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We’re born, we live, we die, and . . . then what? In his spiritual experiences, eighteenth-century spiritual teacher Emanuel Swedenborg learned the answer. In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose, along with guest co-hosts Karin Childs and Chelsea Odhner, walk us through what will be our first steps of life after death.
An unconditionally loving welcome
In many near-death experience stories, people witness joyful welcome and powerful feelings of love. Swedenborg wrote that he was allowed to experience what this process is like so that he could describe it to people still living on earth. He tells of heavenly angels surrounding him with pure love and protecting him from any negative emotions, and then goes on to say:
In addition to the heavenly angels occupying the region of my heart, there were two angels sitting at my head. I perceived that this is so for everyone. . . . All the while I remained at one with the heavenly angels, held in a fairly close embrace in the area around my heart, as I perceived and also felt in my pulse. . . . They completely discounted all my misconceptions and falsities. It was not that they ridiculed them; they appeared not to care about them at all. (Secrets of Heaven §§172, 176, 180)
These angels are purely positive, no matter what you bring to them. Their presence even makes death smell sweet, scaring demons away. These angels protect you from everything that isn’t love.
Swedenborg says that some people simply stay with the heavenly angels. However, not everyone is ready to be in the presence of that kind of love, and for those people, a second set of angels come to help the person process what has happened. These spiritual angels gradually unveil our spiritual senses. When Swedenborg experienced it, he said it was as if a covering was being taken off of his left eye (now you know where the name of our channel comes from!), and after that, he could truly see.
Once you’re ready, you’re reunited with friends, family, and other loved ones who have already crossed over. For examples of how that works, check out our episode “5 Reunions in the Afterlife.”
You will still be you, but the deeper you
When you wake up on the other side, you’ll still have a body made of spiritual substance.
Almost all the people who arrive from this world are as astonished as they can be to find that they are alive and that they are just as human as ever, that they are seeing and hearing and talking, that their bodies are still endowed with the sense of touch, and that nothing at all has changed. (Heaven and Hell §456)
How can you still have a body after shedding your physical body? Swedenborg tells us that we have to have some type of body to exist as individuals, and so when we go to the spiritual world, we’ll have a spiritual body.
At first, our spiritual body will look and feel like our earthly body. Everything looks and feels exactly the same as it did when we were living on earth, including ourselves. Even your thoughts and memories come with you when you die. You still want the same things and love the say way. You’ll still be you.
As time goes on, your deeper beliefs and feelings will start to emerge, and you’ll start to become more like your true self. Your spiritual face and body will reflect who you are in your heart.
People who were engaged in good affections had lovely faces, while people who were engaged in evil affections had ugly ones. Seen in its own right, our spirit is nothing but our affections, whose outward form is our face. . . . The reason our faces change is that in the other life no one is allowed to pretend to affections they do not really have, so we cannot put on a face that is contrary to the love we are engaged in. We are all refined down to a state in which we say what we think and manifest in expression and act what we intend. This is why our faces all become forms and images of our affections. (Heaven and Hell §457)
This first stage isn’t about trying to achieve some kind of perfection, but about finally coming to an understanding of yourself that might have been unclear on earth. Even if the things you see about yourself make you uncomfortable, angels will be there with unconditional love and support to help you through.
You will be free to go wherever you want
God wants to bring us into heaven, but he won’t sacrifice our freedom. Once we’re introduced to the spiritual world and to ourselves, we’ll have the opportunity to move toward communities we resonate with based on our interests and what we prioritized in our earthly lives.
As we find the communities that are most authentic for our current spiritual state, we may even find ourselves wanting to be more distant from the loving angels who surrounded us when we first arrived.
When we are eager to part with the angels, they do not leave us but we disconnect from them. Angels love everyone and want nothing more than to be helpful to us, teach us, and take us up into heaven. (Secrets of Heaven §315)
If we do choose to leave those angels, we’ll find ourselves in the company of good spirits—that is, people who lived good lives, but also aren’t quite ready for heaven. We rotate through various communities until we find one that reflects and supports who we truly are. That’s our new beginning.
So if we don’t resonate with heaven, does that make us bad people? No, Swedenborg says. We just need more time to learn and prepare before we’re ready to experience that kind of intense love. He describes people who really want to go to heaven being allowed to visit—but the light and the heat are so intense that it’s painful, and the spirits have to withdrawal.
Swedenborg also saw people being allowed to test out different ideas of what heaven is like. For example, people who think it’s nothing but singing in a heavenly choir can go and sing to their heart’s content, and people who think it’s nothing but feasting or socializing could experience as much of that as they wished. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t long before they got bored and wanted to move on. True heavenly joy turned out to be something much different. (And for even more on people’s different ideas of heaven, check out our episode “How to Create Heaven on Earth.”)
A life review
Many near-death experiences include a “life review,” and Swedenborg’s experience was no different. These life reviews show you how you affected others, but there’s no judgment. The goal is just to help you understand what is and isn’t loving behavior. In the process, they also show you a path to forgiving yourself.
This can help us identify the parts of ourselves that don’t match up with the person we want to become. We need to know where we are to take steps to get where we want to be. And while a life review can take many forms, Swedenborg describes one instance where the memories appeared in an actual book.
But in fact, he adds, the story is written on our spiritual body:
When we are being faced with our deeds after death, angels who have been given the task of examining look searchingly into the face and continue their examination through the whole body, beginning with the fingers first of one and and then of the other and continuing through the whole. . . . The things that are inscribed on our memory from our intention and consequent thought are inscribed not only on the brain but also on the whole person, where they take form in a pattern of the parts of the body. (Heaven and Hell §463)
It’s not about adding up our good deeds and our bad deeds, because we all have a little of each in our history. Rather, it’s a question of what your deeper goals and priorities were, and what that means for your continuing path toward heaven.
Opportunities to learn and progress
God and heaven are inviting you to your highest potential and to a better beginning. But what if a person doesn’t want to go to heaven? That may seem like a strange question. Who wouldn’t want to go to heaven? We’ll tackle that question in our upcoming episode, “What is Hell Really Like?”
But for those who do want to progress, there will always be opportunities to learn and grow in our spiritual understanding. The end result is pure joy.
So how does this help us today, while we’re still alive? A healthy life builds a foundation for the future, and investment in your own spiritual growth will pay off infinity-fold by giving us on the head start on the path to heaven.
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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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