How Do You Get To Heaven?
Alan Cohen wrote a fine book called "Joy Is My Compass" and talked about recognizing that by following joy he could live a spectacularly wonderful life. I find it fascinating that so many people declare that they want joy, but rather than simply enjoying the present moment they spend their time preparing to enjoy a future moment. It's like the old cartoon showing a hallway with two doors, the one saying "Heaven Here" and the other saying, "The Workshop for Getting into Heaven." We can go there now or we can perpetually prepare for it.
Joy, pleasure, happiness, feeling good, whatever you want to call it is not a logical outcome of anything. It is a choice to experience it whenever possible. However, it's also important to note that feeling good is how we recognize health and how we recognize that we are in harmony, not only with the world around us but also with our inner being. As we grow up and grow into the fullness of whom we are, we can easily see when we are working towards our greater good and when we are not. We can feel it, if we pay attention. What many of us do is fail to trust that sense of feeling good. We create a huge array of appropriate patterns, templates and rules about how we should be developing, often overriding the built-in guidance system we all have.
The great endpoints, the culminations of years of practice, meditation, and prayer of the world's various spiritual paths are all about being in a place or state of feeling incredibly good. They, of course, would have no adherents if they didn't promise extraordinary feelings. The unspeakable joys of Heaven, the bliss of Enlightenment, the ecstasies of Paradise all speak to the supremacy of feeling as the essential purpose of life. It does not make any sense, then, to try to think our way to these states. The "logical" thing to do is to feel, not just a little, but as much as possible. It's much like the directions to Carnegie Hall. How do you get to Heaven? Practice, practice, practice.
This is not just about enjoying the things that present themselves to our awareness. It is about actively looking for the pleasure and joy in whatever life shows us. It's like the classic Zen story about the Zen Master and the tiger. The Master was walking along a path when a man-eating tiger spotted him and ran toward him. In his effort to get away the Master ran over to the nearby cliff, grabbed hold of a vine dangling over the cliff, and clambered down out of reach of the hungry tiger. He looked down and there, far below, were sharp rocks that would be death were he to fall. Just then two mice noticed the vine and started to eat it. As it became clearer that his demise was imminent, he noticed a single ripe strawberry growing on the side of the cliff within reach. With one hand on the vine, he reached over and plucked the strawberry. Popping it into his mouth he exclaimed, "What a delicious strawberry!"
While we are not often confronted with such dire situations, we are constantly presented with options for our attention. Will we go for the worry, doubt, or fear? Or will we look for what will make us feel good at that moment? If we keep asking the question, "Where's the pleasure here?" we move into a focus on the elements of Heaven in our every day life.
It's a matter of becoming connoisseurs of feelings. When we decide that we really want to feel as good as possible, then we become more discerning about what we are currently feeling. "Is this feeling that I am experiencing right now good enough for me?" "What can I do to get to a superior feeling?" These are questions that lead us into higher and higher realms of consciousness.
Learning to trust feeling good may take some doing, especially if one is heavily invested in ideas about how things should be. But a healthy dose of skepticism and a willingness to experiment should show that feeling good works better than anything else to bring one into harmony with the Universe. This is the practice that is the essence of happiness. It is in exercising this muscle of focus that we can steer our lives towards our joy.
But it takes a little effort to let the urgent things that don't matter go. And it takes a little more effort to work our way through the deep fears that hide the joy that lives behind them. However, when we keep our aim on feeling good, rather than fulfilling some notion of duty, niceness, or correct behavior, then we get really good at stepping into Heaven.
As Voltaire so nicely said, "Pleasure is the object, duty, and the goal of all rational creatures." Here, here!
Copyright 2014 Stewart Blackburn
Stewart Blackburn is the author of The Skills of Pleasure: Crafting the Life You Want. His website is: www.stewartblackburn.com; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.