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Dave Brisbin

Falling to Heaven

Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

Yeah, that’s a country song, but Joe Louis, the great boxer, said it first.

Death is the moment everything we can think of as ourselves, our entire sense of self, falls away. It’s the moment our minds stop thinking, stop imagining ourselves as individuals, separate from everyone and everything else. The irony is, we never feel better, more connected, loved, grateful, meaningful, fulfilled than moments when we lose our sense of self—whether in meditation, prayer, or an intense, peak moment, like falling in love. When our sense of self falls away, the anxiety of aloneness falls with it. And yet, that falling away of self is exactly what we fear in death, because we can’t imagine who we’d be when we can no longer think of who we are.

Heaven is the state of absolute connection, but we must die to get there—die to our sense of self. The mind is the sole repository of ourselves-as-separate, so as long as we’re in our right minds, we are not in heaven. An elder in an ancient monastic community of desert Christians taught that if you see a young monk by his own will climbing to heaven, take him by the foot and throw him to the ground… Early Christians knew that heaven is not a goal to achieve, but a reality to realize: we are all connected, always. We don’t acquire that, we relinquish all that obscures it. Climbing to something we already possess only intensifies our illusion of self and individual control, the opposite of heaven.

Have you ever fallen in love? Did you work at it? Climb to it? More likely, you worked against it, at least after your heart was broken. But at some point when you weren’t looking, you lost yourself in your beloved. Your sense of self fell away, merged with another. That’s why they call it falling. We don’t and can’t ever climb to heaven. We fall to heaven.

The moment we become willing to stop clinging to an imagined identity as a separate self, become willing to die to all we think of ourselves, to all we think at all, we lean back and start falling.

Everything we fear we will lose or never gain is in the falling.


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