15 Mental Causes of Disease

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15 Mental Causes of Disease

“A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” A Hebrew Proverb

Is Illness the Fault of Man?

Many Christians believe that all accidents and diseases are retributions of Providence for personal sins. This idea was common among the Jews, who conceived of no higher good than health and prosperity, nor any higher destiny than a long life on earth. The Lord sought to disabuse the minds of the disciples of this fallacy when he said concerning the man who had been born blind, “Neither hath this man sinned nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him”; and when He said that the eighteen killed by the fall of the tower in Siloam were not sinners above others in Jerusalem.381

Men—from no individual fault of their own—may fall sick from natural causes which in turn come from spiritual causes hidden from man’s understanding. And by natural remedies he may be restored. But while the disease lasts, evil spirits are able to extend their operations from the realm of the mind into the body, working against a cure by inflowing into the unclean things which belong to the disease, which they aggravate. The stress of the Writings is laid upon the fact that without the influx from the hells there would be no actual disease. “Every disease in the human race” comes from sin, which is spiritual disease.382 We cannot take this to mean that it is always a man’s fault if he is sick, any more than it is his fault that he has hereditary tendencies to evil. But even as sin bred disease in the human race as a whole, so it is the tendency of a man’s own individual states of evil to lead into corresponding diseases of the body. “If his spiritual life sickens, evil is derived therefrom into the natural life also, and becomes there a disease.”383

It does not follow that an evil man is always, or necessarily, sick, or cannot remain in what appears as perfect bodily health. But actually, the things that come to belong to man’s life are not only of his mind but of his whole body, from head to foot.384 And therefore it is disclosed in the Writings that the blood in the lungs purifies and nourishes itself correspondently to the affections of the mind, and that in evil states it absorbs a subtle food of unwholesome quality, unsuitable to serve the soul in its impartial and wise economy. Yet no one can ascertain this quality of the blood by any qualitative chemical analysis since “it is a purer blood, called by some ‘the animal spirit,’ which is purified” with the regenerating man.385

Certain “lusts and passions of the mind” are more prone than others to “destroy man’s interiors,” and thus to “drag” man into disease and death.388 Such passions may be classed as breaches of the moral law.

Intemperance, drunkenness, gluttony, luxuries of various kinds, and pleasures that cater to bodily enjoyments alone, head the list. For these upset the routine of use and the balance of the body functions; denying to the body the proper exercise or the proper sleep; or compelling the stomach to absorb useless food or drink, for the sake of the transient pleasures of the senses. Drunkenness causes a man to lose his manhood, since it is his intellectual faculty that marks him a man. It not only brings damage on his body and so hastens his death, but it wastes in extravagance what might be of use to many.387 Envies, fears, and anxieties about the future without proper trust in Divine provision, keep the nerves taut by a constant reliance upon prudence. It is a remarkable thing that the human body and brain can rise to emergencies and prolonged strain, and that men in executive positions can do work which even in amount shames others; but this only so long as states of frustration and personal anxiety do not affect them. For generally it is not work but fretting worry and vexation which cause health to break down.

Hatred and revenge also visibly poison the body and heat the blood, as well as warping the judgments of the mind. States of bitterness and brutality have always been compared to gall—the bile rejected from the liver and longing to punish the stubborn food in the intestinal tract. Lasciviousness— when given rein—leads to sexual diseases of varied types, affecting the glands, tissues, and nerves, and even infecting the blood itself. Hypocrisy and deception tax the nervous system by inducing constant fear of detection.

Mental states can so influence the body as to create organic disorders therein into which the hells can operate because the mind or spirit while man lives on earth is not apart from his body nor present only in the brain, but is within the whole body and animates it with life. “The spiritual,” we read, “accompanies every stamen [of me viscera, organs, and members of man] from outmost to inmost, and therefore all the minute structures and fibres of the heart and lungs.” This is the reason given for the fact that the spiritual body, which is formed within the natural body, rises at death in a similar form. Death “is merely the separation of the spiritual substance from the material.”388 The spiritual which is present in the body and its brain, and thus acts into nature, is called, in the Writings, the “ultimate-spiritual” and also the “spiritual-natural degree”; for it is the ultimate degree of the spiritual.389 In the inmost of the brain and body of man this ultimate spiritual is clothed with natural substances from the very inmost of nature,390 and thereby is given the power to separate itself from the higher spiritual degrees and to act against them. When such a perversion sets in it becomes evil.391 By paternal heredity, this lowest degree of the spiritual is now from birth contrary to the order of heaven and open to the influx of hell.392

It is the natural mind that is formed in direct contact with the natural substances of the body. And although the natural mind or the “spiritual-natural” in man is perverted by heredity, yet it is none the less ruled by the superior spiritual degrees in such a way that these can act by it in creating the body into the general image of the soul and usually maintaining it in seeming health. The perversion of the substance of the “ultimate spiritual” is thus of such a nature that its essential function of conveying life is outwardly unimpaired.

This ultimate spiritual degree with man unfolds itself as the natural mind—which is itself of three degrees, sensual, natural and rational. There is need in the body, then, for various planes of organics which shall serve to express the powers of that mind. For no life, no thought or affection, could possibly manifest itself in the realm of nature, unless nature furnished a receptive vessel, responsive to its influx.

Swedenborg’s Early Views on Diseases

In the Writings, little is said of these body-planes which display the powers of the spirit. But in his philosophical works, Swedenborg gives much thoughtful attention to them. What he says therein cannot be taken as revealed doctrine and is not binding on our minds. But what served him for a rational ultimate in receiving the inspired doctrine, might help us to understand its meaning more fully.

His general theory was that there are, in the body, three vital fluids. Each builds for itself a center, or principal court. The grossest of the vital fluids we call “the red blood,” and its center is the heart. The fluid of middle degree Swedenborg calls by various names—the “animal spirit,” the “purer blood” —and for its centers are prepared uncounted millions of cortical “glands” in the brain. Thence it flows at incredible speed through the nervous system and also enters into the composition of blood and tissues in various ways. The third and highest vital fluid—the “spirituous fluid” or “purest blood”—has innumerable centers in each cortical gland—centers which are called “simple corteces,” and thence it flashes like rays of force through the simplest invisible fibres, and through nerve fibres and blood vessels into the entire body. Indeed, the body is the product solely of the ineffable formative activities of these simplest fibrillae. For this “spirituous fluid” is the servant of the soul itself, and may indeed be called “the soul of the body.”392b

Into this framework of vital fluids and fibres, formed by the soul itself out of the best of nature’s gifts, Swedenborg then places the degrees of that mind which man employs in the world. The blood serves as the plane of the vegetative and most sensuous life of the mind. The cortical glands, with their vital nerve juices, are made the plane for the animus, its sensations, imaginations and passions. The simple cortex and simplest fibre and thus the highest vital substances of the body, are cited as the organic instruments of the rational mind and the pure natural intellect.

Diseases are affections of the various natural organics mentioned above. But the spiritual soul itself, which is the immaterial essence of man’s immortal spirit and is above these natural forms, can also suffer a vitiation or a perverse change of state—as to the reception of life. This cannot be counted as a disease, but as “guilt” (reatus).393

Yet the afflictions of the “purest blood” cause a sickness which affects the workings of man’s intellectual mind: it shows itself, not as a disease, but as a perversity in will and judgment—as vain ambition, malice, and a banishing of conscience. Thus insanities and vices result.394 The cure for such irrational states, Swedenborg suggests, is to gain health of body and animus, and then to enlighten one’s mind through masters who have saner judgment; but also to learn from revealed and rational theology, and to exercise freedom of thought and especially self-control !395 (And in the Writings it is added that “all who love uses think sanely in their spirit, and their spirit thinks sanely in their body).”396

If the “purer blood,” which runs through the cortical glands and the nervous fibres, becomes vitiated, there arises not disease as such, but “passions of the animus,” such as moody anger, jealousy, foolish prides or fears, melancholy, fickleness, weakness of the imagination, loss of memory, and many other ills which depend on the state of the brain and its various parts.397

All the natural affections or the mediate loves of the animus are in themselves healthy instincts.398 But when taken as ends-in-themselves, and indulged not for the sake of uses or for the sake of higher ends, but only for selfish satisfaction, then some of them become intemperate and urge us to excesses. We may call these natural affections, “natural goods,” because they are implanted in the natural mind from birth. Each love finds its own expression under the form of some virtue. Some individuals inherit prominent qualities of pity or generosity or courage, or on the other hand, their complements, prudence, thrift, or caution. Curiosity, hope, zeal, the love of the sex, are other examples of natural affections. Within such tendencies there lies hidden hereditary evil, which tends to upset that delicate balance of judgment which should make out of them all a harmonious and perfect whole—a moral life of use. From hereditary evil, the affections of the animus awake gradually into a mutual conflict. If—through intemperance—some of these loves of the animus are given loose rein, they turn from apparent goods into vices or grave faults, into searing passions which disturb the mind. But so long as man keeps them in balance and due proportion the mind is normal, and its natural affections do not then bring about any disease in the body, or any poisoning of the nervous fluid or the organics of the brain.

Swedenborg also suggests remedies for the sicknesses and upsets of the animus. Medicines, he says, may be employed to purify and restore the red blood; for it may be some external condition of the body and its blood that accounts for the mental state. Yet if the cause is not in the body, the state might be amended by an improvement of the mental environment : agreeable feasts, convivial companionships, and broader social contacts may put one in a more normal frame of mind! If this does not help, let the sufferer seek recourse to moral philosophy and in a bit of practical self-analysis, so that he rectifies the mistakes into which he has drifted.399 On the other hand, the trouble may be derived from perversities of the intellectual and rational mind—and then repentance is called for!

Health cannot truly exist, unless all the planes of the body and mind are in harmony and cooperation! If the inner mind is cheated of its ends, the animus may become angered, the blood hot, and a bilious fever may seize the viscera !400

Lack of harmony with interior planes is therefore a cause of bodily disease—disease “properly so called.” But not the only cause; for the body is affected by any organic deterioration of blood, serum, or tissue.401 And the principal and most common cause of bodily disease has to do with the lack of proper nourishment or with the food that we eat; and also with the subtle food which we draw in by breathing the air, and even the still more subtle nourishment which the “purer blood” drinks in from the ether.402 For the blood must be provided with aliments of sufficient quantity and the right quality. Our philosopher therefore classes—among the remedies for the body—not only various drugs, drawn from the three kingdoms of nature, and moderate diet, exercise, rest, sleep, moderate temperature; but also mental calm. And he leaves the field open for new discoveries of ways by which the blood may be purified, amended and renewed.403

The Theological Writings on the Causes of Organic Disease

We have cited these observations which Swedenborg made before he was called to his religious mission, in the hope that they might help us to understand more clearly certain statements made in the Arcana, the Spiritual Diary and the other theological works.

In the Arcana Coelestia we read that evils “close the smallest and altogether invisible vessels of which the next larger, also invisible, are woven; for the vessels which are smallest of all and wholly invisible, are continued from man’s interiors. Thence comes the first and inmost obstruction and thence the first and inmost vitiation of the blood. This vitiation, when it increases, causes disease and at length death. . . . “404 It is difficult to ascertain whether the inmost vessels which evil closes are to be conceived as physical or as spiritual substances, for they seem to be combinations of both. They are called vessels “on account of the correspondence,”405 and indeed “vessels in man’s rational and in his natural,” and are said to be in “contrary position” within him relatively to the inflowing life which none the less still can dispose them. Man perceives the variations of their form as truths.406 And a cross-reference suggests that it is in these “substances which are the beginnings of the fibres” that the objects of sense are organized as memory. They might perhaps be identified with the twists of the spiritual and natural substances of the natural mind which are turned in a sinister order before reformation has occurred.407 The evil heredity of the race is carried over from generation to generation by such correspondent disorders in the lowest spiritual degree present in the germ-plasm.408 And there must be a natural basis for such hereditary evils, since it is only in conjunction with natural substance—thus only in the natural mind while on earth—that evils can arise.409 The reason for this is that it is the very nature of natural substance to resist and react against spiritual substances.410 And owing to this resistance the lowest spiritual can there be separate from its higher degrees, and become perverted into “spiritual substances such as are in hell.”411

Hereditary evils, it is well to note, are not “guilt” or “sin” or “original sin,” but only tendencies or inclinations to evil. It would seem to follow, that with the newborn infant the “smallest and invisible vessels” which are receptive of the spirit and undoubtedly carry the marks of heredity, are not closed but have the tendency to close themselves against the spiritual mind; nor is there as yet any “inmost vitiation of the blood.” So far as the child, and later the man, does not prevent, the Lord continues to hold him in innocence and mental health, by a general influx. With infants and well-disposed children, even the worst spirits, if present, would be compelled to serve the Lord’s will and cannot introduce any evil. It is when the child begins to acquire a sphere of evil that the inmost vessels are “closed” to the influx of the un-perverted spiritual412 and become opened to an influx of cupidity from evil spirits; and then the “animal spirit” begins to absorb the malignities to which it had formerly been immune.

While an evil inheritance may thus give a predisposition to certain diseases, most babes are born healthy; unless some deficiency in maternal nourishment or some accident in the womb has interfered with the execution of the soul’s pattern of the embryonic body—that marvelous four-dimensional pattern which is latent in the germ-cells and which Dr. Schroedinger has described as a code-script for the individual’s entire future development.413 Hereditary evil does not affect the physiological functions of the soul in the body, for the inmost natural vessels are utterly obsequious to the soul in its general influx. Swedenborg therefore stated in the Economy of the Animal Kingdom that the spirituous fluid which is present as a formative substance in the parental seed cannot be perverted or injured or essentially changed in its form except with reference to a variant reception of life and wisdom.414

If this be so, it may be surprising that any one could be born an idiot. Yet even if the “spirituous fluid” is perfect in its physiological action there can be congenital defects in the derivative organisms or injuries to the nervous tissues due to malnutrition or to some trauma experienced either before or after birth. There are no doubt special reasons in the Divine providence why idiots should remain in the state of innocence for their entire life time, or why those who lose their rational balance through disease should be arrested for a time in their mental development. But the law is that “life . . . acts according to the ultimate determinations, but not from them.”415

The internal man may be quite rational even when the mind cannot be rightly channelled into corresponding imaginations, words, or acts. In a private letter, Swedenborg observed that “real madness and insanity resides in the external or natural, not in the internal or spiritual man.” There are no natural diseases among spirits in the other life, nor any hospitals; although there are spiritual asylums for spirits who become insane and idiotic from a denial of God. Natural diseases, blindness, lameness, insanity, etc., are cured when man sheds his externals and his internals are opened in the other life.416

Yet natural insanity may be caused or abetted by unwholesome mental habits and by the leading of evil spirits. For if our rational mind is not in control, spirits will lead man and cause mental fixations and monomanias.417

Nerves, Glands, and Spirits

There are two general ways by which mental and emotional states can affect the body. One is through the nervous system, the other is through the secretions which the glands communicate to the blood. Both originate in the brain. Swedenborg explained that the brain is not only a common sensory and a common motory for the body, but is also a complex gland which acts as a chemical laboratory. And the soul and the mind exercise their special functions, both conscious and unconscious, through the brain. The influence of our spiritual environment thus affects us first of all through the brain. And even as speech corresponds to the thought of the mind, so the influx of the mind into the body always expresses itself according to laws of correspondence.

It is a particular influx from hells attracted by our chosen states that stirs up partiality and dissension among the affections of the natural mind, causes mental symptoms, emotional moods, psychic disturbances and disorders in the functions of the braincells, and upsets the balance in the products of the endocrine glands.

The conscious part of the mind, or the voluntary, by its deliberate or at least perceptible decisions moves the body by means of the central nervous system. Our errors of judgment or intent may thus cause injury to the body by overstraining it or leading it into perils with which it is not equipped to cope. But emotional states may cause illness even when man is not really aware of them except as a frame of mind; and they may affect the body through the autonomic nervous system centered in the hypothalamus and midbrain, causing unwanted muscle tensions and pains in the oesophagus and stomach and in various parts of the alimentary canal, resulting in symptoms like those of peptic ulcers or gas or appendicitis. The breathing may be affected and cause undesirable changes in the blood. The blood vessels are most sensitive to emotions, as in blushing or in headaches, and the heart beats faster when one is deeply moved. Certain prejudices or constant irritations may cause outbreaks on the skin or rheumatic ailments. Frustrations may explode in hysterical weeping or laughter, or in violent actions not intended. Anger may lead to hemorrhages on the brain and possible death through coronary occlusions.

The second bodily agency to respond to our mental states is the glandular system. In his physiological works and later in the Writings Swedenborg called attention to the important functions of what is now called the endocrine glands—anticipating many discoveries by more than a century. In fact he noted that there is no viscus which does not contribute a secretion to the bloodstream.418 Chief of all the glands he considered the brain with its constituent “cortical glands,” some of the products of which were strained through the region of the hypothalamus into the pituitary gland at the base of the brain and thence—modified in various ways—into the jugular vein, thereby vivifying the blood with “animal spirit.” Health depends on the proper balance and purity of these fluids, and many diseases result from their deficiency or wrong distribution.419

Swedenborg concluded that the “animal spirit” which is so essential for the balance of all body functions contains within it a life-carrying “spirituous fluid” which is generated in the inmost structures of the cortical cells. All the ductless glands in the body are regulated through the pituitary gland which is the outlet for this subtle nerve-product. In his various treatises he points especially to the uses of the thymus, the adrenals, the spleen, the pancreas, the liver and the testicles; which all aid in modifying, tempering, and salvaging the animal spirit. And in the Diary he says of the learned of his time: “So long as they dispute whether there exists an animal spirit in the fibres, which they may still do for a thousand years, they can never come to the courtyard of knowledge, but will stand far away.”420

It can hardly be doubted that what Swedenborg called “animal spirit” is closely related to what medical science in this century refers to as hormones produced by internal secretory glands. The pituitary is now acknowledged as the master gland and the source for a number of hormones which regulate almost every process in the body and condition the various organs to avert any threats to bodily well-being. Most important, however, is the finding that these glands are so sensitive to emotional stresses and psychic states (such as mental blocks and aversions) that they can cause corresponding illnesses and symptoms in the body. The relation of the endocrine glands to our inner states is so close that some have named them “the glands of personality.” The accumulating evidence of symbolic symptoms in psychosomatic diseases is not surprising to the New Church man who is familiar with the universal correspondence of the natural to the spiritual and knows the body as the instrument and clothing of the mind. Yet we may sometimes forget the further truth—that our inner life does not originate with ourselves but is induced by the spirits who are attracted by the contents of our mind.

Correspondential Symptoms

Our morbid psychic states need not at once, nor necessarily, cause disease in the body. But when a disorder exists in the body itself, the sphere of evil spirits acts spontaneously by a law of correspondence. In certain cases, they can cause disease only when men invite the evil which these spirits represent; and in such cases the Lord cannot avert their sphere.421

We read strange things in the Writings about this correspondent influx—things which can be appreciated only after reflection and a study of the doctrine of the Grand Man. Thus hypocritical spirits—who wish to evade judgment— tend to inflow to produce toothache and what appears to be neuralgia.422 Certain dominating, pompous and impatient spirits induce great pain and weakness and weariness of mind and body.423 The sphere of selfish and slothful spirits produce numbness and oppression in the stomach. Spirits who have been in much solicitude or are inclined to avarice and are unwilling to leave “the state of externals” in which newcomers are in the other life, affect the stomach with nervous indigestion.424 Revengeful spirits aggravate superacidity in the stomach.425 Those who make everything a matter of conscience also induce abdominal anxieties.426 In each instance there are profound correspondential reasons for such influxes.

Anxieties of a different kind are due to the presence of unworldly female spirits of the province of the adrenal glands who are in solicitude from a life lacking in variety. But these spirits, who also act on newly born infants, are merely concerned to hold the mind in some line of thought that excludes what is worldly. Certain other spirits, who in the Grand Man relate to the infundibulum, are—like the fluids in the ventricles—inconstant and undetermined, and cause in man states of impatience and suspicion.427 Those who do not like work but seek social prominence and pleasures as their sole gratification, correspond to obstructions in the brain, and their presence causes stupidity, dullness and loss of affection.428 Those who relate to the viscid humors of the brain with which vital fluids are mixed, love to incite scruples of conscience in trivial matters. Such rather narrow-minded spirits induce a sensible anxiety in the upper abdomen; and they are also wont to come to a man during temptations and make them unbearable.429

When sickness coincides with temptation, man’s lot is unenviable. “Temptations,” we read, “are most grievous when they are accompanied with bodily pains, and still more so when those pains continue for a long time and no deliverance is granted even though the Divine mercy is implored.”430 Yet illness itself, even when the mind is anxious and moody, is very different from spiritual temptation. Real temptations have a spiritual issue involved—a struggle to retain spiritual health and faith and charity. Still, moods of sadness may break like a flood upon a man who has lived in good when he relapses into the sphere of his proprium; and then he may become indignant and angry. He thinks restlessly and his desires become impetuous; although when this flood is lifted, he returns to a serene and cheerful state. Such temptations affect the animus and perhaps the body. In the case of the last posterity of the Most Ancient Church, such a profane flood of evil and insanity was let loose that people perished physically, by a species of suffocation. This, therefore, was actually a death of sin, and—as was shown above—was described by the great Deluge.431

The indications are that diseases are usually receptive of an influx from particular spirits, who then inflow by their sphere into a particular part of man’s body. But a localized disease may become general, or may attract a more general influx.

This is noted in the case of fevers. Many places in the hells, among obstinate and pernicious spirits, exude an excessive heat, impure and corporeal. This sphere inflows partly into the mind of man, by means of particular spirits, to inflame him with cruelty or adulterous lust; but partly also it may, by a “general sphere or a general influx,” produce a febrile heat in the diseased parts of the body as well as a delirium in the mind.432 Indeed it is stated that “the sick man summons” those who infuse such heat, and that spirits most marvelously know how to determine their sphere into the body, and this despite the fact that spirits do not know the man with whom they are. Fortunately the Lord controls them under laws of order, withdrawing them periodically; “wherefore several fevers have stated alternations.”433 It is generally admitted that the rise of body temperature into fever heat is a defensive reaction of the body in its resistance to disease.

Spiritual Uses of Sickness

Disease and melancholic anxiety may be classed among “natural temptations.”434 But the difference between an illness and a state of spiritual temptation is well illustrated in the case of certain spirits who relate to the province of the stomach and especially to the undigested things therein. The general action of these spirits is to instill feelings of oppressive sadness and uncomfortable melancholy for which no perceptible cause or occasion can be recognized. The spirits who thus inflow are not the spirits who are with man as his attendants and who resemble him as to affections; but they are strange spirits who have been sent forth from some infernal society into the sphere of his life. They flow in by a more general influx to produce these effects, which are contrary to man’s own affections. Such spirits may also infest man during a spiritual temptation; but then they would not only inflow “in general,” for the temptations themselves are produced by particular spirits who excite certain evils that man has done and put a wrong interpretation on the good things in his mind. Only by such a “particular” influx can the man be placed in freedom to resist, and his guardian angels then engage in combat on his behalf.435

What has been said may aid us to understand the teaching that a man cannot be reformed—or he cannot change his ruling love—while in states of sickness of mind or body.436 While ill, the mind is not always rational, and if rational yet is not free. Man then lives apart from his world of uses and duties and is withdrawn in his spirit. The Writings liken such a man to a religious recluse, a hermit bent on thoughts about his own salvation; and the same is the state of one who is in some extreme danger or in sudden misfortune. Besides, the sick man may be oppressed by moods beyond his control, and is released from his usual responsibilities and from the pressure of many of the affections that normally wage their silent warfare for predominance.

So far as a man can carry on his uses, he cannot be called sick in the above sense. Nor does illness prevent a person already on the road of reformation from being strengthened in his good resolutions by the reflections on his sick-bed. There is therefore room for the further teaching that a very large class of men (who are represented in the Word by the Hebrew manservant) “cannot be reformed otherwise” than through the hardships of life, such as anxieties, misfortunes, and even sicknesses! These are they who from infancy have given little thought to anything but worldly life and success, yet have lived morally and accepted the doctrine of their church on hearsay. With them, sickness is turned into an opportunity to review life’s real purposes, and something of spiritual good may then adjoin itself to their thought. They may turn again to the consolation offered by their church, and confirm their faith more deeply while their worldly loves lie dormant for a while.437

Even like gifts of wealth and peace, the gift of health is happily in the Lord’s hands to dispense—for those to whom health may be a blessing. In our hearts we all pray for health when it eludes us. Yet it is the Lord’s admonition that we should seek first the kingdom of God and His justice. “He who is in faith from the Lord asks for nothing but what contributes to the Lord’s kingdom and to himself for salvation.” The angels told Swedenborg that if they should pray for anything else, they could have no faith that they would receive it.438

Sickness is not a total waste in the Lord’s sight. We are encouraged to practice foresight and to seek to maintain our health by prudence as well as by medicine. But to be brooding constantly upon the possible ailments of our body and to delve intently into anatomical details all one’s life, is not in itself an aid to health.439 “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” The regenerating man, even in his pastimes, looks to uses as an end. He loves the things of his body for the sake of having a healthy mind, and consults for his body as the first requirement for usefulness; and he “loves his mind and its health for the sake of an end still more interior—that he may have a relish for good and may understand truth.”440 This is further explained as follows:

“He who is in merely external pleasures makes much of himself, indulges his stomach, loves to live sumptuously, and makes the height of pleasure to consist in things to eat and drink. One who is in internal things also finds pleasure in these things, but his ruling affection is to nourish his body with food pleasurably for the sake of its health, to the end that he may have a sound mind in a sound body; thus chiefly for the sake of the health of the mind, to which the health of the body serves as a means. One who is a spiritual man does not rest here, but regards the health of the mind or soul as a means for acquiring intelligence and wisdom—not for the sake of reputation, honors, and gain, but for the sake of the life after death. One who is spiritual in a more interior degree regards intelligence and wisdom as a mediate end having for its object that he may serve as a useful member in the Lord’s kingdom; and one who is a celestial man, that he may serve the Lord. To such a one bodily food is the means for the enjoyment of spiritual food, and spiritual food is a means for the enjoyment of celestial food; and as they ought to serve in this manner, these foods also correspond, and are therefore called ‘foods’ ” (AC 4459:6).





There Is Always a Blue Sky

Swedenborg Foundation

By Peter King

Depression is an illness, and we can try to treat it with medicine, with therapy, or with a combination of the two. Such approaches are all very useful, and I would never tell anyone suffering from depression not to take the pills prescribed to them or to see a properly qualified therapist. These things will only take us so far, though, because depression is as much a spiritual problem as it is a physical one. Depression principally affects the way we think and feel; and in consequence, it affects how we relate to others. We need more than pills; we need a source of spiritual medicine. I believe that I have found such a source in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.

I suffered from depression for more than fifteen years; and for most of that time, I did not hold out much hope that things for me and my family would improve. Depression ate away at my family life, my social life, my self-esteem, and my faith, leaving me with very little hope. But over the last year, I have come to realize that I can fight depression using the revelations of Swedenborg and as a result have begun to change. Swedenborg has given me the means to fight for my soul.

I have developed six simple statements that I use to fight off depression. I say these to myself constantly and use them to ward off the negative thoughts and sense of isolation that depression uses to trap me. These statements are entirely personal. If I am to change how I think and feel, they must be framed this way. But I hope that sharing them can help others fight for their souls as well.

1. I must face up to my problems and not hide from them.

For many years, I did not look at myself or examine what depression was doing to me. I would, in fact, refuse to do so, with the vain idea that if I ignored depression, then it might ignore me. But I now realize that I must do the exact opposite of this. I have to inspect my negative thoughts and ask myself what they are trying to get me to do. Just what are their motives and where do they come from? Are the thoughts trying to control me, dominate me, or coerce me into doing something that will harm me or others? If they are not helping me, then they are not what I want or need and I should reject them. These thoughts are not there for my own good but are simply there to further themselves at my expense.

Swedenborg showed me that I could not start to understand my situation unless I reflected upon myself. Once I did this, I began to notice things about myself that were hitherto secret or unknown. I became aware of myself in relation to what was around me.

Without reflection we know nothing, except that we are, and nothing else, not what we are. On the other hand, if we reflect upon ourself from [the viewpoint of] others, or allow others to reflect upon us, and to say what we are like, then for the first time we are able to know ourself. Otherwise we can never learn, but remain in our own illusions, and from them, reflect upon others. So one thinks truths are falsities, because one is judging from one’s illusions. For such as the starting-point is, such also is everything that follows. (Spiritual Experiences §734)

Without self-reflection, I would have continued with my illusions and misconceptions, using them as the basis for my relations with others. As a result of self-reflection, I have encouraged others to tell me how they see me and have begun to find that I can face the world as it really is.

I now see that I cannot ignore what depression is doing to me. It is only by looking at who I am that I can recognize its hold and then start to resist. I am no longer passive, and I now know that I must take responsibility; it is my fight.

2. I am neither my faults nor my virtues; I can choose my path.

The Lord does not condemn me. Like all of us, I am being prepared for heaven, and the only reason that I might not get there is because of my own actions. Swedenborg shows us that neither good nor evil comes from within but instead comes from outside of us; all that is good and true comes from heaven, and all that is false and evil comes from hell.

This is a tremendously liberating idea. It means that I do not have to accept depression, negative thoughts, or anxiety as things that are coming from within me. Even though I might have once believed them to be generated by me—that they are my thoughts—in truth, they are not. I now know that the negative thoughts that have dominated my headspace are not what I really am, so I can face these thoughts and call them out as the lies that they are. I see now that they are trying to control me and to harm me, but I don’t have to let them.

There are reflections of thought . . . for the most part having to do with one’s own affairs, or things that are to come . . . by which the longer one is held in them, the more one is infested by evil spirits. This is the cause of depressions with many. (Spiritual Experiences §§3624:2–3625)

3. Never forget that people love me and I love them.

When suffering from depression, I isolate myself and in turn feel completely alone. It is me against the world. But I am never really alone. The Lord is always with me; and the greater my need, the closer he is.

The Lord is present in us and with us throughout the whole world; and the reason for this is simply that the Lord is not in space. (Divine Love and Wisdom §10)

But I am also close to others who love me and whom I love. Depression brings with it self-pity and a refusal to accept responsibility. So what I do really does matter both to myself and to others. My choices matter, in terms of where I end up, but they also matter to those closest to me. Depression does not merely affect me, but it also impacts greatly on those I love. They bear the brunt of my anger and my moods. So, if I can change, I not only improve my own life but also improve the lives of those I love.

4. Depression is not me.

This is the single most important thing I have learned from Swedenborg. Depression is not who I am!

As mentioned above, Swedenborg tells us that all good and evil comes from outside of us. So just as I am neither my faults nor my virtues, I am not my depression. In fact, it is never my depression. What is pressing down on me is something from outside that is trying to affect the thoughts and feelings that I have.

Divine providence is in the smallest details of our thoughts and desires, which means that we cannot think or intend anything on our own. Everything we think and intend, and therefore everything we say and do, is the result of an inflow. If it is good, something is flowing in from heaven; if it is bad, something is flowing in from hell. (Divine Providence §287)

Depression does not come from within me, so it does not define me. Since I am separate from depression, it does not make me what I truly am. Understanding this idea puts depression on the outside and lets me think of myself as someone who can be free of it. I can be a caring and loving husband, father, and friend. I can take part in society and have a purpose in all that I do. I can be useful and free.

5. Depression is temporary; love is permanent.

Depression is a parasite. It seeks to feed off me, keeping me alive just so it can thrive at my expense. It leaves me debilitated, almost literally unable to move or to respond intelligently to others. But, when depression is not there, I am free to act, to care, and to love. This is how I really am; this is me.

Love is the opposite of depression: it is selfless. Unlike depression, love feeds me. Love is always there, and all I need to do is reach out for it. I try to remember that above the gray clouds, the sky is always blue.

The sky blue color is such as to contain good. (Spiritual Experiences Minor §4712)

Likewise, love is always there, if only I can see it.

6. Depression is weaker than me; I do not fear it.

As a parasite, depression needs me; it cannot live without me. Depression can only survive if I allow it to reside within me, but I do not have to let it do so.

Depression is negative and shallow, so it cannot offer us anything but despair. What I now know is that there is so much else beyond depression. There is always a blue sky; there is always love. I just have to remember it is there.

Love is our life. . . . We are wholly unaware that [love] is our very life—not just the general life of our whole body and of all our thoughts, but the life of their very least detail. (Divine Love and Wisdom §1)

These six statements are not a cure, and they will not necessarily make depression go away. But, for me at least, they provide a defense against it. Most of all, I know now what depression is, and it is much harder for me to be caught unawares. I know its shape and how it moves, and because of this, depression is diminished. I can see beyond it, and the sky is blue.

Peter King, PhD, is a reader in social thought at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK.

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