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Our eyes and minds are accustomed to taking in and processing information, but optical illusions show that we don’t always get this right. If we can misinterpret things in front of our very eyes, what else might we be missing? How are we supposed to believe in something we cannot see—like God or the afterlife?
In this episode, host Curtis Childs explores what eighteenth-century scientist and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg’s spiritual writings revealed about the inner and outer levels of our minds. Understanding these levels empowers us to look past appearances and perceive a whole different level of reality.
Let’s take a step back to the example of optical illusions. We have the sensory part of our mind insisting that it sees one thing, while the rational part of our mind knows the reality is different. This is similar to Swedenborg’s concept of the inner and outer levels of the mind—the outer level, like our senses, insists that what we see is all that exists, while the inner level understands that there is so much more.
The Inner and Outer Mind
The inner and outer levels of our mind are distinct, but they work together.
We cannot approach the Deity with our body the way we approach other people, only with our mind and therefore in our thought and will. There is no other route to the Deity, because divinity transcends the realm of space and time. In us divinity is present in what are called states—specifically, states of love and states of faith, and therefore states of the two mental faculties of will and thought. These are the means by which we can approach the Deity . . . People are not aware of this, because they do not realize that their inner levels are distinct from their outer levels, or that some thoughts go deeper and deeper and some shallower. Since they do not know any of this, they cannot reflect on it. (Secrets of Heaven §§6843, 6844:3)
In Swedenborg’s writings, a house corresponds to the human mind, with its higher levels corresponding to the inner mind. Because we have these higher and lower spaces in our mind, we are able take a step back from our thoughts, observe our mental processes, and reflect on them. As we explore our minds through a process of regeneration, or spiritual rebirth, we get a higher vantage on our thoughts, feelings, and actions—one that sheds more light into our entire lives.
Rationality is the Mezzanine
These two levels of our minds need to connect to each other, and they do that through rationality.
The ability to reason also belongs to the outer self. In its true character, that capacity is a kind of bridge between the inner self and the outer, because the inner self directs the outer, body-centered self by means of it. But when the rational mind consents [to self-dependence], it separates the outer self from the inner; so that we no longer know the inner self exists. As a result, we also fail to see what understanding and wisdom are, belonging as they do to the inner realm. (Secrets of Heaven §268)
It’s important to keep in mind that Swedenborg is actually talking about two different kinds of rationality. The first kind, as described in the quote above, is a self-dependent rationality. It’s based on the incomplete evidence of our senses and our own self-centered worldview, which makes it easy to fool ourselves into believing something that’s not true. Call it Rationality 1.0. Swedenborg tells us that this kind of rationality is incompatible with divine truth.
The rational mind deserves no trust. Our rational mind latches on to illusions and appearances and therefore rejects truth that has been stripped of illusions and appearances. (Secrets of Heaven §1936:5)
However, if we do the hard work of regeneration and work to let the “light” of divine truth into the lower levels of our mind, rationality can be a perfect vantage point from which to really look at who we are. That’s when we move into Rationality 2.0.
[We] should not trust in appearances but in divine truth itself, no matter how incredible it might seem to that early rationality. (Secrets of Heaven §1936:1)
With the right perspective, we become “clear-sighted enough to denounce [our] own thoughts,” as Swedenborg writes in Secrets of Heaven §2654:7.
So what exactly is it that the higher mind can understand that the lower mind can’t? We’ll find out our quiz show, “That’s the Truth”! Here, the lower mind does its best to answer according to what it can see in our world, while the higher mind is able to answer using a divine perspective. In the end, though, we see that while the higher mind has a monopoly on spiritual matters, the lower mind is much better suited for tackling challenges of the physical world.
We use both levels of our minds constantly; and in an ideal state of being, both work in harmony rather than fighting each other.
Curtis is so confident that this knowledge can help us in our daily lives that he gives viewers a special insight into his own mind, which reveals that thoughts don’t always come from the level you’d expect.
In the wrap-up, Curtis reviews how the outer and inner minds relate to each other. Rationality can be a bridge between the two, but it can also be a roadblock if we never do the work of spiritual growth. Ultimately, the outer and inner minds need to work in harmony for us to become our best self.
- Do evil spirits deliberately cause the effect of our disbelief?
- If a person goes an entire year without sinning at all, are they still sinning without knowing it?
- Why is it that spirits can so easily see/hear us but we can be so oblivious to them? Is it the limitation of having a physical mind?
- How is the inner mind of an individual with, say, autism opened up by the Lord?
- Is there an actual “awakening” or is it a process of increasing awareness?
Related Swedenborg and Life Videos
“Conscience: How to Build Heaven in Your Mind”
“How to Free Your Mind from Hell”
“The Struggle for Your Mind” (S&L Short Clip)
“Why Doesn’t God Prove that He Exists?”
“Who was Swedenborg? What should I read?”
Free E-Book Downloads
Secrets of Heaven
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About Swedenborg and Life
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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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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