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All too often, spiritual things feel distant—almost out of reach. It can feel like there’s not enough time in the day for a heavenly mindset. But what if we could connect to the spiritual world all the time? In this special talk at the 2018 Wisdom of the Near Death Experience Symposium in Austin, Texas, Curtis Childs shows us how.
It can seem like a complicated problem, because it’s hard to be immersed in both spirituality and mundane activities at the same time. That’s why movies have genres—it fits things into understandable and predictable buckets so we can focus on a particular type of experience. But in life, the genres actually mix. We have highs and lows and experiences that hit us out of the blue. How do we reconcile an experience of the Divine with, for example, being stuck in traffic?
For near-death experiencers, it’s common to wonder why life isn’t easier now that they’ve had this amazing encounter with the beyond. That’s something that anyone who has had a sense of connection to the Divine can relate to—when you’ve had a near-death experience or studied spiritual truth, you want that perspective all the time. Why do we fluctuate between high and low?
The answer is that during our lifetime, we can’t ditch our bodies and go live in heaven all the time. We are (if we’re trying to lead spiritual lives) trying to combine heaven and earth inside us.
How does Curtis know? Eighteenth-century philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg paved the way. His spiritual experiences were basically a thirty-year, day-to-day near-death experience, where he could see all the details of both this world and the spiritual world. As Raymond Moody noted in his classic work on near-death experiences, Life After Life, Swedenborg’s descriptions of the afterlife correlate very closely with reports from modern-day near-death experiencers.
Circling back to the question of making experiences spiritual, let’s take a moment to understand what “spiritual” means. Helpfully, Swedenborg gives a definition in one of his works:
To think spiritually is to think about actual things as they really are. (New Jerusalem §39)
But we can get caught up in materialistic thinking, which could be defined as thinking about things as they appear. For example, it appears from our perspective that the sun goes around the earth and that the earth is much bigger than the sun. Or, from an emotional perspective, it appears that people who have died just disappear. But we can know from a spiritual perspective that that isn’t true. The same applies to people: Due to the fundamental attribution error, we tend to assume that people are no more than the behavior we see from them. From a spiritual perspective, however, we think about people as complex beings who act from circumstances we don’t know about.
Why does it seem like there are actually two parts of our self? Because there are:
What’s happening when we see things from these two different perspectives is that we’re switching between our inner and outer perspectives. For people trying to grow spiritually, this switch can be quite jarring.
The whole process of rebirth exists in order for us to receive new life . . . So when our previous way of life . . . breaks down in times of trouble, we cannot help faltering between truth and falsity after the trouble has passed. Truth belongs to the new life, falsity to the old. Unless the earlier way of life is destroyed and this uncertainty takes hold, spiritual seed cannot possibly be sown in us, since there is no soil for it. (Secrets of Heaven §848)
There’s a structure to these things. You follow one step at a time, but at the end you’re a confluence of materialistic, outer self thinking and angelic, spiritual thinking. Angels, Swedenborg tells us, see the good and bad in each of us, and they recognize that the bad is a temporary state rather than a fundamental attribute.
When angels think and speak about the hells, then, they think and speak about falsity and evil in the abstract, separate from hell’s inhabitants. Angels always set aside any thought of the person, staying with the thought of the thing itself. (Secrets of Heaven §8343)
We need to know as well that it is humankind through which the natural world is united to the spiritual world, that we are the means of the union. For there is within us a natural world and also a spiritual world; so to the extent that we are spiritual, we are a means of union. (Heaven and Hell §112)
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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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When we wake up in heaven, Swedenborg tells us, angels roll a covering from off of our left eye so that we can see everything in a spiritual light. The offTheLeftEye YouTube channel uses an array of educational and entertaining video formats to look at life and death through an uplifting spiritual lens.
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