Fragments of questions started to enter my mind as I walked along the beach.
What is heaven really?
How does heaven relate to suffering?
What if heaven is only possible as a result of extreme suffering?
What if heaven isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?
What if heaven isn’t really the point?
Where does that leave heaven on earth?
What else is there?
I remembered my vision of living in heaven, which came in 2002 at the end of a very long, tough day of walking up the steepest route to the top of a mountain in New Zealand. It was a scree slope and with every footstep I slid down almost as far as I stepped up. Stones that looked like good handholds came away as I touched them.
At one point I wanted to lie down and slip to the bottom, carried in a flow of small sharp stones. But I made it up to the next hazard – the sharpest plants I’ve ever come across, with long leaves like swords with extra spikes along the blade. We took great care as we made our way through them to avoid being cut like ribbons.
We reached the top but we’d brought no water and were extremely thirsty. We rested for a while and then had to go a long way down before we found the stream.
It was after 9 hours of walking, as it was getting dark, that I experienced a feeling of being in heaven. After an exhausting day I was full of energy. I felt light, easy and ready for anything. I could have kept walking all night, and even gone all the way back up to the top again.My heart was full and I felt totally alive. It was amazing and I took it as a metaphor for my life for many years afterwards, especially when times were tough. I knew that this heavenly feeling always lay ahead of me, as long as I persisted through the challenges.
As I think of other stories of people who live in a much more heavenly state than I, it dawns on me that they all experienced extreme suffering earlier in their life. Dr David Hawkins, Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie come to mind.
I wonder about Eastern monks and the training they endure. Having spent many years with Chinese Masters, I know a bit about the traditional path to mastery. “If the master says eat shit, you eat shit.” And so it may take 30 years or more of extreme discipline and submission to find some peace and a quiet mind. That might have been appropriate in some difficult part of history, but does it have to be that way now?
This morning I had a vision of someone I know extremely well. I watched him try on different projections of himself, as if he was testing out different ways of being in the world. The first was very white, bright and shiny, ultra-clear and spiritual. But it couldn’t stick. The next was like a knight in bright, shiny armour, but it was stronger than any steel I’ve come across and it, too, couldn’t stick.
When he finally found his place in the world, he was himself, the same essence as he had as a child but in a greatly expanded environment. He was free to go where he wanted and to create whatever experience he chose, but he didn’t need to be anyone special, and he didn’t need to be someone other than who he is.
In my own experience, I treasure the ordinary. Although it’s tempting at times, and can be fun, to experience heightened states of consciousness. if I’m honest I love the feeling of just being me. Nothing special, pretty relaxed, enjoying life and following the breadcrumb trail of my inner desires and wishes. There’s always something new to experience, something I want to create, something I’m growing in my life.
I wonder if our cultural stories about heaven, and our modern spiritual expectations of creating heaven on earth, are taking us down a path that holds more suffering than we need or want? In a traditional, religious frame such as Christianity, heaven comes in a life beyond this one, seemingly as a reward for suffering. In a more modern spiritual frame, heaven comes here on earth, during this lifetime, but it still seems to take great suffering to experience it.
These days, I meet people who yo-yo between heaven and a modern definition of hell. One minute they’re suffering (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually), then they release it or clear it and feel blissful. And just when they’re hoping they’ve made it and everything’s going to stay that way, another version of hell arises and needs to be cleared. It goes on and on, often for years.
What if there’s another way of living that’s not based on suffering or reaching some state beyond suffering? Is that possible?
I often teach people to be ordinary. It’s a way of letting go of the drama of spirituality, and the suffering that goes with it. Felicity Broennan wrote this about it:
I’d never given any thought to being ‘special,’ or to being ‘ordinary.’ I have been living my life, working at non-profit organizations whose mission I fully believed in, and cultivating spiritual awareness through a number of different means.
When I was at a recent Consciousness of Money retreat in Napa Valley, having all kinds of mental conniptions and confusion around next steps in my life…Sarah looked at me and asked me one simple question: “Felicity, can you just be ordinary?”
Then she continued: “There’s no need to be clever. Or witty. You don’t have to try to please the teacher. You don’t have to be special. Just….be ordinary.”
For this “Daddy’s Little Princess,” as my father called me, the notion of ordinary provided an immediate relief. As if air had been let out of an overly full balloon that was keeping it extra high in the air. So this became my new awareness to practice. Be ordinary. Not overly reactive. Or overly excited. Or overly enthusiastic. Or overly exclamatory.
Ordinary is a container, and I can relax within that container. My energy is calm. Because it’s calm, and easily contained, it is sustained. I notice a beautiful rhythm to my days. They keep humming along.
Being ordinary means I’m not seeking. I’m here. Not seeking, not sending out energetic pinging, not making stories. I’m not trying, striving, longing, wishing. I just am. And inside of that, I feel more energy to focus on what is in front of me. It’s like closing the portholes so nothing leaks in or out.
Being ordinary is liberating. Even though the “special” persona was quite unconscious, I was well-practiced at maintaining it. And with this recent break in transparency, the energy to maintain the specialness now has a more clear, more focused purpose that is productive, efficient, light.
I wrote this to Sarah about a week later.
…brings me relief whenever I start to feel pressure.
…is relaxing beyond measure.
…is powerful, not forced.
…produces sustained energy.
…quiets my petty ‘small self.’
…calms my nervous system.
…redirects my mental maelstroms.
So I find myself walking along the beach asking questions about heaven.
I don’t want to offend anyone and I’m not saying I have the answers, but I’m curious. Because of that vision I saw years ago after the long walk on the mountain, I’ve taken heaven on earth for granted, and I’ve come to experience it many times in the last few years. I thought I’d experienced the ultimate heaven, but I’m not so sure anymore.
I’m wondering if there’s something more to being ordinary than meets the eye.
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