In the post Is there an afterlife? I pointed to a similarity between Swedenborg’s reports of his mystical experiences of life after death and numerous accounts of the near death experience. There are also striking similarities between what various modern psychic mediums have said concerning a realm of spirits with Swedenborg’s writings. These similarities are as follows:
Similar account of life after death
A soul body exists; time means nothing; environment appears created by thought; we gravitate to the shared environment of like-minded spirits; there is a self-evaluation involving how we lived life on earth; one’s inner character does not change because of death; punishment is only part of a purification process; there is no procreation; there are useful occupational and similar interests, albeit at a higher level; there is an upper Astral akin to heaven; there is no pain or alarm during the dying process; and because of a similarity of experience to life, new arrivals do not at first notice they are dead.
One’s first experience of life after death
Swedenborg reports that after we awake in the spirit realm we may find ourselves in some kind of living environment – often one we have been familiar with on earth. This gradually changes, beginning more and more to reflect the quality of our own thoughts and feelings. It may be a room in a very beautiful house or an untidy shed. This very much sounds like a projection of our inner state so that what one sees in the spiritual world is a reflection of different aspects of one’s own actual character. As we are all different there are many kinds of living accommodation and environment.
Being oneself in one’s life after death
As I understand it, the spiritual world forces no one after bodily death to be something that he or she is not. When we are alive in the body on earth, our outer thoughts are busy when we are with other people or engaged in some action. However, our inner thoughts come from what we are really feeling when we are alone at home.
The picture we are shown of the next life, is that the values that deep down rule our hearts come to the surface and unrelated feelings, pretences and difficulties become dormant. We each get more in touch with our actual self and all other spirits see the genuine nature of everyone’s character; whether this is selfish and destructive or caring and creative. In other words, our inner feelings and desires determine our destiny. You really are what you choose to be and pretending to be something other than what you really are becomes increasingly difficult to maintain.
I imagine the goodness or otherwise of your character would shine more clearly in the spirit realm than in our material world where people who do not know you well see only your outward persona and where your style of living is more apparent. This illumination is illustrated in near death experiences by the frequently mentioned encounter with a `being of light’ and of a life evaluation.
The ruling love emerges in the life after death
According to Swedenborg’s notion of a ‘ruling love’, we want one thing more than anything. It colours all our life. It could be for example a love of being useful, of the spiritual ideas we believe to be true, of having power over others, or of being popular and well liked. This is our underlying longing that is the essence of our true character. Many of our desires arise from this basic love. We are most likely to reveal our true selves by our actions when we do not think others are observing us.
“You are what your deep driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.” (The Upanishads – Hindu tradition)
Avoidance of thinking about life after death
Whether or not we believe in life after death, we can all be afraid of death and dying to some extent. Perhaps we fear a lack of control over the process of deterioration that precedes death. This might involve pain or loss of dignity. But just as there can be no spring without the cold of winter that comes before it – so the pain of suffering can be seen to precede the triumph of new life.
To my mind, death for me is eternity knocking at the door. Perhaps, an avoidance of thinking of life after death is due to realising that I am not living now, as I would want to live to eternity. The trouble is that often I am unwilling to allow what is bad in me to die. A reminder of the reality of death is a wake up call to discard the trivial and prioritise the significant. Now is the time to overcome estrangement and heal old wounds.
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
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