Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Love, Wisdom, and the Root of Being

The eighteenth-century Christian mystic and visionary Emanuel Swedenborg gave a metaphysical worldview in his books with an elegance I haven't seen anywhere else. He taught that God is identical with principles he called "love" and "wisdom," concepts he compared to heat and light; goodness and truth; substance and form; reality and manifestation; female and male; respectively. God thus exists wherever love and wisdom do, whether in my love for my girlfriend or your learning truth from a book. But love and wisdom have another aspect: Swedenborg explained that love--as the principle corresponding to un-manifest reality--is invisible as such. Love only becomes visible through wisdom. To put it differently, as the principle of invisible reality, love only becomes visible to itself by "looking" in wisdom as if it were a mirror. Wisdom is, therefore, the means by which the invisible heart of being becomes visible.

Love and wisdom in the mind

This principle actually plays out in our minds, and I think part of Swedenborg's genius lies in how well he's able to interpret mental movements too "deep" to interpret using normal language. He says that, just as love sees itself through wisdom, feelings see themselves through thoughts. Thought is the "making-visible" of feeling, or rather the way by which feeling expresses itself to our conscious awareness. This happens through a principle he calls correspondenceA feeling existing on an imperceptible level sees itself in thought as an image that corresponds to that feeling's nature. The spontaneous positive and negative thoughts we hear in our heads are examples of how this works: when I hear a thought that says "you're loved" or "you don't need to worry," Swedenborg would say that they are reflecting an underlying heavenly feeling so as to bring it to my awareness. So too with negative thoughts: heard mental phrases like "you're terrible" or "you shouldn't even have tried" are visible expressions of self-critical feelings too subtle to notice. However, this correspondence between feeling and thought also happens in the mind's eye, in daydreams, and in night dreams.

Love and wisdom in conversation

But an amazing thing Swedenborg teaches is that this reflection of love into wisdom doesn't just happen in our minds--it happens everywhere. A particularly powerful example of this process happens in social interaction. The body language, facial expressions, and tones of voice I make when I talk with another person are also mirrors for those underlying loves (desires for some end--the root of all feeling), and they spontaneously change to better reflect the loves' changes. And if you pay close attention to the subtleties of body language, you'll see the principle of correspondence mentioned above at play. If I cross my arms when talking to you, it means I feel relatively uncomfortable--I'm holding myself in, protecting myself. I don't want to cross the bridge from me to you or let you cross the bridge to me, so I erect a barrier with my arms to keep us apart. But if I open my eyes widely while talking to you, I'm fascinated--I can't get enough of what you're saying, so I open my eyes (the doors to my soul) as wide as possible so as to let more in.

Love and wisdom in art

Music and literature also display love through wisdom. In music, the underlying loves show up clearly and viscerally. The loves or feelings are there for all to hear in the notes, melodies and harmonies, as anyone who enjoys music will know. And fiction shows forth loves in its own unique way. By telling a story, the characters each exemplify a different love or combination of loves--each a different "color" of love. By showing the way they interact and come to a resolution, the author (wittingly or not) shows the ways these different emotional players habitually relate to each other. Thus, there's value in "likening" your life to fictional books as well as scripture; just like with the Book of Mormon (though ultimately in a less powerful way), I can learn more about the deep parts of life by reading fiction. True to their form as "correspondences" of love in wisdom, they're mirrors that show me life's nature.

Loves as perspectives

Moreover, I'll paraphrase Swedenborg's works by saying that loves are also perspectives--they're different ways of looking at the world which show me different sides of it. With a love for money, I'll only see opportunities for profit, to a greater or a lesser extent. With a love for parenting, I'll only see people in need of nurturing. Of course, no one has just one love; we have many, even though they're all more or less subservient to a "dominant" love. But this equivalence of love and perspective means that, when I emphasize a different love than normal, I see the world differently. This truth has a lot of practical potential. It means that when I shift my love/perspective from one to another, I effectively become a different person than I was before. I'm an embodiment of another aspect of being; I see the world from a point of view previously closed to me. So when you empathize with another person, a book character, or even a piece of music, you're really acting from the reality behind them, to the point where you and him, her, or it are manifestations of the same aspect of being, mirrors for the same eternal source to see itself in.

And finally, though wisdom is the mirror by which loves become visible, there are "higher" or "lower" (read "more inward" or "less inward") ways of perceiving love. For instance, when I read scripture, do I pay attention just to the literal story or do I delve deeper into the underlying loves? From my and Swedenborg's experiences, I know that it's possible to read scripture at a level where the words become completely transparent--they're just a window to the interaction of heavenly loves underlying the text. This can also happen in social interaction: I can get to a level where I "see through" everyone's gestures and body language to the feelings and loves trying to get expressed through that body language.

How do you learn the way to do this? From my experience, meditation and overall closeness to God are key. When you meditate a lot, you learn to separate the different levels of wisdom from each other, noting that feelings are different from thoughts and that thoughts are different from actions. And when you get to this level, you can deliberately turn your attention only to the level of pure feeling or love, having only the inmost layer of wisdom in which to show itself. And it's an amazing experience.

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