We are created in such a way that we are in the spiritual world and the earthly world at one and the same time. The spiritual world is where angels are and the earthly world is where we are. And since that is how we are created, we are given an inner nature and an outer nature—an inner nature that allows us to be in the spiritual world, and an outer nature that allows us to be in the earthly world. Our inner nature is what we refer to as the inner self, and our outer nature is what we refer to as the outer self.
Each one of us has an inner level and an outer level, but they are not the same for good people as they are for evil ones. For good people, their inner level is in heaven and in its light, while their outer level is in the world and in its light. Further, for good people this latter light is brightened by heaven’s light, so their inner and outer levels act in unison like an efficient cause and its effect, or like what is prior and what is subsequent. For evil people, though, their inner level is in this world and its light, and the same holds true for their outer level as well. This means that they cannot see anything in heaven’s light, only in this world’s light, which they call “the light of nature.” That is why heavenly matters are in darkness for them and worldly matters are in the light.
We can see from this that good people have an inner self and an outer self, while [in effect] evil people have no inner self, only an outer one.
It is the inner self that is called a spiritual self because it is in heaven’s light, and that light is spiritual. It is the outer self that is called an earthly self because it is in the light of this world, and that light is earthly. Anyone whose inner level is in heaven’s light and whose outer level is in this world’s light is a spiritual individual in both respects, but people whose inner level is not in heaven’s light but in this world’s light, where their outer level is as well, are earthly individuals in both respects. Spiritual individuals are the ones called “living” in the Word, while earthly individuals are the ones called “dead.”
When our inner level is in heaven’s light and our outer level is in this world’s light, we think in ways that are both spiritual and earthly, but our spiritual thinking flows into our earthly thinking, and that is where we perceive it. However, when our inner level is caught up in this world’s light along with our outer level, we think materialistically rather than spiritually. That is, we base our thinking on the kinds of things we find in this physical world, all of which are composed of matter.
To think spiritually is to think about actual things as they really are, seeing truths in the light of truth and perceiving what is good because we love it. It is seeing the qualities of things and perceiving their emotional impact apart from their material characteristics. In contrast, thinking materialistically is thinking, seeing, and perceiving things as inseparable from matter and as in matter, and therefore relatively crudely and dimly.
Seen in its own right, a spiritual inner self is an angel of heaven, and while it is living in the body it is also in the company of angels even though it is not aware of being so; and once it is released from the body it joins them. A merely earthly inner self, though, when seen in its own right, is not an angel but a spirit and is also in the company of spirits while it is living in the body. However, it is with spirits who are in hell, and after its release from the body it joins them.
The deeper levels of [the minds of] people who are spiritual are actively raised up toward heaven because that is their primary focus, while the deeper levels of the minds of people who are merely earthly are actively turned toward this world because that is their primary focus. For all of us, our inner levels, which are levels of our higher mind, are turned toward what we love above all, and our outer levels, which are levels of our lower mind, are turned in the same direction as the inner.
People who have only a vague concept of the inner self and the outer self believe that it is the inner self that thinks and intends and the outer that speaks and acts as a result, since thinking and intending are internal activities, and speaking and acting are external. It should be borne in mind, though, that when we think intelligently and intend wisely, we are thinking and intending from a spiritual inner nature, but when we do not think intelligently and intend wisely we are thinking and intending from an earthly inner nature. This means that when our thoughts about the Lord and about matters that involve the Lord are good and when our thoughts about our neighbor and about matters that involve our neighbor are good, and when our intentions toward them are good, we are thinking and intending from our spiritual inner nature. This is because our thinking is based on a belief in what is true and a love for what is good, and is therefore coming from heaven. However, when our thoughts about them are evil and our intentions toward them are evil, then we are thinking and intending from our earthly inner nature because our thinking is based on a belief in what is false and a love for what is evil, so our thinking is coming from hell.
In short, to the extent that we are focused on loving the Lord and loving our neighbor, our inner nature is spiritual. We are thinking and intending from that nature and are speaking and acting from it as well. To the extent that we are focused on loving ourselves and loving the world, though, our inner nature is earthly. We are thinking and intending from that nature and are speaking and acting from it as well.
from New Jerusalem, Sections 36-42