Dying to Get to Heaven
Updated: Feb 22, 2022
What if I told you that I had a ticket for you to visit anyplace you wished. Where would you go? Your arrival would be celebrated, and you would be greeted with love. You would enjoy the most beautiful music and see the most wondrous things. Your heart would be filled, your mind illuminated, your spirits renewed. Would you be excited? Would you be eager to go?
My grandfather, father, and uncles were ministers. I was taught that heaven was better than what I had just described. But I didn't really believe that people believed this. Every Sunday we'd pray for the sick and dying. We'd pray for miracles and healing, not for liberation or reunion. Shouldn't we wish them godspeed rather than a life of continued suffering? I thought as a child. Shouldn't we rejoice if they were going to a better place? Why remain in this pain body if we could slough it off and touch the face of God?
Why do so many of us curse our existence, but scramble desperately to extend our days when the end draws near? Why, despite the most hellish circumstances- whether poverty, war, famine, solitary confinement, torture, slavery, or internment- do people cling so courageously to life? Why do we fight so tenaciously to stay in these pain bodies and cling to our suffering if something greater awaits?
Maybe this gift of being human isn't so bad. Maybe something more sublime than the illusion of Heaven is here in this present moment with all of its disappointment and pain and suffering.
On a recent trip to the Yucatan, I visited several cenotes. Cenotes are sinkholes or caves usually found in limestone formations that fill with ground and rain water. For the Maya, cenotes were entrances to Xibalba, the underworld. At one of the cenotes I visited, some of the guests ascended a high platform where they'd grab a vine to swing and drop into the pool below. I felt some trepidation when it was my turn. I imagined death was something like this, a plunge into Xibalba. The platform upon which I stood was solid, safe. I wanted to savor the experience and embraced my fear. I relaxed fully into the present moment as I grabbed the rope, swung over the abyss, and let go. I did this several times until my fear was extinguished. I train to die fearlessly.
"Attachment to life is attachment to sorrow," the teacher Nisargadatta Maharaj said. "We love what gives us pain. For me the moment of death will be a moment of jubilation, not of fear."
I pause in my reveries and peer outside my window. White clouds canvas the pale blue sky. The trees are skeletal and bare. A songbird flitters by. A half eaten banana sits on my desk. It is all so beautiful, so simple.
A friend stopped by the house this morning to tell me his uncle had been shot and killed during a home robbery back in Haiti. A plunge into Xibalba. We sat and had breakfast together before work.