The Inner Self and the Outer Self

An excerpt from New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine by Emanuel Swedenborg, sections #36-46

We are created in such a way that we are in the spiritual world and the earthly world at one and the same time. The spiritual world is where angels are and the earthly world is where we are. And since that is how we are created, we are given an inner nature and an outer nature—an inner nature that allows us to be in the spiritual world, and an outer nature that allows us to be in the earthly world. Our inner nature is what we refer to as the inner self, and our outer nature is what we refer to as the outer self.

Every single one of us has an inner and an outer nature, but they are not the same for good people as they are for evil ones. For good people, the inner is in heaven and in its light, while the outer is in the world and in its light. Further, for good people this latter light is brightened by heaven’s light, so their inner and outer natures act in unison like an efficient cause and its effect, or like what is prior and what is subsequent. For evil people, though, their inner nature is in this world and its light, and the same holds true for their outer nature as well. This means that they cannot see anything in heaven’s light, only in the light of this world, which they call “the light of nature.” That is why heavenly matters are in darkness for them and worldly matters are in the light.

We can see from this that good people have an inner self and an outer self, while [in effect] evil people have no inner self, only an outer one.

It is the inner self that is called a spiritual person because it is in heaven’s light, and that light is spiritual. It is the outer self that is called an earthly person because it is in the light of this world, and that light is earthly. Anyone whose inner being is in heaven’s light and whose outer being is in this world’s light is a spiritual individual in both respects, but people whose inner being is not in heaven’s light but in this world’s light, where their outer being is as well, are earthly individuals in both respects. Spiritual individuals are the ones called “living” in the Word, while earthly individuals are the ones called “dead.”

When our inner self is in heaven’s light and our outer self is in this world’s light, we think on both the spiritual and the earthly levels, but our spiritual thinking flows into our earthly thinking, and that is where we become aware of it. However, when our inner being is caught up in this world’s light along with our outer being, we think materialistically rather than spiritually. That is, we base our thinking on the kinds of thing we find in this physical world, all of which are composed of matter.

To think spiritually is to think about actual things as they really are, seeing truths in the light of truth and sensing what is good because of a love of what is good. It is seeing the qualities of things and sensing their emotional impact apart from their material characteristics. In contrast, thinking materialistically is thinking, seeing, and sensing things as inseparable from matter and as in matter, and therefore thinking relatively crudely and dimly.

Seen in its own right, a spiritual inner self is an angel of heaven, and while it is living in the body it is also in the company of angels even though it is not aware of it; and once it is released from the body it joins them. A merely earthly inner self, though, when seen in its own right, is not an angel but a spirit, and is also in the company of spirits while it is living in the body—that is, with spirits who are in hell; and after its release from the body it joins them.

Then too, the deeper levels of [the minds of] people who are spiritual are effectively raised up toward heaven because that is their primary focus, while the deeper levels of the minds of people who are merely earthly are effectively turned toward this world because that is their primary focus. For all of us, whatever is deeper in us, which belongs to the superior part of our mind, is turned toward what we love above all, and whatever is superficial, which belongs to the lesser part of our mind, is turned in the same direction as what is deep.

People who have only a vague concept of the inner and the outer selves believe that it is the inner self that thinks and intends and the outer that speaks and acts as a result, since thinking and intending are inner events, and speaking and acting are outer ones. It should be borne in mind, though, that when we think intelligently and intend wisely, we are thinking and intending from a spiritual inner nature, but when we do not think intelligently and intend wisely we are thinking and intending from an earthly inner nature. This means that when we are thinking well about the Lord and about matters that involve the Lord and when we are thinking well about our neighbor and about matters that involve our neighbor, and when we are intending well toward them, we are thinking and intending from our spiritual inner nature. This is because our thought is based on a belief in what is true and a love of what is good, and is therefore coming from heaven. However, when we are thinking badly about these things and intending badly toward them, then we are thinking and intending from our earthly inner nature because our thinking is based on belief in what is false and love of what is evil, so our thinking is coming from hell.

In short, to the extent that we are caught up in a love for the Lord and in love for our neighbor we are in our spiritual inner nature. We are thinking and intending from that nature and are speaking and acting from it as well. To the extent that we are caught up in selfishness and worldliness, though, we are in our earthly inner nature. We are thinking and intending from that nature and are speaking and acting from it as well.

The Lord has foreseen and arranged matters so that our inner spiritual self opens and takes form to the extent that we think and intend from heaven. This is an opening into heaven all the way to the Lord, and a taking form that is in accord with the realities of heaven. In direct contrast, to the extent that we do not think and intend from heaven but think and intend from the world, our inner spiritual self is closed and our outer self opens. This is an opening into the world and a taking form that is in accord with the realities of this world.

When our inner spiritual self has been opened into heaven as far as the Lord, we are in heaven’s light and in an enlightenment that comes from the Lord, which means that we experience intelligence and wisdom. We see what is true because it is true and we sense what is good because it is good.

On the other hand, when our inner spiritual self has been closed we are not aware that our spiritual self exists, let alone aware of what that spiritual self is. We do not believe that there is anything divine, either, or that there is a life after death, so we do not believe anything that has to do with heaven and the church. Since we are solely in the light of this world and its enlightenment, we believe that nature is the Deity, and what is false looks true to us, and what is evil feels good.

We refer to people as “sense-bound” when their inner nature is so external that they cannot believe anything unless they can see it with their own eyes and touch it with their own hands. They have the lowest possible level of earthly human nature and are subject to misconceptions about everything involved in the faith of the church.

The “inner” and “outer” we have been dealing with are the inner and outer of the spirit. Our bodies are nothing but an outer addendum within which the inner and outer selves manifest themselves. That is, the body does nothing on its own, acting only from the spirit that is within it.

Bear in mind that after it is released from the body, the spirit keeps right on thinking and intending, speaking and acting. The thinking and intending are its inner side, while the speaking and acting are its outer side. In this connection, see Heaven and Hell #234–245, 265–275, 432–444, 453–484.

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