What if the kingdom of heaven were the opposite of what we were expecting? What if we we were wrong about the guest list (Matthew 22)? What if our intuitions and expectations of heaven were ill-founded? What God’s life was a dim bulb that drew only the quiet and humble seekers, rather than a spotlight drawing all from across the valley?
Christ suggested this time and again, with the Kingdom of God being likened to counterintuitive analogies that are head scratchers to this day. Regardless of what the Kingdom is, Jesus seems to be saying again and again it what was we expect.
Mosiah warned us we would be uninterested in heaven if we are not interested in serving the undeserving (Mosiah 4:17-18).
Indian Jones understood in time that the Holy Grail was not inherently desireable, but humble and plain. What if heaven, and the kingdom of god on earth, was the same?
C.S. Lewis paints a similar image in the Divorce of Heaven, with the weak and flimsy souls of purgatory repulsed by heaven and its unwillingness to bend to their comfort and expectations.
Perhaps the gate is straight and the way narrow because it is unintuitive, not difficult in terms of tasks and obedience. In fact, what if the way to get there was to let go and submit?
It is stunning how much time I spend lost in my own thoughts, and how so much of the trouble and trials I experience are localized between my ears. This morning I meditated on the following teaching from Sri Maharaj Nisargadatta:
Once you know with absolute certainty that nothing can trouble you but your own imagination, you come to disregard your desires and fears, concepts and ideas and live by truth alone.
I am incredibly fortunate to live a life in which biggest troubles are of the mind and not the body, there are many around me who are suffering disease, privation, or mental illness; but if you are like me I would imagine even a brief moment of self-examination would disclose a similar tempest in a teapot.
In the words of the genre-bending band twenty one pilots:
Am I the only one I know
Waging my wars behind my face and above my throat
There is comfort in knowing that, no, we are not alone in waging this war of thoughts and emotions.
I suffer because of how I relate to my thoughts and feelings. I suffer because I try to build on thoughts and feelings, all of which are ephemeral and unstable. Suffering comes from clinging to hope and recoiling from fear, an exhausting carousel. At times a truly significant event incites the cycle, but just as often it is a small slight, inconvenience, or success (many of which are also completely imaginary). Thoughts and feelings never fully satisfy me because they are all fleeting. I am exhausted because I am always treading water.
“We cannot deny the existence of pleasant and unpleasant sensations, but they are trivial with respect to genuine well-being.”
I will fail if I attempt to force the mind and heart to be silent, or calm, or happy, or peaceful. The key is to:
- Begin again and again in my practice of being aware of
- thoughts and feelings which are
- individually temporary, and
- collectively never-ending.
Over time, experiencing thoughts and feelings in this way allows me to step behind the water fall. It is here, behind the stream but fully aware of it, that I find stable footing.