Is Bliss Without Pain Possible?

In my first post for 2014, I stated my intention to renew my inward journey to discover, capture , experience, and enjoy my own bliss. From responses so far, especially e-mails I’ve received, it appears that a lot of you want to follow my progress and see how things develop. I have no problems with that. In fact, I feel quite excited about sharing every bit of this journey.

In A Formula for Bliss, I shared what is basically some sort of a general outline of my intentions and how I plan to conduct the journey. Then, in Do Not Judge, I shared the things I noted down along the path as I pulled the plug on my judging enterprise: how I now avoid judging others in order to experience an extremely blissful life. So if you are just joining the party, it may help to take a look at those two notes.

At this point, I have a strong and persistent feeling (a sort of deep inner awareness) that bliss is hidden in pain. Do you know what I’m talking about? Maybe you’ve passed this way before and know exactly what I’m feeling. I would like to pick your brain on that. Or maybe you are currently there right now and can relate to the feeling. It doesn’t make any sense to me at the moment, but I feel it strongly; it feels as though that beautiful lake of tranquillity and bliss my heart yearns for, lies right in the heart of a dangerous jungle. My aim in the present post is to explore that perception to see if there’s any substance to it; to see where it leads.

I don’t know about you, but for me it’s natural to move away from pain; to avoid discomfort. I don’t like to feel pain, discomfort, suffering, or inconvenience. What is normal for me is to take all the precautions I can—as afforded by my breadth of awareness and foresight at any moment— to prevent suffering. And so far it’s worked out good for me and given me a fairly decent and happy life. As a matter of fact, if you can remember, pain-avoidance is one of my key strategies in my current journey towards a life of extreme and enduring happiness. Yet, I feel that there’s something more: you know, like the honey that lies beyond the bees. I sense that beyond pain, there’s bliss; that somehow, the highest thrills of bliss lie deep within the heart of pain.

Then, this morning I came across the following lines from the famous Lebanese artist, Kahlil Gibran:

“Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?”

It resonated so much with the flow of my thoughts, as I was just pondering on the strong and persistent feeling I alluded to earlier; the perception that our journey to the beautiful lake of ultimate bliss, must traverse a meandering bloody jungle track of bitterness…

Surprisingly, it’s not a scary thought. In fact, without knowing exactly why, I find it rather exciting! And this sort of brings up something from previous places I’ve been…

When I was a kid, I used to be scared of hell. Every time I attended one of them crusades back then, and they showed any of those horror “burning hell” movies, it scared the living daylights out of me and forced me to ‘give my heart to the Lord’. However, no sooner had the scare worn off—normally after about two weeks —than  I would ‘backslide’, and go back to normalcy! Today, staring down memory lane, I noted that somewhere along the way as I got older, hell—that is, my Sunday School concept of it—lost it’s scare; it’s no longer listed even in the very least of my worries. It has little or no influence on my daily decisions. My preferred lifestyle today is is no longer borne out of any desire to avoid a geographical space where “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched,”; some literal ‘lake of fire’. But, you see, I still believe that there is hell. And the way I now personally perceive it, it’s even far worse than anything the human imagination could ever come up with. I think it’s extremely difficult for the normal human mind to grasp what the biblical symbolisms of ‘lake of fire’ is referring to. In any case, you definitely don’t want to go there. I don’t want to either, but I’m not scared of it, and it’s existence does not influence my decisions in any way.

Heaven, on the other hand—again, my Sunday School concept of it; you know, the picturesque magazine version—never appealed to me. I wasn’t particularly enamoured by the picture of heaven presented to me in Sunday School. I thought it was boring; a place for idlers. I just couldn’t imagine myself floating around, forever listening to angels playing harps. It was hard to be interested in taking endless walks along streets made with gold. I never accepted Sunday School’s version of heaven; it was simply too boring and idle for me. I love work; I love creativity. So, to spend forever idling away and eating apples, while walking besides blue streams and forever admiring waterfalls, was not my idea of eternal bliss. Nevertheless, even back then, I instinctively knew that heaven was a reality far beyond anything anyone could ever describe. I sensed that it was a reality I could have anywhere and anytime. Then, one day, I simply knew what it was and where it was. I knew then that heaven is that abiding state of indescribable and infinite bliss that my heart had always ultimately yearned for, long before I even became was aware of those yearnings. Heaven is that ultimate blissful reality that I really really want. It is that joy set before me by my Source—by my Heavenly Father.

In think that, in a way, heaven is the same for everyone: bliss. But at the same time, I can sense that it’s different for each person, because…

Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no-one else can share its joy.
~ Proverbs 14:10

Each heart?

Aha! That’s something to think about.

Could it be that my own heaven, as well as my own hell, is in my heart? And could it be that only I can tell in my peculiar situation what they look and feel like? And considering the order in which the Wiseman presented it—“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no-one else can share its joy”—it may well be that you need to go through hell, a place you absolutely loathe, in order to reach heaven, a place you would rather be.

Does this make any sense to you? See, I’m not pushing any agenda in this; just thinking out loud as I explore this point in my journey. I’m just trying to make sense of what I’m being made aware of at the moment. Feel free to chip in your thoughts here, or even via email if that’s more comfortable for you.

…it may well be that you need to go through hell (a place you absolutely loathe) in order to reach heaven (a place you’d rather be)…

Let me explore that thought for a moment.

The scene of a Man kneeling alone in a garden in the middle of the night fades into my view…Pondering on this scene more closely, I can see that this Man is in tremendous agony. He is even sweating blood; literarily! And from what I can gather by listening to His pleas, He seems to be involved in some sort of intense and agonizing search for something…

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. ~ Luke 22:41 – 44.

I took particular note of the intense and persistent nature of His quest…

So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. ~ Matthew 26:44

What was He really after?

And suddenly, as though I’d been struck by lightning, the answer hit me! This man—by the way, the wisest man that ever walked this planet—was searching for a painless path to his bliss! When this realization hit me I felt electric shock waves course through my bones and shook me violently. Seriously. Jesus Christ was searching for a painless path to His bliss! Imagine that. And this was in spite of earlier statements of His:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
~ Matthew 7:13,14

I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
~ John 12:24,25

Yet in the Garden of Gethsemane, He earnestly sought for a painless path to His bliss.

When the full realization of what happened in the garden dawned on me, it took my breath away: The wisest man that ever lived earnestly sought for a blissful path to His bliss, but found none.

And so—I continue to wonder—must the path to that beautiful lake of ultimate bliss, meander through the bloody jungle path of bitterness? In my heart, the question lingers: Must I really swallow a bitter pill first before I can realize my ultimate bliss?

The Gethsemane Experience obviously responds with a clear yes. Nevertheless, it appears to also offer a curious hope; albeit a very suspicious one; but a hope nonetheless: Jesus tried thrice to find a bitter-less and painless path to His joy, and only proceeded when He couldn’t. Maybe I mustn’t swallow a bitter pill first before entering into my bliss after all. Maybe I should make a thorough search for a very smooth, sweet, pleasant, and pleasurable path to my higher bliss; and only proceed to draw strength from God, grit my teeth, and swallow the bitter pill if I’m unable to find any legit sweet path. That’s just my thought; it may be the height of wishful thinking—which is why I referred to it as ‘suspicious hope’. But, who knows, there may be something to it. What do you think?

Well, at this very moment, my thoughts are drawn to ponder on  the lives of my heroes; those mighty Old Testament prophets, like Moses; the New Testament Apostles, like Paul. And I don’t think I like the pattern emerging in my thoughts as I examine their stories.

Take Moses for instance:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be ill-treated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.
~ Hebrews 11:24-26

He clearly had his mind set on his ultimate bliss, on his reward. And I’m wondering: Why did he refuse the blissful privileges of the palace? Why did he chose to be ill-treated? Why did he regard disgrace as of greater value than treasures? Could it be that at some point after carefully considering the matter—after thoroughly searching for a blissful path to his ultimate bliss—he came to terms with that persistent feeling I alluded to earlier; the perception that our journey to the beautiful lake of ultimate bliss, must traverse a meandering bloody jungle track of bitterness? Could it be that for him it wasn’t just a perception, but rather a deep and absolute awareness?

And in that light, does it make any practical sense pursuing that suspicious hope of a sweet path to bliss?

Paul’s writing may shed more light on this matter. Let’s see:

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
~2 Corinthians 4:17

My thinking here is that Paul uses the phrase ‘light and momentary troubles’ to refer to what I’ve termed ‘the meandering bloody jungle track of bitterness’. And for my ‘ultimate bliss’ he uses ‘eternal glory’. In that case, does it mean that his experience tallies with that of Jesus and Moses? Does it lend any substance to my perception that my journey to the beautiful lake of ultimate bliss, must traverse a meandering bloody jungle track of bitterness? Could it really mean that in order to enter heaven, you must journey through hell? I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound pretty to me at all!

On another occasion, Paul even appears to imply that there’s no other path except through the jungle…

They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.
~ Acts 14:21,22

We must? Is the path of hardship the only one to the Kingdom? I honestly don’t like this idea at all. Yet, it’s all beginning to make sense.

There is a price for everything.

Of course, that’s obvious. But then in the light of my current explorations, it makes even greater sense: my journey to the beautiful lake of ultimate bliss must traverse a meandering bloody jungle track of bitterness; the journey to the highest heights of joy and glory must pass through the way of the cross.

Oh that cross! It seems inescapable now.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
~ Hebrews 12:2

Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.
~ Luke 9:23-24

So it’s a must after all? But why then did Jesus seek a way out of it in Gethsemane? Whey even attempt to dodge the inevitable? Was it, probably, to confirm that any attempt to escape it is futile? To prove once and for all that there is no other way? Or was it, maybe, to indicate that it’s always up to you to go or not go to the cross; to voluntarily forfeit your ultimate bliss if you are unwilling or unable to afford the price? Somebody please help out here.

Now I’m left with even more questions: Am I willing to go through stuff I absolutely loathe for a season, in order to enjoy my ultimate bliss for eternity? Could it be that a reason only few people ever get to really experience their ultimate bliss in time and space is that the path to this bliss is extremely bitter and painful; and meanders through what seems like infinite time? And is it possible—as Paul seems to imply—that the infiniteness of the season of pain, however, is only an illusion; yet appears real due to the intensity of the bitterness and pain?

In any case, though, I think I have more clarity now. Bliss exists in hierarchies. And if, as the Wiseman says, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no-one else can share its joy,” then this hierarchy of bliss should be a function of an inner awareness of what I really want, what I believe my life is about; an awareness derived from, and firmly rooted in my faith in, and personal relationship with God; not some arbitrary, or universal law; not according to someone’s religious sense of what is right and what is wrong. I don’t think for a micro second that anyone has the right to decide for me what I want or what will make me happy. I choose my joys, my bliss, and my pleasures; and in the midst of joys, I choose which is even more joyful in my personal scale of preference. Then it is entirely up to me, in the light of my personal scale of preference with respect to my bliss, to choose to give up a smaller and transient bliss for a greater and eternal one. This much seems clear to me at the moment.

I also think I have better clarity regarding my cross: It seems to signify the real price of my ultimate bliss; on the one hand, something I really enjoy, but which must be given up for something I ultimately prefer; on the other hand, something I absolutely loathe, but which I must drink in order to enjoy my ultimate bliss. I can also sense that the cross is a very personal matter; that what I want decides what I pay; that my eternal weight of glory decides my light and momentary troubles; that my ultimate bliss decides my daily cross—since “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no-one else can share its joy.”

Regarding whether or not there is any substance to that persistent feeling I alluded to earlier—the perception that our journey to the beautiful lake of ultimate bliss, must traverse a meandering bloody jungle track of bitterness—let me at the moment keep my mind open and refrain from any conclusions. Remember, I’m not too comfortable with conclusions and will always delay it to the degree that it’s entirely up to me.