Choose Heaven

By Martha Marcom

We were traveling to Cincinnati to see our family and were coordinating the trip with our daughter, Mara, who was also driving south on I-71 from Columbus to Cincy. I called her cell phone and said, “We just passed ‘Hell is real.’ Where are you?”

I have passed this ominous sign many times and I must say that it is a real conversation starter for my mind.

I have thought “I’ll just bet hell is real for you, mister, and that life is hell for those around you.”

I have thought of the complex map of Buddhist cold and hot hells. The complexity and specificity of this, along with Dante’s Inferno and all of the imagery it has inspired, does give one pause.

I have pondered the fact that almost every religion has some notion of an afterlife and many of these involve reward and punishment. However, all of this hellishness can be considered symbolic and not the actual punishment of an unfathomably vast universe that brought us the Grand Canyon, Mozart, dogs and babies.

I have wondered just what kind of hell this person envisions. Hands-on torment from a gleeful, hoofed torturer and hellfire? And I’ve wondered what constitutes a sin in the sign maker’s eyes.

I noticed that I believe that “Hell is Real” is a choice and have wondered why anyone would choose the threat of hell for themselves and wish it on others?

But now I have the thought that maybe it is not a choice for the sign-maker and I’ve begun to think about this more compassionately, as my Non-Violent Communication training and the teaching of the first yoga yama, Ahimsa, finally kicked in!

I’ve become curious about the motivation for the sign. Perhaps I am not being condemned to hell here. This person (who I’d judged to be a man among other assumptions) went to a great deal of trouble and possibly some expense to erect this sign. Maybe in taking this level of care, he was deeply worried about the state of the world and the fate of all of the souls who passed his land. Perhaps this sign is a well- intended incentive to get people thinking--it certainly worked in my case!

I have at times feared that hell would be my fate, and experienced some relief to read a recent Newsweek cover story about a neurosurgeon’s experience with heaven in an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Proof of Heaven, by Eben Alexander, M D. While in a coma, Dr. Alexander visited an exquisitely beautiful and joyful place of unity where he received the instruction that there is nothing to fear, that we are all loved and cherished dearly and forever.

This loss of fear and the recognition of the unity of all things is also a description of realizing our true nature—Self realization.

Going forward, when I pass that sign that has triggered so much wonder and emotion in me, I will embrace Marcia’s ahimsa practice of not having an enemy image of the person who posted this sign. In shifting to this more magnanimous state of mind, I can connect to this person in some important way and am able to see that the message of this sign was to issue a heart-felt warning, an offering on his part. I can glimpse the humanity of this person and see that we are fellow travelers on this mysterious, difficult, wondrous road of life.