Swedenborg’s dream journal gives us a front-row seat for the physical and mental experiences he went through during the period of his spiritual awakening. Do his descriptions offer clues about how we can recognize an awakening in ourselves?
Journaling, Sweat, and Tears
This is just one person’s perspective, and not necessarily representative of what others might go through. That said, it’s some fascinating stuff.
There were ten distinctive signs or symptoms that happened during Swedenborg’s awakening process. The following list is ranked according to how often the symptom occurred.
Sign #10: Sweating. Swedenborg describes intense feelings of inner conflict while he slept, and during those times of conflict, his physical body responded by sweating.
Sign #9: Weeping. Swedenborg describes weeping from a sense of God’s immense grace and his own unworthiness. Swedenborg had built up a great reputation as a scientist and thinker throughout Europe, but here we see his regret for the things that he recognized he had done out of selfishness.
The first two symptoms may not seem special. Everyone sweats and cries, right? But now we get into some of the more unusual experiences.
Sign #8: Hearing noises. Swedenborg starts to hear noises that are not from a physical source. In one entry, he describes being thrown out of bed by a loud, booming sound. For him, the spiritual world is not just audible, but overwhelming.
Sign #7: Seeing the dead. At the time this was written, Swedenborg had never had contact with any who had crossed over, so it was a new experience for him. Most of these encounters were with family members, and most happened during dreams, but they set the stage for his later waking experiences.
Sign #6: Double thoughts. Let’s let Swedenborg explain this one:
It was strange that I was able to have two thoughts at one and the same time and quite distinct from one another: the one for myself, which arrested all thoughts of others; and at the side of this, the thoughts of the temptation, and this occurred in such a manner that nothing was powerful enough to drive them away. They held me captive so that I did not know where to flee, for I carried them with me.Swedenborg’s Dream Diary §69
It’s difficult to know exactly what Swedenborg means by this, but it seems like he’s describing two types of thoughts: one set that are just like our everyday thoughts, and a second set that are very negative—representing temptations or personal trials—and that he can’t seem to control or get rid of. As Swedenborg looks back on it later, he seems to realize that the second set of thoughts represent the influence of the spiritual world.
Sign #5: Gladness. Swedenborg writes of a sense of infinite love surrounding him and reaching to his very core.
The Usual Tremors
Sign #4: Chills. Swedenborg describes shivering or trembling that accompanied spiritual temptation. In one instance, he described the trembling as lasting for ninety minutes, followed by a series of strange images that revealed that he was struggling with the temptation of shallow pleasures.
Sign #3: Prostrated. This is something that Swedenborg describes often—an overwhelming or involuntary urge to throw himself facedown on the floor and pray. In his accounts he tends to associate this with being in the presence of something very holy, sometimes accompanied by other signs like trembling.
Sign #2: Preternatural Sleep. Swedenborg describes having this unusual type of sleep for six months or more, though it’s not clear what exactly he means by “preternatural.” He does describe sleeping deeply and for long periods—ten to twelve hours a night or more—and it seems to be characterized by all of the symptoms that were described above.
Sign #1: Shuddering. This is the experience Swedenborg describes most frequently—so often, in fact, that in one entry he refers to “the common tremors”:
This was a Sunday. Before I fell asleep I was thinking very hard on what I am writing at the moment, and then it was said to me: “Shut up! Or I’ll beat you!” Then, I saw somebody sitting on ice, and I was scared, came into a vision as it were. I stopped my thoughts, and one of the common tremors came over me. This means that I should not persist in my work so long, especially not on Sundays, or perhaps in the evenings.Swedenborg’s Dream Diary §242
At this point, Swedenborg was still thinking about his daily life as a scientist—the writing he refers to in this entry is the draft of a book on anatomy. He doesn’t realize yet what’s to come, or how it will change his life.