Jesus famously told his disciples ‘the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.’ This is mystical reply, based on an understanding of states of cosmic consciousness. When our mind expands beyond our small everyday self, we become aware that all the things we perceive are reflections of inner realities. Our outer world is a mirror image of something within. If we want to find the kingdom of heaven or nirvana or shambhala, or Jerusalem, the city of peace, we look inside, not outside.
Throughout the recorded history of humanity, mystics and wise saints have explored their inner dimensions – they have given us maps, so we can follow their explorations. Mystics from the east and from the west offer us tales of their inner adventures and we discover there are common themes. The idea that we ‘climb’ or ‘ascend’ a ladder, or a tree, and reach higher states of consciousness is a repeating metaphor. Crossing a river or an ocean, and moving into the light is another repeating theme:
I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. …
This was the experience of George Fox (1624 -1689), who founded the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). He had abandoned conventional church attendance after he had an inner message that Christ was not to be found in a book, but could be heard in his own heart. Fox went through what is known as ‘the dark night of the soul’, feeling alone in his search, not willing to listen to preachers.
At that time in history it was very risky to step away from the established church and claim to hear God within. The state and the church were still tightly entwined and mystical mavericks such as Fox found themselves on the very rough end of the legal system of the day.
So, finding heaven within the heart has always been a dangerous quest. It puts the seeker outside the law, outside the social mores. Nowadays, a claim to hear the voice of God won’t lead to the bonfire, but it could provoke a stay in a mental hospital!
Nowadays we don’t need to tread a dangerous path, to find heaven. We don’t need to fast, or live in a cave. We don’t need to stand against the church authorities to claim our inner kingdom. A regular daily meditation practice is a gentle way to approach the gates of heaven. It goes without saying that heaven is worth seeking! After you have been a meditator for a while, you begin to notice how much more heavenly the everyday world seems. Like the poet and artist William Blake (1757 – 1827) you get opportunities
To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour