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The Hidden Levels of the Mind
By Douglas Taylor
Chapter One: Soul, Mind, and Body
All of our conscious activity takes place in our mind. Because it is the only part of us that we can affect through our daily actions, the different levels of our mind will be the focus of this chapter, and indeed the rest of the book. However, before we can begin to describe the structure of the human mind as Emanuel Swedenborg saw it, we must first be very clear about the differences between our soul, our mind, and our body.
Swedenborg uses the term "soul" in several different ways throughout his books, so we had better define what we mean here. In this context, our soul means the spiritual organ that receives life flowing in from the Lord. Swedenborg describes the soul as the highest or inmost part of us, the part that is nearest to the Lord—the very core of our being. The animating force of life, then, flows directly into our soul through a direct connection with the Lord.
Our soul is above our mind, so it is always beyond our conscious awareness. Even if we were to become a celestial angel—one living in the highest level of heaven—we would never be conscious of our soul (Secrets of Heaven §1999:3-5). You can see why this is so if you reflect for just a moment. If we were aware of what was happening in our soul, we would feel life flowing in. Imagine what kind of sensation that would be! It would destroy the precious feeling we all have that we are independent beings. It seems to us that we live in and of ourselves. If we were conscious of our life force flowing in from the Lord, we would lose our sense of individuality. We would no longer think of ourselves as an image and likeness of God, but as nothing more than mechanical robots. It is not simply a matter of perception: without a sense of self, a sense of individuality, there would be nothing inside us to receive and hold life from the Lord. It would flow through us unchecked. The Lord would never permit that to happen.
In Secrets of Heaven, Swedenborg writes:
[The Lord] cannot act on those who rid themselves of every faculty for receiving power. It is like saying that you refuse to learn anything unless it comes to you as revelation. Or like saying that you refuse to teach anything unless the words are put into your mouth. Or like refusing to try anything unless you can be propelled like an automaton. If this did happen, you would be still more resentful for feeling like an inanimate object. The reality is that what the Lord animates in us is that which seems to be ours. For instance, it is an eternal truth that life is not ours; but if it did not seem to be, we would have no life at all. (§1712:3)
Because our soul is above and beyond our conscious reach, it is impossible to pervert it. Even the evil spirits who inhabit the lowest levels of hell—who, as Swedenborg declares, were once human beings who lived in this world—have that inmost spiritual organ, the human soul. Even with these evil spirits,
their human soul is always in a state of order, which is to say that it is in alignment with the Lord and receives life from him. No one's inmost soul can ever be perverted, because spiritual action always moves from higher to lower, and not the reverse. Nor is the soul ever taken away; it is always part of our being. So from a Swedenborgian perspective, no one can ever "sell their soul" or lose it through a bargain with some devil or evil spirit. The fact that we can never alter our soul in any way is one of the greatest benefits that the Lord has given us.
In our soul are two faculties that make us truly human: freedom and rationality.
The faculty of freedom means freedom of choice, the ability to choose between good and evil. We can see this in a definitive passage from Deuteronomy, where Moses, speaking for the Lord, says: "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing" (Deut. 30:19).
In spiritual terms, "life" means life in heaven, which is a blessing. "Death" means life in hell, which is a self-inflicted curse. That is the choice, and in Swedenborg's writings we see clearly that through our motives and actions in this world, we are the ones who choose whether we will end up in heaven or in hell. But the Lord, with his infinite love, leaves no doubt about which is the better choice. He continues: "Therefore choose life, so that both you and your descendants may live." We are making this choice every day of our life.
The faculty of rationality means the ability to see life in the perspective of eternity, that is, to see the ratio between life here and life hereafter. This is clearly not the same as the worldly view of rationality, which essentially means the ability to justify whatever we wish to believe and do, whether those beliefs are true or false, good or evil. The faculty of rationality, in Swedenborg's terminology, means the ability to evaluate everything in life in a spiritual light.