Heaven. Heaven is a place.

Oh heaven, heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens.
Heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens.

I love this song. Always have. And, though I hope I never tortured you by singing along to it, I definitely know all the words. Always have. Some parts of it have always made sense to me: “Everyone is trying to get to the bar. The name of the bar, the bar is called Heaven. The band in Heaven they play my favorite song. They play it one more time, they play it all night long.” I mean, yeah, I get what would be cool about that… English people would say it is the reason everyone’s got a ‘local’ by the time they are 16. Vegas people would say it is how you know you are arrived; you are in the bar that everyone else is trying to get in. Sensory pleasure is easy to identify and identify with. But then comes this next part: “Oh heaven, heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens. Heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens.”

And that noise you just heard? That would be all the Brits and Vegas people leaving the bar.

Nothing. Ever. Happens.

I am pretty sure that until recently I could not have understood that as a heavenly concept, even though, in more concrete terms, I have always known that it is true; we all know it it is true. When people are totally stressed, out what do they always say they want? To get away from “it all.” When kids are super upset, what do they naturally do? Go sit with themselves. When anyone, even animals, are scared or anxious, what do they do? They hide. We seek silence. When people are having attacks – panic, asthma, anger, rage, whatever… what do we tell them to do? “Take a deep breath.” “Close your eyes.” “Think of your ‘Happy Place’ where nothing ever happens” (unless of course you are Happy Gilmore…) We work to quiet our minds.

And why quiet the mind? The number one reason to quiet, or rather, slow the mind is that as our brains move faster and faster and faster we get, well… yeah: Wound Up. That is a metaphor that is actually quite literal. You can try it: You think of something that really bother(s/ed) you. You focus on it. You keep running it around and around and around in your brain. And it’s like every time that thought passes “Go” it gets more momentum and more energy behind it. If you are really trying to do this you will feel your pulse increase, possibly even your heart. It might not even be an event that triggers this, it could be a predicted conversation/interaction with someone (I’m famous for this) or something that didn’t happen that you wanted/wished/anticipated → Should have said, could have done, wanted the job, blew the interview, ‘knowing’ the boss is going to freak out, worrying if you turned off the gas… or if you left the baby on the bus…

Just slowing down the thoughts, literally not allowing them to “run” will lower stress levels. (I’m not making this up… it’s the brain-stem activated adrenals, what some people call our animal minds.) And so how do we slow down this mental Nascar extravaganza? Well, that is the question for the ages. Or sages. When people meditate (I hear, as I am still struggling with this <– understatement) they often adopt a mantra, a word, a sound, or an image to focus all of this energy on. And breathing. In yoga we call it pranayama; breathing techniques that are designed to change the pace of our brains. Breathing to and from different parts of the body and adjusting the speed or force of breath are actually ways that we can manifest stress reduction almost immediately. (Nadi shuddhi is a particularly effective technique.) Just keeping things simple, closing your eyes and giving attention to your breathing can slow down your mind? Stop the noise? The chatter? Even the screaming? I think so, just ask Clarice.

And so this is it. This is what all those philosophers and yogis are talking about when they tell us that heaven, nirvana, moksha, bliss, whatever you label it, is the state of mind where you can achieve total silence and in that total stillness. This is peace. And I am guessing that David Byrne (Definite Smart Dude) had this kind of figured as well. Who could write this if they didn’t get it:

It’s hard to imagine that nothing at all
could be so exciting, could be this much fun.

Interestingly, yet hardly coincidentally, this whole line of reasoning is the purpose of yoga. Most people seem to be sort of in the dark about this focusing so much more on the physical aspect of asana, but the thing is – it is all the same, only our understanding varies. This is the endorphin rush and subsequent “high” that people describe from intense exercise: it is just one more way to quiet the mind. How many times have you used exercise as a way to relieve stress, maybe not even on purpose, but after a really wretched day you went for a walk on the beach or went running in the park and suddenly things seemed a whole lot more manageable. This is “nothing” happening.

In the Yoga Sutras, generally credited to Sage Patañjali, the science of yoga is, well, not exactly explained, but I guess sort of laid out. It is kind of like an instruction manual for how to achieve the ultimate stillness (in that philosophy meaning the cessation of reincarnation.) One of the things that Patañjali really did well was to offer a variety of ways for people to achieve this. And he was also clear that yoga was not a religion nor was there really a religious component (that came in later when people realized that more often than not the average human mind needs some sort of icon on which to focus), but really the spiritual foundations of yoga lie in Samkhya philosophy which “dispenses with all theories of God; it says that the existence or non-existence of God is irrelevant to personal sadhana (spiritual practice).” Whatever one envisages as their ‘Happy Place’ works, and in the same way, whatever devotional focus you have is acceptable. Yoga is flexible.

Listening to a variety of teachers discuss the different ways that this mental quiet can be achieved… through study and intellectual pursuits (Jñana yoga); through willpower and concentration (Raja yoga); through devotion and emotion (Bhakti yoga); and through work and service (Karma yoga), it became more and more clear to me that this is it. This is what everyone wants: stillness, or in perhaps more palatable terms, the elimination of things that cause worry/stress/discomfort. It underlies every religion I could conceive of, every commercial endeavor to improve quality of life, and a good number of health issues. [Consider the research that links our mental health to our physical health and well-being.] I thought about all the times I have felt like everything was falling to pieces and how my mind was working at those times (I tend to want to “do” as much as possible as quickly as possible, which generally leads to fucking things up a lot more impressively almost immediately…) I thought movies and realized that almost all of them deal with people trying to find that happy place: Madagascar, Natural Born Killers, Dumb and Dumber, Eternal Sunshine, Fight Club, Monsters Inc., Silence of the Lambs… in every story there was this concept of trying to calm down the (sometimes) unpredictable circumstances that were exciting things. Too many things were happening. People had to separate the purusha (awareness) from the prakriti (self-identity); you know how you hear people say, “It’s not always about you?” Well, this is exactly what Patañjali was also saying. We totally misunderstand and misuse things when we make them all about us. Let go of attractions and aversions and their attachments to events and outcomes and you will ‘see’ things much more accurately. Like Lloyd Dobler said: YOU. MUST. CHILL.

And Heaven, Heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens.

The simplistic, practical aspect of yoga is that you can balance you mind by balancing your body. And when people talk about becoming enlightened by purifying the mind, the animal mind, they mean to practice halting the mental speedway. Relaxing and refining how we think by controlling our chitta, our individual consciousness. I am not sure if that sounds cultish or not, but the fact the chitta is onomatopoeic enough to make me think of chatter gives me enough motivation to attempt to quell it. I went to study yoga because I wanted to know what it was about yoga that makes me – always – feel better. I was familiar with the runner’s high and the bonus of excercise for sure, but yoga has been different. It works (for me) on another level. And I think that some of that question has been answered by Patañjali… I am still working through those sutras. But I gotta give it up to David Byrne for really getting the message across to me. And the coolest part of that is that Patañjali would be completely okay with that.

When this kiss is over it will start again.
It will not be any different, it will be exactly
the same.
It’s hard to imagine that nothing at all
could be so exciting, could be this much fun.

Oh, heaven, heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens.
Oh, heaven, heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens.


About Amanda

I am repatriating expatriate trying to work it all out. Well, to work some of it out anyhow. I am writing here for sanity, focus and general over-sharing.
This entry was posted in Education, Life, Perception, Philosophical Underpinnings, Yoga and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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