October 15, 2012
Begin with the end in mind.
That's pretty sound advice. If you don't know where you're trying to go, how will you know the path to choose, today? Common sense, certainly… but it was Habit #2 in Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
Covey was 57 when he bundled sage advice into the iconic book that would become his defining work. Tucked between Be Proactive (Habit #1) and Put First Things First (Habit #3), Begin With the End in Mind advises against aimless activity: if you don't have the picture of preferred outcomes (we know that as vision), you are likely to waste time and energy on efforts that don't represent real progress. Busy is a lackluster caption under a day you can never replace. Advance toward the target.
Covey was 79 when he moved from Idaho Falls, Idaho to… where? The ultimate “end” is the eternal destination that awaits everyone. Is there an “end” to have in mind, beyond the “end” of life?
Dr. Covey passed away about 15 months before the Newsweek article, featuring Harvard-educated neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander III. The cover this week declares, “Heaven is Real: A Doctor's Experience of the Afterlife.”
A puff piece promoting his new book, Proof of Heaven, Newsweek allows Dr. Alexander to veer from their normal cultural constraints to present his case for the unseen. Stricken with bacterial meningitis in 2008, he was in a coma for seven days and has the GPS tracking of his brain activities that prove he wasn't having a mushroom party in his head while he was unresponsive in the bed.
His hospital wristband said “Christian,” but – by his own admission – it was more a statement of club membership than of a personal faith. When he went to church – pre-coma – it was under a steeple, but he discounted the supernatural (a remnant, perhaps, of his time at Harvard Medical School?). That all changed, during his timeout…
Get the magazine – or, buy the book – and come to your own conclusions. In his review, Dr. Raymond Moody says, “Dr. Eben Alexander's near-death experience is the most astounding I have heard in more than four decades of studying this phenomenon… The circumstances of [Eben's] illness and his impeccable credentials make it very hard to formulate a mundane explanation for his case.”
When you're going through hell (figuratively), it's a perfect time to get some relief and read a book about heaven. Alexander puts a new option on the shelf, but his observations are a late arrival to the subject. There is a bestseller available at most booksellers – and, in most hotel nightstands – that covers the matter extensively.
An excerpt: “I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man.” (Jesus, in John 3:11-13). Jesus seemed pretty confident in his unique ability to address the subject of heaven, and the fact that no one else – “ever,” according to him – would have his credibility and eye-witness perspectives.
Alexander recounts with confidence his experience outside the physical realities that define our limited view: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4:18).
The good doctor describes the transport and transition that followed his exit from his body… but the ultimate destination was not recounted. The destination – I presume heaven to be the preference – is not the memorable for the blondes and butterflies (Alexander): it is the dwelling place of the Almighty. No one enters there because of a club membership: his criteria for admission is crucial to consider.
Begin with the end in mind. Where is it, exactly, that you'd like to go, next?