Further, to the extent that we are engaged in heavenly love—which is loving constructive and worthwhile activities and being moved by heartfelt pleasure when we provide them to our church, our country, the human community, and our fellow citizens—we are being led by the Lord because this is the love he is in and the love that comes from him. However, to the extent that we focus on love for ourselves—doing constructive and worthwhile things for our own sakes—we are leading ourselves; and to the extent that we lead ourselves, we are not being led by the Lord. Again, then, it follows that the more we love ourselves, the more we move away from the Divine and also from heaven.
Being led by self is being led by what we claim as our own, and what we claim as our own is nothing but evil. It is actually our evil heredity, which involves loving ourselves more than God and the world more than heaven.
We are completely absorbed in our self-image and therefore in our hereditary evil whenever we focus on ourselves in anything worthwhile we are doing, for we are focusing on ourselves and away from what is good and not on what is good and away from ourselves. So in the worthwhile activities we set up an image of ourselves and not an image of the Divine. I have been assured of this by experience as well. There are evil spirits who live halfway between the north and the west, underneath the heavens, who are particularly skilled at getting upright spirits involved in their self-image and therefore focused on various kinds of evil. They do this by getting them absorbed in thinking about themselves, either openly by words of praise and esteem or covertly by focusing their feelings exclusively on themselves. To the extent that they succeed, they turn the faces of the upright people away from heaven and also becloud their understanding, calling up evils from their self-concern.
If you look at their origins and essences, you can see that love for oneself and love of one’s neighbor are opposites. In people who are wrapped up in love for themselves, love of their neighbor begins from self. They claim that everyone is her or his own neighbor; and from this as a center they reach out to all who ally with them, with progressively less intensity depending on the love that unites the others with them. They regard people outside this group as worthless, and people who offer opposition to them and their evildoing they regard as enemies. It does not matter what they are actually like, whether they are wise or upright or honest or fair.
A spiritual love of their neighbor, though, begins with the Lord, and spreads out from him as its center to all who are united to him by love and faith. Its spread depends on the quality of their love and faith. We can see from this that a love of our neighbor that begins with ourselves is the opposite of a love of our neighbor that begins with the Lord. The former comes from evil because it comes from what we claim as our own; while the latter comes from what is good because it comes from the Lord, who is good itself. We can also see that a love of our neighbor that comes from us and from our self-image is a physical love, while a love of our neighbor that comes from the Lord is heavenly.
In a word, when we are absorbed in love for ourselves it constitutes our head, and heavenly love constitutes the feet we stand on. If heavenly love does not serve us, we trample it underfoot. This is why people who are being thrown into hell look as though they are diving in headfirst, with their heads down and their feet toward heaven (see above, Section 548).
from Heaven and Hell, Sections 558a-558b,