In the Netflix movie Bird Box, actress Sandra Bullock stars as a woman trying to lead two children to safety through a post-apocalyptic landscape. The catch: the trio is being stalked by monsters. One glimpse of these monsters will drive a person to commit suicide. The only way to stay safe is to remain blindfolded whenever you go outside.
But there’s also a twist: Not everyone sees these monsters the same way. There are some people who look at these creatures and see something so beautiful that they want to share it with everyone they meet—by force, if necessary.
The movie raises thought-provoking questions about the nature of sight and the things we choose to look at or not look at. What could be so powerful that it changes us permanently just by looking?
Emanuel Swedenborg offers some insights into the nature of sight in his work Secrets of Heaven (Arcana Coelestia). Our eyes, he says, correspond spiritually to our understanding, or intellect, the part of our mind that processes facts and comes to conclusions.
A person’s understanding has an outer part and an inner part. The outer part of [their] understanding is where thought that enters [their] awareness is, whereas the inner part is where thought that does not enter [their] awareness is . . . This part of the understanding is what the Lord enlightens when a person receives faith . . . (§9051)
In other words, the eye represents the deeper parts of our mind, where we genuinely accept things as either true or not true. And what we accept as true, Swedenborg explains, is what we believe in.
In the Word, seeing symbolizes understanding and believing . . . [reading a Bible verse that refers to someone looking at something] means that they acknowledged the truth and put their faith in it. (Secrets of Heaven §896)
Think about the impact that seeing something has on you. A beautiful image might uplift you, change your perspective on things, and linger in your memory for years. A horrifying image might also stick with you, but with a very negative effect. In the same way, a spiritual idea that’s beautiful and true might change your life for the better, especially if you accept it in the deepest parts of your being and live by it. What would happen if the idea was hateful or self-destructive?
That’s the spiritual dynamic represented by Bird Box: In the movie, anyone who sees the creatures is changed, irreversibly, on a fundamental level; and how the person is changed depends on what kind of person they are. In our lives, what we “see” can likewise have an enormous impact on us as human beings—but what has an impact depends on our inner nature.
Continuing his commentary on sight, Swedenborg explains that the well-known phrase those who have eyes and do not see (Ezekiel 12:2) refers to those “who are able to understand, acknowledge, and believe, but do not wish to” (Secrets of Heaven §897). What are the things that you choose to see, and those you’d blindfold yourself to avoid?
We dig into the idea of spiritual perception—the ability to tell the difference between what’s good and what’s not—in “How to Find True Intuition,” an episode of our web series Swedenborg & Life on the offTheLeftEye YouTube channel. In the same series, “How to Test a Spiritual Idea” offers practical tips for sorting through the many spiritual ideas and perspectives that we encounter on our journeys.