A mother sits quietly on a plaid blanket which in turn rests upon lush, green grass. Not the kind of grass that pokes you or makes you itch when you lay on it; the sort that is a delight to find yourself on. Broad bladed and cool to the touch, almost as if it’s still damp from the morning, chilled by its deep connection with the dark soil it’s rooted in. As she leans back listening to the birds singing overhead in a tree that’s providing the perfect shade, she watches her two kids playing and laughing nearby. She sees her husband approaching from a distance. She told him where they would be and he said immediately that he was taking the afternoon off from work to join them. As she thought about how wonderful their relationship had been lately her entire body filled with a gentle warmth that made her feel safe and loved. As he finally reached the place where she was reclined, watching him, smiling, he bent down and kissed her before settling in at her side with one arm around her waist. They sat and held hands, fingers and souls intertwined, and talked and watched peacefully as the kids played on.
If we can’t realize heaven in the moments described above then we don’t know what heaven is. Our too often pseudo-spiritual journey is somehow supposed to be training us to inherit a heaven that is not here, is not now, and that, if we are honest with ourselves, we probably aren’t sure even exists. I say “pseudo-spiritual” because a true spiritual path must be causing us to exist in and take part in creating a more beautiful now reality; cultivating heaven for for ourselves, others and the earth. Heaven is not dependent on correct doctrine or thinking, it has nothing to do with the right group affiliation and it’s possible that it may not even be a place where angels rest on clouds with harps (the last line there was intended to be a bit of joke…but really though…). Heaven is a reality and realm that is occurring right now, where you sit reading this sentence, and the entirety of the spiritual journey and pursuit is wrapped up in our consciousness being elevated to the point that we are not only aware of this “unseen” realm but we are actively perpetuating it through love, peace, patience, kindness, etc. Let’s get practical for a moment.
Take a moment to be silent. Right now. Bring into your mind a memory that you associate with peace and joy. The first two that flashed into mine were snuggling on our oversized couch with my wife and the other was talking and laughing with a dear friend. Really feel and re-experience the peace and joy of the memories you conjure and let them fill you. Let the peace be new again inside you! You can revisit every detail; the smells, sounds, sights, or exactly how you felt or thoughts you had during this time. The more completely you explore and relive the memory in your visualization the more you will be taken back to that time and experience the wonder and benefits of the encounter. Now, full of peace or joy or love, whatever you’re experiencing, bring to mind someone else in your life, anyone, and consciously allow that peace that you are experiencing to release to them. See the joy leaving you as a blue, vaporous cloud and surrounding and entering them. Jesus once said that if we come into a home that is “worthy” we should let our “peace rest upon it.” This was not a fanciful, super-spiritualized request that he thought none would be able to accomplish but was an invitation to his followers to become conscious of the peace they carried to the degree that they were able to offer it to others. If you’re wondering, the only thing that makes someone “worthy” of your peace is your ability to view them as worthy. The more deeply immersed in the realm of heaven we become the more people we recognize as “worthy” of peace and kindness. To truly experience every human and creature and creation as worthy of unrelenting love and mercy and kindness would be to view creation through the eyes of God; others have termed this level of sight and understanding ‘enlightenment’.
The little exercise we just did (take a moment to try it now if you didn’t just do the visualization) can become a living practice, akin to walking mediation (which will be described in the next chapter). Far from being only fun and imaginative, this ability to become aware of spiritual substance (love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, etc.) within us and release it to others is one of the primary, world-changing tools we have been given. When speaking of changing the world, it is important to note that we don’t do this via force. We don’t press our ideas, thoughts and beliefs on others but as I said at the beginning of this short book, if we discover even a small piece of heaven we have a responsibility to share it, for so many around us are suffering in one form or another. I’m also not suggesting that sharing happens through teaching necessarily or through any sort of evangelizing; I believe that we share by allowing our own hearts and minds to become transformed and enabled to enjoy a higher level and experience of love and Reality, and then as we live this as fully as we possibly can we discover tools that allow us to affect the physical and non-physical world around us. In other words we simply participate in life and reality as beautifully as we are able and in order to do this we must practice utilizing the powers of peace and joy, etc. that we are becoming more fully possessed by and acquainted with. We are, as architects of sort, working alongside all creation in a cooperative effort to create and maintain a space of “heaven”. Heaven is real. Hell is real. And we’re exploring a way of understanding both that identify them as part of our current state and not far-off, ethereal realms.
Now… on to hell.
True spiritual understanding is not dualistic; not a matter of seeing black and white or good and evil. All is part of the same glorious picture we call reality and everything has a roll to play. That being said, we must also be not ignorant of evil, darkness, or even hell. Non-duality does not mean that evil does not exist. Let’s take in another scenario.
A young girl wakes up well after the sun has risen to the stench of sweat and blood. The mattress she slept on isn’t covered in sheets and it doesn’t get washed. Although she is only twelve her head is pounding from dehydration and the drugs that have been coursing through her veins since yesterday’s afternoon; drugs forcibly introduced into her tiny body just moments before the living nightmare, a queue of adult men visiting her room in turn, began once again. She vaguely recalled hearing a conversation spoken over her motionless body in the disgusting, sheet-walled room earlier that morning. Whoever was speaking said they didn’t think she would live through more than another few nights of this; she would be dead soon. As she thought about it now the idea filled her with a ray of hope; death would be a welcome reprieve.
Life wasn’t always like this. She had lived in a small community with her mother, sister and two brothers. In her culture (and particularly in her family) girls weren’t worth much, not highly valued… unworthy. One morning, after weeks of food being in short supply, two strange men came to her small home and she watched with growing fear as she realized she would be leaving with them. Her mother walked out of room with money in hand and head bowed in shame as the men dragged the two sisters, wailing, from the house. She was raped violently within an hour by both men who had come for them, drugged heavily, then confined to a secluded room in a brothel on the outskirts of a city she had never visited before. That was three months ago.
If one enduring a life similar to the story above isn’t in hell, I don’t know what hell is. Those short paragraphs may seem graphic, but they do not even begin to describe the terrors that real people are facing every day, in every nation, throughout the world. Between 2012 and 2014 The United Nations detected 23,000 victims of sex trafficking. How many went undetected? The U.S. State Department estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 individuals are trafficked across international borders every year. 80% of these are women and children. (You can view the full human trafficking global report at http://www.unodc.org). This is a horrific reality of our world and no amount of philosophizing about how evil doesn’t exist (which is actually a common belief/philosophy held by many people) does any good toward alleviating the pain of those caught in this criminal industry.
Just as in the case of heaven, hell is generally either relegated to a future-tense reality or written off completely as a fictitious fabrication of fanatics. Hell is seldom seriously acknowledged as an ongoing state comprised of both physical and spiritual substance. The scene I described briefly above is an example of a state of physical and emotional hell. Worry is hell. To sit up all night long worried about the wellbeing and future of yourself and your family is… well, not heaven. There is a reason these things are important. If we don’t see that there is darkness, if we are in denial about the tormented reality that so many exist in and through, then we are not actually prepared to be light and peace to those around us who are in desperate need. We can simplify this even further and look inside the walls of our own home and especially at our relationships. Are yours filled with joy? Is your marriage marked by understanding, compassion and fun? Statistically, at least half of you who read this would have to answer “no”. If we are not acting with patience and kindness to those closest to us, to those who have been entrusted to us to be kind and patient with, then we really need to look at our lives, spiritual practice, and even the beliefs we claim to hold, and see what needs to change in us as individuals in order to take steps in the right direction. I only suggest this because if you have read this far you are most likely interested in spiritual things and in growing or developing. It is important to note that it is our own life that must change if we are experiencing a state of relational hell in our lives. Of course others have faults too. Of course your husband is a pain in the ass at times and of course your wife could do something better with her time and energy than nag, but the spiritual journey is about personal transformation, not changing others. Jesus simply said that we should take the beam out of our own eye before we try to get the speck out of our neighbor’s. Spoiler alert… you will never get the beam out of your eye, making you forever unqualified to try to fix others. Recognizing this is essential to the traveling the path of enlightenment.
To take this topic in a slightly different direction and in an effort to be thorough, there is a parallel dimension that exists alongside our own where darkness and light, good and evil, are present and very real. This dimension has been experienced by countless individuals throughout history and across every culture and creed. It has often been described as the realm of the angels and demons; a place where other beings live and roam and it is believed by many that these beings are active participants in the physical realm as well. I believe this is true. I have personally had experiences with those who have been termed the angelic and with other beings who were comprised of material I can only describe as evil or darkness. From my perspective it is critical that we acknowledge this dimension to some degree because parallel dimensions affect one another. It is not just the physical that is impacted by the “spiritual”, but our decisions and actions effect the usually unseen dimension as well. (I used quotes in the last sentence because this other dimension I am speaking of has often been thought of as the “spiritual” dimension, in my opinion, because we don’t yet have solid ways of interacting with and investigating it; thus it has become something “spiritual” that we are to “believe in” instead of a legitimate, alternate or parallel reality that we are able to understand or participate in). The things we do, thoughts we have, and words we speak are all impacting the universe and universes in unseen and metaphysical ways. Your thoughts and words matter and are physically changing the environment you exist in. We all recognize when we are around someone who is harboring anger, bitterness, impatience or hate. Likewise we can sense joy or love, even in the strangers we walk past on the street. We are all continually radiating energies that, aside from being able to be sensed by those around us, are touching and impacting everyone, every place, and everything we meet. I say all of this because these energies are actively nudging our surroundings and even the larger structure of our reality and universe either in the direction of light or darkness, heaven or hell. The more we become aware and conscious of the role we are playing and the life (or death) we are promoting, the more we are able to participate in a way that encourages life, peace and love… or to sum it up in a word, Heaven.
There is much that can be said about this topic of heaven and hell but this seems a good place to wrap it up since my desire with this work is not be exhaustive but to offer an introduction to these topics in order to encourage thought that might in turn lead to the transformation of our understanding and behavior. This is also one of those subjects where it is easy to get lost in an endless labyrinth of speculation and miss the point. The point is that heaven and hell are not only other worldly places, alternate dimensions or strictly spiritual; additionally, they are present realities in the physical, emotional, and psychological sense and the more light you shine through your life the more you are contributing to the heaven side of things. So shine.