By Chelsea Odhner
The Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “You are my witnesses!” (43:10,12; 44:8).
In the age of “fake news” and the #MeToo movement, it seems as though we have reached a cultural tipping point around the importance of bearing true witness. Having access to media on a global scale, we can sometimes feel powerless in the face of all that we witness; our power, though, remains in how we bear witness. Bearing true witness is the beginning of transformation, for ourselves as individuals and for society.
The Real News
Why is it so valuable that the truth come out in either society or in our own heads? Because it allows us to reckon with what is genuinely aligned with love and what isn’t. It can be just as painful to admit to the true circumstances of our own mental state as it is to acknowledge the grossly maligned boundaries of a relationship, but to notice is to begin to carve a way toward a state more rooted in love.
We know what the commandment not to bear false witness means on an outer level: be honest; don’t lie. But if we peel back a layer from this by taking its implications into the realm of an individual mind, asking ourselves, “What kind of a witness am I to my own life?”, we realize that we each have both a false witness and a true witness mind.
I’ve come to learn that the “fake news” in my head—the false witness—is anything arising from selfhood.
When truths are derived from the self they have as their end in view rank and prominence over everyone in the world, and also earthly possessions and wealth above everyone. Consequently they hold within them self-love and love of the world, thus all evils in their entirety. . . . Products of the self or self-intelligence are called truths, but they are not really truths; they look like truths solely to outward appearances. (Arcana Coelestia §8941:2)
What, then, is the real news? It is what comes to us from heavenly love, or in other words, what comes from God, who is divine love. For a commandment that is just telling us not to lie, it may not seem this way on the surface, but love, or what Swedenborg calls “the good of love,” is a core part of bearing true witness. In fact, you can’t have truth without it.
The Lord comes into sight through good, but not through truth devoid of good. . . . He is present in truth to the extent that it leads to good and to the extent that it emanates from good. . . . The truths of faith regarded without love are mere sounds devoid of any life; but through love, and so through being joined to the good of love, they receive life. (Arcana Coelestia §§3863:14; 10153:4; 4352:2)
What does this mean for my own states? Well, it behooves me both to question those states that are out to attack me, or others, and to consciously adopt a perspective that has the warm color of mercy. Yet the grooves of a false witness mind are ingrained. The outer, or earthly, level of our mind is built to function in appearances—which allows us to live in the natural world—but if we make spiritual judgments based solely on these appearances, we will be misled.
The earthly self makes judgments based on appearances and resulting false impressions, when in fact these run directly counter to the truth. . . . Sense impressions mean things that impinge on our physical senses and are experienced by those senses. . . . When our thinking rises above sense impressions, it enters a clearer light and eventually comes into the light of heaven. From this light we get the awareness of truth that constitutes real intelligence. . . . If sense impressions have the highest priority . . . truths are not visible to us except as if they were in a fog or in the dark of night. (True Christianity §§470; 402:12, 16, 18)
Thoughts based on appearances often betray the love that is alive in all things.
What It Takes
The false witness perspective will always be there. We must choose daily, and moment to moment, to lift our minds to the true witness. It takes repeated effort and requires choice.
What we are trying to do is expand the place within ourselves where the Lord can live. And what we are grasping onto and holding so tightly to—namely, our old self—is the very thing that is preventing that from happening. . . . We have to become . . . a vessel [so that] the Lord can live in us and also be active through us. The Lord has given us that potential. (Observing Spirit, 170)
A friend once suggested making the effort into a phrase that will help reach for the true witness in any difficult moment: “What is the most loving way I could hold my circumstances?” Hear the message as if it’s coming from someone who for you encapsulates total love. Another avenue is to use the practice of metta, or loving-kindness meditation, which consists of the conscious cultivation of the experience of loving-presence. Either by imagining holding someone dear to you in a loving gaze or by being on the receiving end of a loving gaze from someone who embodies total, ecstatic love for you, the perspective gained from being in this love-filled state is one of true witness.
It is an act of strength and courage to live in alignment with true witness. And it is a monumental feat because it means going against the tide of the world of appearances, against the strong current of either our false witness mind on an individual level or worldly appearances in society—reputations or expectations. It is exactly what is needed to transform our world, both inner and outer. By bearing true witness, in our own minds or in society, we can trust that we are adding to the ocean of genuine truth that the Lord operates through to lead us to love and that “he does not rest until love takes the lead” (Secrets of Heaven §63).
Chelsea Rose Odhner is a writer for the Swedenborg & Life show on the offTheLeftEye YouTube channel.