Shift of Awareness

This week the New Church of Concord began a seven week New Church Journey Program called – Shift: Small Changes. Big Difference.  This program follows the story of Jacob from the Old Testament.  Participants have the opportunity to learn about how this story relates to our own relationship with the Lord and each other as we explore our need to make various kinds of shifts in our life.  You can learn more about the program on the New Church of Concord Website.

Last week I was preparing a sermon to introduce this program and the first part of the Jacob story.  You can listen to the sermon here.  One of the concepts that I found most interesting was the idea that human beings tend to know very little about what is going on inside of their own hearts and minds!

People are often very unaware of their surroundings.  When we’re walking down the street, in a hurry to get somewhere, it’s amazing how much of the world can go by without us even noticing it.  We can be very unaware of what is going on around us.  But how aware are you of what is going on inside of you?  Initially you might think, “Of course I know what is going on inside my own heart and mind!”  But do you?

Imagine if you were asked to write a biography of your life.  But this biography could NOT include a single description of any of your external achievements – where you worked, when you got married, how many kids you had, where you lived, how much money you made.  This biography was a spiritual biography and could only include descriptions of what was going on internally; inside of your own heart and mind during the different stages of your life.  Could you write that biography?  How well do you really know yourself?  How aware are you of the various thoughts going on in your mind?  Are you aware of your motives; your deepest loves; your internal evils?

One reason that we tend to be oblivious to what is going on inside of our own hearts and minds is because we are so focused on external realities.  In the book, Heavenly Secrets, there is a wonderful description of how uninterested we tend to be with internal things:

“But such [internal] states are not known about at the present day, because…those who are being regenerated do not stop to reflect on these matters. No one is interested at the present day in what goes on in a person interiorly, because external interests have a complete hold; that is, when external interests are the ends in view in people’s lives, internal interests are of no importance at all to them. Regarding the obscurity referred to here they would say, Of what concern is that to me when there is nothing to be gained from it, and no honor in knowing it? Why give any thought to the state of the soul or state of the internal man?…What advantage is there in knowing this?…These are the kind of things that the member of the Church says to himself at the present day and the kind of thoughts he has when he hears or reads anything about the state of the internal man. From this one may see how it comes about that the things which go on inside a person are in obscurity and wholly unknown about at the present day.  Such obscurity of understanding never existed among the ancients. Their wisdom consisted in fostering more internal things and so in perfecting both powers of the mind, which are the understanding and the will, and so consisted, because they did this, in seeing to the needs of the soul. The fact that these were the kinds of things the ancients were concerned about is plain from their writings which are extant at the present day, and in addition to this from everyone’s desire to hear Solomon: Therefore they came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth who had heard about his wisdom. (1 Kings 4:34)  This was the reason why the queen of Sheba came to him; and because of the blessing she received from Solomon’s wisdom she said, Blessed are your men, blessed are these your servants, who stand continually before you and hear your wisdom (1 Kings 10:8).  Would anyone today say that he is blessed on that account?” (Swedenborg – Heavenly Secrets 5224)

I find this to be so true.  We tend to be so focused on what is going on “out there” – what we are accomplishing in the eyes of the world, what other people think about us, our worries about things that are for the most part out of our control – that we lose interest in what is going on inside of us.  I love the phrase, “External interests have a complete hold on us.”  And the question would be, is that true with you?  Is your life so filled with external noise, that you aren’t taking the time to learn about and reflect on what is going on inside your own heart and mind?

Tomorrow I’ll offer some thoughts on the first part of the Jacob story.  But I wanted to begin with the vital recognition that if a person wants to grow spiritually they need to be willing to take the time to reflect on the internal elements of their life.  I am struck by how important this is AND by how little we do it.  One question might be, How do you get to better know yourself!

“The kingdom of God does not come with observation, nor will they say, See here! or, See there!  For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

3 thoughts on “Shift of Awareness

  1. Matthew Genzlinger Post author

    I’ve been thinking about the question, “How do you get to better know yourself.” So far I’ve come up with three things that relate to this:
    1. Reflection. You need to take the time to reflect on your own thoughts and affections. A lot of people simply don’t take the time in their busy lives to do this.
    2. Learning. Along with your own reflection, you also need education. A true understanding of the “internal man” is so lost at this day that you need to be taught about it. The Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg act as a great teacher!
    3. Interest/effort. The passage I quoted above from, Heavenly Secrets, talks about how uninterested people are in internal things. I take this to mean that if you want to know yourself on an internal level, it takes effort. You need to compel yourself to do this, and eventually your interests and delights will change.

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  2. George Gantz

    The challenge to “know thyself” goes back to the ancient Greeks (the phrase was reportedly inscribed on the entrance to the Oracle of Delphi) – so there is no shortage of advice on how to go about it. But your three simple steps are as clear and concise as anything I’ve read. The first lesson of Shift also adds the imortant insight that when we experience conflict, it is a sure sign that we have work to do in truly knowing ourslves. Sorting out our selfish and noblest thoughts and impulses is tough. My post in ISAS on the issue of cognitive bias explains one aspect of the difficulties: http://swedenborgcenterconcord.org/wordpress/the-difficulty-of-judging-what-is-true/

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  3. Matthew Genzlinger Post author

    “Man is obviously made for thinking. Therein lies all his dignity and his merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now the order of thought is to begin with ourselves, and with our author and our end. Now what does the world think about? Never about that, but about dancing, playing the lute, singing, writing verse, tilting at the ring, etc., and fighting, becoming king, without thinking what it means to be a king or to be a man….If our condition were truly happy we should not need to divert ourselves from thinking about it…the sole cause of our unhappiness is that we do not know how to sit quietly in our room.” (Pascal)

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