Pattern from an early Christian sarcophagus
Rome; photograph by the author
This question of the intersection of the inner and the outer has its own center of gravity. We think that life is "for us;" that "we" live, that it is about what we get for ourselves.
Yet life is always about what we offer, and the way we come into relationship with others, for without this, why would there even be life?
Swedenborg's insistence on seeing the difference between a selfish intention and an unselfish one is exactly the difference between Buddhism's right action and wrong action. Mankind is placed forever and in all places and times at a point of stewardship; an intersection where it must choose between being a steward for the objects, events, circumstances, and conditions that it encounters, or a refusal of that stewardship in favor of its own egoistic impulses. This stewardship must be a conscious stewardship, although, personally, I prefer the term organic to conscious, because consciousness is too often interpreted as a function of the intellectual mind — and the mind that is conscious is conscious in both its thinking, its feeling, and its sensation. This cannot take place without a right inward relationship. It is impossible.
The inner river always points a man or woman towards stewardship, and outer influences always try to drag them away from it. The point of consciousness is to occupy the territory between these two and help ensure that stewardship prevails over what one wants for oneself. The lessons learned in this regard when one confronts life begin to teach one how one ought to enter a position of stewardship between the higher and the lower, that is, between one's own ego and God.
We do need for ourselves; but we need to be intelligent, clever, even sly in relationship to our ego, and manifest only as much as is necessary to satisfy it. The real satisfaction, after all, is in the relationship with others and the relationship with God, and so the ego should be fed only what is necessary to keep it in a healthy condition. Any time an individual gets too much of anything in life, it damages them; because the ego is fundamentally a glutton.
When we come into relationship with a higher energy, it inwardly forms the parts in such a way that the relationship is healthier. More consideration is present; compassion is given more free reign within the range of action; it's possible, at times, to be prudent and loving — characteristics we usually forget. But all of this is only possible in so far as we abandon our habitual, reflexive, and associative reactions to things and trust in an energy that can inwardly form our relationship with outward things. If we don't have a relationship with that energy, or we don't know it is there, we never form a correct part in ourselves can become a steward. One can't understand the idea of service or the wish to serve if one doesn't think one is a servant; and the type of service spoken of here is not an outward service, which is where so many — in fact, everyone — thinks that service to the Lord takes place.
It must always and forever take place inwardly first, or all the outward service loses its meaning.
We live in a society where the idea and understanding of inward service has been almost entirely forgotten. The media, social forces, peer pressure, and the arrangement of corporate society are all organized to create amnesia; we forget the inner impulse, and so everything that is outwardly formed is superficial and subject to irrational relativism. The inner sense of gravity is unable to influence outer affairs, because we are not in relationship with it.