A big burly samurai warrior approaches a Buddhist wise man, a Roshi, and says, “Tell me the nature of heaven and hell.

The Roshi looks him in the eye and asks, “Why should I talk to a scruffy, disgusting, miserable slob like you?”

The samurai gets purple in the face and his hair stands up, but the Roshi doesn’t stop. “A miserable worm like you,” he continues, “do you think I should tell you anything?”

Consumed by rage, the samurai draws his sword, he’s just about to cut off the Roshi’s head, when the wise man says, “That’s hell.”

The samurai who is in fact a sensitive person, understands that he just created his own hell. He was deep in it. It was black and hot, filled with self-loathing, self-protection, anger, and resentment, so much so that he was going to kill this wise man. Tears fill his eyes, he starts to cry, he puts his palms together and bows his head.

“That’s heaven,” the Roshi says.

As we endure our sixth month of quarantine, bombarded by repetitive thoughts and fears with limited resources for distraction, there are choices to make, some easy and some hard.

Hell is the easy one. Dropping into a downward spiral of victimhood and depression is familiar and readily available. It’s about resistance to life as it is. It’s making up fearful stories about the future that aren’t true and expecting the worst based on what has happened in the past. It’s being rigid, shut down, and living a fear based existence, dreading what life is showing us.

Heaven on the other hand, is harder but it comes with great rewards. It’s about softening into life as it is, even when we don’t like it. It’s about releasing the need to control anything or anyone. Rising up to meet our challenges head on takes discipline and diligence, but still we seek, safety, comfort, peace and love because living in terror and dread is intolerable and unacceptable. It’s a waste of our precious time here on earth as it deteriorates our bodies and fill our minds with angst and regret.

We are all looking for love and peace even if we don’t know it. It’s human nature both to want it and to struggle against it, but the more awake and aware we become, the less we struggle and the more the choices and their effects on us are clear. I recall meditating once and seeing myself as a warrior, sword in hand, ready to do battle and defend myself against whatever was coming my way. I felt anxious and exhausted until I heard a clear message coming from deep inside of me. “Put down the sword,” it said. “You don’t have to fight your way through your life. Soften your body and breathe. Let it come to you. Stop trying to control things and see what is there.”

That memory serves me on a daily basis. I have to keep repeating it over and over, it has become a mantra for me, and each time I say it, I feel better and more serene. I believe that heaven is waiting for all of us here on earth, even during the most challenging times and we each need to find my own gateway to peace. I try to remember that heaven is not a place. It’s a state of mind, and I can choose it whenever I want to.

So can you. What else do you have to do that’s more important?

Do you choose heaven or do you choose hell?