Regeneration

When we turn to the Lord, we begin to experience a rebirth of the spirit, something that Swedenborg calls regeneration. This is a process, not an event occuring in one glorious day–a gradual change in our thoughts and affections that lifts our minds from its everyday natural state to a more spiritual one.

Living according to what we have learned from the Word not only opens the rational level but also regenerates it, changing its quality from natural to spiritual. That is accomplished gradually to the extent that what is above in our internal mind– that is charity or love of the neighbor (the spiritual level) and love for the Lord (the celestial)–begin to flow down into the rational level, altering its quality completely. The rational level of the mind is gradually “born from above” (John 3:3) and is no longer of a natural quality, but is either spiritual or celestial, depending on which of these qualities if flowing in from our internal mind.

A similar process takes place with our middle natural level. It is “born again” or “born from above” as the heavenly qualities of the regenerated rational level flow down into it. The middle natural level is then regenerated and also becomes either spiritual or celestial in quality.

Then finally, our sensory level becomes subject to the born again levels above it. The person is then fully regenerated; even his sensory level, the lowest level of his or her mind, has been put in alignment with heaven as far as possible (Secrets of Heaven, Section 7442:4)

In the growth of our mind from time to time we are infants there is an ascent from the lowest level to the highest; but in its regeneration, there is a descent from the highest down to the lowest. That may remind you of the story of Jacob’s ladder in the book of Genesis: “Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12).

There was an ascent and then a descent. In the literal story that is a puzzle; we ask ourselves, why is it said that the angels ascended and then descended? People usually think of the angels as being “up there,” so they would surely have descended and then ascended. But when we learn from Swedenborg’s interpretation of the spiritual meaning within the Word of God that the reference is first to the growth of our mind (an ascent), and afterward to its regeneration (a descent from the highest down to the lowest), then that whole vision of Jacob’s ladder is filled with a new meaning and revevance that it did not have for us before.

from The Hidden Levels of the Mind, Swedenborg’s Theory of Consciousness by Douglas Taylor

The Rational Level

The Function of the mind’s rational level, as Swedenborg defines it, is to be the bridge between what is natural and what is spiritual. For that reason, in order to open the rational level of our mind, we need to have at least some knowledge of the Word of God, which tells us about the spiritual world and things spiritual. Without such instruction, we would never know anything beyond this natural world and its laws. We would be completely in the dark about the supra-natural level of our mind, which is above the world of nature. We would have no concept of the relationship between life in the natural world and life in the spiritual world, because for us in our ignorance the spiritual world and spiritual things would be seem to be nonexistent. In that case, we would not be able to live according to spiritual laws; we cannot live what we do not know.

The rational level of our mind develops in adolescence; it is the point at which we must at least try to start living in accordance with spiritual laws. However, the rational level does not open to the higher levels of our mind, the internal mind, unless we choose to begin the process of regeneration by cooperating with the Lord.

from The Hidden Levels of the Mind, Swedenborg’s Theory of Consciousness by Douglas Taylor

The Middle Natural Level

As they grow, children are able to engage in a more refined form of mental activity.  They now begin to focus, not merely on the forms of things, but on what those things do or how they behave.  This is an advance on mere sensation.  The child is now making generalizations of forming conclusions or laws about those images that have come into their minds by way of the sensory level.  Swedenborg’s term for those generalizations is scientifics.  Although the children aren’t yet aware of it, by drawing conclusions based on their sense perceptions they are being little scientists, using the scientific method (Secrets of Heaven, Section 5774:2).   They conclude scientifics.  This opens the middle level of their natural mind, called the middle natural.  This provides a basis for the rational level—the highest level of mental activity in our natural mind.

The two lower levels of our natural mind—the sensory and the middle natural—can be opened simply by experience, by receiving sense impressions and by drawing conclusions from them.  Even an atheist can have those two levels opened.  But something more is needed to open the rational level, the highest level of natural mind.

from The Hidden Levels of the Mind, Swedenborg’s Theory of Consiousness by Douglas Taylor

The Sensory Level

As we all know, the first kind of mental activity in which children engage is sensation. Babies love to experience the things around them with all five senses–espacially touch and taste. It is remarkable what dangerous things they want to put into their mouths! They are using the sensory level of their mind, and at first, that is the only type of mental activity we can observe in newborn infants. But even at this very early stage, sensory impressions of the people and objects of the world around them are being stored up in their minds.

Swedenborg teaches that the Lord’s special angels from the highest heaven, whose gentle influence surrounds babies at this time, instill celestial delights into their opening mind: “In heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10). These heavenly delights are unconsciously associated in the baby’s mind with the impressions they receive through their senses. Swedenborg calls these delights and images the “remains of good and truth,” and they become the foundation for the growing child’s loves and desires. Every newborn is gifted with these “remains,” regardless of their heredity or environment, but sadly in some cases such remains may be the only remnants of heavenly delights that they ever experience or can draw upon in later life. Parents clearly have a great responsibility in regard to the spiritual life of their children as well as to their natural life.

There is also the intellect or understanding, even at this stage. To call it the intellect seems like a misnomer, because it consists only of sensory images of things seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled. These images remain in the natural memory and are called forth to help form the imagination at a later stage in the development of this sensory level of our mind.

from The Hidden Levels of the Mind, Swedenborg’s Theory of Consciousness by Douglas Taylor

The Levels of Our Natural Mind

We have been discussing the three major levels of our mind as a whole–the natural, the swpiritual, and the celestial–as being three separate, ascending levels, also called discrete degrees. Each level is of a different quality from the others: the predominant love or motivation that rules the natural level is either obedience or disobedience to the commandments of the Lord; that of the spiritual level is loving the good in one’s neighbor, also called charity; that of the celestial is loving the Lord above all else.

We are now going to learn that in our natural mind there are also levels, but they are of an entirely different kind. They are not sepearate levels distinguished by the quality of the love that motivates them, for our entire natural mind (if left to itself without any higher influences) is of one and the same unchanging quality–natural! Instead, the levels of our natural mind are distinguished from each other by the different functions that each one performs, regardless of the motive from which they are done. These functions are:

  1. Sensation. Using our five senses opens this lowest level of the natural mind–the first to develop in infants. This part of the mind is called the sensory level
  2. Generalization. Based on the information from our senses, we draw conclusions about what people and natural things do. These conclusions open and form what is called the middle natural level of our mind.
  3. Sense of Proportion. The ability to distinguish between what is natural and what is spiritual. This function belongs to the highest level of our natural mind, called the rational level because it enhables us to see the ratio between the spiritual and the natural.

These functional levels develop one after the other, beginning with the sensory level, and mark the three main stages in the mental growth of our natural mind. These stages are sometimes described as if they were discrete levels, and there is indeed a distinct progression from one level to the other. However, taken in the broader context of our human mind, these levels are all part of our external mind. Their functions are all of a natural or earthly quality–the type of thought that takes place before regeneration. Although the external mind is only a small part of who we are, it is the part that we most identify as our “self” because it is where our everyday consciousness dwells. These three functional levels of our external mind will therefore be the focus of the remaining chapters of this book, because it is here that regeneration begins–if it is going to begin at all. In this chapter we will give only a brief overview of the three levels, leaving a fuller treatment of them for later chapters.

from The Hidden Levels of the Mind, Swedenborg’s Theory of Consciousness by Douglas Taylor

The Body (Continued)

Swedenborg describes the brain as the organ or link by which the mind acts into the body as a whole; it is the entrancepoint of the mind into the body. Divine love and wisdom, he says, descend from heaven through the internal mind, into the external mind, and from there into the cerebellum (where our affections live) and finally into our cerebrum, where our understanding is (Revelation Explained, Section 61). Thus, he sums up the relationship between mind, body, and soul in this way: “since the human soul is a higher, spiritual substance, it receives an inflow directly from God. The human mind, though, being a lower spiritual substance, receives an inflow from God indirectly through the spiritual world; while the body, being made of the earthly substances we refer to as matter, receives an inflow from God indirectly through the earthly world” (Soul-Body Interaction, Section 8).

Throughout this book, the parts of our self that are closest to the Lord will sometimes be referred to as the highest, and sometimes as the inmost. In Swedenborg’s writing, the two are one and the same.

Because all of our conscious thoughts and feelings–every idea and desire that makes up the personality that we think of as our self–take place in the natural mine, that will be the focus of the reminder of the book. The natural mind itself has many levels, and we will give an overview of those in the next chapter.

from The Hidden Levels of the Mind, Swdenborg’s Theory of Consciousness by Douglas Taylor

The Body

The Body is not the person. The mind is the person. By and large, the world around us is profoundly ignorant of that fact. What is the usual reply when you ask people, “how are you today?” You are often treated a recital of their aches and pains or their current disease. That is perfectly understandable, because people do tend to think of the body as the person. Shape and appearance are often among what first come to mind when a person is named. That is especially the case with little children. They experience what is probably their first great shock when they realize that a beutiful looking person does not necessarily have a character to match. Young people also, when they are searching for their future married partner, tent to think that physical appearance is the most valuble attribute. Subconsciously, they are equating the body with the person. But, doctrine, experience, and common sense unite to tell us that this is not necessarily so. We all know on reflection that we are to judge people by the quality of their minds.

Swedenborg writes that the doctrine of resurrection of the physical body following the Last Judgment was actually the result of confusing the body with the pserson. In truth, he tells us, human beings are resurected in the spirit–in the world of spirits, which, as discussed in the previous chapter, is where we awaken after our physical bodies cease to function. Only the Lord was resurrected in his physical body.

The body includes the brain, so the brain is not the person either, despite the fact that we speak of “brainy” people, as if their intellectual superiority was entirely due to their brains alone, as if the brain (made of physical matter) and the mind (made of spiritual substance) were identical.

That overemphasis on the physical seems to prevail in materialistic philosophies such as logical positivism, whose adherents propound the theory that the mind is not a thing at all. It is simply a word, they say, a word used to describe the functioning of the brain. The mind is therefore said to be a mere abstraction, while the brain is favored as something tangible and perceptible. Those who think in this way are what Swedenborg calls sensuous people, because they believe only what they can see with their eyes and feel with their hands (Secrest of Heaven, Sections 5093, 7693)

from The Hidden Levels of the Mind, Swedenborg’s Theory of Consciousness by Douglas Taylor

The Mind (Continued)

The more we live accorcing to the Word, the more we are motivated by real goodness. Our actions begin to become spiritual in quality, because the spiritual level of our internal mind is opened. If this happens, our natural mind will be opened at the top, so that what exists at the spiritual level of the mind (charity or love toward the neighbor) could flow down into our conscious mind and move us in our everyday lives.

However, above the spiritual level of our mind is the celestial level. If we were to go on living a life of charity for the rest of our lives, we would indeed become heavenly, but we would never rise above that middle spiritual level. To go beyond that, we need to come into celestial love–loving the Lord (or rather, having his love come into us). We accomplish that by obeying the Lord’s commandments for his sake rather than any selfish thought of promoting ourselves. In that way, love and concern for the Lord flow down into our natural mind, making it celestial or spiritual in quality (see Divine Love and Wisdom, Section 237).

Because we have free will, we can also choose to keep our natural mind closed at the top, so that none of these higher loves can flow in. That happens to the extent that we do not live according to what the Word of God teaches us to believe and do. In that case, we would remain the same forever, even in the spiritual world, and never be able to experience heaven’s love.

In summary, regeneration or rebirth consists in allowing the higher levels of our mind to act upon our natural level, transforming it and making it spiritual or celestial in quality. (There is a fuller explanation of regeneration in chapter 2.) However, these levels do not simply merge one into the other; they remain distinctly separate, which is the idea behind the concept of “discrete degrees” discussed above. These levels remain distinct from the brain and the body where it lives.

from The Hidden Levels of the Mind, Swedenborg’s Theory of Consciouseness by Douglas Taylor

Our Mind (Continued)

Although our internal mind is above our conscious awareness while we are on earth, when we pass into the spiritual world (and if we become an angel there), we gain the wisdom of either the spiritual or the celestial level of heaven, depending on which one of those two higher levels of our mind most often flowed down into us while we were living in this world.

In marked contrast to the sublime reaches of our internal mind is the conscious mind that we use in our daily life: the lowest level of our mind, the natural or earthly level. If you are reading this book and understanding it (or even not understanding it!) you are using your conscious mind, which is also called the external mind. This, Swedenborg often points out, is not the same thing as our brain. Since the mind is the person, the term external mind refers to that part of us that is conscious of the world around us. Our body (of which the brain is a part) exists only to allow us to function on the physical plane. So wherever you find the terms “external mind” or “natural mind” in this book, keep this distinction in mind.

With the internal mind focused on heaven and the external mind focused on this world, it’s easy to see how the two can be in conflict. This is the cause of our temptations; they represent our struggle to make our external mind submit to our higher levels. Our natural mind is the only part of us that can be out of heaven’s order, cause trouble, and be perverted. It often is–we all know that from experience! It is our natural mind that exercises free will, and it is there that we choose either to obey the Lord or disobey. When our external mind is alighed with our internal mind, it is because we have chosen self-compelled obedience.

Our natural and external mind, then, is the source of all our problems, indivisually and collectively. In order for us to progress spiritually and move toward heaven, our natural mind needs to be reformed and regenerated–to be reborn. This, says Swedenborg, is what is meant by Johnn 3:3 “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

In order for this to happen, our internal mind must take possession of and transform our external mind. But how is this done? How, in other words, can we let heaven’s influence flow into us?

A short answer would be: We have to shun our evils because they are sins against the Lord and not for any lesser or worldly reason, such as self-aggrandizement or social status.

A more comprehensive answer is that while we are born with a natural mind, it is only the beginning. We can develop our understanding by means of what we learn from the world around us. We could go on learning and lerning and learning for the rest of our life; we could gain two or three university degrees; we could even acquire an impressive understanding of the Bible, the Word of God. But we would still remain natural in quality unless we began to live according to that understanding.

from The Hidden Levels of the Mind, Swedenborg’s Theory of Consciousness by Douglas Taylor

Our Mind (Continued)

We gain a fuller undersranding of these two commandments when we realize that in the Greek of the New Testament there are two words for love: one means “to be fond of” and the other means “to consider the welfare of.” The second word is used in both commandments, and elsewhere whenever we are commanded to love. The Lord can certainly command us to consider the welfare of others: that is real love, an outgoing love. But no one, not even the Lord, can command us “to be fond ” of another. That happens spontaneously or it does not happen at all. We are either fond of a person or we are not fond. It is a personal matter. Consequently, the Lord is not commanding us to be fond of everyone; but he is commanding us to consider the welfare of others– Whether we like them or not. Verses that mention our love for the Lord have a similar meaning. Our salavation does not depend on our being “fond” of the Lord, but on considering his welfare and that of his kingdom. That is why he said: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me” (John14:21).

The two higher levels of the mind, the celestial and the spiritual, constitute what Swedenborg calls the internal mind. We can also think of it as the supra-conscious mind, as opposed to the conscious mind and the subconscious mind that Sigmund Freud wrote about. While the subconscious mind exists below our conscious awareness and houses our less-than perfect impulses, the supra-conscious mind exists above our conscious awareness and can lift us up above the influences of the subconscious. This internal mind is in contrast to the external or natural mind, which we will discuss below.

Spiritually speaking, the internal mind obviously belongs to heaven, since its ruling or predominant love is either love for the Lord or charity toward the neighbor. In fact, it could also be called the heavenly mind. This is where the Lord dwells with us.

It is important to realize that everyone, no matter what his or her heredity or environment, has that internal mind. There are no exceptions. As we read in Swedenborg’s Secrets of Heaven, “In the internal mind are nothing else than goods and truths that are the Lord’s … In every person [there is] a celestial and a spiritual level that corresponds to the angelic heaven” (Sections 978, 1594).

from The Hidden Levels of the Mind, Swedenborg’s Theory of Consciousness by Matthew Barnes