Finding, Losing and Recovering Heaven on Earth: A Personal Journey

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Like most people, I first witnessed Heaven on Earth as a child. Sublime beauty, sensuality, timelessness, serenity and wonder permeated creation. I needed no words for this experience and naturally assumed everyone shared my joy.…

By age seven, however, only glassy-eyed stares met my attempts to share creation's magical luminosity. Soon I, too, doubted the world's radiance; worse, I began to accept in its place the concept-driven World of beliefs and values imposed on me. Opening to the shining world again as an adult required significant inner exploration, facing fear and darkness that originated in childhood.

At age 54, an episode of atrial fibrillation brought me into the emergency room for cardiac defibrillation. Incredibly, this electrical shock to my heart triggered body memories of the open-heart surgery I had at age 14—exactly 40 years prior. It soon became apparent that I had, in fact, been awake during the original procedure.

Creating Space for Transformation

The scientific name for this experience is anesthesia awareness; it means waking up in surgery and happens when the anesthetic levels drop too low to maintain unconsciousness but nerve-paralyzing agents prevent the patient from communicating this nightmare to the surgeon. Feeling the surgeon open my chest and place his hands inside my heart produced unparalleled horror in my young psyche, and the entire trauma was automatically buried in my unconscious.

The cellular recording activated by the shock went on for three years. Unable to keep working as one horrific memory after another resurfaced, I closed my practice and devoted myself to healing. I kept following a golden thread of intuition and memory back to Heaven on Earth. In time, and trusting direct perception, my seeing grew brighter by the day.

At first, I dismissed what I saw. Perhaps I was crazy, I wondered, but as a clinical psychologist, I also knew otherwise. Then, drawn to study world religions like a lost man searching for his map home, I soon discovered that mystics from every tradition said what I deeply knew—that Heaven on Earth is already here when you know how to look.

Living Stories

I learned that the meaning and impact of an event is directly related to the stories we tell ourselves about it. Because the stories that came to my young mind during the surgery were terrifying, the event was experienced as extremely traumatic. A positive story would have prevented this trauma. More importantly, I realized that any story separates us from direct experience of the Divine as Being itself.

As the medieval Catholic theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart said, “God is like nothing so much as being” and “God's being is my being … wherever I am, there is God.” How differently I would have experienced surgery from a mystical experience of sensation as God's play of ever-changing energies.

I also learned that surrendering my professional identity, community and income—a via negativa of enormous proportions—served to “cleanse the doors of perception” of the belief-filters that had been obscuring my vision of Heaven on Earth in the first place. Ideas about who I was, what I was doing and where I lived filled consciousness to overflowing. If Heaven on Earth is the immediate and direct experience of Divinity as the world itself, I can experience it only when I stop thinking and start sensing.

Reframing ‘Earth Changes’

How differently we relate to one another and to the Earth when we experience the holiness and perfection of Heaven here and now? This visionary transformation is no small event nor is it imaginary.

As Joseph Campbell proclaimed, “This is Eden. When you see the kingdom spread upon the Earth, the old way of living in the world is annihilated. That is the end of the world. The end of the world is not an event to come; it is an event of psychological transformation, of visionary transformation. You see not the world of solid things but a world of radiance.”

My world has changed significantly. I now have huge feelings of love for my wife, children, grandchildren, friends and the world itself. I also experience increased creativity: song writing, drumming, writing, story telling and play. I have a greatly increased sense of freedom—that I am not the events in my life or the reactions they evoke.

Every time I heighten awareness and tune in, I sense that space is alive, aware, intelligent and loving. I have many moments of ‘radical amazement,’ wonder and gratitude at the astonishing beauty of life. I also sense that I am holy, one with Divine Being, my own beingness. I know my place now is to be a spiritual elder, to show up and love unconditionally, rather than to take charge or fix things.

In sum, the stories and concepts I held about life had repeatedly cost me the Heaven on Earth. I was never expelled from the Garden of Eden (another name for Divine World); my loving consciousness had simply been hijacked by the power of my own beliefs. Eden is not lost; we simply need to remember how to open to it. Then life is an amazing, living adventure. Please join me!

John Robinson, PhD, D. Ministry is an ordained interfaith minister, author and mystic. His dedication to finding Heaven on Earth involved collecting a chorus of mystic voices (more than 100 citations in all), creating a model of the religious psyche describing why we don't readily see Heaven on Earth and how we can, which led to a new book, Finding Heaven Here (O-Books, to be published in early 2009). He has taught extensively at men's gatherings, professional conferences, churches and retreat centers, and is the author of three previous books on the interface of psychology and spirituality. Dr. Robinson lives on an island in the Puget Sound of Washington State. He can be contacted by clicking here or emailing

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