Here’s a reflection on the way I see monster #1 show up in my life.
The two monsters in our show, Repentance: How To Be In Heaven Now, are described as love for dominating everyone and love for possessing everyone’s wealth (True Christianity 533). If you’re like me, I manage to clear myself pretty quickly from monster #1. Love for dominating everyone, me? Nah. I’m not out for world domination. I’m a little less comfortable (okay, a lot) when I read the way this monster is phrased in Divine Providence 146:
“A love of being in control because of our sense of self-importance.”
Ding! Ding! Ding! Or in the words of Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, “Me…me…me…I am really close on this one!” A love of being in control from a sense of self-importance brings up a very familiar sensation in me. My compulsion towards it runs deep.
Turns out, a love of being in control is innate to our whole sense of autonomy, according to Swedenborg. Our lower self, or proprium in the Latin—or ego in contemporary terms—lives constantly in a state of self-absorption and cannot transcend itself. We can’t get rid of it, because it is essential to our identity, but we can have it enlivened by the Lord, or in other words, made to be more and more subservient to higher loves (or in other words, higher levels of our mind that are receptive to the Lord's love and wisdom). Divine Providence 215 explains that a love of being in control is not bad in itself, but it causes suffering when it rules—when we believe its perspective to be the law of the land. If instead we look to a love of service as our aim, we can begin to connect to the Lord as the one who is really in charge:
“When services or good actions are the goals or the loves [in people], then it is not they who are in authority but the Lord, because everything good comes from him.”
But how do we get a love of service to be our top goal?! It all comes back to repentance:
“All the people whose helpfulness comes from the Lord are people who are abstaining from evils as sins, while all the people whose helpfulness comes from the devil are people who are not abstaining from evils as sins” (Divine Providence 215).
It’s a good thing to notice the thoughts and intentions that arise from a love of being in control and to see them in the light and love of the Lord’s presence. I can bring awareness to its activity in me without giving it the reins, and this is key.
It’s important to get to know the nature of this love of being in control. Not surprisingly, since our love of being in control is rooted in our sense of self, it is constantly dishing out its perspective to us. I’ve found for myself, I can think I’m overcoming its influence in my mind and life only to realize, I’m still entirely functioning from its concerns! One example of this is practicing repentance from a sense that I need approval from God…that’s still an ego concern! I’m still thinking I can be in control, still thinking this whole spiritual life thing is some kind of transaction to get my creator to love me—incorrect. Swedenborg alerts us to what a tricky target this love is in Divine Providence 146,
“The hardest battle of all, though, is with our love of being in control because of our sense of self-importance. If we overcome this, we have no trouble overcoming our other evil loves, because this is the head of them all.”
Thankfully and mercifully, simple self-examination starts us on the path to genuine freedom from this love’s concerns and perspective:
“As soon as we look into ourselves and realize that our evils are sins against God because they are against divine laws [alt. phrasing: as soon as we realize that a love of being in control separates us from a sense of our enduring connection to divine love], and therefore try to refrain from them [i.e. refrain from letting this compulsive way of thinking control our actions], the Lord opens our spiritual mind and comes into our earthly mind by way of its desires for what is true and good. He comes also into our rational processes and from there rearranges the things in our lower, earthly mind that have been in disorder. This is what feels to us like a battle, or like a temptation if we have indulged in these evil pleasures a great deal [(ahem, *hand raised*)]. There is actually a psychological pain when the pattern of our thoughts is being inverted. This is a battle against things that are actually within us, things that we feel are part of us; and we cannot fight against ourselves [i.e. gain freedom from our ego-driven concerns] except from a deeper self, and only because of a freedom there. It follows that the inner self is fighting against the outer self at such times, is doing so in freedom, and is forcing the outer self to obey” (Divine Providence 147).
It is a huge comfort to understand that there is already an innate inner freedom at work in us during this process.
The Lord, divine love, is guiding us every step of the way through our sense of autonomy. I noticed recently when I was fully immersed in the concerns of this monster that I would have positive, helpful thoughts arise in my mind, but I would immediately deride them. It took so much effort to help myself by making use of the helpful ideas I was having, because the force to reject my own positive ideas was so strong. Then I read the following passage in Divine Providence. For the hope that it could help someone else, I want to share and close with it here. The message in it is that the Lord is present within our own sense of autonomy, delicately guiding us and infusing us with his wisdom through our own thoughts to lead us to our inner freedom, even through the toughest of times when we feel alone:
“The Lord provides that we realize and therefore think we are in hell if we are bent on evil and that our thoughts are coming from hell if they come from evil. He also enables us to think of ways that we can get out of hell and not accept thoughts from hell, but instead come into heaven and there think from him…If, then, we reflect on the evils in ourselves, which is the same as self-examination, and abstain from them, we extricate ourselves from hell, turn our backs on it, and make our way into heaven where we see the Lord face to face. We may say that we are doing this, but we are doing it in apparent autonomy, and therefore from the Lord” (Divine Providence 321).
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Does this perspective on Monster #1 resonate with you in your life?