2. Heaven Is Within

And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the open streets so that they may be seen of men. Truly I say to you, They have their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your room and shutting your door, pray to your Father in secret. And your Father seeing in secret will repay you in the open. But when you pray, do not be babbling vain words, as the nations; for they think that they shall be heard in their much speaking. Then do not be like them, for your Father knows what things you have need of before you ask Him. So, then, you should pray this way: Our Father who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come; Your will be done, as it is in Heaven, also on the earth. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil, for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory to the ages. Amen. (Matthew 6:5-13)

Last time it was pointed out that when we talk about heaven, we are to understand that the term refers to the internal or spiritual man, and that the term earth refers to the external or natural man. Heaven and earth refer to levels within our mind, to a more inner level of thought that is concerned with spiritual matters and to a more external level of thought that is concerned with worldly matters. When we are caught up in the anxieties and cares belonging to the world, our state of mind is earthly and when we are engaged with thoughts about spiritual things, our state of mind is tending toward what is more heavenly.

This idea of heaven being a state of mind, and not a place, seems to the natural man to be something vague and unreal. This is because the natural level of our thought is so caught up in ideas of space and time that we have real difficulty in seeing – how real – states of mind are, in influencing how we take all that life presents to us. But if we give things a little thought we can actually get some idea of heaven as a state of life. In day to day life, if we ask someone how their night out went and they respond by saying that they were in heaven, we don’t take what they are saying literally. We know that they are referring to how they experienced something at the level of their feelings, which is an experience of an internal state.

The work, Conjugial Love, opens with an experience that Swedenborg had of a number of different groups of people entering into eternal life. These were people who had fixed ideas that heaven was a place where they would be able to continuously take part in those same kinds of activities that had brought them joy and pleasure in the world. So they had a very sensual idea of what heavenly joy and pleasure consisted of. Each group was allowed into what they imagined heaven would be when they were in the world. So for example, the first group imagined that heaven for them would have to be stimulating conversation with those who held similar interests. Another group felt that it was feasting with Abraham and other significant dignitaries for eternity, and another that it was a place of singing songs of praise without ceasing. The first group were taken to a large house with many rooms each with people in them having stimulating conversations…and their experience of this was described by Swedenborg as follows…Swedenborg is speaking…

I was able to investigate this house, and I saw them wandering from room to room looking for others who shared their interests and therefore their joys. And among the clusters of people I noticed three types – some catching their breath to speak, some eager to find out something, and some listening insatiably.

The house had doors, one for each direction. I notice that many detached themselves from the company, in a hurry to go. I followed some of them to the east door and saw several sitting by it with sad faces. I approached and asked why they were sitting so depressed.

“The doors of this house are kept shut against escapees,” they answered. “It is now the third day since we came, and we have tried living out our expectations of company and conversation, and we are so tired of the ceaseless yammering that we can hardly stand to hear the drone of its sound. So we came to this door in disgust and knocked, but the response was, ‘The doors of this house are not exits but entrances. Stay and reap the joys of heaven.’ From this response we gather that we have to stay here forever, so gloom has invaded our minds, and now our chests are starting to tighten up, and we are getting desperate.”

Then the angel spoke to them. “Your condition is that your joys are dying,” he said. “You thought they were the only heavenly joys, when really they only accompany heavenly joys [or the means through with inner joy can be expressed outwardly].”

“So what is heavenly joy?” They asked the angel.

The angel answered in these few words. “It is the pleasure of doing something that is useful to yourself and to others. And the pleasure of usefulness gets its essence from love, and its outward expression from wisdom. The pleasure of usefulness that grows out of love through wisdom is the soul and life of all heavenly joys. In the heavens there are very happy parties that cheer the minds of angels, raise their spirits, delight their hearts, and refresh their bodies, but they have them after they have done useful things in their occupations or whatever they do. This is how all their outward joys and pleasures gain soul and life. But if that soul and life are missing, then the accompanying external joys become not joyful but incidental at first, then trivial, and finally dreary and troublesome.”

Once he had said these words the door opened. The people sitting there escaped from the house and ran home, each to his occupation and work, and they recovered. (Conjugial Love 5)

The process is described in this way in Conjugial Love 4;

“Every person…who wants heaven and has some particular idea of the joys there, is brought, after death, into the joys he imagined, and after finding out what those joys are like – that they are based on their groundless mental notions and confused fantasies – they are brought out again and instructed”

There is an important principle in all this that we need to get hold of if we are to understand what heaven actually is. I think we can all agree that if we are in heaven then our experience will be one that consists of states of genuine love, joy, peace, pleasure and fulfilment. The question this experience of Swedenborg’s addresses is where the states of heavenly experience come from or are produced in a person’s experience. In the natural world we tend to see external things as the cause of our internal states but it is clear from this story that in the spiritual world, the principle is that it is our inner attitude that gives the quality to what we experience externally. The heavenly joy that angels experience when they come together to converse is not produced by their conversation, the joy of the experience of conversing with others comes from a deeper source within them and arises from an attitude towards being useful towards oneself and others. Without this deeper attitude existing in a person all external activities that seemed to have brought happiness and joy in the world actually loose their ability to affect a person in this way in the spiritual world.

But when this inner attitude, which looks to being useful for its own sake, rules in our life then we are in the flow of heaven’s life. Why? Because this is what heaven is in its essence, this atmosphere of use is the love that fills angels and gives rise to their heavenly experience. It’s this spirit that forms the soul and life of all that is done in heaven. But if the inner attitude is focused on seeking pleasures for pleasures sake then the joy felt in external activities is a selfish kind of joy, not a heavenly joy. Angels feel joy in being able to help others through useful activities. It is this attitude that forms the soul or life of the external activities through which this inner joy finds its expression. Without this inner attitude, external pleasures eventually loose their attraction. Then a person aimlessly seeks more and more pleasure as an escape from the real issues of life. We can see how this lack of love for usefulness can lead to destructive addictive behaviours in which people seek the pleasure of a short term fix to escape the more pressing spiritual issues that need addressing in their lives, and why occupational therapies have a healing effect on peoples lives.

Heaven is an inner state of life, or if you like, it arises when our minds are organised in such a way that we are able to receive into them the Lord’s love and wisdom. Our ability to receive love and wisdom from the Lord is directly linked to the degree that we remove from our thoughts and affections those things that flow out of our ego or proprium which have ourselves as their central concern. Attitudes of self centredness and self interest can’t receive the life of heaven into themselves, because they are actively opposed to it. This is why the Lord instructs us that the kingdom of heaven is within. He is pointing out that the attitudes that make up our inner life, here and now, determine what our experience will be when we put the body off. So the statement in the Lord’s Prayer, thy kingdom come, they will be done, as in heaven so upon the earth… is not talking about something out in the future, its pointing to what must take place now and in every moment of our life.

If our life is tied up in self interest and self centredness and we don’t make any effort to allow the Lord into our life through responding to truths to counter these tendencies, the effect is that we strengthen our proprium’s resistance to the power of truth to influence our life. The result is that our mind becomes organised around beliefs and affections that don’t allow heaven to flow into it. It remains in a state that is open to selfish hellish influences and so is closed to heavenly ones. When a mind is organised in this way then any contact with what is heavenly is actually something unpleasant, while the things that are hellish and tied to self-centredness become more and more delightful. So if our life finds its delight in the things of self love, then we gravitate towards those who are in similar states of life. If our life is one of working spiritually to be more useful from an attitude grounded in love to the Lord and our neighbour, then we will gravitate towards those who are in similar states of life.This law of attraction is a spiritual law.

The only way that our minds can become reorganised into a form open to receiving the life of heaven is if we willingly and freely take the truths we are learning, examine our lives, and do what we need to do to change those things we see need changing. The Lord gives us the ability to see truths for this purpose and He also has given every person of a sound mind the ability to respond. He has provided all that we need to change, right now, today, nothing is lacking. Hopefully we can see now that to enter into heavenly states of life requires that our spirit or mind be in the process of being organised into a heavenly form. For once we begin to respond to truth, the Lord’s life enters into this attitude and so the foundation is laid for the ongoing increase in our capacity to receive love and wisdom from the Lord, which is what heaven is.

So to experience heaven, is to experience something that is being formed within us, this is why we are told that the kingdom of heaven is within. When love and wisdom from the Lord infills our minds we experience a peace, joy and happiness that is angelic. In this way, we come into the experience of heaven as a world perceptible to our spiritual senses and thus angelic consciousness is a potential for us all.

Before moving on to the next article in this series, consider setting yourself a work task to remind yourself often that the kingdom of heaven is within you and so is tied to the loving attitudes that you can freely bring to each situation you enter into, as you make the effort to let love rule. In doing so, you will bring a little more of the will done in heaven upon the earth.

…There are more things in the contents of the Lord’s prayer than the universal heaven is capable of comprehending. And with man there are more things in it, in the proportion that is thought is more open towards heaven; but, on the other hand, there are fewer things, in the proportion that his thought is more closed; for with those with whom the thought is closed, nothing more appears therein than the sense of the letter… (Arcana Coelestia 6619)

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