Tag Archives: happiness

The Heaven and Hell They Didn’t Teach Us At School

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?”

References:

Definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary.

Both quotes/excerpts mentioned in this blog are derived from The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

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

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The Imposed Dilemma of Growing Up

There comes a point in everyone’s life when he/she wants to be a better person. Wanting to be that better person doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a bad person now, but you know that the world’s got a lot more to offer, and once you know that, you can’t un-know it. You go into those different phases of doing different things, doing the things you’ve been afraid to do for a while like quitting your dead-end job or finally deciding to move on from that one person who’s been taking up all your head space. Don’t get me wrong, you’re not necessarily unhappy in that dead-end job, and you’re probably very good friends with that person, so you convince yourself that, “at least I have a job,” or, “at least we’re friends.” Then you start realizing, a little bit everyday, that this indeed is a dead-end job that won’t take you anywhere you want to go. You also become brutally honest with yourself, finally letting your thoughts wander, until deep down, you’re truly convinced that this person isn’t even close to what you want, at all, and that you were just infatuated with a projection you’ve built about him/her.

A bit over a year ago, this is exactly where I was. I had an amazing job. The environment was awesome, my bosses were the coolest, I was given opportunities to actually practice things that were completely out of my field, and I’ve always appreciated that. I was happy to be working with such amazing people who not only made a hilarious, one of a kind team, but were also close friends, friends that will always be friends. I was on and off about a guy who was head over heels about another girl, and I wasn’t even in control of the on/off button, it was always his choice to give me some extra attention. I was trying to distract myself with shallow, empty crushes of people I barely even knew. However, the realization started happening, and it was mind-blowing. I have a great job that started out as a great opportunity, but it wasn’t even close to what I wanted. And just like all human beings, I wanted more!

I’ve never been the type to settle, not for a job, not for a guy, not for satisfactory aspects in my life. I’ve always been a dreamer, for as long as I can remember. I wanted the big, important career. I wanted the guy who’s as crazy as I am with my optimistic vision for life, and I wanted happiness, true happiness. I also wanted the balance that’s hard to come with all of it. Obviously, I didn’t have any of that. Again, I wasn’t unhappy, but I’m greedy, and I wanted to come closer to perfection. I also believe that happiness is something you make, it’s a mindset and an attitude, it’s a journey, it’s a realization, and you always want more of it.

So, I decided to start with transforming my life, one more of those things I’ve always wanted to do, but never actually took action with. Then I remembered that I’ve always wanted to travel and explore the world, and I started looking for opportunities abroad. Soon enough, I was matched to go for a 3 months internship in St. Petersburg, Russia, and I gave my one month notice (actually in my case it was 2.) It was scary and exciting. The type of thing you can’t believe is real and finally happening. It would be my first time to ever travel completely alone, as well as live alone, since I live with my parents like most other 23 year old Egyptian girls. I also completely let go of that person I was constantly thinking about, as I believed that when I start doing the things I loved, I will attract the right person. So I’ve decided to not search or even think about it, and just observe as things happen.

My bosses were flipping out back then, since it was an important time for the company, and I was one of the very first people to work there. It was a startup, and I was the very first designer. I, however, reminded myself that I’m not the only designer on this Earth, and that I know for a fact that it will work out for them. I talked to them about my dreams to travel, to work in something different, to get more involved in other projects as well as completely start my own, and that was my plan! Everything was falling into place.

My plans for Russia became more real. I also started working on my fitness, since I knew that when I go there, it will be a lot easier to integrate new healthy habits. Life was looking good, I was more terrified than I ever was before because I felt like what I was doing was risky, who quits a full-time job for a 3 months internship? But again, I challenged it, and I remembered that nothing will ever change if I don’t take initiative in changing it. And to prove my previous point, I, very randomly, came across a guy that seemed right as soon as I had started focusing on me. We were talking day and night, him supporting my transformation, regardless of the fact that he neither knows old or new me, and I, becoming more and more inspired by him everyday because of his own transformation, and how life had the same meaning to us.

About 10 days before I was supposed to finally travel, after I had booked my tickets and confirmed all plans, I got news that the internship had to be cancelled due to problems with my planned internship and unavailability of other relevant opportunities. I was instantly crushed for a couple of minutes. I was at work, trying to enjoy my last few days with the team I knew I’d miss so much, and I started thinking about what I’m going to be doing now, since I’m working the last few days of my job, and then I’ll literally have nothing to do. My more optimistic self kicked in, and reminded me that everything happens for a reason, something I have always believed in solidly (and still do) . It’s just a challenge, I need a break from work anyway, besides, I could just freelance. That was during October, 2012.

Today, on the 9th of November, 2013, I regret nothing. In fact, I’m happy exactly where I am, even though it’s not where I imagined to be. I wouldn’t have said this yesterday, and no, I haven’t transformed over-night, I just shifted my thinking to a more positive mindset. I’ve been dwelling on everything that’s lacking in my life. I’ve been living in fear of failure. I have so many great ideas, but I’m so afraid of criticism or trial and error. I have the same guy I mentioned earlier (who’d proven to be truly remarkable), and I’ve also been so scared of him seeing me fail, that I had sometimes stopped trying. I’ve been so afraid of getting another full-time job, that I’ve managed to completely persuade myself that I will/can never be a 9 to 5 type of person, and that freelancing is my best scenario. I’ve worked at other new places, but I never ever gave myself the chance to actually fall in love with the places, or the people, rejecting anything that I don’t see as right from the very start. I’ve been meeting amazing people, but I’ve also been telling myself that I have enough friends, and that being distant is better. I’ve been aloof. Finally, I’ve only been writing meaningless things in my diary, not realizing that this has been a challenge worth writing about in my blog. I’ve been living in fear, but I’ve been mostly afraid of myself.

Last year at this time, I was confused. I was dreaming big, typical me, and I wanted to accomplish huge things. Have I accomplished what I had vaguely planned? Nop. I haven’t traveled the world, I haven’t started huge projects that I’m totally proud of, I haven’t yet reached my fitness goals, but I have done so much more. Today, I realized that I’ve been beating myself up over not accomplishing things that I still want in my life, but that it’s only been a year of my life. A year might be a long time, a long time to be dwelling on wanting things, and not actually doing them, but it’s still only a year. The amount of things I’ve learned today due to this year is astounding. Just the fact that I now know all of this changes everything.

We all live in this imposed dilemma of growing up. We keep wanting more, forgetting that the more you have on your plate, the harder it is to manage. We have such high expectations, and we forget that we can’t do everything at once. Yes, growing up is imposed, it happens sooner or later, even if we don’t want it, because we want the good parts of it, but not the bad parts. But growing up doesn’t have to be all that bad, remember that it’s called growing up, not growing old. It’s what we do that keeps us young. I had lost a part of me this past year, and even though I can’t quite define what it is, I’ve managed to bring it back and feel it now. I now remember that the past is always behind me, and that when I choose to see it that way, my present is always worth it. I don’t make perfect plans, and even when I do, I don’t always follow them, but I always end up exactly where I should be.

I believe that I, and everyone else who’s going through something similar, should let go of their past, remember to focus on the positive and on what’s there, and be grateful. The past can make us miss out on so many things we have right now, and so many magical things to look forward to in our futures.

Ps: I am currently starting a new full-time job after a year or juggling freelance projects and part time jobs. I have never felt more ready to commit and challenge myself. I don’t know how long this is going to last, but I reckon I’m going to learn a lot from this.

 

 

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