Spiritual Psychology -- Part 3
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Table of Contents
The Right Way to Live in Virtual Reality
The Right Way to Live in Virtual Reality
Swedenborg warns that nothing is more important in our life here on earth than to understand how our feelings rule our thoughts. Without this understanding, truth appears as falsity, and good appears as evil. What a stupendous blunder, robbing us of all lasting intelligence, wisdom, and the warmth of love. Swedenborg has witnessed the lot of those of us who end up in mind's hell with such stubbornness as to keep us there endlessly. Such is the virtual power of the human spirit given to it by the Divine through continuous, ceaseless influx of spiritual substances into the mind.
Have you ever looked up the word "virtual" in the
dictionary? You find the root meaning of strength, power, and effectiveness. The word
"virtue" carries the meaning of excellence, morality, and worth. What wonderful
spiritual concepts! Virtual reality is thus that reality which is the most excellent, the
most powerful, the most effective. To be born human means to have the capacity to create
virtual reality within which to live. Swedenborg identifies the two human capacities that
give us this creative power:
Liberty is the affective behavior of exercising one's will, which is a spiritual organ in our mind made of spiritual substances. When free, the will always chooses what it loves. Love is a spiritual substance we have in the mind from Divine influx. This substance is shaped, processed, consumed, and appropriated to oneself, each of us in a unique way. No duplicates are possible or allowed by the Divine to all eternity in all the race's generations. What we experience in love, remains with us forever. Love is a permanent substance. Once formed by us through appropriation, it can never ever depart from us. This is a spiritual law stated and explained by Swedenborg in many places. Rationality is the cognitive behavior of exercising one's understanding, which likewise is a spiritual organ in our mind made of spiritual substances. The organ of understanding is spiritual and thus can receive spiritual influx. As stated earlier, the two purest and perfect spiritual substances are Good and Truth. Another way of saying these is Love and Wisdom, as shown by the fact that whatever we love, we want to call good, and whatever we understand as true, we want to call wise.
Good and truth stream into our mind through influx from communal mind. These two living substances from the Divine are received simultaneously into our interior rational mind, one into the affective domain (will), the other into the cognitive domain (understanding). At the same time, the finest of inert chemical materials from the natural world enter the external rational mind through the senses and the brain. The two worlds meet and clash at the border of these two rational regions of mind. The external rational is the locus of sensuous ideas based on time, space, limitations, and appearances, even fantasies based on imaginative and dramatic events.
Quoting from Swedenborg's Divine Love and wisdom (DLW)
The external rational area is a zone of spiritual temptations. We reason with sensuous ideas. For instance, we figure that if we are sure that we can get away with something greatly desired, then we can go ahead and do it. The consequences we consider are external: are we going to get caught, punished, or embarrassed and ridiculed? If not, and if others are doing it too, why not me? In an exchange with another, the external mind figures that everyone should take care of themselves, so the bottom line is always what I want, or else, what I can get away with. What I want is what I deserve. This is the theme of life in the external rational mind. It is based on the love of self, the love of gain, and the love of ruling over others, that is, the love of having one's own way, of giving more importance to self than to other.
Life in the external rational is a life of temptations in the sense that the Divine allows the external rational to be in communication or consociation with those who inhabit mind's hell in virtual reality. The Divine psychotherapy which goes on with each of us, and which is called regeneration, creates a spiritual balance between the forces of heaven streaming into the interior rational, above us, and the forces of hell streaming into the external rational, below us. Conscience above, temptations below. We choose according to the virtual power we pick up. We navigate and rise upward by appropriating or loving the spiritual wisdom of conscience in our interior rational memory. We navigate and sink downward by appropriating or loving the spiritual insanity or delusion within temptations. This spiritual balance keeps us in freedom so that we can choose what we love. What we love is the only thing that remains permanently. Whatever we choose not in love, by coercion, does not remain, but dissipates.
Every time you resist temptations, you gain in virtual power. You ascend by the mechanism of consociating with inhabitants of higher regions in communal mind. Conscience is a virtual elevator. You soar upward when you resist temptations. Your will is being purified, healed. Soon the things you loved that gave you delight, lose their attractiveness. Eventually you hold them in aversion. You are healed of it. That temptation will no longer present itself. Yet there are others to succeed, for without temptations, says Swedenborg, no one can be regenerated.
Thus it is that throughout life on earth we accumulate our choices in freedom. When we pass on, our choices have cumulatively created our virtual empire, and how we've chosen is how we'll live to eternity. The afterlife is a continuation of the direction we've taken in this life. A change of direction is not feasible since the weight of accumulated choices carries us onward, irresistibly, and seemingly as-of-self. Our own virtual power, accumulated through the choices, carries us forward, in whichever direction we are already traveling.
Right living is therefore a matter of right choices. These choices occur moment by moment. We are to micro-manage ourselves so as to witness the battle of good and evil in our mind, moment by moment. Focus your attention on your eyes, for instance. Where do they habitually look? What do they automatically inspect, examine, linger on? This self-witnessing will reveal to you what your natural loves are. The external mind is composed of the corporeal/sensuous/external rational complex below us. Your loves in the external mind are located in negative virtual zones of communal mind. These are the loves we share with those who inhabit the hells of mind. They are already fully committed to those loves, but we, not yet. We can reject them by loving what's above us even more. This love above us, in conscience, is more virtuous, more excellent, more virtually powerful, more desirable.
Consider your speech acts or acts through speaking. In repeated exchanges over the course of a single day, every day, you achieve joint focus with others (face to face or virtually), creating the reality of your every day life. Witness the character of your speech acts. Of course you engage in expected activities like greeting, taking turns at talking, laughing, telling stories, trying to convince, trying to make impressions, agreeing, disagreeing, and so on. A single conversation of just five minutes consists of hundreds, if not thousands, of choices we make. Witness the choices you make, and you begin to perceive your spiritual orientation, whether up or down, and when.
Typically we are in mixed spiritual company. One moment we are being nice; the next moment we turn around and get nasty. Witness your spiritual habits. How do you respond when you witness yourself being nasty? Do you enjoy it? Does it make you feel adult, powerful, self-righteous? Or do you regret it and dislike it? If you don't like it, is it because you're afraid to be unpopular (external rationale) or because it is not noble and virtuous (internal rationale)? If you have regrets because you desire to be virtuous, do you follow through or do you abandon your virtuousness in moments of temptations (e.g., when someone insults you or deals unfairly with you, or when you've had a string of bad luck and pity yourself?
The Dangers of Fundamentalism in the Self
It is important to understand the dangers of fundamentalism or literalism, for these keep us in the external mind, riveted downward. We should be polite and nice, sincere and trustworthy, competent and fun to be with. This makes life pleasant and peaceful for others and yourself. But this is only an external view. We also need to look at this from the interior. And we do this by asking why we are being nice, sincere, competent and fun. We must have the right motive, or else we are just simulating. In virtual reality we are navigating downward to the awful nether regions. Being nice, competent, and fun for the right motive is to do it out of an altruistic love, not a selfish one. To be nice, competent, and fun out of a desire to control others and to advance oneself at the expense of others -- this is not good. To claim that it is good is fundamentalism. It is paying lip service to the law while violating it in spirit, with a loop hole. Fundamentalism allows me to condemn you and injure you if I do the right thing while you do not. This is not good.
We cannot therefore look at the external behavior of others and thereby know their interior orientation or disposition. We hardly know our own, and require the continuous spiritual practice of self-witnessing, in order to discover Quo Vadis, Self. Therefore it is never good to judge others interiorly, whether they are really good or really bad. Instead, accept the idea that you never know another's interior mind in this world. We are to love whatever we can perceive as virtuous in another person; we are to reject and hold in aversion whatever we can perceive as un-virtuous in another person. Swedenborg warns that we are not to love the person, but the good in the person. We are not to hate the person, but the bad in the person.
Fundamentalism in the mind is the tendency to define good and bad, true and false, beautiful and ugly, in terms of some chosen or elected rule, principle, or doctrine. What one chooses, one favors and upholds as the rule and law for everyone. My good and true must be what you agree to treat as good and true or else I go up against you, try to coerce you, or annihilate you. This is justice by external vision. It is evil. It brings the evil torturing powers of discrimination, hatred, and despotism. Orienting to the wisdom of conscience in the interior rational, gets us free of the shackles of fundamentalism. Swedenborg shows how numerous passages in the Bible, viewed externally, appear to encourage fundamentalism and cultural and religious intolerance. But viewed internally, the spiritual message of the Bible is the opposite: no one is to be discriminated against. There is only one God, the same Divine for every religion, and there are many heavens, one for each type of human character.
You might be in a situation where you have to lie, or cheat, or be promiscuous, or even assassinate someone. You are forced or coerced into these acts out of fear for your life, or the life of a loved one. You rather not do them. As you do them you maintain a dislike for them because they violate your conscience. You do not ignore your conscience and you look for opportunities to end the situation. Thus you continue to be good. No one looking at your behavior would know for sure whether you what you do freely or out of felt coercion. No one should spiritually or interiorly condemn you. Yet society has no choice but to exercise control over people's external behaviors. Criminal and antisocial behaviors must be controlled through external punishment or the threat of punishment. Society has to control criminal behavior through external means.
External control of people's behavior, though necessary, cannot be the sole means by which people influence one another. There is danger from despotism, tyranny, rule by terror. These are virtual powers in the low regions of mind. They are divisive, separative, fragmented. Instead of a real joint focus, interiorly chosen from love or mutual preference, there is a simulated focus of external uniformity based on persuasion or fear.
External and Interior Marriage
Married partners can claim to love one another, yet this may often be an external bond based on selfish issues: need to be admired or cared for, fear of being alone, fear of loss of reputation or privileges, need to join forces for common tasks such as a business or raising children. These are acceptable reasons for getting and staying married. Yet they are external. If these couples or individuals would witness their interior reasons or motives, they would realize that the bond is temporary, not eternal. External bonds of marriage are temporary because they do not penetrate to the interior, which remains independent, not bonded.
Swedenborg coined a new word -- CONJUGIAL love to denote marriage relations based on interior bonding, and to distinguish it from ordinary conjugal love, based on external bonds. What are interior, spiritual bonds in marriage? This is based on the desire to be one-minded by being in the other's mind. Note that the desire to be one-minded can be an external, lower power, if the desire comes from wanting to rule over the other or take precedence over the other. Virtual power to elevate the marriage relationship to heavenly regions of mind can be had only if the desire to be one-minded comes from wanting to make the other person happy out of oneself. This is Swedenborg's definition of celestial love.
Wanting to make the other person happy out of oneself. Think how this principle, when made virtual and effective, can help you and your partner move into the highest possible regions of communal mind. As a husband who has pursued this goal for decades, I have summarized my self-witnessing observations which I believe can help others gain insight into this difficult issue.