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Friday, June 4, 2010

Heaven and Hell

Two quotes for today:

If you are going through hell, keep going.
- Winston Churchill

Let's bring heaven down here.
- Tuck & Patti

I want to share a personal story.  A couple of nights ago, I wakened from a dream. I don't remember the details, except that in my dream I was trapped in an air conditioned straight-jacket, and there was no god in the universe.  I woke with a feeling of deep despair.  For the next few hours, through most of the night, I felt myself trapped in a mind-field of unhappy thoughts.  My breath was shallow and strained, and I felt tortured to be in this body.  I moved from the bed into our meditation room, and sat for a long time on a cushion.  A part of me realized this was an irrational experience, and I thought that, using my pranayama and mediation practice, I could break the pattern.  Not so.  I was trapped in a thought-maze of despair and self-loathing that was more intense than anything I can ever remember.

During this experience I remember two clear thoughts.  The first: this is hell.  And then, I remembered the above quote by Winston Churchill.  While travelling through hell, there is no good place for a rest stop.  So, keep going.  I let go of all my resistance to the experience, and let it unfold.  I surrendered and allowed myself to be in hell.  After some long time - I'm not clear how long - the experience slowly let go of me, and I was able to come back to myself.

Throughout this experience, I remember having a space of awareness around the thoughts and feelings that were so painful.  It is this spacious, calm awareness that I returned to as myself.  Centered in awareness, I have a serene, clear and joyful connection to the divine source.  This is heaven.  Oh, the potential to experience hell is still there.  I can still think thoughts of despair and self-loathing, and the egoic part of me that believes these thoughts - what Eckardt Tolle would call the pain body - that part remains.  Yet, I know myself to be a wave rising up on the ocean of divine consciousness, and this awareness fills me with joy.

Not long ago, I taught a yoga class with a theme inspired by the Tuck & Patti song, Let's Bring Heaven Down Here.  I asked my students to open themselves to the source, the universal divine consciousness, and to let love flow to them from this source.  Then, about half-way through the class, we paused.  Each person, in this room full of strangers, silently walked around the room.  To each other person they encountered, they offered this love.  No strings, no expectations, no words - just love.  We were bringing heaven down here.  The result was beautiful.

I find my thoughts drawn to the memory of this class, juxtaposed with the experience I had a couple of nights ago.  Heaven and hell.  I don't know about an afterlife, or past lives, or future lives, or anything that happens before or after we come into this world.  I do know this, though.  While we are here, in this human form, on this planet, we have choices.  We can experience hell.  And heaven is something we create, together.

Try this today.  As you walk or drive down the street, to every person you meet, make a silent offering of love.  If we all do this, we'll all be in heaven.