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If you focus on something you want, will you get it? The popular Law of Attraction—which comes from the New Thought movement—indicates that “like attracts like” and that our thoughts can have real-life impact.
The New Thought movement was in part inspired by eighteenth-century scientist and spiritual teacher Emanuel Swedenborg, but does he describe anything like the Law of Attraction? In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose look into that very question.
Off to a Good Start
Curtis begins by taking us through Swedenborgian responses to New Thought (or “Mesmerism”). While some of Swedenborg’s writings help to explain the Law of Attraction, Swedenborg wouldn’t exactly say that the popular belief is accurate. When discussing verses in the Bible that call for retributive justice (for example, “an eye for an eye” in Exodus 21:23–25), he says there is a high spiritual principle at play:
Such is the law of the spiritual world. People who do heartfelt good to another in that world receive the same good in return. So people who do heartfelt evil to another receive the same evil in return. Heartfelt good carries its own reward, and heartfelt evil carries its own punishment. That is the source of heaven for the good and of hell for the evil. (Secrets of Heaven §9049)
In other words, the Law of Attraction is real—but only in the spiritual world. In heaven, people who love others and do good for others draw in love from the Lord, while in hell, people who do harm to others draw pain and suffering to themselves.
In a description of his spiritual experiences, Swedenborg points out the irony of this: Evil spirits try to influence people to be miserable and hurt others. The people they influence in this way become evil spirits themselves—and, as evil spirits, they enter hell and cause pain and torment for the very spirits who created them. In other words, evil spirits create their own hell.
This dynamic exists for the protection of good people:
Everything in the other world is balanced in such a way that evil punishes itself. . . . Otherwise [evil spirits] would infest communities of good people and inflict violence on the system of order established by the Lord, which ensures the welfare of the universe. (Secrets of Heaven §967)
Just because this law is true in the spiritual world doesn’t mean it carries over to the physical world—at least not in a way we’d be able to see and clearly understand. And of course, that brings up an important question: is it good for us (spiritually speaking) to always get what we want?
The Complexity of Love(s)
The idea that our thoughts can shape reality is an attractive one, but as Jonathan points out, there are problems with it, too. If something bad happens to you, does it mean that you’re thinking the wrong thoughts? If you don’t have material success, does it mean that you’re a bad person?
Part of where the popular concept of the Law of Attraction went wrong was when it was turned toward material thinking. This isn’t a new phenomenon; it actually started after the First World War, when there was a whole spate of books about how to use the power of thought to get what you want.
For Swedenborg, the Law of Attraction is all about love, which falls into four categories:
- God—love and wisdom itself
- Neighbor—other people
- World—material goods
When the Law of Attraction is turned toward the lower loves, it can actually block higher purposes. Remember the evil spirits from the previous section—by indulging their selfishness, they ultimately end up hurting themselves. In the same way, by putting self-serving thoughts and intentions into the universe, we can attract self-serving spiritual forces and block the flow of love from heaven without even realizing it.
Swedenborg also points out, in Heaven and Hell §383, that like being drawn to like is God’s will—it’s the way the world is meant to work. But in order for it to work well, we have to let go a little bit and leave room for divine providence to lead us down the right path.
It’s important to pay attention to ourselves and constantly consider whether we’re bringing others energy or blocking their light. Whatever your will is, your true intent is what really matters.
So, What Good Is It?
Okay, so if the Law of Attraction only applies to the spiritual world, what good does this law do us today?
The more an angel gives to another in a spirit of neighborly love, the more the giver receives as an influence from heaven as a whole, or in other words, from the Lord. In giving to one who asks, then, an angel is not deprived of possessions but is enriched with them. The same is true for us as well, when we do good to another in a spirit of neighborly love. (Secrets of Heaven §9174)
You can’t run out of love—the more you give and share, the more love there is in the world and the better we all are. Not only does love attract other loving people, but it’s just a better way to live.
Within peace, you see, lies trust in the Lord: trust that he is in complete charge, takes care of everything, and leads it to a good ending. When we believe this, we are at peace, because we then fear nothing and have no worries about the future to disturb us. (Secrets of Heaven §8455)
Good can come even from hardship, and if we trust that the process will lead to a joyful end, then that trust can bring more peace than material wealth.
In the wrap-up, Curtis and Jonathan remind us of the history of Swedenborg and the Law of Attraction, and show how love and kindness always bring the greatest rewards. Swedenborg’s message is more about the long-game than it is about short-term benefits.
When the Lord is with someone, he leads that person and provides that every event, whether sad or happy, turns to that person’s benefit. That is what divine providence is. (Secrets of Heaven §6303)
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In a lighthearted and interactive live 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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