Saint Joan of Arc believed that God was up in the sky. Many of us have been taught as children that heaven is “up,” that God is up. Even in the Bible it is said that Jesus “lifted his eyes up to heaven.” Is this a metaphor? Or is there some truth to it? Is there something here that will help us in our spiritual work, in our prayer and meditation?
First, we need a working definition of the word “up.” Here on Earth—and anywhere in this solar system, really—up means “away from the center of mass.” If gravity could be seen as lines of force, those lines would all be pointed at the center of the planet, converging inward from all directions in space. This means that your “up” is diametrically opposed to that of another person’s up, if they were on the opposite side of the planet from you. And if you were looking at the moon, and someone were up there looking back at you, your up and their up would be aimed at each other. Such is the law of gravity and mass.
Though we know that our physical body is affected by gravity, we also know that there are other parts of us that are not affected by gravity at all, namely our energy—our consciousness. After all, radio waves and other forms of electromagnetic radiation are not subject to gravity, not dramatically. So, escape velocity for our thoughts is a fast as it takes to think them, which is to say instantaneous. So, let us agree for now that “up” is away from the center of mass.
I knew a ballet teacher once who taught her kids correct posture by telling them to “grow it up tall.” And Master Subramuniya, that great American Hindu teacher, would tell his students, “Lean against the power of your spine.” Even when we pray, it feels natural to raise our hands and to look up slightly, as though the object of our devotion were above us. A priest during mass will raise the bread and the wine, and whenever we are asked to come together in unity, we are asked to stand. The point is that if we take our working definition of the word “up” to be “away from the center of mass,” then there is something more here than just a metaphor, that there is a type of physics involved, and that if we want to improve our meditation and other spiritual work, we can benefit by understanding it in this way.
Sitting up straight
Sitting up straight while meditating aligns our body with “up.” This does not mean that we have to sit cross-legged in lotus posture. In fact, I once knew an American Buddhist priest who after 20 years of sitting zazen ruined her knees. Most of us find it much easier to sit in a straight-backed chair, one that allows us to rest our feet flat on the floor. And if we allow our shoulders to drop, and we rest our hands in our lap, and we keep our chin slightly tucked in, then we can sit relaxed and alert without straining any muscles. This way, the body does not distract us with its complaints, and we can more easily focus our attention on…what? Well, for now, let’s focus it on “up.”
Do you know what a plumb bob is? It’s a metal weight, usually made of brass and shaped like a round arrowhead that you suspend from a string. When still, it forms a perfectly straight line from its point of attachment to the center of the Earth. Builders use it in combination with a level to form right-angles in their constructions, making walls exactly perpendicular to the floor. The more exact, the stronger the structure will be. The human skeleton is in many ways the same. When the weight of our head is supported by our spine and not by our shoulders or neck, our posture is effortless and strong, and we are in the best position to meditate.
A royal opposition
When two planets are directly opposite from each other with the Sun between them, they are said to be in “opposition.” In a horoscope, this configuration creates an energy of—an opportunity for—reconciliation. When we sit in meditation with the Sun directly over our head, we are effectively putting the Sun in opposition to the Earth. We are in the middle, and thus an alignment is formed. This alignment will energize our inner Sun, which will then begin to reveal itself at the center of our being, empowering us both physically and spiritually. Even the military knows this. An erect posture gives a person strength, and it focuses his or her attention.
We are all planets, really. Each one of us orbits the sun. Planet means “wanderer,” named so by the ancients because of the way certain stars seem to wander about against the backdrop of the fixed constellations. Spiritually speaking, we each have a unique relationship with the Sun, a direct line-of-sight at all times. To our inner vision, the Sun is always directly overhead—a kind of spiritual high noon—and we are suspended from it like a plumb bob in space. It pours down its radiance upon us, even as we reach up in consciousness to it. This is what the priest does when she raises the chalice. This is what we all do when we raise our hearts and minds to God.
In 1 John 1:5 we read, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” Our meditation should be on the light, never the darkness. If we meditate on darkness, we meditate on nothingness because God is all there is. We each have that direct line-of-sight to the Sun. It reaches down to us, even as we reach up to it. We are all priests—priests unto ourselves. We have no need for a human mediator. When the center of our being is lit up, our body becomes the holy temple, and the light upon its altar is the Sun.