Experiencing heaven and hell in real time

A few stories, and forgive me if I’m repeating myself:

1. Greg BoyleA really cool interview with Fr. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest and entrepreneur I guess, who’s started Homeboy Industries, a series of businesses run by former gang members in L.A. Worth listening to the whole thing. I want to call attention to how he talks, though, more than what he’s saying. You can tell he very much believes it when he says stuff about “delight in one another”, or awe, or mutual benefit from a relationship that others would imagine is more one-way. He’s not doing a Good Deed for some Poor People for the vague promise of future rewards; he’s being fulfilled from real human relationships.

2. Minimalism: When I went to college and for the first time really had my own space, I got kinda minimalist. Some of my family thought it was this ascetic holy thing, like an environmental impact minimization or whatever, and to be honest it started out as that. But as life went on, it just became not a big deal and pretty smart. If you live in a dorm, or a small city apartment for that matter, you’ll just be happier if you don’t have a ton of things.
(this is also a privilege afforded by making decent money; if you know you can always buy what you need, it’s easier to not have to keep it around the house.)

3. Soda: When I was a kid, I used to like soda. My favorites were, I think, Mug root beer (we all make mistakes), Dr. Pepper, and cherry coke (or honestly, cherry pepsi; we were a pepsi household). I’d also get canker sores sometimes (still do). Eventually I developed a feeling that my mouth was dirty when I hadn’t brushed my teeth, and especially dirty after drinking soda. (it kinda coats your teeth; you can probably notice this if you try.) Then I’d kinda connect that dirty feeling with canker sores, and realize I’m probably making this all worse by drinking soda ever. Eventually I basically stopped ever drinking soda, because the tasty sugaryness didn’t outweigh the dirty feeling. Great! No “should” involved.
(I’ve backslid on this a bit in recent years. Not really relevant to this post, but just so you know if you see me drinking an extra-spicy ginger ale anytime soon; not tryin' to be holier-than-thou.)

4. Heaven and hell: So, Christian point of view: there’s a heaven where afterlife is very good for some definition of “good”, and a hell where it’s all very bad. You do good deeds, you go to heaven after you die; bad deeds, you go to hell.

(Growing up, I thought it was harps and clouds vs. devils and fire. Then I started to think, well, it can’t be that simple! In high school theology class, I learned that there’s heaven and hell, and then there’s the Kingdom, which is after the second coming of Jesus, so it’s more a temporary holding cell; there’s also purgatory, where you wait if you died after unconfessed venial (but not mortal) sins and you suffered a little bit until you purged them out. Plus we can nitpick the details - I think the harps and pitchforks seem real absurd on their face so we all agree it’s not like that, but it’s still heaven=good and hell=bad. Whatever. Point is, there’s a reward or punishment that comes after the fact. I tried asking “but like this is just a metaphor, right?” and the answer I always got is kinda “like, well, yeah, but not really, it’s actually there too” kinda like when I asked “but Jesus isn’t really physically in this bread, like it’s a symbol, right?” - the Christian theologians here are welcome to comment here and tell me how wrong I am.)
Bringin' it together:
Heaven and hell: you do good things and you get rewarded, you do bad things and you get punished. I wanna say this is how most of us in, say, the US (and likely wider but I don’t know how wide), see … everything? Everything’s a big marshmallow test, and the more you can delay gratification (until after death, if you’re really good), the “better” a human you are.

I don’t want to throw this out, because it’s a useful way to learn how to be a pretty decent human. But I want to say it’s a stepping stone. It’s the grade school version of morality. Maybe high school - you can get pretty far with this kind of morality.

But grown-up morality feels a lot more like Greg Boyle. You’re not trying to override your desires; you’re trying to skillfully mold them so that you get the benefits at the same time as the costs.

If you can do that, it becomes really easy and really rewarding to be “good”, and really unappealing to be “bad.” Like, I don’t even want a soda; that just doesn’t even sound good. I’m not going to be tempted into a soda when my defenses are down, or feel worn down by trying to resist a soda all day. Greg Boyle isn’t going to try to skim off the profits from his companies, or be a jerk to any of his homies; that’d be like screwing over your friends or family.

This may be what distinguishes people that we say have a “magical presence” of some sort; their actions are so fully aligned with their goals that it’s so easy to be “good”, so they do the right thing without hesitation or artifice. Mr. Rogers, not Bill Cosby.

This is my goal these days. To become one of these fully aligned people, to understand all the wants and needs in this mess of cells we call a mind and body, to understand the causes and effects of everything I do, and to learn to experience heaven and hell, not after my death, but right now.

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