Returning to the Source

Emmanuel Swedenborg: The prophet of concrete enlightenment

One of the key signs of being touched with the mystical life according to Wilson Van Dusen is humility.

This is deeply appropriate because Van Dusen's own quiet practice of the mystical life has passed by, little noticed indeed only his focus on Swedenborg (pictured above) has meant that some of his books remain in print courtesy of Swedenborg's contemporary followers. This relative obscurity is not for want of living a very full life - a friend of his once suggested, at least, seven lives that ranged from a fully licensed sea captain to a clinical psychologist treating people both severely in the grip of their malady and in that grip inflicting, criminally, pain on others.

His 'Returning to the Source: The Way to the Experience of God' is simply a masterpiece of exposition and an invitation to all to begin reflecting on their experience, including the most everyday, and what it might point towards (and say) of the divine search. It is Van Dusen's conviction that the 'mystic' is not a special kind of person but that each person is their own special kind of (potential) mystic.

The mystical life is the essential life, the one that undergirds everything, and which is always inviting us to go deeper.

Van Dusen utilises many traditions in unfolding his descriptions of the mystical life but two resonate most deeply - the first is Zen and the second is the tradition of Emmanuel Swedenborg, the eighteenth century Swedish seer of Heaven and of Hell. Before one imagines that these two traditions are wholly alien, it must be remembered that one of the best books on Swedenborg was penned by D.T. Suzuki, the archetypal interpreter of Zen to the West.

What they both have deeply in common is their emphasis on the concrete, the just so, as it is now. Swedenborg describes heaven and hell with the minute attention of a practised scientist, the Zen master invites illumination through seeing the here and now with searing, insightful practicality. For Swedenborg, heaven and hell are not somewhere else, but are being fashioned, right now, out of the particular choices we make, the desires we honour (or fail to), the right now is the only place out of which enlightenment can spring.

Van Dusen's descriptions (and discussion) are beautifully rooted in this here and now and see the development of our seeing and being as grounded in the just so - of sitting on a porch at night contemplating the stars and learning wonder, of considering what is my deepest desire and honouring it because through its practice the good will be born; and, of imagining that because the divine is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, everything that is given us is for the good and that seeing this is a gesture of relaxing into such seeing, like a pool that always comes back to rest, whatever its disturbance, creating a transparent mirror to whatever presents itself.

From this space, one is propelled to consider what it is to be of tendering, caring use. Heaven, to quote Swedenborg, is built from our uses - our actions aligned with the deepest desiring - and anything can be a contribution, with the right intention.

Van Dusen continually asks us to come back to a phenomenology of our experience and recognise that, in every person, there are moments of breakthrough into peace and he asks, and recounts, what it might be for each of us to cultivate such moments such that we garden our way into that reception of upholding, transfiguring grace that is enlightenment and love.


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