Many writers recommend practical ways we can improve our inner growth. They might mention for example some martial arts, yoga, meditation, fasting, ceremony and ritual, or prayer. They often refer to a process of inner awakening of awareness that goes beyond ordinary existence and insight into universal truths.
It means going beyond the mind and the ego and realizing who you really are. (Remez Sasson, writer in personal development)
But can we be more specific about the deeper changes in the person? What are the inner states that successively arise?
Inner growth studied by Swedenborg
One body of writing provides a psychological description of what is possible. This is found in the account provided by spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg.
Clinical psychologist Wilson Van Dusen points out that in Swedenborg’s private life he had been grappling with the language of dreams, and that of the hypnagogic and trance states. However, this was merely a preparation for his growing understanding of what he claimed had been revealed in sacred writing about inner growth.
Many parts of the Bible are obscure and much of its symbolism has been unclear. Allegorical interpretation allowed anyone to find whatever meaning pleased them. The opposite tendency of the fundamentalists of sticking to the literal word as fact also is widely seen as untenable.
Swedenborg’s approach allows room for these differences while going beyond them. He acknowledged the importance of the literal sense of Scripture. At the same time he explains the verses in terms of the dynamics of inner human life.
When in trouble and searching for guidance many people – even some non-religious people – look in the Bible hoping that it will speak to them as a personal friend and guide. And it often does – but only clearly in parts such as the Psalms and Gospels. I would say that Swedenborg’s analysis of the images and events in much of it including the Old Testament, although scholarly and systematic, really reflect what is personally meaningful.
Creation story and inner growth
The well-known opening passage of Genesis describes the six days of creation of the earth, all life and humanity. Swedenborg maintains that in its symbolic sense, it is speaking of the inner growth of people. According to this view the creation story represents the new creation of a person – being born anew.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
The inner (heavenly) and the outer (earthly) aspects of our character are formed. The external side of us begins in ignorance (darkness) and without virtue of maturity (formless and empty). The lack of virtue is due to an unreformed individual’s selfish tendencies and resulting illusions (surface of the deep). In this initial state one has an empty feeling & lack of purpose. No inner conflict. No awareness of one’s inner faults
Divine compassion (Spirit of God) is ready to animate our potential character (waters)
Creation of light and inner growth
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.
The process creates illuminated awareness of the mind. This means a dim appreciation of the deeper side of life. This is a reappearance of what remains of deeper intuitions acquired from early childhood e.g. noticing needs of others. This is at the outset when a person starts to realize that good and truth are something superior. There is more to life than meets the eye.
In contrast, thoroughly external people do not even know what good is and what truth is, for they imagine that everything which comprises self-love and love of the world is good, and that everything that panders to those loves is truth. The Divine Source perceives (God saw) the usefulness of higher awareness (the light was good) and begins to make a distinction between some deeper understanding of the mind (day) and natural-minded ideas (night). The passage compares Divine qualities to daylight, and compares all things that are our own, to darkness.
Separation of the waters and inner growth
And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
The waters are divided above and below. The inner side of us is opened up (vault between the waters) and from it our appreciation of the distinction of our inner (sky) and outer sides. Spiritual intuitions and ideas which a person has learned since being a small child now come out into the open.
Experiencing troubles of life helps worldly & bodily concerns to die out in us. It helps us to discover the difference between the things that belong to the deeper spiritual side of life and the lower more natural side. This obliges us to be less orientated towards external things. And this growth of awareness is the second stage of our transformation.
Summary of inner growth
There is no room in a short article like this to provide for interpretation beyond the second day of creation. However this material can be found in volume 1 of Swedenborg’s book Heavenly Secrets starting here.
Swedenborg’s interpretation may at first glance sound somewhat arbitrary. However, it becomes more credible when one reads the context of other biblical passages that use the same images such as day, night, heavens and earth. These passages he quotes show a universal inner meaning. Also in my experience the offered interpretations slowly become more believable in the light of the general teachings he puts together from numerous passages in the bible as a whole.
Swedenborg summarises the whole process of inner growth (the six days of re-creation of the individual) as follows.
One is first in truth and not in any good of life from truth; next one is in the good of life from truth, but not yet from good; afterward, when one has been regenerated, one is in the good of life from good, and one then perceives truth from good, and multiplies it in oneself. (Emanuel Swedenborg)
Copyright 2018 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems