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Finding Heaven Now

By Emily Agnew
January 22, 2010

Is there any point to the suffering we experience in life? Emily explores the relationship of suffering to joy, through the words of Kahlil Gibran.

One may not reach the dawn save by the path of the night.
 --Kahlil Gibran

I’ve been thoughtful since I encountered this quotation yesterday. What do I take from it?

Some might say it means that redemption occurs only through suffering—that we must suffer dark times before we will see joy and relief.

On the literal level, this is true: if suffering didn’t exist, how could we know what joy feels like? How can we know what it feels like to be rested, unless we’ve been tired?

But this can be used against oneself in a punitive way. Some religious leaders teach that life is a vale of tears, and that suffering is a sort of ticket to a heaven that exists for the righteous.  Life is the path of night, and the dawn only comes after we die. 

This is a tragic misunderstanding. It is a way of trying to control God by amassing credit through suffering. It is based on a belief that we have to do something to deserve divine love.

One client I work with struggles to make decisions to take care of business in his daily life, because he was taught that suffering is virtuous, and joy is selfish and wrong. This creates a terrible dilemma for him on a daily, practical level. It means he can’t use the most basic guidance system God/spirit has given each of us: the feelings we feel in our body.

He’s afraid to enter into the Inner Bonding process, to dialogue and discover what loving action would look like in a given situation. If he imagines a particular option in his mind, and feelings of rightness or happiness or satisfaction arise in his body, then he is forced to conclude the option must be a bad option.  And if the feelings that arise are negative—then in truth, it very possibly IS a bad option.

Worst of all, when someone tries to control God this way, it robs him or her of the opportunity to experience the truth of what heaven really is, and to enter it now. In truth, the darkness of which Kahlil Gibran speaks exist in my life from moment to moment.  It exists in my closed heart, when I am in the intent to protect myself from pain instead of being in the intent to open to love and learning.

Likewise, heaven is not a place we go after we die.  Heaven exists right here, now, and we experience it when we open all of our feelings, including painful ones, instead of trying to protect from them. There is nothing we have to do to deserve divine love, but it is up to each of us, moment by moment, to choose to open to it.

The more we open to whatever life sends us, the more our heart expands and our capacity for love increases. The joy we are capable of feeling expands in proportion to the suffering we have experienced—if we open fully to the painful feelings.  Staying openhearted in the suffering expands the container we have available for all of our feelings. This joy is heaven. And paradoxically, if we stay openhearted, we can experience this joy even while we are hurting.

If I choose to stay in the intent to learn, then I see the darkness as an opportunity rather than a problem. I move into the intent to learn, to find out what I am doing or believing, that is creating this darkness—knowing that in fact, there is only light.

Just as the sun is still there even when it is behind the clouds, there is never not divine light everywhere accessible to us. I block myself from seeing it with my false beliefs and my fears, my addictions, and my controlling behaviors. Each time I re-commit myself to evolving and growing into more lovingness, I will be presented with new opportunities to illuminate areas of darkness in myself.
Here, these wonderful words of Kahlil Gibran take on a new level of meaning for me. I realize that as I’ve thought this through, I’ve created a judgment: “darkness is hard and bad, dawn is good”.  “You have to get through the tough times to enjoy the good times”.  And so on.

But in actuality, as I stay openhearted more and more of the time, I start to lose the ability to see things as “good” or “bad”. They just are what they are, and I have decisions to make about how to respond, and choices about how I approach those decisions.

Looking at things this way, my head starts to pop above the clouds more and more often. I see that the sun is there all the time. And when I find myself back in the clouds again, having what I might in the past have labeled “a hard time” or “a bad day”  or “a terrible year”, there’s a membrane of curiosity and even excitement, thin but supple, around the whole experience, even as I may be dealing with intensely challenging feelings, events, or decisions.  I find myself wondering what “dawn” will emerge from this “darkness”.

Like night and day, the opening and closing of my heart is a continuing cycle. This is a part of being human. When things seem dark, it is time to be very aware of my choices, because the return the dawn within me is determined by the way I choose to think and act.  Khalil Gibran’s beautiful words inspire me to remember that  the presence of darkness in this moment does not mean something is wrong.  I can choose how I want to see it.

This is the nature of free will.  If I truly open to the moment by staying openhearted, whatever I am feeling, then dawn will come.

©2010 Emily Agnew


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