The “beatific vision” is a religious term for the eternal and direct perception of God that is said to be enjoyed by those in Heaven. For me, though, the Divine — or “God,” if you prefer — is not a bearded old man who rules from on high in some distant Heaven. The Divine is all around us, and within us, right here on Earth. Therefore, the beatific vision is not some distant mystical state that we will only achieve once we’ve shed this mortal coil. It’s the birthright of every living being — and it can only be experienced through the power of universal love.
Let me jump back to something a bit more concrete before returning to this point…
For about ten years of my life, I experienced chronic depression. When I say “depression,” I don’t mean that I was simply sad or dissatisfied with my life. I mean that if I had gone to a psychiatrist, they probably would have diagnosed me with clinical depression. In retrospect, I would classify it as more of a “mixed episode” of bipolar disorder.
Regardless of what you want to call it, though, my experience of life was very negative. Social situations were very draining to me, and even my physical perceptions seemed very dull and grey relative to what they are today. It’s like I was walking around in a fog, with the beauty of life hidden from me by my own fear, sorrow, frustration, and despair.
At first, this lead to constant thoughts of suicide — a symptom known as “suicide ideation” for all of you psychology buffs out there. But eventually, just a couple of years into the process, I started undergoing a slow but steady awakening. I didn’t want to die… not really, anyway, or at least not fully. What I really wanted was to LIVE — and the fact that I wasn’t able to live life to the fullest is what made me feel that death might be a better option than a life left unlived.
My first step towards what I would call a “beatific vision” started with activism. It was an internal step, initially — a choice to care, and a choice to reach out with my heart to those who were suffering an injustice. I lead a fairly sheltered life, but I knew what it was like to be bullied, and I knew what it was like to watch my family and friends suffer needlessly. And so, the sight of their beauty, and the ugliness that circumstances had thrust upon them, was enough to inspire me to take what little actions I could to make a difference in the world.
From there, it snowballed. Caring lead to action, and action lead to more caring. During the height of my depression, I had lead a very socially isolated life, speaking only to family and to friends on the Internet. Out of sheer self-defense, I had kept my tender heart behind lock and key. But now that I was out in the world talking to people about important issues, I felt my vision broadening and my heart expanding. This world — which I still found very frightening — was filled with beautiful people, and beautiful places, and a constant struggle between harm and healing, malice and benevolence, ignorance and understanding.
About two years ago, I crossed the point of no return — the point at which I made a conscious decision to release my death wish and embrace my love of life. Ever since that fateful day, I’ve been experiencing another stage in this awakening — a deepening ecstatic spiritual experience which I can only describe as a beatific vision.
Life is so strange to me, sometimes… to see what I see, and yet to act as though an “ordinary” life is still possible for me. There’s nothing ordinary about life anymore when I can see the divine beauty in even the most unlikeable and frustrating of people. It’s like holding Heaven in one hand and Hell in the other… recognizing the divinity of each and every person, each and every place, each and every moment, and yet seeing that divinity denied and defiled by a mix of apathy, greed, ignorance, hatred, and the like.
If only people saw each other — and themselves — the way that I see them, there would be no war. There would be no poverty. There would be no racism, classism, sexism, ecocide, and the like. We would spend our lives in ecstasy, sharing in all of the joys that life has to offer, joining in free cooperation to ensure the best experience for everyone. Instead, our vision is limited… our love is limited… our lives are limited… and even with my own beatific vision, I find myself sinking back at times into that bleak grey cloud that had a hold on me for so many years.
Is it wrong for me to love with such reckless abandon? Is it foolish of me to hope that the ecstatic power of my joy, my humor, my passion, my lust, my sorrow, my rage, my bliss, my sensuality, my creativity, will not fall on deaf ears, blind eyes, closed hearts? Is it mad of me to feel a deep longing to run naked through the streets, howling and whooping, crying out in praise of the beauty that so few seem able to see and so many seem willing to extinguish?
Even in all of my ecstatic fervor, though, I find the extra ounce of strength necessary to hold back for just another day, hoping and praying that my efforts to create change will be successful. If I have my way — and if others like me have their way — we will live in a world where more people see the beauty of life, the beauty of the Earth, the beauty of freedom, the beauty of love. Individuals will come together in circles of friends and family; friends and family will come together as communities; communities will come together as bioregional societies; and in the end, we will discover a good life the likes of which few of us can even imagine from the vantage point of the fog that currently surrounds us all.
Needless to say, I’m very excited about the prospect of being involved in projects that may in some way contribute to making this vision a reality!
Stay tuned for more details, because I’ll be announcing a few major projects over the course of the next few months. In the meantime, I encourage you to search your heart for all of the sources of pain and sorrow that may be blocking you from loving others and yourself fully. Find these blocks and release them — because love is its own reward, and the earthly beatific vision that results from a life of love is perhaps the most precious gift available to us as living beings.