My contemplative friends know a way to visit heaven now.
You could say we are impatient. We are not interested in waiting for heaven by and by. We do not care to imagine a world of staying in hell here until we can finally die to be in a heaven elsewhere. We want to live in the kingdom of heaven here and now. And this is only possible by finding that kingdom within.
The photo pictures Dr. Rosenberg, Dr. Weiss, Dr. Jinpa, and Dr. Cullen, four of the founding faculty for the Compassion Institute’s Compassion Cultivation Training course, practicing one of the guided compassion meditations during our teacher training program. If you look at their faces you can easily see how stress is falling away and inner peace is rising, a sense of separateness is disappearing and a sense of our oneness is happening. The Source of inner peace decided to create humans with this amazing gift of accessing that kingdom of heaven within. This means you too can know heaven now!
The American poet Emily Dickinson said it like this:
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —
I just wear my Wings —
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton — sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman —
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last —
I’m going, all along.
Sunday we finished our first Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT)* class offered through the School for Contemplative Living. We had a beautiful group of people sharing their wisdom and seeking to cultivate their compassion through guided meditations, readings, exercises for seeing and hearing each other, and group dialogue. People practiced at home during the weeks between classes as best they could, both in using the guided meditations and informally developing their compassion skills. Then they came to weekly class with honest stories of the ups and downs of how it was going.
Class members were Christians, Buddhists, AA members with a Higher Power, and perhaps people of no traditional faith at all. It was a truly interfaith gathering. Class members were from many professions including medicine, law, psychotherapy, theology, accounting, human resources, education, and pastoral ministry. They also ranged in age from thirty-somethings to seventy-somethings. So in many ways they were a great cross-section of American society.
Some of them might or might not have said they were “getting to Heaven…all along.” But I would say they were at least on the path, walking in the Way that can bring us to heaven now.
What is that Way?
In the School for Contemplative Living we believe we can practice the presence of God now, and so we do. But we do not claim to possess a secret formula for experiencing that presence. And we sure do not believe we can manipulate results to feel “perfect peace” in three easy steps. We follow the guidance of people like Thomas Merton, who wrote this in New Seeds of Contemplation: “The way to contemplation is an obscurity…there is nothing in it that can be grasped,” (p. 250). Our methods are ultra simple. As Merton challenges, “So keep still, and let [God] do some work.”
Like the people in the photo, we must learn to “keep still.” That is part of our Way. And yet, cultivating inner stillness can also be done in walking meditation, nature walking, labyrinth walking, yoga, and any form of moving meditation. It is really about inner stillness, and physical stillness is just one way to be on this Way.
“Letting God” do the work of transformation is another essential part of our contemplative Way. We do not focus on trying to change ourselves. We are more likely to surrender to God’s view of us as already made in God’s image. Our practices are to help us come to rest in the wholeness beneath all our brokenness. There we might glimpse a place where we are already one. So God’s work of transformation down in our depths is more like cleaning away the mud from the diamond beneath: bathing in the divine.
For followers of the Way of Christ, we would say “Christ in us is the hope of glory.” Tuning into the Christ within is so very different from trying hard to be good, moral people on our own. And that inner tuning rarely happens by accident as we spin out of control by living at 100 miles per hour. Slowing down the pace of our lives is another part of our Way. In that slowing, we hope to align ourselves with the wise guidance arising from that Christ within. We use reading, seeing, speaking, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting as sensual avenues to align with the One who is within and beyond our senses.
Contemplatives also use community gathering and personal solitude as equal ways to walk this Way. We cannot walk a contemplative path alone, for we will surely become lost sooner than later without support for this Way. And we cannot always be with others, for the noise and busyness of others will distract us from sometimes needing to be alone with the Alone. On this Way, we need community and solitude. Paradoxically, the contemplative communities of our School always practice being alone-together: we practice coming together to be alone with God.
Now let’s drop all these words about this contemplative Way, and return to our True Home within, the place where we can know Heaven Now!
*(If you are interested in learning more about CCT classes with the School, I am offering a free information session on Sunday, August 26, 1-3 pm, at Advent House, 1637 Seventh St. at Carondelet. If you are interested in registering, I will offer the 8-week courses on Wednesdays, 5:30-7:30 pm beginning 9/5/18 and on Sundays, 1-3 pm, beginning 9/9/18. RSVP: William.firstname.lastname@example.org).