A lot of people think heaven exists only when we die. A lot of people think heaven is populated by dead relatives and angels and dead pets and even Jesus. In fact they envision Jesus personally escorting them through the pearly gates when they die. A lot of people think the opposite of a heaven in the clouds is a hell underground which is where they will go if they sin. Well, I’m not one to burst religious bubbles, but I have a different take on heaven…and hell.
Heaven, I believe, is right here, right now, right before our eyes if we’d only open them much wider and see what’s around us. Of course, you’ll need a fine filter or two to blot out the cars, the guns, the crime, the coarse talk, the lies, the ignorance, the greed, the hatred, the delusion, the pollution, the wars, the misery of the destitute, the desperation of the poor, the hopelessness of the depressed and deranged, the cruelty towards animals, the impunity of those who have lost their moral compass. OK, now since all that is gone from your mind’s eye. Just sit back, follow the bouncing ball, and sing along with me.
We’re taking a trip to heaven on earth. First, stand beneath a magnolia tree in early spring, close your eyes, a let the fragrance fill your nostrils and your heart. That is heaven on earth. Now visit a waterfall in a natural setting near where you live. Hike there with a child or an older person or your spouse or alone. Look at water fall from a high cliff into a deep, clear pool. That is heaven on earth. Seek out your local symphony and listen to a Bach cantata. All of it. Close your eyes. That is heaven on earth. Buy a book of poetry by Jane Hirshfield or one of your favorite poets, find a nice, comfortable, quiet nook at home, and read a few poems aloud. That is heaven on earth. Take a bite of your favorite food. Savor it and let it linger some in your mouth before you swallow. That is heaven on earth. Have a brief conversation with a curious child of perhaps six or seven years old. That is heaven on earth. Seek out a rushing creek or river near where you live and take the time to watch its flowing water. That is heaven on earth.
I suspect you’re beginning to catch my drift. We live on a planet that may well be one of a kind in the universe. Scientists have spent decades looking for planets with atmospheres that can sustain life as we have here on Earth, and have been unsuccessful. Now a new telescope has been launched, much more powerful than any previously, and, though scientists are cautiously optimistic, still have yet to detect anything like what we have here on our tiny blue and watery and fantastic planet.
Heaven, which I define as a place of peace, contentment, happiness, joy, and complete satisfaction, is right here as we live our lives, if only we can look more deeply what is before our eyes. Even for those who lack sufficient material resources, the very fact that they have been born onto this planet at this time is sufficient to realize how fortunate they are to be alive and have the capacity to feel joy, happiness, and love in any given moment, regardless of how much money they have in the bank, or whether their country is at war, or if they are in poor health, or if they’ve just lost their job or their best friend. I’ve experienced all of the above, including cancer, layoffs, my country at war, and the loss of my dear best friend; and yet, at 77, can still notice and revel in the above heavens on earth and many more as they arise each day within the purview of my fresh eyes and open heart.
Of course, there are still the times of hell on earth, but my Buddhist training has taught me that all things arise and pass away, which is true of all the moments of heaven on earth as well. I’m content with that. I’m at peace with that, and greet each moment as I greet my wife in the morning upon awakening, with love and gratefulness. That, too, is heaven on earth.
A song that I’ve written is now streaming on Spotify, Apple, YouTube, Soundcloud and just about any streaming service. It’s called Stones, which only involves typing in the title and my name and, if you like it, give it a like and a follow. One more heaven on earth moment, at least from my perspective! Thanks, y’all.