human form) being present in whatever life situation one may be dealing with. He recommends several New Testament stories to use like prescriptions in meditation for various mental/emotional difficulties like depression, addiction, and lack of faith (Rogers, 2006, pp. 19-22). These are all excellent and imaginative ways of making the Word of God a permanent part of the mind and of helping Divine-source energy to manifest in our daily life. As Rogers says:
“Meditating on the word allows us to experience and perceive the Lord with increasing power and depth. Our sense of His presence, His peace, His healing, His love will all increase as we persist in the practice of meditating on His Word. With these things, our joy will increase and this joy will be a gift that we can give to others from the Lord.” (Rogers, 2006, p. 23)
This kind of meditation makes conjunction with the Lord through His Word and via the neighbor more possible. Meditation is a valuable spiritual practice that takes many forms – including self-observation and mindful living. The forms meditation takes are so many, in fact, that I will have to limit the descriptions here to only a few.

Stopping thought

In 1624, a year before his death, the German mystic Jacob Boehme wrote in his work entitled The Supersensual Life:
“Cease from all thy thinking and willing, then thou shalt hear the unspeakable Words of God…. Since it is nought indeed but thine own Hearing and Willing that do hinder thee, so that thou dost not see and hear God.”  (Boehme, 1624, p.1)
This calls to mind the meditative practice of stopping thought. This practice utilizes mindfulness of breathing with a view to calming the mind by stopping the normally incessant stream of inner ‘verbiage production’ we call thought. This is essentially accomplished by giving the mind something else to do, which it then focuses on to the exclusion of everything else.

The method used is a simple technique called ‘breath counting’. The practitioner counts each in-breath and out-breath with total mental focus on the count – in is ‘one’, out is ‘two’, in is ‘three’, etc. – up to ‘ten’, and then returns to ‘one’ and starts over again. This is repeated for as long as one wants to practice. Experience shows that, though simple, this practice can actually be quite difficult; for the mind likes to wander and is easily bored and distracted. This often results in losing count. When that happens, one simply starts over at ‘one’ (without self-chastisement) and continues to practice. Initially, the difficulty of this practice is really the only aspect of it that makes it interesting and fends off the boredom. Eventually, however, when mastery is achieved, one begins to realize the benefits of this practice. The first benefit is the training in mental focus and concentration breath counting creates.

Mental focus and concentration is fundamental to any kind of meditation. According to Thich Nhat Hanh, breath counting also teaches the mind what it’s like to, “dwell peacefully in the present moment” (Hanh, 2006c, p. 43). Also, the simple ability to stop thinking can be extremely useful in reducing stress and calming destructive emotional states. Stress and destructive emotional states often produce thoughts of an unhelpful rather than helpful nature – if they are not helpful, why think them?

The practice of breath counting strengthens the mind the way physical exercise strengthens the body and provides a base-practice for other forms of meditation which also utilize the semi-voluntary physical process of breathing. Mindfulness of breathing is central to the meditation techniques taught by Thich Nhat Hanh (Hanh, 1975 and 1996). Stopping or reducing the amount of natural thought may be a part of elevating the mind into the realm of what Swedenborg referred to above as “silent thought” and “spiritual ideas” (Swedenborg, 1969, Divine Love and Wisdom 404:8; 1983, Arcana Coelestia 10604:2-3).

Walking meditation

Walking meditation is another mindfulness practice taught by Hanh. In it, walking (another semi-voluntary physical process) is coordinated with mindfulness of breathing by giving the mind the task of counting the of number steps one takes in the space of each in-breath and out-breath. This process also involves periodically lengthening and deepening one’s breathing in relation to one’s steps while walking (Hanh, 1975, p. 124).

These two practices, mindfulness of breathing and of walking, are meditations in themselves. Hanh also utilizes another semi-voluntary physical process in his teaching of meditation – the process of smiling. Smiling is actually a very powerful practice both for the practitioner and for other members of the practitioner’s community. Smiling, and mindfulness of smiling, proliferates happiness – especially if positive emotion really exists behind the smiling. Hanh recommends the use of the ‘half-smile’ “ when you first wake up in the morning… during your free moments… while listening to music… [and] when irritated” as well as during many other activities (Hanh, 1975, pp. 121-122).

Mindfulness of breathing

In other forms, Hanh incorporates words in with the body-based meditations of mindfulness of breathing, walking, and smiling as a way of training the mind to habitually choose positive, mindful thoughts. Here is an example from Hanh’s work Breath! You are alive: Sutra on the full awareness of breathing. This would be practiced in a comfortable sitting position:
1. “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.” (In, Out)
2. “Breathing in, my breath goes deep. Breathing out, my breath goes slow.” (Deep, Slow)
3. “Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.” (Aware of my body, Calming my body)
4. “Breathing in, I know I am alive. Breathing out, I feel the joy of being alive.” (Alive, Joy of being alive) (Hanh, 1996, p. 79)
One can practice and memorize these thoughts and then use the shortened versions (in parentheses) of the thoughts in practice. I believe that associating what Hanh calls the “energy of mindfulness” with the basic semi-voluntary physical processes of breathing, walking, and smiling is designed to help the energy of mindfulness manifest even when one is not practicing meditation. The energy of mindfulness, and any positive thoughts or attitudes associated with breathing, walking, or smiling (by means of one’s meditative practice), will sometimes be triggered by the simple non-meditative physical acts themselves. There are many modifications of the basic breathing/word type meditative practice taught by Hanh to be used in virtually every activity of daily life from washing the dishes, to hugging, to answering the telephone, and driving the car. Of major importance in all these is the practice of being in the present moment - the only moment in which happiness can be found. As Hanh says, “the moment of chopping wood and carrying water is the moment of happiness. We do not need for these chores to be done to be happy” (Hanh, 1998, pp. 153-154).

Thich Nhat Hanh gives a Dharma Talk on Mindfulness

His Holiness the Dalai Lama on present moment meditation

The Dalai Lama is also an advocate of present moment mindfulness and mental stabilization in meditation. In his book The universe in a single atom: The convergence of science and spirituality, he explains a basic meditation designed to facilitate the subjective investigation of consciousness itself. He writes:
“In training ourselves to take consciousness itself as the subject of first-person investigation, we must first stabilize the mind. The experience of attending to the mere present moment is a very helpful practice. The focus of this practice is a sustained training to cultivate the ability to hold the mind undistractedly on the immediate, subjective experience of consciousness. This is done as follows.” (Summarized in numbers 1-6 below).
  1. Before sitting, develop a deliberate intention to not be distracted by either the past or the future and make a silent pledge to that effect.
  2. Sit facing a blank wall to aid in not being distracted.
  3. As thoughts arise in the mind, allow them to do so freely without judgment or repression.
  4. Simply observe the thoughts allowing them to arise and dissolve in the mind.
  5. Gradually,… begin to glimpse what feels like a mere absence, a state of mind with no specific, determinable content [this is the basic experience of present moment consciousness].
  6. With practice, learn to prolong the intervals between thoughts.
“In this way a meditator will gradually be able to “grasp” the basic experience of consciousness and take that as the object of meditative investigation.” (Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2005, pp. 158-159)
Swedenborg would seem to agree with Hanh and the Dalai Lama somewhat when it comes to the importance of being in the ‘present moment’ in the following quote – at least in terms of advising against solicitude (or worrying) about the future. While some worrying about the future is to be expected, Swedenborg appears to be saying here that it is a good habit to break or to avoid if one has not developed it.
“…Solicitude about the future, when confirmed by act, greatly dulls and retards the influx of spiritual life; …(they who do this) attribute to themselves that which is of the Divine Providence; and they …obstruct the influx, and take away from themselves the life of good and truth.” (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 5177)
Deity yoga: a visualization

Another meditation technique taught by the Dalai Lama he refers to as “Deity Yoga” (Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2002b, p. 185). It is similar to, but not the same as, Rogers’ meditation on the Word (see above) in that it utilizes the power of imaginative visualization. His Holiness describes this practice as follows:
“In this practice you imagine 1) replacing your mind as it ordinarily appears, full of troubling emotions, with a mind of pure wisdom motivated by compassion; 2) substituting your body as it ordinarily appears (composed of flesh, blood, and bone) with a body fashioned from compassionately motivated wisdom; 3) developing a sense of a pure self that depends on purely appearing mind and body in an ideal environment, fully engaged in helping others. As this distinctive practice of Tantra calls for visualizing yourself with a Buddha’s body, activities, resources, and surroundings, it is called “taking imagination as the spiritual path.” (Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2002b, pp. 185-186)
This could be the Tibetan Buddhist equivalent of meditating on the fundamentalist Christian question, “What would Jesus do?”  Deity Yoga seems harmless enough provided one keeps in mind Swedenborg’s caveat about thinking of God apart from time and space so as to not conclude with the confused idea that one’s self IS God. That would be an “abominable… heresy” (Swedenborg, 1969, Divine Love and Wisdom 130). His Holiness also offers this practice ‘cum grano salis’ (with a grain of salt). He writes:
“This is an imaginative meditation; you are not convinced from the depths that you actually have pure mind, body, and selfhood. Rather, based in clear imagination of ideal body and mind, you are cultivating the sense of being a deity, compassionately helping others”. (Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2002b, p. 186)
If Deity Yoga makes a prospective practitioner nervous then perhaps it would be best to stay with breathing, walking, smiling, stopping thought, and meditating on the Word of God (or other positive thoughts) as forms of practice. The concept of ‘Deity’ here appears to be derived from the Indian pantheistic cultural milieu out of which Buddhism arose wherein a Deity is any manifestation of the Divine rather than the Absolute Divine.

More meditation on the Word of God

Meditation on the Word of God is the primary way of meditative practice in the Swedenborgian tradition. What exactly is meditation on the Word of God? In the context of enlightenment in the Word, Swedenborg offers the following: “even at this day, every one who, while reading the Word, approaches the Lord alone, and prays to Him, is enlightened in the Word” (Swedenborg, 1904a, Doctrine of the Lord 2).

What are the elements of this proposed meditative practice? The goal is to become ‘enlightened in the Word’. We can let go of that right away since we know we don’t enlighten ourselves – that’s the Lord’s job. We can become goal-less – as a part of acknowledging the Lord’s Divinity. Reading the Word is self-explanatory but I suspect working from memory is even better since the Word memorized is a permanent part of the mind. Approaching the Lord alone entails an acknowledgement of the Lord’s Divinity, of the holiness of the Word, and of His being the source of all love, wisdom, and of everything that is good and true. Approaching the Lord alone could also involve a visualization, a picture in the mind, of the Divine Human form – perhaps engulfed in the brightest, warmest sunlight one can imagine since, in the spiritual world, the Divine Love and Wisdom proceed, “from the Lord [and] appear as a sun” (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 86). Finally, there is prayer to the Lord which is “speech with God, and some internal view at the time of the matters of the prayer” (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 2535).

A meditation session on the Word of God might look something like this. I have used the 23rd Psalm as a structure for this meditation.

Mindfulness Meditation on the 23rd Psalm

1) Sitting in a comfortable position (or lying in a hammock or in a ‘green pasture’), begin with calming the mind by using some version of mindfulness of breathing as explained above by Thich Nhat Hanh. Allow a half-smile to form on your face. Maintain the half-smile throughout.
2) Allow your mind to reflect on the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ and all the blessings of peace and joy that His presence in your life brings. Allow yourself to feel safe and taken care of by His Providence in this present moment. Develop a feeling of gratitude for His presence.
3) Allow a prayer to the Lord to emerge from this state of grateful existence in the present moment. Say thank you – and if you need to go beyond that, pray only for heavenly or spiritual things, for example, knowledge of His will for you and the power to carry that out. Maybe an expression of gratitude for His willingness to lead you in His Word would be good.
4) Return to mindfulness of breathing practice, maintaining the half-smile, and after a short time begin to coordinate the words of the 23rd Psalm (which you have previously memorized perfectly) with your in-breaths and out-breaths. You can use the third person voice in which it is written, or you can personalize it a little (my favorite) as follows:
  1. “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.” (In, Out)
  2. “Breathing in, my breath goes deep. Breathing out, my breath goes slow.” (Deep, Slow)
  3. “Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.” (Aware of my body, Calming my body)
  4. “Breathing in, I know I am alive. Breathing out, I feel the joy of being alive.” (Alive, Joy of being alive)
  5. “Breathing in, You are my shepherd Lord. Breathing out, I shall not want.”
  6. “Breathing in, You are my shepherd Lord. Breathing out, You make me lie down in green pastures.”
  7. “Breathing in, You are my shepherd Lord. Breathing out, You lead me beside the still waters.”
  8. “Breathing in, You are my shepherd Lord. Breathing out, You restore my soul.”
  9. “Breathing in, You are my shepherd Lord. Breathing out, You lead me in paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake (not mine).”
  10. “Breathing in, You are my shepherd Lord. Breathing out, and I will dwell in Your house forever.”
5) End your meditation with another prayer of gratitude and, when you’re ready, take your smile and your mindful energy and go find someone to be pleasant to knowing that the Lord will guide you to your next opportunity to practice mindfulness.
This meditation involves more than just reading the Word, approaching the Lord alone, and praying to Him as Swedenborg recommends (Swedenborg, 1904a, Doctrine of the Lord 2) – but there’s nothing wrong with a little spiritual creativity in one’s practice. Hopefully, creativity, the use of imagination, and memorization of the Word for meditative purposes will create vessels in the mind into which the Source of all can flow. As Swedenborg wrote in Spiritual Experiences:
“Reflection constitutes the essence of thinking… the ability to reflect… does not belong to the person who is reflecting, but… it flows in… I was given to see clearly by a spiritual mental image that we are only organic instruments, and that reflection is given by the Lord. It cannot possibly come from any other source.” (Swedenborg, 1902, Spiritual Experiences 2221)
Given reflection by the Lord, we can begin to better see our connection to all things of His creation – especially the people He brings into our lives – and learn the specifics of how best to interact with His creation in a mindful, helpful way.

Boehme, J. (1624). The supersensual life (W. Law Trans.). Retrieved February 8, 2007, from

Finkeldey, J. K. (2007). Spiritual practice and consciousness. Unpublished Manuscript. Bryn Athyn, PA: The Swedenborg Library.

Finkeldey, J. K. (2011). Prayer from a Buddhist/Swedenborgian perspective.

Gyatso, T., His Holiness the Dalai Lama. (2002b). How to practice: The way to a meaningful life (J. Hopkins Trans.). New York: Simon and Schuster.

Gyatso, T., His Holiness the Dalai Lama. (2005). The universe in a single atom: The convergence of science and spirituality (T. Jinpa Trans.). New York, NY: Morgan Road Books.

Hanh, T. N. (1975). The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation. Boston: Beacon Press.

Hanh, T. N. (1996). Breathe! you are alive: Sutra on the full awareness of breathing. Berkeley, CA: ParallaxPress.

Hanh, T. N. (1998). The heart of the Buddha’s teaching: Transforming suffering into peace, joy, and liberation. New York: Broadway Books.

Hanh, T. N. (2006). The energy of prayer: How to deepen your spiritual practice. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.

Merton, T. (1969). Contemplative prayer. New York: Doubleday.

Merton, T. (2003). The inner experience: Notes on contemplation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Merton, Thomas. (2011). Wikipedia article retrieved from the internet 18 January 2011.

Rogers, K. (2006, April-October). Meditating on the Word. Theta Alpha Journal, 14(1and 2), 18-29. Philadelphia, PA: Theta Alpha.

Sandstrom, E. (1976a, January). Letter to the Editor (comments on Van Dusen’s article on meditation in New Philosophy, [1975], 78, 309-322). New Philosophy, 79, 380-382.

Sandstrom, E. (1976b, April). Letter to the Editor (reply to Van Dusen’s [1976a, April] letter). New Philosophy, 79, 430-431

Shearer, A. (1982). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. New York, NY: Bell Tower.

Swedenborg, E. (1902). Spiritual experiences (J. F. Buss Trans.). West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work written c. 1747-1765)

Swedenborg, E. (1904a). Doctrine of the Lord (J. F. Potts Trans.). New York, NY: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work published 1763)

Swedenborg, E. (1949). Divine providence (Wm. Dick & E. J. Pulsford Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1764)

Swedenborg, E. (1969). Divine love and wisdom (C. & D. H. Harley Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1763)

Swedenborg, E. (1983). Arcana coelestia (J. E. Elliott Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published c. 1749-1756)

Van Dusen, W. (1975, October). Meditation. New Philosophy, 78, 309-322.

Van Dusen, W. (1976a, April). Letter to the Editor (reply to Sandstrom’s [1976a] letter). New Philosophy, 79, 429-430.

Van Dusen, W. (1976b, April). Letter to the Editor (reply to Sandstrom’s [1976b, April] letter). New Philosophy, 79, 431-432.

Wilson, Bill. (1952). Twelve steps and twelve traditions. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (Original work published 1952)

Wilson, Bill. et. al. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous. Fourth edition. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (Original work published 1939)

Copyright © 2011 Jeremy K. Finkeldey; All rights reserved.

Please offer comments or questions in the comment section below.

Generic spirituality (part two) - introspection


The first article of this series identified the three basic generic spiritual principles (introspection, contemplation, and altruistic service) which were incorporated into the 12 Step recovery program by the early members of A.A. This segment will discuss the first basic generic principle – introspection.

‘Introspection’ is a $10 word for self-examination.

Introspection is required on the very first day of recovery from any addiction. As Bill W. wrote in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:
“In the first two Steps we were engaged in reflection. We saw that we were powerless over alcohol, but we also perceived that faith of some kind, if only in A.A. itself, is possible to anyone. These conclusions did not require action; they required only acceptance.” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 34)
We begin conscious recovery by examining our powerlessness over whatever our particular addiction happens to be and the resulting unmanageability. We ruthlessly look for the truth about ourselves and our addiction and work to keep our memory of that truth up and running (or as they say in the meetings “keep it green”). But that is not the end of our practice of introspection.

The practice of self-examination continues to be used in Steps 4-12 – perhaps more heavily in Steps 4, 6, 8, and 10 – but still involved in all of the Steps to one degree or another. Perhaps this would be a good place to list all Twelve Steps in case someone is not familiar with them. Here they are as originally finalized by the early members of A.A.
1)      We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
2)      Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3)      Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4)      Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5)      Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6)      Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7)      Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8)      Made a list of all people we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9)      Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10)  Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11)  Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12)  Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. (Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 59-60)
Apparently, one of the things distinguishing human beings from other life forms is our capacity to self-examine. With the effort of spiritual practice we are able to see those things in our mind that cut off our awareness of inflowing Divine energy (or the ‘grace of God’ if you prefer). This is the 4th Step inventory. This inventory is reviewed in Step 6 and practiced daily in Step 10. When we fail to see the truth of our lack of conscious connection to the Divine in all things we are totally unable to cooperate effectively in enhancing or improving that connection.

Whether we call these bliss-busters ‘shortcomings’, ‘defects of character’, ‘maladjustments’, ‘seeds of unhappiness’, or ‘evils’ one thing is certain – the more we can do to disable their influence in our lives the happier we (and everyone around us) will be. This is a kind purification or detoxification process. In conscious recovery detoxification happens at the physical, mental, and spiritual levels.

And when is purification in order? Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Not next Thursday. Purification is in order NOW! Is there any other time available for the experience of life? Is there any other time when our shortcomings retard our awareness of our connection to the Divine? Everything happens in the now. Yesterday is history and tomorrow is a mystery – and taking care of the now automatically takes care of the future and reduces stress and anxiety.

To summarize, self-examination or introspection is the spiritual practice which begins the process of spiritual development and makes purification possible. We are led to this practice by our experience of life with varying levels of personal awareness over the course of our lives. Although purification is a life-span experience, it always occurs in the present moment – never in the past or future which have no actual reality outside their appearance in our own brains.


Cheever, S. (2004). My name is Bill: Bill Wilson – his life and the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. New York: Simon & Schuster.

DR. Bob and the good oldtimers: A biography, with recollections of early A.A. in the midwest. (1984). New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

‘PASS IT ON’: The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world. (1984). New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

W., Bill. (1986). Twelve steps and twelve traditions. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (Original work published 1952)

W., Bill. et. al. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous. Fourth edition. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (Original work published 1939)

 Copyright @ 2010 Jeremy K. Finkeldey; All rights reserved

Generic spirituality (part one)

 The most successful treatment for alcoholism ever devised – Alcoholics Anonymous – is an example of generic spirituality. A “generic” medicine is the medicine itself apart from the trappings of the original manufacturer’s marketing department. It’s the same stuff without the ‘groupthink’ so to speak.

The co-founders of A.A., Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, and the early membership, drew spiritual principles from whatever religious, philosophical, or scientific source they could find in forming the recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Then, they did their best to sanitize these spiritual principles to make them palatable to as wide a range of alcoholics as possible. They learned that these spiritual principles were commonly found in most religious or philosophical thought systems. Perhaps even more surprising, they found that, when sanitized of their religious underpinnings and made generic – these principles worked! Alcoholics of whatever stripe, persuasion, or background got sober by using them.

Alcoholism, an ‘equal opportunity’ condition, requires a spiritual recovery program as ‘generic’ as the founding A.A. members could make it. Therefore, modern A.A. members turn their will and their lives over to the care of God as they as individuals “understand Him” (or “Her”) rather than being compelled to accept someone else’s God concept.

This amounts to the possibility of a new-found freedom in spiritual things. With freedom comes responsibility and with responsibility tends to come actual personal spiritual practice which is necessary in conscious recovery or any kind of spiritual growth. One must live the principles instead of merely discussing (or often arguing) about them.

This series will identify and describe the three basic generic spiritual principles (introspection, contemplation, and altruistic service) which were incorporated into the 12 Step recovery program by the early members of A.A. It will also explore some of the possible sources of these principles from both east and west.


Cheever, S. (2004). My name is Bill: Bill Wilson – his life and the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. New York: Simon & Schuster.

DR. Bob and the good oldtimers: A biography, with recollections of early A.A. in the midwest. (1984). New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

‘PASS IT ON’: The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world. (1984). New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

W., Bill. (1986). Twelve steps and twelve traditions. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (Original work published 1952)

W., Bill. et. al. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous. Fourth edition. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (Original work published 1939)

Copyright @ 2010 Jeremy K. Finkeldey; All rights reserved

Monday, January 17, 2011

Prayer from a Buddhist/Swedenborgian perspective

~This article was originally excerpted from my undergraduate thesis Spiritual Practice and Consciousness (Finkeldey, 2007) and published in the June 2008 edition of the journal New Church Life (Finkeldey, 2008) in Bryn Athyn, PA. I have made some minor changes in the NCL edition of it for publication here.~


My purpose in publishing this article is to help to illustrate, in part, how concepts from apparently widely divergent paradigms (in this case Buddhism and Swedenborgianism) can collaborate nicely with each other. I believe it is in keeping with the loving and charitable doctrines of both worldviews to strive to discover the commonalities which exist among the various and divergent religious/spiritual traditions that history provides for the betterment of the human race. The increasing perfection of the heavenly state of mind is dependent on the growth of its diversity, and, the practice of finding, focusing on, and connecting with the good in others is essential to the emergence of the ‘kingdom of God’ on earth. Can we benefit from learning about the spiritual views and practices of others? Apparently Swedenborg, a devout Christian, was also very ‘interfaith’ in his views on this question. Consider what he wrote about the “Gentiles” (or non-Christians) in the following citation:

“… more from the Gentiles are saved than from Christians; for those Gentiles who have thought kindly of their neighbor and have wished well to him, receive the truths of faith in the other life better than those who are called Christians, and acknowledge the Lord more than Christians do. For nothing is more delightful and blessed to the angels than to instruct those who come from the earth into the other life.” (Swedenborg, 1965, AC 2284:5)

Prayer from a Buddhist/Swedenborgian Perspective

Is it possible to speak of prayer without speaking of God? In the Afterword by David Loy to D. T. Suzuki’s Swedenborg: Buddha of the North, Loy comments:

“Inasmuch as God is infinite, all our conceptions of him must miss the mark, but inasmuch as we need a conception of him, the best image is that of a man. To a Buddhist, this is reminiscent of the old nineteenth-century argument that, since a religion must have a God, Buddhism cannot be a religion. The question this begs is: is it possible to have a religion (such as Buddhism) that criticizes all conceptions of the Divine, including the image of God as human, yet still functions as a religion because its spiritual practices nonetheless promote the divine influx?” (Suzuki, 1996, pp.103-104)

I find it reasonable that Buddhism “promotes the divine influx” by means of its practice of love towards the neighbor (through the cultivation of compassion and loving-kindness) and by means of its disciplined use of the mind in meditative practice. Buddhism is essentially a subjective exploration of the nature of reality and of the mind (by means of the mind) in meditative states (Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2005, p. 141). Further, Thich Nhat Hanh explains his perspective on the Divine as follows:

“In Buddhism we do not speak of God, we do not speak of creation, we do not speak of revelation, we do not speak of redemption or punishment. In Buddhism, what is equivalent to God is Mind, especially the collective mind. Mind is the ground of everything… If we understand God as the ground of being from which everything manifests, then our understanding is not different from the Buddhist vision of mind; because in the teaching of Buddhism, mind is the artist who designs everything, especially the collective mind.” (Hanh, 2006a, First Question)

This Buddhist concept of God as Mind, as the ground of being from which everything manifests, is derived in part from the Buddhist philosophical concept of “no-self” (or emptiness). This notion refers to the idea that all things are empty of a separate existence. This is simply a way of saying, among other things, that everything is connected to everything else. Nothing has an entirely independent existence. In Buddhism, everything is thought of as being interdependent. In western thought there is a tendency to philosophically separate humans from God turning each into separate entities. This has its truth of sorts. The Lord is divine. People are human. The Lord is infinite. People are finite (and eternal). The Lord is the Creator. People (and everything else not divine) are that which is created. The “rub” in this western view, in my opinion, is that it tends to incline people to see themselves as being separated from God. Swedenborg explains that the Divine is indivisibly One and yet is in every created thing apart from time and space (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 4, 59, 69-76, and 285).

There are other conflict-causing glitches in the western Judeo-Christian ‘God-concept’ when seen from a Swedenborgian viewpoint. For example, the Jewish tradition denies the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. In their struggle for influence over free-thinking minds, Christian fundamentalism and other forms of Christianity run the risk of tending to divide the one God into a committee of three equal Gods by destroying right understanding of the Divine Trinity and the necessary oneness of the Divine. This goes hand-in-hand with Reformed Christian doctrine of salvation by faith alone which makes introspection and true repentance irrelevant. Consider also the propensity for conflict currently manifesting between Islam and the Judeo-Christian west - in the name of God and the defense of the self. Much better is the Buddhist teaching of emptiness. We, including God, are empty of a separate existence – we “inter-are”. Or, as Swedenborg expressed it, “we are because God is” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 46).

The no-self, or emptiness, idea is one of the deep teachings of Buddhism. It is deep in the sense that it refers to the inner dimension of reality rather than the phenomenal world at the outer natural level. In the phenomenal world there is the very clear and powerful experience of a ‘self’ distinguishable from other selves. It is therefore remarkable that the Buddha (and his followers), through deep meditative introspection and apparently without the help of a Swedenborg-type of divine revelation, could reach the deep insight that everything is connected. This insight is very close to the idea that, “we are because God is” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 46). It is the knowledge of this interdependence of all things that fuels the powerful loving-kindness energy and practice in Buddhism.

Buddhist practitioners are highly inner self-managed individuals who tend to be thought of as being more involved with meditation than with prayer. In a recent Psychology Today article Katherine Ellison notes:

"Practiced Buddhist meditators deploy their brains with exceptional skill. Drawing on 2,500 years of mental technology - techniques for paying careful attention to the workings of their own minds - they develop expertise in controlling the flow of their mental life, avoiding the emotional squalls that often compel us to take personal feelings oh, so personally, and clearing new channels for awareness, calm, compassion and joy. Their example holds the possibility that we can all choose to modulate our moods, regulate our emotions and increase cognitive capacity – that we can all become high-performance users of our own brains.” (Ellison, 2006, p. 72)

Although Buddhists are most well-known for their skills in meditation, it should be noted that Buddhists also pray. This is made clear by Thich Nhat Hanh in his delightful treatise on prayer entitled The energy of prayer: How to deepen your spiritual practice (Hanh, 2006c). In the introduction to this work, written by Larry Dossey, an author and medical doctor who advocates prayer in the practice of medicine, prayer is defined with a question, "what is prayer but communication with the Absolute, from whence we arose, withh whom we are connected, and to whom we shall return?... Prayer is... a bridge to the Absolute" (Hanh, 2006b, pp. 9 & 13). Buddhism is profoundly not theistic. Why, then, would Dossey in his introduction to this Buddhist commentary on prayer capitalize "Absolute"? Indeed, why would the Buddhist author himself, whom I cited previously as saying "In Buddhism we do not speak of God" (see above), speak of God in the following quote?

“In Buddhism, we know that the one we are praying to lies inside us as well as outside of us. Buddha lies in our heart and so does God. It is a mistake to think that God is only outside.” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 57)

This statement by Thich Nhat Hanh, one of my primary representatives of Buddhism, is a virtual echo of Swedenborg’s comment in Divine Love and Wisdom regarding the angelic view of the Lord. He writes:

“… these things can be little understood by a man who thinks about God from space. For God is everywhere and yet not in space. Thus He is both within an angel and outside him. Consequently an angel can see God, that is, the Lord, both within and outside himself, within himself when he thinks from love and wisdom, outside himself when he thinksaboutlove and wisdom… Let every man beware lest he fall into that abhorrent heresy that God has infused Himself into men, and that He is in them and no longer in Himself, when yet God is everywhere both within and outside man; for He is in all space apart from space… if He were in man [not apart from space]… man then could even think himself to be God.” (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 130)

The only real difference between the two statements is that Hanh warns against thinking that God is only outside of us while Swedenborg warns against thinking that God is “infused… into men” thus dividing an indivisible and omnipresent Divinity.

I believe that the answer to the question as to how a Buddhist can speak of God is that the non-theism of Buddhism is not the atheism with which we in the west are generally familiar. According to Webster, “an atheist rejects all religious belief and denies the existence of God; an agnostic questions the existence of God, heaven, etc. in the absence of material proof and in unwillingness to accept supernatural revelation” (Neufeldt, 1988, p. 86). I have not found an authoritative modern source that categorically states that Buddhism denies the existence of God, or, is anti-God. I assert that Buddhism belongs more in the category of agnosticism, as defined above, than atheism.

Hanh offers a view of prayer as a spiritual practice that has been tempered and influenced by his extraordinary life and practice as a Buddhist meditator and teacher. It is a view that looks at prayer as a means of transcending the self in its spacetime environment and touching the interdependence and oneness of all things at a deeper timeless level (Hanh, 2006b, pp. 42-43).

This interdependence and oneness of all things is established by a unifying presence apart from space and time as the necessary element in every created thing. Buddhists, with great intellectual honesty, describe this unifying presence based only on what they have experienced and can know from their meditative practice. Swedenborg asserts in his theological writings, from his personal meditative, and indeed revelatory, experience that this unifying presence is what he terms the "Divine Human" (see Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 53 & 285).

Hanh explains that there are many elements of effective prayer; but there are two that, in his view, are the most important. The first is, “to establish a relationship between ourselves and the one we are praying to” (Hanh, 2006c, p. 41). The second is the “energy” of “love, mindfulness, and right concentration” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 43).

Hanh stresses the importance of visualization in prayer (Hanh, 2006b, pp. 30 & 42). This kind of visualization establishes the relationship between the one who is praying, the one who is being prayed to, and sometimes the one who is being prayed for. From his Buddhist tradition, he offers a visualization ‘gatha’ that is like a small verse designed to remind us of that relationship:

“The one who bows and the one who is bowed to are both, by nature, empty. Therefore the communication between us is inexpressibly perfect. (Hanh, 2006b, p. 42)

‘Empty’, that is, of a separate existence. Visualization is also essential in Swedenborgian prayer. In his work entitled True Christian Religion, Swedenborg stressed the importance of visualizing the Lord in His Human form:

“Linking with an invisible God is like linking the sight of the eye with the expanse of the universe, the bounds of which are not to be seen. Or it is like looking out in the middle of an ocean, when the gaze falls on air and sea and is frustrated. But linking with a visible God is like seeing a man in the air or the sea opening his arms and inviting you into his embrace. For any linking of God with man must also be a reciprocal linking of man with God; and this second reciprocity is only possible with a visible God.” (Swedenborg, 1988, TCR 787)

Hanh seems to echo something of this Swedenborgian idea in his work on prayer:

“You will not find God in an abstract idea. This is something very important. God is here for us through very concrete things” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 71).

The second most important idea offered by Thich Nhat Hanh regarding effective prayer is the idea of cultivating the “energy” of “love, mindfulness, and right concentration” in prayer. He writes that, “when you have mindfulness, then you have concentration”. He defines ‘mindfulness’ as being “ the real presence of our body and our mind. Our body and our mind are directed toward one point, the present moment… To pray effectively, our body and mind must dwell peacefully in the present moment” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 43). The real presence of the body in prayer is augmented by ‘prostration’. Hanh advises assuming a prostrate position with one’s body when praying. He says, “It is a position that diminishes the ego, opens one up, and brings one close to the earth” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 63). This is necessary, he says, because, “It is essential for prayer that body, speech, and mind are one, and are all truly present. It is not enough to pray with words; effective prayer also takes mental and physical concentration” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 63).

So, dwelling peacefully in the present moment, with the real presence of body and mind, and praying from love while visualizing our connection with the one to whom we are praying summarizes Hanh’s Buddhist view of effective prayer.

In his explication of the Buddhist qualities of the (Christian) Lord’s prayer, Hanh reminds us to avoid trivialities and to remember what the true purpose of prayer is. He does so by asking:

“What are we looking for? We are looking for something very great. We are not asking God to let the sun shine so we can have a good picnic… We are looking for the kingdom of God. Our first aim in prayer is the kingdom of God.” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 75)

Clearly, Hanh’s view of prayer incorporates his life-long experience as a meditator to the point that his model of prayer looks very similar to meditation itself. I would like to add one more concept from Thich Nhat Hanh that is critical to his worldview – and that is the idea of the importance of healthy communities and environments. He explains:

“When we live in an unhealthy environment, the negative thinking, speaking, and actions of that environment influence us, and sooner or later we may fall sick. Living in an environment where people seek only to satisfy sensual desires can cause collective suffering, despair, and depression… If we want to have good health, we have to be determined to develop a good environment… A larger community that is committed to spiritual, physical, and mental health is our best opportunity for healing.” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 99)

And specifically regarding prayer done as a community:

“In the Buddhist tradition, we know that praying as a community, a Sangha, is stronger than praying as an individual… when we simultaneously practice sending spiritual energy, then that energy is magnified and much more effective… When the whole community prays with us, it can be a significant moment in our lives. We are one of the Sangha who is praying. Our own undivided attention is a key to open the door of the ultimate reality and the undivided attention of our friends in the practice is an even greater key.” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 55)

Whether one is an early Christian, a Swedenborgian, or a Buddhist, prayer plays a vital role in spiritual development and thus in consciousness enhancement. It has tremendous value for the individual, and for the group, as a result of its power to conjoin both individuals and groups not only with each other but also with Ultimate Reality – the nature of which is up to the individual practitioner to discover.


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Finkeldey, J. K. (2007). Spiritual practice and consciousness. Unpublished Manuscript: The Swedenborg Library.

Finkeldey, J. K. (June, 2008). Prayer from a Buddhist/Swedenborgian perspective. NewChurch Life, 6, 226-234.

Gyatso, T., His Holiness the Dalai Lama. (2005). The universe in a single atom: The convergence of science and spirituality (T. Jinpa Trans.). New York, NY: Morgan Road Books.

Hanh, T. N. (Winter/Spring, 2006a).Answers of Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh to questions from Publishers Weekly magazine. Retrieved June 25, 2006 from

Hanh, T. N. (2006b). The energy of prayer: How to deepen your spiritual practice. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.

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Suzuki, D. T. (1996). Swedenborg: Buddha of the north (A. Bernstein Trans.). West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation.

Swedenborg, E. (1949). Divine providence (Wm. Dick & E. J. Pulsford Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1764)

Swedenborg, E. (1965). Arcana coelestia (J. F. Potts Trans.). New York, NY: Swedenborg Foundation (Original work published c. 1749-1756)

Swedenborg, E. (1969). Divine love and wisdom (C. & D. H. Harley Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1763)

Swedenborg, E. (1988). True Christian religion (J. Chadwick Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1771)

Copyright (c) 2011 Jeremy K. Finkeldey; all rights reserved.

Interestingly, the originally published version of this article, Finkeldey, J. K. (June, 2008). Prayer from a Buddhist/Swedenborgian perspective. NewChurch Life, 6, 226-234., can be found as a free downloadable pdf on some other sites. I think one of them may even be selling my article as an "ebook". Hmmm... examples: