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Living in Heaven and Hell

The other day I made a joke that one of Dante’s circles of hell should be where a person repeatedly experiences minor annoyances like an ant invasion that doesn’t respond to anything. The ants keep invading regardless of traps and deterrents. Maybe that circle would be for the “sin” of not returning a library book on time.

Shortly thereafter, completely unrelated, a facebook friend posted a quote from my spiritual guide who said, “There exists no such thing as heaven or hell. When a person does a virtuous act or enjoys the fruits thereof, the environment around him or her is then called heaven; and when he or she does an evil act and endures the consequences thereof, then the environment around that person becomes a hell for him or her.”

Is she in heaven? Is she in hell?

Is she in heaven? Is she in hell?

That quote struck me because I am experiencing a kind of hell. Not because I performed an evil act, but rather California is in a drought and the ants are thirsty so I really am experiencing an invasion that doesn’t respond to anything. I finally relented and sprayed some Raid so the ants are not nearly as numerous as they were, but for a time, those ants made my life hell. When I think about that quote from my spiritual teacher some more, hell becomes whenever I experience something unpleasant, whenever life doesn’t go my way. When I’m not having fun, when I’m not enjoying myself, life is hellish.

Conversely, when I experience something pleasant, when life goes along swimmingly and I’m having tons of fun, life is heaven. So really, what that means is heaven and hell are both of my own making. They are not a place to get to by dying – they are states of being.

I’m not sure I can convey why that excites me so much, but there’s something about knowing heaven and hell are not only results of my actions, but they are within my perception, and within my current life, that I find thrilling. As I’ve been writing about before regarding my spiritual path, it’s about the now. Experiencing bliss now. Experiencing enlightenment now, and also experiencing heaven now. It’s a place we get to now, and not by forcing the world to conform to our whims, but rather changing our perception. Simple, but not easy.

Another point my spiritual teacher makes about hell is, “If one does noble deeds or sings spiritual songs in hell, it is the bounden duty of the Lord of hell to be there, too, and thus it automatically ceases to be a hell.”

I think his point is if we constantly remember God, any place becomes heaven because God is with us there too. And the more that I contemplate my Creator, the more blissed out I feel, the more heaven I experience.

I dream of a world where we don’t wait to live in heaven. A world where we bring heaven to us in the here and now by remembering the source of infinite bliss. A world where we seek to transform even the most fiery hell into a sparkling heaven because we realize we live in both and it’s up to us to decide which one we’d rather experience.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Creating a World We Wish To See

After writing my post last week, “The Role of the Artist (and Writer),” I was inspired to do something. Why not create a world where artists and writers are supported for the work they do? To that end, I started a Patreon campaign. I created a video to explain a little more:

If you’re more of a reader, a Patreon campaign is kind of like kickstarter, but instead of raising money for one big project, it’s support on a continuous level. By contributing, you are not only supporting me, you are supporting you. You are supporting yourself because I do not create art for art’s sake — I create art for service and blessedness. I create to inspire, to encourage, and to uplift. Not myself, but you.

By contributing to my Patreon campaign you are valuing your own spiritual growth and progress because my job as an artist and writer is to bridge the finite and infinite, the mundane and the transcendental. By contributing to my Patreon campaign you are saying, “Yes, I want more of that. Yes, that’s important to me.”

The money itself doesn’t matter so much. I mean, of course I could use a few extra dollars in my pocket, but mostly what’s important to me is creating a world we wish to see. A world we want to live in. So often we lament the state of the world today and long for a better future. By contributing to my Patreon campaign, in a small way we can create a society that values and supports its artists. A world where artists are allowed to continue to create because they have the backing of their community.

I realize not everyone is flush with cash, and that’s fine; there’s no minimum to contribute — even $3 a month would make a difference. And perhaps you know someone else who would also support this message and what we’re trying to accomplish here. It is only together that we will create a world we wish to see.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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The Role of the Artist (and Writer)

On Wednesday, I had a full-on meltdown. I’m talking lying on the floor while tears streamed down my cheeks. What precipitated the meltdown was feeling like I’m not fully utilizing my talents, and at the same time unclear what precisely that means. What am I doing with my life and how can I make money doing what I love? Add in a dose of doubt that my dreams are even possible, and you have a synthesis of my breakdown.

I think primarily I’m struggling against making art and making money. The age-old conundrum. My spiritual teacher says it’s the duty of society to support its artists because artists are pioneers. “If those who are the pioneers of society … if they are forced to starve or half-starve, this will certainly not be to the credit of human society. It is unthinkable that these creative geniuses should curse their own fate.”

Artists and writers have an important role to play.

Artists and writers have an important role to play.

What I love is that my spiritual teacher values artists. He calls us pioneers because, and this is important, he is against art for art’s sake and rather sees artists as accomplishing something greater than that. I think there’s a time and a place for art for art’s sake. For instance, sometimes I draw pictures because I need a nonverbal way of expressing myself. But I also think there’s a difference between creative expression and art for public consumption. The slogan my teacher advocates for instead is art for service and blessedness.

My spiritual guide is primarily concerned with spiritual growth and he sees art as one mechanism for aiding that growth. He says literature in particular is “that which moves together with the society, which leads society towards true fulfillment and welfare by providing the inspiration for service.” Art is not just about showcasing what’s inside my own head, but a way to spur people forward, to inspire, to encourage, and to hopefully put people in touch with something greater than themselves.

In a sort of call to arms he writes, “People seek deliverance from the whirlpools of darkness; they aspire to illuminate their lives and minds with ever-new light. In all their actions, in all their feelings, there is an inherent tendency to move forward; therefore, if at all they are to be offered something, the creator of art cannot remain idle or inert.”

I could go on, indeed, there are 37 other pages I could quote, but I guess what I’m saying here is even if I never write a bestselling book, even if I never have 10,000 followers, I have an important role to play. I am here to link the finite and the infinite, the mundane and the transcendental because that is my role as an artist.

I dream of a world where artists are treasured. A world where they practice art for service and blessedness because they’re not constantly concerned about how to keep the lights on. A world where artists are allowed to fulfill the role they are meant to, which is to link the finite and the infinite, the mundane and the transcendental.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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The Cosmic Magician

Lately I’ve been humbled and in awe of the magic, the mystery, and the surprise of life. So often I think I know how things will play out and I’m being shown, yet again, I have no idea. This has come up especially in regard to people.

I met someone in December 2013 who I liked right off the bat and had high hopes for his involvement with my yoga and meditation community. He seemed so keen and enthusiastic. He came to our newly formed group meditation a few times consecutively and then stopped. I wrote him off, never expecting to see him again except on facebook. Someone else in the group said, “Well, that’s the last time we’ll see that guy again.” But it wasn’t. About a year later, “that guy” surprised us by coming around again. He’s shown himself to be a dedicated member of my community, and much to my surprise, he’s a dear friend and an important person in my life. Go figure.

We are all working with a cosmic magician.

We are all working with a cosmic magician.

Similarly, three years ago I connected with someone and felt affection for him right away. We hung out a few times and then I didn’t hear much from him again. I assumed he would be a peripheral friend, someone I’d invite to a party, but nothing more. Color me shocked when he called me up last week to catch up and reconnect. That’s not how I was expecting things to play out. And that’s the point – I never know how things will play out. I throw myself into a tizzy thinking about the future because I’m absolutely sure I know what will happen. If I’m not friends with you now, I won’t be friends with you later. If I’m single now, I’ll be single forever. If I’m in debt now, I’ll be in debt forever. It’s a small thing, but these two men remind me I have no freaking clue what the future holds and also demonstrate to me someone else is in charge here.

Indian-American economist, author, and professor Ravi Batra wrote a book in the late 80s that became a number one New York Times bestseller. He attributed his success to the “cosmic magician.” I love that. It certainly seems that way when something unexpected and amazing happens like writing a runaway bestseller when all your previous books weren’t as successful. Thinking of the cosmic magician reminds me amazing and magical things can happen and they’re not up to me. I’m not the one responsible for outcomes, or the fruits of my labor, if you will. Not just with writing, but with everything.

My spiritual teacher says, “Behind this world’s creation, there is a cosmic magician who has created the universe and also controls it. In fact, whatever has been or shall be created is He and He alone. Those who have realized this truth attain blessedness.”

When I can remember the cosmic magician, I can relax because it means I’m not responsible for everything in my life. Some things yes. But everything? No. There are greater forces at play in the world that have absolutely nothing to do with me. Furthermore, I remind myself of what the true essence of all things is: the divine. When I do that, the whole world sparkles and life becomes magical.

I dream of a world where we remember the cosmic magician. A world where we realize there are greater forces at work than we often credit. A world where we allow ourselves to be open to whatever comes our way because we have no idea what’s ahead.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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