In 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, acclaimed clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson states: “You could help direct the world, on its careening trajectory, a bit more toward Heaven and a bit more away from Hell. Once having understood Hell, researched it, so to speak—particularly your own individual Hell—you could decide against going there or creating that. You could aim elsewhere. You could, in fact, devote your life to this. That would give you a Meaning, with a capital M”.
Facing the reality
This advice nudged me to pause and reflect as I lay in bed dreaming of a better life. So, I closed my eyes and imagined what my Hell might look like. It went something like: “Despair, anguish, lack of peace, addictions, uncontrollable impulses, distractions that diminish my energy and direction… a deadness of head, heart and body, a feeling of dread for living”. I was only too familiar with this reality, a reality that I tended to turn to again and again whether aware of it or not.
And then I imagined my Heaven: “A deep peace, a stillness, a heart on fire, an appreciation for the ordinary moments, a broader perspective beyond myself, a sense of purpose, transcendence over pain and suffering, a heartfelt gratitude for everything… an aliveness within and a celebration for living”. I also began to realise that this reality was very much within my grasp; in fact I could embrace Heaven, for instance, by meditating and living in the moment.
Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh refers to mindfulness as the capacity to be aware of what is going on and what is there, with the realisation that we have more than enough conditions to be happy. Can we look around us right now and see that we have more than what we need? As we become more mindful, perhaps we can stop asking for things and instead turn to gratitude for what we already have. We can rejoice that we are in fact experiencing Heaven and we can remain here with a little wisdom.
Saint Ignatius Loyola used images to represent consolation (being oriented toward Heaven) and desolation (away from Heaven). When we are helping to direct the world a bit more toward Heaven, it is as if a drop of water is falling gently onto a sponge. The sponge absorbs the water with a soft, gentle sound. Similarly, we experience inner peace as we order ourselves – our intentions, actions and operations – in the right direction. Hard work may often be required, but our peace remains.
When we direct the world away from Heaven and toward Hell, it is as if a drop of water is splashing off a stone. The stone reacts to the water with a disordered, noisy sound. In a similar way, we experience inner turmoil as we wilfully direct our intentions, actions and operations toward Hell. Sometimes we are dragged kicking and screaming. Our actions continue to be destructive – sometimes with attempts to numb our reality with addictions – until we realise, perhaps, that enough is enough and that something has to change.
In turn, Peterson claims that channeling our energy wisely brings significant psychological change. It would replace shame and self-consciousness with the natural pride and forthright confidence of people who have learned once again “to walk with God in the Garden”. Surely that would give us a reason for getting out of bed in the morning. “You could begin,” he says, “by treating yourself as if you were someone you were responsible for helping.”
Saint Ignatius believed in a gentleness that nudges us not to trample on others but to walk respectfully in the world. Thich Nhat Hanh encourages a gratitude that often prompts us to walk with a smile. My own impression is that our Heaven is fully realised when our whole selves – head, heart and body – are working together in harmony. Now surely that would be a reason for living.