In my current circumstance, which I still struggle to call it what it is (the H-word), I have been confronted like never before by my shadows lurking within. Living in your car will do that for you. I say for you because adversity is fertile ground for personal and spiritual growth. I am being introduced to myself in ways that startle, terrify, and liberate as the challenges that beset me are at once difficult and opportune.
I never dreamed I’d be in this situation. But then, whatever dreams I composed and nurtured over the years never had much to do with life on Earth beyond a desire and vision of seeing the family of Humanity living in unity and harmony. Child-like, yes. But haven’t we neglected that Eternal Child we all carry within? And what is that Eternal Child? Moreover, how can we raise up that Child so that it serves us and others in ways profound yet practical?
I returned to the Mission yesterday for dinner. It was around 5:15pm and the temperature was still high at 100 degrees (down from 106). Redding stays hot, almost unbearably so in the summer months so that anything that is to be done outdoors becomes a potential hazard. The Mission was full, standing room only, which is typical at meal time. I looked around immediately, intentionally, assertively. In doing so I kicked shame in the ass and told his ass to go on and get.
I stood at the front of the room where the serving stations are located and steadily scanned the mass of Humans gathered, their voices merged into a buzz of busy talk. I wanted to see and to be seen, to liberate myself from the shadow of ignominy. I felt at peace. A blessing indeed.
I saw an open seat across from the Southwestern-brown man who was the first individual I encountered when I first arrived on August 15th. He was the one who led me into the doors on that day and would not let me leave without at least trying to get a bite to eat.
“Hey Bro,” I said, “is it cool if I sit down here?” I expected an automatic yes from him but instead he asked the woman sitting next to the empty seat if it was ok for me to sit in that seat. How thoughtful and considerate of him to check with the woman, I thought.
She said no one was sitting there so I sat down after thanking her and engaged the Brother. I learned his name is Andrew, 64 years old, and he’s been living in Redding for 15 years having moved here from Antioch, CA. His hair, which I described in the August 15th post as streaks of gray and white was actually mostly black with streaks of gray. He had used to be a truck driver and after suffering 3 strokes found himself homeless. He had been in a wheelchair for 7 years resulting from his 3rd stoke and started walking again in January 2016.
“Wow, Bro, how’d you do it? Was it therapy or what?”
“No, no, Brother. I got therapy the first year and then no more. But I kept telling myself I’m gonna walk, I’m gonna walk, I’m gonna walk. I wasn’t sure I’d ever walk again, to be honest with you, Brother. But thanks be to God here I am. I don’t walk as fast as I used to walk, but I’m walking.”
A mother with her son of about 4 yrs of age came over to us to thank him for his help earlier that day. Apparently, she got into a big shouting match with a man, for reasons unknown to me, and both were kicked out of the Mission. Andrew intervened in her behalf and she was allowed to return. I took a quick a glance at her food tray. Dinner was slimy looking noodles mixed with chicken, a kind of hybrid of goulash and chow mein. At least that’s how it looked. It didn’t look appetizing.
I told Andrew I wouldn’t be staying to eat as the food was not appealing. He beckoned me to stay and eat but I knew I wouldn’t. I told him I’d see him again. After a tight, warm embrace and exchange of blessings I left.
I used to believe in a literal heaven somewhere beyond the stars. That’s the way it was taught to me in church. I used to believe in a god that sat on a throne in this heaven, judging dead souls as worthy of eternal heaven or eternal hell of fire and brimstone. I used to believe that I and all others on Earth were born in state of sin and thus separated from this high and holy god who sent his son in the flesh on a mission to earth to redeem us through the shedding of blood. I also once believed that heaven would be restored on earth as it once was in Eden by the arrival of New Jerusalem as depicted in the Book of Revelation.
No more. No more of that for me. As I see it today heaven and hell both lie within us as possibilities of being which we exercise through choice.
Heaven is that consciousness that I deem divine, spiritual, whole, one, complete, unified. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, that is, it is always here as a state of consciousness which we can align with by exercising spirit-mindedness – kindness, love, grace, forgiveness, integrity, compassion, empathy, joy, gratitude, and myriad other fruits of this way of being. Heaven lies hidden in the collective unconscious and therefore as a possibility of being within the personal unconscious (‘the kingdom of heaven is within you’). Heaven is here now, in you, in me, in us.
Hell is that consciousness wherein the ego is primary and whose agenda, whose survival is assured at the cost of everything and everyone else. Hell is the fruits of that ego, that same ego that cares only for its own well-being without concern for others, its own hunger and not that of others, its own pain and not that of others, its own pleasure and not that of others, it’s own desires and not that of others. The ego judges by appearances, is quick to condemn, cunning to seduce, sly to gain, and cowardly flees from all accountability and responsibility.
If I am in hell then I am living primarily in ego-consciousness that views itself as separate from all other things, separate from Creator Most High/Most Within, and thus separated it cowers in the shadows of fear, entropy, and death. And if I am living in hell then I alone am responsible for its presence and perpetuation. Sure I can blame others and make others responsible which ego is wont to do.
In fact, I can think of one person on this earth who seems to bring out the very worst in me, all that I despise and judge in her is actually all that I have come to despise and judge in myself. But if all I do is look at her in an accusatory way, making her responsible (‘she brings out the very worst in me’) then I will never transcend, as it were, this state of being into which I stumble and fall by choice, habit and indulgence. On the other hand, I can take the alternate view of this individual and the rotten dynamic that persists between us as an opportunity to experience heaven.
How can a state of hell be a gateway to heaven? Because hellish circumstances are part of the karmic feedback system embedded in life that allows us the opportunity to correct our path by making different choices prompted by the adversity we are confronted with.
It’s like the dashboard lights in your car. When the oil light comes on it’s simply telling you to pay attention to this area in the car’s mechanics as something is amiss. When the oil light comes on we take action to diagnosis, address, and correct. We don’t condemn the car to a lifetime in the trash heap, do we? Of course not. You paid too much for the car. You’re not going to so easily get rid of it as something useless and no longer of any value.
Yet, this is what ego-consciousness is quick to do. It’s quick to dis – quick to dismiss, discredit, disavow, disrespect, and disown.
In my ego-consciousness, as I shared in a previous post, I am all about me and the hell with everyone else. But when the consequences follow as a result, my eyes are opened wide and I see and feel the aftermath of ego-indulgence. It’s ugly….it’s really ugly.
But heaven is strong within me, too. And to reach, or return to, heaven I am willing to go through the fires of hell and be purified by its flames (karma). I don’t hide. I don’t medicate. I don’t run away. It is then I see and feel Creator and love and wisdom and life in the troubles that assail my life, mind and soul. I have learned to give thanks for the pain, for the stripes that heal.
I remember once, when living off-grid in Kentucky, my then-wife and I got into an argument. Rather than stay and continue to fight I stormed off into the Kentucky woods complaining to Creator about my wife (I have that kind of relationship with Creator….I share everything). In the midst of my complaining I heard the still, small voice within (one of numerous experiences with the Voice) say softly, I gave you not what you wanted; I gave you what you need. Immediately I ceased complaining and turned right back around to head back home, humbled and thankful.
Heaven is here right now. Heaven is in our midst. It’s in you, it’s in me.
Just earlier today I locked myself out of my car and a stranger named Robert came to help. He stood with me for almost 2 hours in 100+ degree heat to help me figure out how to get the car unlocked. We finally did it only after he came up with 2 brilliant ideas that were pivotal to our cooperative success. That’s the kingdom of heaven.
Andrew and I sharing words of understanding and connecting through kindness at the Mission. That’s the kingdom of heaven.
My nephew, Andrew, calling me on my birthday when we had not spoken for years. That’s heaven.
My sons climbing on me, playing with me, calling me ‘Dada’. That’s the kingdom of heaven.
When you loved one or a stranger alike. That’s the kingdom of heaven.
When you share your pain with another to assure them they are not alone in their pain. That’s the kingdom of heaven.
When someone corrects you because you are not being your best and highest. That’s the kingdom of heaven.
When you make eye contact with the stranger and smile. That’s the kingdom of heaven.
When you forgive another, exercising grace that leads to reconciliation. That’s the kingdom of heaven.
When you confess what you know to be the wrong you committed against another, asking for their forgiveness and even accepting – and understanding! – if they don’t. That’s the kingdom of heaven.
When you submit yourself to the adversity that’s come into your life, accepting it as karma for the choices you’ve made, for things you did and did not do. That’s the kingdom of heaven.
When you reach the same cross road you’ve arrived at a hundred times before only to make a different choice now, a choice that you know serves your higher purpose, serves your leaning and your personal and spiritual growth, and depart from the self-serving and self-destructive choices you used to be in the habit of making at that critical juncture. That is truly the kingdom of heaven.
Heaven, Beloved. It’s in you. Heaven-consciousness, Christ-consciousness, the Buddha, the Atman, the Higher Self, the Eternal Child. Call it whatever by whatever name you feel because it’s all the same. And it is you sitting on the throne of judgment – weighing and choosing between life (spirit) and death (ego). The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Always was and ever will be. It’s here now. Don’t wait for heaven, Beloved. Don’t look for heaven, Beloved. Choose it. Exercise it. Be it.