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When you get a hunch, where do you get it from? Animals seem to be born knowing exactly what they are and what they need to do, but humans are always asking themselves what the right next step might be. So how do we find that intuitive knowledge of the right path in life?
Eighteenth-century philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg seemed to have cracked the code. He didn’t refer to it as intuition, though—he called it perception.
People today have no idea what perception is. It is an inner feeling for whether a thing is true and good—a feeling that can come only from the Lord. (Secrets of Heaven §104)
It’s not just about having knowledge from the spiritual world, because not every spirit on the other side is wise or has good intentions. It’s important to be able to recognize when the guidance you’re getting is from a divine source.
So where does this perception come from? Like all things, it comes from God, but it can flow through heaven or hell before it comes to us.
It can be hard to determine whether something feels good for the right reasons or for the wrong ones. Perception is practical, as it helps us understand why one thing is different from the other.
But perception can take different forms. For animals, this can be called instinct—and it used to be an instinct for humans. Swedenborg describes how in the early days of humanity, perception flowed directly from God into people’s minds and we were able to instantly and instinctively recognize what was good. Over time, though, we lost our receptivity and became more focused on love of self and material things of the world.
Now, it’s a multistep process. We learn things intellectually, and we decide whether or not we want to apply those principles to our life. If we do, it becomes part of our conscience. That conscience becomes a means by which God can start to work within us, turning our focus from selfish concerns to loving ones. As that happens, our insight becomes clearer and clearer over time.
As long as spirits imagine that they lead themselves, and that they think for themselves and gain knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom for themselves, they cannot have perception. Instead they consider perception to be stuff and nonsense. (Secrets of Heaven §1386)
Only God can give us goodness and truth, but we have to freely choose this reformation. We start by thinking we control goodness and truth, but soon we learn God’s really in charge. Not until we truly believe that can we start to perceive the truth.
Author Peter Rhodes joins to discuss how this can look in daily life. Through practices like meditation, we can start to move past ourselves and our worldly loves. When we clear the path, we can start to have and act on angelic thoughts.
For another example, we have a look at how attitudes can change based on who you spend time with. The further we evolve in spiritual development, the more time we spend with angels, and that’s what Swedenborg would call perception. The other voices that try to influence us fall away, and we can more clearly hear the voice of God.
It is similar with self-love [self-centeredness]. If the truth of faith has taught us that this love belongs to hell and therefore is hell, the goodness inside us uses its inner eye to draw itself a picture of self-love as hell—a picture that horrifies it. So as soon as we run into something selfish again, and we sense that it is indeed selfish, the goodness in our will uses its eye to re-examine its picture of hell. The Lord then holds us back from anything selfish, and the more he holds us back, and the purer our goodness is, the more we start to learn. The desire to learn, you see, grows along with the good that love embraces, and it also increases as our goodness increases. In the end we become sensitive to the different categories and types of self-love and notice them inside ourselves. As a result we become wiser and wiser. (Spiritual Experiences §5644)
One way we can step closer to this perception is with these questions:
- What does God want me to do in this situation?
- Is my ego getting in the way?
- What are the best ways that I can help and serve people?
- How can I support the greater good?
- What can I learn from mistakes?
Humans have instincts that are about more than food and water—our instincts help us find nourishment for our souls.
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About Swedenborg & Life
In a lighthearted and interactive webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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