All over the world there are seekers who begin their spiritual attunement, whether it be their daily practice or perhaps a ceremony of worship or healing, with the words of the Invocation. “Toward the One…” This phrase tells us that we are on a journey, going from multiplicity to unity. But because we are so thoroughly saturated – soaked like drunks to the point of intoxication – by the sensations of the physical world, we usually assume, without noticing that we are doing so, that the goal must be outside of ourselves. Popular culture typically puts heaven somewhere up in the clouds, with the divine throne still higher, and of course the infernal regions in some smoking pit of fire far below our feet.
It is an error, though, to think that the spiritual realms can be described and limited by the rules of physical space. Physically, we are a tiny dot in an enormous space, but the space within us is far larger. Therefore when we speak of a spiritual journey, we should forget about going anywhere. A wish to know the One cannot be fulfilled by a visit to Mount Olympus or any other physical location; we can only know Unity when we discover it in ourselves. And similarly, the realms of paradise and torture are not external locations, but conditions within.
This means that the realms through which we pass on our journey toward the goal are also within our own consciousness. Are we trudging through a dry desert studded with spiny cactus? Then, whose thoughts sowed those spines? Whose attitude has pushed away the clouds that bring the rain of compassion? Or perhaps we are edging fearfully though a shadowy forest, uncertain if the way ahead perhaps leads to bloodthirsty demons or the den of a hungry lion. Then, whose hunger is it that we fear?
The Invocation tells us that there is only one Being; therefore our little wave of consciousness is in that One, nor is the One ever absent from us. If that is so, then heaven and the other place are also capacities within us. Do you wish to know the prophets and messengers? You will find their spirits within you, shining in the mirror of your own consciousness – in so far as you have cleaned and polished it.
The traveller should beware, though, for in realising that heaven and the Source of All are shining inside us, there is a temptation to pride. “I share the consciousness of Buddha, Jesus, the Prophet Mohammed and all the rest…!” Know that when this thought comes, you have already taken three steps in the opposite direction, toward the shadows of torment and regret. Throw away your pride, then, and bow deeply as you enter paradise; in that bow, you complete the journey of a lifetime.