“Now, I’m sure you’d like to go on a magical mystery tour of Britannia’s Heaven.” Michael, my new guide, is standing in front of a towering mountain in the centre of Heaven. I nod enthusiastically as he continues. “Traditionally this mountain has been known as Mount Zion, though Orpheus insists it is the spiritual peak of Mount Olympus, while other folks call it the Big Rock Candy Mountain.”
My heart lifts, but then sinks a little as my gym attendance has been a bit irregular lately. As if reading my mind Michael says, “We could climb this mountain the arduous way, but although there is no time in Heaven we haven’t got all day. I think it would be more fun to fly, don’t you?”
Looking up, I notice that Michael has sprouted a magnificent pair of golden wings. At the same moment I feel a tug on my shoulders and turn my head to see I have a pair too! “Fly? Oh yes, please!”
So up we go in a jiffy, soaring like eagles in the golden celestial light. Michael lands daintily on the summit of the mountain, while I make a less elegant landing beside him.
“From here you may survey the whole domain, at least the areas that are open to visitors. Let’s begin with Happy Valley.” We stand there together for a while, gazing out over a vast, phantasmagorical landscape. As my eyes grow accustomed to the dazzling light they pick out buildings: gorgeous palaces and magnificent mansions crowning the hilltops, dream cottages nestled into the valleys. Although the dwellings are all built in different styles, somehow they harmonize into the idyllic countryside.
Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.;
A charm from the sky seems to hallow us there,
Which, seek through the world, is ne’er met with elsewhere.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There’s no place like home, oh, there’s no place like home!
“This is where you can create your dream home. Some of our residents say the best thing about moving to Heaven is the ease and simplicity of the process compared with Earth. In Heaven there are no chains, neither is there conveyancing nor mortgages. Your neighbours are friendly and civilized, and every amenity you could wish for is available to your specification. Simply imagine your ideal home: rose-covered cottage, Georgian rectory, lakeside villa, penthouse apartment … Furnish it to your taste; add a home cinema, library, yoga studio, indoor and outdoor swimming pools – whatever facilities you want – and move in immediately.”
A vision of a [insert brand name] dream kitchen forever gleamingly immaculate yet warmly inviting enters my mind with a flame of desire. Before I know it, I’m shooting up into the air, but instinctively fold my wings enabling me to come back down with a slight bump. I gently allow the thought to evaporate, bringing my attention back to the present moment.
Michael smiles ironically and continues, “The citizens of Holy Heaven look down on Happy Valley as vulgar and call it Blingville. Traditionalists sneer that a fertile field and a team of oxen were good enough for the ancient Egyptians, so why the need for designer shopping malls displaying the latest fashions the moment they enter the designer’s imagination, available in all sizes and colours or even made to measure?” (Here I focus determinedly on my breath to keep my mind away from [insert favourite fashion brand] and on Higher Things.) “They say such sensual pleasures belong properly in Asphodel Meadows, but the residents of Happy Valley insist, while the lotus eaters of Asphodel Meadows are not bothered.
“I’ve not visited the whole zone, but I’ve heard there’s a hotel where you can eat a full English breakfast three times a day, without clogging up your arteries. Apparently it’s very popular. Follow it up with a round of golf or a game of tennis, alternatively the favourite spectator sport of celebrity spotting in our most glamorous resort. Perhaps a spot of shopping in our designer malls, then drive the latest sports car to see the film of your choice in 10D at the celestial multiplex … What’s not to like?”
I nod enthusiastically as I contemplate the joys of a life of leisure, keeping my wings firmly folded. And yet at the same time I can’t help myself looking down on such hedonistic aspirations. “I enjoy shopping as much as the next girl, but for all eternity? You cannot be serious! I mean, it’s not exactly spiritual, is it?” #notmyheaven
The people who stop desiring worldly things start desiring heaven and heavenly pleasures. But what are they? — magnified forms of the same old desires, in fact more dangerous than the worldly desires, because with the worldly desires one thing is absolutely certain: you are bound to get frustrated sooner or later. The very nature of them is such that they promise you, but they never fulfill their promises — the goods are never delivered. How long can you remain deceived by them?
Michael gazes at me intently as he continues. “It is not good work to scorn or patronize these souls in their dream homes. They are younger souls who in turn diss their critics as Holy Joes and live here most contentedly. On Earth many of them led hard-working lives of poverty; others are replicating the wealth and privilege they know and feel entitled to enjoy. Now in Heaven they are reaping their rewards. In their own time they will learn the limits of success and failure.
“Furthermore, you are setting up an erroneous division between the so-called spiritual and material worlds. This too is not good work. Indeed, it is what we call maya – illusion and delusion. It is a fall into false consciousness and also into the trap of arrogance, thus separating you from both true reality and love. Do you understand?”
I hang my head in shame, but Michael smiles compassionately. “Don’t take it too hard, Sybil; all spiritual seekers fall into this trap at some stage along their path. There are two ways out: consciousness – seeing through the veil of illusion; and compassion – caring and helping from your heart, as you would for younger brothers and sisters. At the same time you’re right – this is not the end of the story. Older souls need to move on, understanding that this is not all there is.
“Have you seen enough of Happy Valley?” I nod contritely. “Then let us turn in the other direction for a completely different view of heaven.”