Friday, May 16, 2014

Between Heaven and Hell: "Thou Art That"

Over the past year or so, I have been pondering certain aspects of my own life, and trying to match my own patterns to that of humanity at large, often with limited success. I guess I have been doing this all my life. I sort of adopted the moniker of "caveman" for myself about a decade or so ago, because I have this inkling of being a Neanderthal trapped in a Homo Sapiens body. It may have something to do with my lack of socialization early in life, which resulted in feeling like such an outsider when I finally became autonomous in this wild and crazy world.

It seems I have come more or less full circle. I have found that I actually seem to attenuate to certain types of primitive communication, body language mostly, in order to understand people when their words elude me. I have always been a proponent of the adage that actions speak louder than words. As it turns out, humans are just as impulsive, or instinctive in their body language as birds, dogs or the primordial man. We have, ingrained in our genes, certain programming which trumps whatever we happen to be communicating with words: Grunts, huffs, sniffs. 'Micro-expressions'. If you have ever seen the TV show 'Lie to Me'... well, that's a little more advanced, but you get the idea, right? We are constantly saying something, even when we can manage to shut up for just a moment.

I have found that it's in "reading between the lines"—literally between the words—that I can really pick up on people's emotions. People make little "micro-grunts" to express displeasure. They sniffle when they enter a room, or clear their throat to announce their presence when they fear that they might spook someone, or feel that they owe the courtesy so that other occupants don't feel a false sense of privacy, etc. I see it constantly, I even catch myself doing it. And sometimes, I find myself trying to resist an impulse, and it happens anyway!

 Have you ever been in a room with someone who just seems way too into what they are doing to notice you enter, and you're pretty sure that when they notice you, they are going to either be spooked or embarrassed that they didn't know you were there? Maybe you don't know this person, maybe you just can't think of anything to say... And then your throat legitimately starts itching, or maybe your nose... at any rate, your Sympathetic Nervous System gives you an easy out! You clear your throat, without even looking up. Or you sniffle just enough to ease that little tickle-y tingle that was building up. Sympathetic indeed. ;-)

So far, this has had very little to do with the title of this particular post. No matter, I needed to put those thoughts out there first. But I suppose I can segue into the real topic with an invitation to you, dear reader, to pay attention to that sort of thing, and see if it doesn't change the way you experience personal interaction. I am going to go out on a limb and say that if you keep an eye or an ear out for these or other sorts of behaviors that perhaps you hadn't looked for before, that it will indeed change your paradigm. Not (necessarily) because you'll start feeling like a caveman (you might). But because you will be practicing "Mindfulness".

Mindfulness is simply being present, aware, in the moment. I say "simply" but it can actually be a difficult thing to do sometimes. In fact, it is a very sad thing but I believe that in our culture, in the entire life of an average adult, they will spend less than a day—cumulatively— in a state of actual, upper-case, Mindfulness. Even artists, dancers, musicians and other types that would be considered "in tune" find it difficult to reach the state of mindfulness that really, truly allows for pure, uninhibited personal expression... In time, their bodies get used to the motions and gestures that produce their art: muscle memory. brush strokes, pirouettes, face-melting guitar solos... whatever it may be, once it is committed to habit, the mind becomes free to wander again. and it does. And when it does, it is usually thinking ahead, or recalling the past, or fixating on some aspect of the present while ignoring a whole wealth of others. Muscle memory is what allows chefs to mince herbs without looking, while simultaneously screaming some obscenity at a slow-poke waiter, and kicking a mop bucket all without cutting himself. Now, is he being "mindful"? Sure, he is minding his and everyone else's business, because that's job, and he's darn good at it. But he's not Upper Case Mindful. Okay, okay... I'm ready to introduce the title.

Perhaps you have heard me, or read me, talking about my thoughts on the nature of Hell. If not, this is the place to do so. Right here, right now.

Embarrassingly recently, I had a couple of very different experiences of being in complete hell by my own doing. We can even capitalize that: it was Hell. I didn't have a name for it at the time of the first experience, but the second experience shed quite a lot of light on it all. I first understood it as the duality of Fear Vs. Love, but in the past several months, that understanding has broadened to encompass the (false?) duality of Heaven Vs. Hell.

First off, let me say that I don't mean to disrespect anyone who believes that either or both of these places actually exist on a physical plane. I don't really know if I believe that myself, though I certainly believe that Heaven and Hell are real in the mind of the beholder. But let's talk a little about each of their qualities.

  • Mansions in the sky
  • forgiveness for all shortcomings 
  • Eternal happiness, love
  • Immortality
  • Reunited with God
  • No more of the "cares of this world".

  • "Burning pit" of eternal suffering
  • 'Weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth...'
  • Cannot progress, or improve one's condition.
  • tormented by one's regrets, shortcomings.
  • Banished from God's presence
  • Chains, enslavement...
Now, I know quite a lot of people who maintain that Heaven is 'where God is' and that hell is just "a state of mind". But, that doesn't make much sense to me. Hell would have to be a place just as much as heaven, right? If only some people get to go "where God is", then it only makes sense that there would be a place for the rest of those who don't get to be where God is (though it doesn't make sense to me that an all-loving God would design a plan by which he banishes his imperfect children, but that's not really relevant here). The point is, either they are both places, or they are both "states of mind".

I believe they are states of mind. And while I don't claim to know for any certainty whether or not the soul continues after death, it seems possible to me. Perhaps the "place" in which all spirits experience heaven or hell is all around us right now; another dimension, which we have yet to discover and prove. "The spiritual realm", perhaps (and perhaps the laws of the universe declare that humanity will never be able to exist in those dimensions, but that's a musing for another post as well).

So, how does this have anything to do with mindfulness?

Well, this is where I just kinda blurt it out and then hope you stick around while I explain it: Heaven and Hell are simply allegories for the two states of mind that we can choose to be in, or that we cannot help but be in, in this life. We experience either heaven or hell when we fail to be Mindful of the here-and-now.

Hell is the state of mind wherein we fixate on some aspect of the past, and wish and plead and cry and beg in vain that we might change it. Hell is knowing exactly where we messed up in such a way to cause ourselves to be in misery. For instance, how about a kid who didn't take high school seriously, and consequently gets stuck working his whole life in a po'dunk town grocery store as a result. For him, hell is knowing that he could have been a straight A student, and gotten a full ride scholarship to NYU if he hadn't decided that the pursuit of underage drinking and partying took priority over homework. Not a day goes by, not a pallet goes unloaded, that he doesn't feel the weight of his pride, his short-sightedness, in squandering his opportunity.
Or how about the military veteran who struggles with depression, or PTSD, or suicidal thoughts after witnessing the horror of war and killing. His hell is remembering his former self, how he could make his girlfriend laugh, back when he could think of funny things at all. Hell is real enough for him, because he knows it will never be the same, and there's nothing he can do about it. Just like those cruel words you can never take back, or that stock purchase you didn't make... Hell is a state of mind, of dwelling in the past.

If Hell is a preoccupation with the past, then Heaven represents the future, a goal to be attained. A place of peace and relief after a whole life time of blood sweat and tears, where finally we get to experience pure joy and happiness without the cares of this world. Or maybe our "heaven" is just tomorrow, or next week, or upcoming summer vacation... Heaven is ALWAYS in the future, isn't it? Heaven is our "happy place" that gets us through the hard times, because it will be SO worth it. But, to quote a song, "How 'bout them transparent, dangling carrots? How about that ever elusive 'Kudo'?"

Sometimes we need something to keep us going even when we aren't really sure what exactly the nature of our reward even is. Perhaps it's the promise that it is real and attainable that drives us to pursue it. But then again, maybe we are just future-tripping; idealizing the future as a means of escaping the present and all it's cares and woes and myseries that must simply be "endured" to the end.

Heaven is only there the save us from an misunderstood perspective on life. If "men are that they might have joy", then why do we take a raincheck on being with the people we love, doing what we love, experiencing the beauty of the miracle of life? It might be just pure and simple human nature: "yeah, it'll be incredible! I'll get around to it, but not today, I have other stuff to do..." I dunno, it seems like we prefer life on earth.  Perhaps it's something that our brains have contrived to appease that drive and desire for certainty. Our brains don't get a break from the moment we're born to the day we die. It doesn't seem outlandish to me that our brains would be predisposed to come up with some BIG reason to keep it waking up day after day, making that commute, punching that timecard, eat, sleep, repeat, ad nauseam. I think it's the culture and society we live in... was there a such thing as "eternity" when there were no clocks? Heaven might be a place, but it might be humanities first group-think modality. A carrot on a stick to keep humanity motivated to put up with all the little busy work that comes with civilization. It just seems to indicate that we are not happy with the reality that humanity has carved out of this world. We haven't taken the time to really be mindful of all the beauty that life has in the here and now. We were never given such an opportunity, so we don't know any different. We spend our whole lives just trying to manage to stay afloat by working our fingers to the bone, and trying to provide for our children... We have bought into an ideology that says that the work is more important that the individual, and that happiness must be sacrificed in order to keep food on the table, and a roof over head. In other words, heaven is for those who don't have time for love, joy, happiness, unity, peace, contentment etc in this life. Sure, we can have those things from time to time, but not during working hours, or the school year, or when the game is on... See what I mean?

Thank you for reading thus far. We're only half-way through with the title. What about the rest?

"Tat Tvam Asi" -- "Thou Art That". It comes from The Upanishads, which comprise some of the Hindu scriptures. The Upanishads are teachings given from either Gods or mentors to mortals about the nature of the universe and of the human experience. Thou Art That, is essentially another way of saying "all is one", or that the "supreme reality" is everything, and everything is the Supreme Reality. It is only through delusion, cultivation of ego, that we come to perceive ourselves as separate from the Supreme Reality, and it is only through accepting the divinity in ourselves that we are able to meld with the supreme reality. When we give up our delusions, we attain nirvana.

What are our delusions? Yesterday and tomorrow. These two are also a part of the one supreme reality, therefore it is delusional to regard over the other, or either over the present moment. Because the present moment is also the supreme reality. Perhaps the present moment is the ONLY reality. How do we experience the present? Mindfulness.

I could tie this in with my understanding of what Christ was trying to teach, and how it is not so different from what the Buddha was trying to teach, or Krishna, or any other transcendent being who tried to teach the art of mindfulness... Christ wanted us to be mindful of each other, and to "consider the lilies", or the birds, or any other of God's creation which doesn't need to fret or stress about the future. The Buddha taught to be mindful that all is impermanent, that nothing lasts. That it is only in accepting this that we are freed of the anguish of hell or the anxiety of heaven...these are illusions as well. It is only through Mindfulness that we learn to exist in that space between Heaven and Hell. There, in balance.... Thou art THAT.

I hope that you got something out of all this. If I can express one more hope for my reader, I hope you catch yourself doing some amusing caveman behavior, and that you remember that cavemen didn't have to worry about 2 o'clock appointments, or mortgages, or fantasy football brackets, and that is exactly what allowed them to be completely present, in the moment, and constantly aware. Drink your food, and chew your water, and never let anyone take another moment of your time, that you don't give willingly. Because time is an illusion anyway. There is an eternity in every single moment. Share eye contact with someone you love, and don't spoil it with spoken language. "how about remembering your divinity? How about  you enjoying a moment for once?"


movie90210 said...

Evan, everything about the way you think makes me inspired. It's interesting the "timing" of me reading this-- having a family has definitely changed things for me in the way of finding "security" and "certainty" in life, and as you know of me I NEVER found it in this stupid society--I was on a constant search for it elsewhere. What's funny though, is that it ISN'T somewhere else, like you say. It's here, right now. It's just in-between the words. It's in the subdivision just as much as it's in the wild--we just create and assign a mindset and insane societal demands for BEING in that subdivision. In reality, however, there's as much freedom and happiness there than anywhere else. It's just unfortunate how being there requires thoughtlessness and UNmindfulness in order to keep up with paying for the damn place.

I'm glad I read this when I did, because I have been having a conversation with crystal lately on how as nice as it is to have a house like this, it's also terrible in the sense that we're not really living... we're living FOR the house, not the house living for us. We're not experiencing mindfulness because DAMMIT WE DONT HAVE TIME TO. It's just so stupid. So in trying to find security for my family I obviously have a different set of glasses on than when I could just go on my own on a school bus, for example. I just had to worry about myself, and I really didn't worry much at all anyway. But with a family I was like, "well i don't know how else to do this but just get a freaking house in a nice neighborhood." big mistake, but an excellent one. It's just reinforced that no matter what stage of life one is in, this society has still got it wrong. I was telling crystal how when I would go out and venture in to the wild or into the world I had SO much more certainty, safety and faith with human beings than I did with my health insurance, car insurance, all of that bologna. I trusted people to help and be there for me if I needed it, and for me to do the same in return, much more than anything money can buy in this society.

movie90210 said...

(part two -- it wouldn't let me put in so many words)

In living in the house here all of the things you've been mentioning about not being mindful because of being focused on the past and the future has just rung true consistently. I'm always looking for a better, cheaper or different house because, well, IM JUST NOT HAPPY HERE. Grass is greener somewhere else, because the future has more of a chance of optimism than I'm currently experiencing. And same goes with the distractions-- being stuck with TV or netflix or other such things-- to take my mind off of this stupid place of being. And the past just keeps roaring up because I'm missing things I used to enjoy doing without these stresses. All of that, however, is taking me away from the true connections I have already-- I HAVE A FREAKING FAMILY, a baby and a wife, both beautiful people who I'm sure are craving my real true exposed being. Looking at them in the eye, as you said. Connecting with no limit of time. Not spending a moment of my time on anything that I am not willing to. I love that. And I'm making plans to get rid of this lifestyle and venture back into the REAL world of safety and humanity, not looking for another house to rent.

Evan your words are perfect for me in this moment and I love your thoughts. Interesting how you connected heaven and hell. I don't know if they are real places either, and I don't know if they are just a state of mind either, as you explained, but one could definitely see the truth in your connection, though I would say both are hell. Both being stuck in the past and the future is hell. I think heaven is mindfulness and being in the present. There's a funny quote that fits what you've been writing about: "If you stick one leg in the future and one leg in the past, you'll be shitting on the present." Present is heaven, in my opinion, so long as one chooses to be there.

Thank you for your contribution to the evolving of self. I love it. --Steve Golieb

movie90210 said...

and I have NO idea why it's saying "movie90210"... it's ME, STEVE, NOT THIS WEIRD MOVIE CREATURE!

Julieann Valdovinos said...

Incredible post! I have much to say on the subjects of Heaven and Hell…to much to put in this comment at the moment. However, I thank you for being so authentic and transparent on sharing yours, it's beautiful. I really identified with this one to the core.

¡91211790! said...

Steve ol' buddy ol' pal!

I think I agree that the present moment should be called "Heaven". But I also think that far too many people confuse this term with an enigmatic, "not now" which absorbs their imaginations with what could be. For the longest time, I didn't realize the harm I was doing myself in dreaming of the future. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on my thoughts. I hope you keep reading!

Juliann, if you write your thoughts on this topic, I would definitely be interested in reading them. Thanks for your feedback!