The following definitions were copied from the Oxford Dictionary of English.
heaven |ˈhɛv(ə)n| noun, a place regarded in various religions as the abode of God (or the gods) and the angels, and of the good after death, often traditionally depicted as being above the sky.
hell |hɛl| noun, a place regarded in various religions as a spiritual realm of evil and suffering, often traditionally depicted as a place of perpetual fire beneath the earth where the wicked are punished after death.
I grew up as a mediocre Egyptian kid. In school, I was taught that we’re only here for a little while, and what we do in our short journey is going to either send us to heaven or hell. Back then, this is how I thought about heaven. Everyone wants to go there, and of course, all the adults I know are going there, except the ones who have done bad things like drinking and other taboos. As most people, and most adults, I was afraid to question. I was fearful of hell, that horrible place where you’re in constant, excruciating pain you cannot escape. Will I fall in the fire pit, or flash across it? I wanted to go to heaven, because it was extraordinarily unimaginable. I dreamed of how I will make my life perfect in every way, yet still not be driven by extreme dogma. I thought about what it would look like, and always stopped myself when I couldn’t envision this magical place.
I hated religion classes, especially when my teachers talked about the signs of the end of the world, or even worse, how we’re all going to be naked on judgement day, but how no one would care about looking at you. On those days, I always left school with a sinking feeling in my stomach, too scared to even consider discussing my agitation with my parents, thinking they thought the same. Instead of educating myself and forming an opinion, I just told myself I’d get concerned when I’m older, and I numbed out my thoughts.
Today, I’m older, and I have a contrasting mental picture. If you’re reading this post right now and you’re getting fired up to judge, or argue without being open to read something different in the first place, then don’t waste your time reading on, and save your breath. You’re free to believe in whatever you wish, I am also free to be confused, even if that’s foolish to you.
However, if you have a wide imagination, and are willing to question something you might have been ignoring until today, or looking for someone who, perhaps, shares your opinion, then I hope you enjoy this.
I don’t have all the answers, and my knowledge of this universe is infinitesimal compared to how much I will know in 30 years. Values, ideas, and thoughts we’ve grown up with are difficult to change. Our brain’s power in storing knowledge and forming habits is immense, and I’m sure we are all aware about how old habits die hard. But I’m challenging my brain, and I’m in the phases of reassessing how I see this world and how inconsistent my views are now versus my childhood. I am using my brain’s competence as a strength, not a weakness. I am naïve, I am confused, and I admit I have a lot of doubts writing this, choosing my words vigilantly.
After reading many articles and books about religion, spirituality, psychology, productivity and philosophy, I’m starting to experience heaven and hell as metaphors, not as inevitably existing places. One of my most recent inspirations is The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak. I was skeptical as I began reading this book. I thought that anything that becomes this popular just cannot be deep enough, it cannot be talking to the outliers, it must be talking to the ordinary. However, to my surprise, I’ve found inspiration in this book, and even though I still can’t identify why it was a page turner, I accepted the fact that it just was.
This is an excerpt that caught my attention because of how simply it was written, and how it sent out the meaning of what I believed in with tremendous skill.
“Did you know that Shams says the world is a huge cauldron and something big is cooking in it? We don’t know what yet. Everything we do, feel, or think is an ingredient in that mixture. We need to ask ourselves what we are adding to the cauldron. Are we adding resentments, animosities, anger, and violence? Or are we adding love and harmony?
We all know we’re going to die. Some people believe there’s a non-physical afterlife, and some don’t. I think, that whether there is or isn’t an afterlife, heaven and hell are symbols, and the huge cauldron can be turned into heaven or hell, where ever you are, whatever you’re doing at this moment. Heaven and hell are like the self and the ego, calm and anger, love and hate, and happiness and sorrow.
The ego forgets about the cauldron, it forgets that you can’t possibly hurt someone else without hurting yourself, it doesn’t even have to be karma, it can be here and now. How can you possibly hurt someone by anger, yet not suffer from this anger? Anger poisons you, more than who you’re angry at. Do you remember the last time you chose to be in hell? Wasn’t it hard to escape after you’ve chosen to let it in?
The self is at peace, the self is heaven. The self remembers the cauldron and its impact. It remembers that good things bring about more good things. It remembers to give love, because love fills us up when we share it, it never makes us feel empty. Have you never felt this invincible? Have you never felt, that you’re so grateful to that source of light inside you? Didn’t it feel like a reward for a seemingly insignificant decision?
Yes, our deeds take us to heaven or hell, but heaven and hell can be all around us. Heaven is not necessarily/only above the sky, and hell is not in the Earth’s core. Heaven and hell are mindsets. Or maybe, the heaven and hell you’re living now are a tiny example of where you’ll end up, when you’ve fed heaven and the positive has become the norm, your cheerful everyday. Or when you’ve fed hell, until you’re unaware about being on your fatal autopilot.
Be aware, be alert, be compassionate. Everyday is a new opportunity that can make you happier by being mindful. Everyday, you can nourish your body and mind with pieces of heaven. Remember, that it’s never too late to exit hell and enter heaven, all it takes is one thought that is slightly better than your current, until you’re overwhelmed with virtue. It’s not going to happen overnight, but you’ve got your whole life ahead of you to have a happy journey.
“How about you, dear Ella? What ingredients do you think you are putting in the collective stew of humanity?”
Definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary.
Other Relevant Inspiring Resources:
The Secrets of the Power of Intention, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg