Today, I am no longer a spring chicken. I am also no longer “filled with myself.”
Studying the ideas of Emanuel Swedenborg has helped me appreciate and participate in this unflattering process of diminishing my ego and image of self-importance. (My wife of 36 years has also been an important catalyst in this spiritual process.)
According to Swedenborg, God lets us get older in order to bring more humility into our lives. Having once been a good athlete and weightlifter I can verify that the aging process does humble one. Also, I can no longer put in all the hours of strenuous outdoor work that is required to maintain my 10-acre homestead, which I had turned into a “Garden of Eden” in my younger years.
God’s theological strategy for aging is to get us to think about our mortality and focus more on our inner, spiritual world than on the outer, physical world. This change of focus brings with it even more challenges to our self-image. The more we grow spiritually, the more we realize that all goodness and life comes from God and that we are really feeble creatures. Seeking any affirmation that we are important, as of ourselves, is pure fantasy and robs us of our innocence even when we are participating in noble activities.
We improve our lives and increase our happiness to the degree that we allow God’s love and wisdom to flow in and animate us. We are not particles of life but only forms capable of receiving God’s living influence. Swedenborg claimed that ancient humans had direct perception of God’s influence sustaining their lives. But after humanity lost its innocence, God allowed for a diminished level of consciousness to begin operating. (“Eve” in the Genesis story of the Bible symbolizes our false self-affirmation.)
This diminished level of consciousness amounted to humans enjoying the belief that they had life without God’s help and could form their own worldviews from their subjective powers of discernment and judgment. (This is the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil.) God permitted this psychical “fall” because it permitted the human race to continue being engaged in life, although it blinded them of their true predicament.
Swedenborg claimed that we are living in this diminished psychical state of “imagined selfhood” right now and suggested that while going about our activities we give credit to God at the end of the day. In other words, we should live “as if” life emanates from ourselves but acknowledge that this is actually a cosmic illusion (Buddhists call this illusion “Maya”).
However, this illusion needs to be sensed and felt, or it will remain as a mere conceptual idea in our memory function and become ineffectual. Visceral validation of our habitual illusory state of mind can only be obtained by sincere self-examination, horror and making a prolonged effort to free oneself of these psycho-shackles.
Of course, this operation—if done from a sincere heart—eventually begins the uncomfortable and unflattering removal of all our self-professed and self-identified powers and ownership of life itself (this self-confrontation and inner combat is symbolically represented in the first six days of the Genesis Creation Story).
Increased spiritual consciousness makes this illusion more apparent and observable. Ouch! And, I can testify to the fact that this is what I am currently experiencing in my efforts to grow spiritually. I am losing all my self-concocted and imagined powers. Finding my true spiritual identity and eternal individuality comes from removing my illusions and doing God’s will. I am slowly discovering how each of my powers are illusionary. I have lived most of my life in a trance!
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.