HABITS OF MEDITATION AND GUIDANCE
Regardless of how you feel in the morning, the thought from the Psalms, “This is the day the Lord has made. Be happy in it,” helps start your day on a better plane or higher road. If you feel “down” and think it would be hypocritical to say something you don’t feel, look for a Psalm that expresses your feelings. Five minutes daily meditating on a scripture or other devotional material will serve you well as you cope with the frustrations that are common in your daily life.
The Psalms of David (the first 72 in the Book of Psalms) express many different moods. Interestingly, most of them end in praise of God after they begin to recall God’s goodness. We also can change our moods by changing what we think about. If we think on the positive side and are thankful, we feel much better than when we let ourselves rummage around with all negative thoughts.
Journaling is a middle way that balances the negatives and positives so that we have a more realistic view. By using a journal and writing in it a few minutes everyday and then reviewing it, we can begin to see how our inner thoughts behave in relation to events. We look for repetition of thoughts or events with which to work. Then we have a “toe hold” to begin climbing out of the deep valley of illness. When we see ourselves dwelling too much on negatives, we can make a conscious decision to look for the positive values in the situation. At first this takes a lot of effort because the negative thinking may have become automatic.
If we find ourselves in a vicious circle of behavior that is harmful to ourselves or others, please take a few minutes to read and copy the article on Stepping Out of Vicious Circles. https://evelynmmaxwell.com/2013/11/02/stepping-out-of-vicious-circles/
Most people would like to be on the “mountain top” of life, happy and joyous all the time, but remember this: Jesus is often called the “Lily of the Valley” in Christian thought. He was acquainted with grief and sorrow. We don’t have to “fake” happiness when we are sad. Jesus, sent by God to help us understand what our life in God can be like, is called the “first-born of many brothers” in the book of Hebrews. His life began and ended tumultuously. Response to his public ministry was comparatively quiet in the beginning and developed into one marked by strong acclamation and opposition. He promised that God, whom he called, “Our Father,” would give each of his followers the same Spirit that he had: the Holy Spirit who makes it possible to really communicate with God for wisdom and guidance.
The New Testament book of Galatians, chapter five, verse 23, gives us a list of some qualities we begin to see in our lives as a result of
our cooperation with the Holy Spirit’s activity. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (wording may vary somewhat depending on which translation you are reading).
We are unsure of our guidance when we first start on the journey with God as our life partner. Three principles to help us judge the wisdom of the guidance are:
a) It does not harm ourselves, either mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or physically.
b) It does not harm other people.
c) It is for the common good.
Guidance sometimes comes in startling ways and sometimes very subtly. “Hearing voices” is may be associated with a sincere search for God’s will. The voices are often associated with a “vision” or daydream or vivid night dreams. Jewish and Christian history is strongly rooted in these kinds of experiences. Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, Elijah and most of the prophets experienced a variety of visions in the records of the Hebrew or Jewish scriptures. These same scriptures are the “Old Testament” of the Christian “Bible”. Mary, Joseph, Jesus, James, John, Peter, and Paul are an incomplete list of people who experience either voices or visions in the “New Testament” scriptures that complete the Christian Bible.
Jewish and Christian traditions and histories cite many others. Honi the Circle-Drawer and Hanina ben Dosa were Jewish Holy Men in Galilee, Jesus’ native area. Augustine, Joanne of Arc, Francis of Assisi are among later Christian visionaries. The histories of other religions also have roots in dreams and visions of instruction. Marcus Borg, in “Jesus, A New Vision,” published by Harper and Row in 1987, argues that these experiences indicate that there is another reality besides what we ordinarily see and hear. That reality is the realm of the Spirit.
Yet, in psychiatric circles “hearing voices and seeing things” is often, if not always, considered a symptom of mental illness. We have already discussed delirium and the hallucinations and delusions that may accompany it in an earlier article. And it is well known that certain street drugs are highly hallucinogenic. Prior to modern chemistry and laboratory experiments, those hallucinogenic substances were found mainly in plants.
Initially, we see at least two sources for these visionary experiences. One is spiritual, seeking and receiving in relationship with God. The second is impairment or alteration of the physical senses due to physical conditions. These may be delirium, chemically or drug induced; biochemical changes due to excessive stress, either physical, emotional, or spiritual; or the result of other physical causes, such as a tumor, deficient blood supply to the brain, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, sleep deficit, or aberrant electrical impulses in the brain as in some forms of epilepsy.
An interesting parallel to these two sources of visionary experience is found in reading Chapter 2 of Genesis in the Bible, the beginnings of the Jewish and Christian beliefs. In this account, God breathes spiritual life into Adam who becomes not just body and soul as we often think, but who becomes body and “living soul.” In this condition, Adam and Eve converse with God, have no guilt or shame, hide nothing and find good in everything (Gen. 1:31)…except, in the tree of knowledge of good and evil, against which God had warned them.
When they ate of that plant their experience of themselves, their environment, and their relationship with God changed. Their vision was altered. They saw themselves differently. They saw their nakedness. Their emotions and self-concepts were altered. They felt differently. They felt ashamed and guilty. Their behavior was altered. They acted differently. They hid from God. Their cognitive processes changed. They thought and talked differently. They blamed others for what she herself and he himself had done.
Whether this account is read as a literal, physical happening or as a figurative, psychological happening, two conclusions are apparent. At worst, Adam and Eve’s experience from eating the fruit was a “negative trip” that altered the rest of their lives. At best, it was a mixed experience, for now they knew both the good and the evil, the pleasure and the pain of life. Isn’t it ironic, that the plants that provide substances with the potential for hallucinations and perceptual distortions, often provide also the blessing of pain relief from the evils of life.
A third source of altered visual and auditory perception or “hallucinations” exists. In the apparent absence of religious experience, delirium and toxic chemicals or drugs, voices may still occur, and more rarely, seeing what others do not see.
When the voices are derogatory, taunting, or aimed at something bad for you or others, you will need to control them. You can command them to stop, in a loud voice, and if necessary for emphasis, stomping your foot at the same time. This is called “thought stopping” and is also advised by therapists who are not writing in a religious framework.
These “bad voices” or “audible thoughts” that are destructive would have been called “demons” in Jesus’ time. Today it might be thought of a “psychosis” because others do not hear an external source for the voice. This label helps doctors choose the kind of medication that has helped some others with the same problem. Today the voices are also explained as daydreams that break into our consciousness when we have not had sufficient sleep or rest. If you believe demons are afflicting you, you will want to seek out a pastor or minister with special training to help you initially.
Another explanation today, for people who have had a very traumatic life, is that the personality has splintered when the person was overwhelmed. As one part of the person “gave up,” another part arose to try to carry on. This may happen more than once and is sometimes diagnosed as “Multiple Personality,” particularly if one part of the person is not aware of other parts.
People who are severely traumatized are often angry, vengeful, and bitter. Denial of certain feelings, loss of memory for certain events, behaving and even looking like “different persons at different times” are indications that you might be helped by a specialist in the treatment of multiple personalities. The treatment usually is aimed at helping you develop an integrated self, reconciling all the splintered parts so that you can lead a productive and satisfying personal life that is closer to your ideal of yourself. “Closer” to our ideals is as close as we are able to come; we are not seeking perfection in the usual sense of the word, but maturity and wholeness of personhood.
In severe conditions such as we have been discussing, reading is not sufficient. Medical consultation to seek the basic causes of the problems is necessary. In addition, you will need to talk with others who can help. You may contact a counseling center, a community mental health center, a private counselor, or specially trained minister. Contrary to many impressions, the mental health centers do provide services to prevent mental illness. Going to the mental health center does not mean that you are mentally ill. It is a sign of mental health when we realize we need help and ask for it.
Some insurance programs do not pay for mental health benefits and some pay only if ordered by your physician. Check it out beforehand so that you can make realistic financial plans. There are programs of “Brief Therapy” that are quite effective. In any case, if your emotional life or physical health is at risk, YOU are worth taking care of, and you may prevent greater future financial and emotional costs by taking action now.
A New Creation
At times of deep distress, many people turn to God. God hears you. God cares. In Christian religious terms, when you ask God into your life, (some faiths may use somewhat different wording) you become a “New Creature” or “New Creation”. You become related to Jesus as a child of God by the Holy Spirit, also called the Spirit of Love (AGAPE in the Greek language).
AGAPE is a strong kind of love that loves all of us regardless of worthiness, sins, faults, failures or weaknesses. With that love comes the power through God’s Spirit to change, to begin to love ourselves and others, and to live as we believe God wants us to live. Then, what had been our weaknesses, now become opportunities to praise God as we overcome those tendencies and temptations.
As a New Creature or New Person, we have the opportunity in some ways to “start over.” According to Paul the Apostles’s experience, the “old person” dies and the old things “pass away.” Sometimes, the new person is still tempted to act in the old ways, but has new resources, strength of character, wisdom and judgement. The new person is also advised to seek advice from the older members of the faith in order to face and deal with problems. Today we also have the Bible and many other books to read and study to help us in our decisions.
In some religious groups, the “new person” is baptized and/or given a new name. As “new persons” we listen and study to learn more about what is expected of each of us and what we can expect as a new person. As we become older in faith, we do well to “take stock” from time to time to see if there is anything more that God would have us do that would bring us closer to being the best person we can be, to bring peace and harmony into our part of the world to the glory, praise, and honor of God.
“…you have listened to Him and been taught by Him according to the truth in Jesus: That you are to rid yourself of the old nature with your previous habits, ruined as it is by deceitful lusts; that you be renewed in your mental attitude, and that you put on the new nature that is created in God’s likeness in genuine righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:-21-24 Modern Language Bible (Berkley Version).