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Most religious traditions agree that our minds will continue past our deaths, but few can agree on exactly what that looks like. In his spiritual experiences, eighteenth-century scientist and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg learned that the mind has three levels: heavenly, spiritual, and earthly. In this episode, host Curtis Childs talks about these levels so that we might better understand the expansive nature of our mind after death.
There’s something unique about our earthly mind—it’s made of both spiritual and earthly substances.
Our earthly mind is made up of both spiritual substances and earthly substances. Our thinking results from the spiritual substances and not from the earthly substances. These latter substances fade away when we die, but the spiritual substances do not. So when we become spirits or angels after death, the same mind is still there in the form it had in the world. (Divine Love and Wisdom §257)
Since these levels are all mixed together, we won’t truly understand the higher levels until after death. That doesn’t mean that we can’t see some reflections of the higher minds now while we’re here on earth.
Our earthly mind can be raised as far as the light of heaven that surrounds angels, and can therefore sense on the earthly level what angels sense spiritually—that is, it does not sense so fully. Still, our earthly mind cannot be raised all the way into angelic light itself. . . . There is no way for our human wisdom, which is earthly as long as we are living in the earthly world, to be raised into angelic wisdom, only into some reflection of it. This is because the raising of the earthly mind is along a continuum, like that of darkness to light, or coarse to fine. Still, if our spiritual level has been opened, we come into consciousness of that wisdom when we die, and we can also come into consciousness of it through the quiescence of our physical senses, and then through an inflow from above into the spiritual elements of our minds. (Divine Love and Wisdom §257)
The three levels are sometimes conceived as being stacked on top of each other, but Swedenborg also describes the earthly level as the outermost one, providing a covering around the other two, with the heavenly level at the core.
In a way, the human form is the actual shape of our mind since our body keeps our mind attached to the earth.
As Swedenborg so succinctly puts it:
After death a person’s mind is the spirit in the human form. (Charity §98)
So we can see how our body and mind are deeply and beautifully connected. In fact, our earthly mind functions like a container that keeps our spiritual substance from spilling out of us.
This restraint on our spiritual substance is so important, because some of it even carries with us into heaven.
The earthly substances of our minds (which fade away after death, as I have just noted) form the skinlike covering of the spiritual bodies we inhabit as spirits and angels. It is by means of this covering, taken from the earthly world, that our spiritual bodies have their stability, the earthly substance being the outermost vessel. This is why there is no angel or spirit who was not born human. (Divine Love and Wisdom §257)
[From living in this world, we gain] a stable vessel for our spiritual natures, a vessel drawn from the purer substances of this world, that we take with us [after death] in order to carry on and continue our lives. (Divine Love and Wisdom §388)
Swedenborg referred to this vessel as the limbus, or border,—a Latin word that serves as the root of such terms as the Catholic “limbo” and the “limbic” system in our brain.
Our . . . body . . . is . . . woven out of substances belonging to the physical world. Our soul [which is our true self] is woven out of substances belonging to the spiritual world. After death we put off the physical component . . . but keep the spiritual component . . ., along with a border around it made of the finest substances in nature. (True Christianity §103)
This is an important process, and its development during our earthly lives is key to our spiritual growth.
It is to be known that this formation of the two minds with man goes on from his infancy to his old age, and afterwards to eternity; and sometimes from the middle age of man to his last age, and afterwards to eternity; but still in another way after the life in the world than during the life in the world. (Apocalypse Explained §790:10)
So in this world, we have opportunities to develop our two minds.
From birth, [the spiritual] mind is not open, only potentially so. The earthly mind derives its form in part from substances of the earthly world, but the spiritual mind derives its form solely from substances of the spiritual world. This latter mind is kept in its wholeness by the Lord so that we can become human. We are actually born animal, but become human. (Divine Love and Wisdom §270)
If we’re making effort toward spiritual growth and self-improvement, we can clear away blockages and open up to higher levels of our minds. Even here on earth, we’re existing in spiritual societies we’re not aware of.
Let me relate a secret. Heaven is distinguished into innumerable societies, and so likewise, in opposition to them, hell; and every person’s mind actually dwells in accordance with his will and consequent intellect in one of these societies, intending and thinking along with the inhabitants there in similar ways. If the mind is in some society of heaven, then it intends and thinks in like manner as the inhabitants there. If it is in some society of hell, it does so in like manner as the inhabitants there. However, as long as a person lives in the world, he migrates from one society to another in accordance with changes in the affections of his will and so in the thoughts of his mind. But after death his sojournings are brought together, and from these assembled into a single path a place is appointed for him. (Conjugial Love §530:2)
The barrier between this world and the spiritual world is a whole lot thinner than you might think. Passing over is more of an upgrade than an overwrite.
We even take with us our natural memory, since we retain everything we have heard, seen, read, learned, or thought in the world from earliest infancy to the very end of life. However, since the natural objects that reside in our memory cannot be reproduced in a spiritual world, they become dormant the way they do when we are not thinking about them. Even so, they can be reproduced when it so pleases the Lord. (Heaven and Hell §461:3)
This represents a complete positive transformation of our minds and souls. We won’t lose anything but barriers and confusion.