One of the notions found in many spiritual traditions is that the most important things in life are not to be found in the physical world that lies outside ourselves, but within us. In the spiritual community, it is often repeated that, ‘the kingdom of heaven is within you’, and in mainstream society we just as often refer to qualities such as ‘inner joy’ and ‘inner peace’.
In the Christian tradition, Jesus warned against placing too much value on the outside world, and to focus on the inner world instead. ‘Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ (Matthew 6:19-21)
This quote, and others like it from a broad range of traditions, has usually be interpreted as a straightforward encouragement to focus on spiritual matters rather than on the pursuit of material wealth and success. Now it could be that it was meant to be exactly that, and nothing more, but there is an alternative interpretation within those words which could open up entirely new vistas to the Seeker who wishes to explore them.
As human beings, we have something that no other species of animal seems to have, and that is our ability to imagine. Whilst we would like to think that we experience life exactly as it is, the fact is that we mostly live through how we imagine life to be, and our level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction is mostly based on the conditions that we picture in our minds, rather than on what we actually experience in the external world.
Consider the number of people who are plagued with worries, anxieties and fears. Some imagine losing their loved ones, others imagine losing their jobs, and still others imagine contracting a terrible disease. These inner imaginations create negative emotional experiences that are perceived as being very real even though they are quite unrelated to outer conditions.
We are all familiar with these negative applications of the human imagination, but the good news is that the imagination can also be used in much more positive ways. Any one of us, at any time of day or night, can close our eyes and imagine being loved, secure, happy and content. Any one of us can, in the blink of an eye, transport ourselves to any location, and – through our imagination – enjoy a sense of actually being there.
What if, when telling us to store up treasures in heaven, Jesus and other teachers were actually advising us to learn to make the most of our inner experience? What if, when saying that the kingdom of heaven is within us, we were being encouraged to use our imaginative faculties to seek and find that kingdom?
I am not merely talking about prioritising spiritual pursuits over material ones, but about learning to make the fullest use of the imagination in order to create a rich, interior life which provides inner joy and happiness even when external conditions are less satisfying than we might prefer them to be.
Over the next few posts, I will talk about how any Seeker can begin to do exactly that. My ideas may not appeal to everyone, but for those of you who do find them appealing, they just might serve as the keys to the kingdom within you.