“…The road to hell is paved with good intentions…”
I’d like to think that most of us – at least most of us reading this – have good intentions.
We all mean well, right?
We certainly don’t mean to be mean.
We emerge from our front doors in the morning intending to shine some genuine light (our light) into the world.
To be good. Compassionate. Patient. Fair-minded. Kindhearted.
You know – all those things we read about in Pinterest memes and on Prius bumper stickers. We hope to leave the place a little better at sunset than we found it at sunrise.
That’s our intent, at least. To aim for love.
We intend to help create some piece of heaven on earth (however small).
We mean well.
Still – despite our best intentions to be heavenly – we will, at some point in this life, impact someone hellishly.
We will cut off someone off in traffic – though our intention was just to get to an appointment on time.
We’ll trip while trying to kindly grab an out-of-reach coffee mug for a friend, and end up crushing their one-of-a-kind coffee table.
We’ll make messes. Some small. Some epic fails.
And what do we do then?
When our best intentions inadvertently lead to the worst impact?
For what it’s worth, I do not understand hell to be a literal (physical) place, but a kind of dark inner space. An experience.
A nightmare of separation from self, and/or your sangha (community), and/or your Sacred.
For me, hell is like a cast shadow.
A dark night of the soul, perhaps – but not a destination of divine punishment.
My understanding of ‘sin’ is also less the modern spin (a punishable transgression against the Divine) and more ancient.
The ancient Greek concept of ‘sin’ was, essentially, a failure to achieve true self-expression – and to preserve due relation to the rest of the universe.
The even more ancient Hebrew root of the word sin is ‘chet’ – an archery term translating to, essentially, ‘the missed mark’.
Incidentally, the Hebrew word ‘Torah’(the root of Judaism, in a sense) is often translated as ‘to take aim’.
So… let’s say you aimed an intention for a bullseye – and missed the mark.
You made an impact on the target – but not the one you desired.
Maybe you even missed the target altogether, and hit some unsuspecting something (or someone) in the immediate vicinity.
What would a good archer do next?
They’d take equal ownership of both of the arrow (the intention) and the impact. They’d walk up to the target and acknowledge their missed mark. They’d note the impact, for better and for worse.
They’d compensate (make amends) as they were removing their arrow, and return to their post to set their sights anew again.
In other words (Nelson Mandela’s words) – “…There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered…”.
Has there ever been a soul of greater impact than Nelson Mandela? Or one who experienced a more triumphant return?
Missing the mark is inevitable. It’s human.
But in several faith traditions (including, but not limited to, Judaism), you must own your missed mark before you can atone for it.
You repent (which is ‘return’ in Hebrew) two ways.
Vertically (to your higher power, if applicable) – and, more importantly, horizontally – to the other person.
To the heart your arrow has harmed.
You don’t necessarily have to agree with the other person’s perception that you impacted them negatively.
But you can acknowledge the hole in their heart. You can affirm.
And you can own your impact (regardless of what your intent might have been).
That person may not necessarily forgive you. They may feel unwilling (or unable) to take the amends you’re trying to make. To release you from your missed mark. For them, you may have passed a point of no return. And you may never get that arrow back.
But you will have repented.
Returned to love.
The thing about impact is – you can’t really control it.
Once you fire an arrow into the air, it lands wherever it lands (everyone’s target is a little different).
And what is true of the air is perhaps doubly true of the ether(net).
Would that we all could aim to travel those roads more mindfully (and peacefully). That we all could aim to shape our intention more compassionately (and lovingly) – being ever more grateful for the times when our intention and impact actually line up nicely.
Incidentally, this is my understanding of ‘heaven’.
The experience of union with self, and/or your sangha, and/or your Sacred.
An inner space centered in an infinite abundance of love and light.
A bliss-filled bullseye.
I suspect the road to heaven is also paved with good intentions.
Rae Tyler Millman
Lovely and deeply meaningful and helpful. Love, Rae