This Could Be Heaven or This Could Be Hell by John Dennison

Welcome to this school we call the Planet Earth. It’s such a lovely place. So why does life here have to be so hard for some, and so easy for others? Or is it just that our relative perspectives only make it seem that way?

Make no mistake. Life IS hard at times. In fact, for some it’s a living hell. Most of us in fact have moments that can seem that way, when the challenges get so great that it makes us feel like we’re at the bottom of a deep, dark pit with nowhere left to go but up – but no way to get there – all the while the bottom continues dropping down, down, down, and taking us with it.

Yet, amid the hardship, suffering and conflict, there is joy, there is hope, there is happiness. At least, there is the opportunity to look for those nuggets of positivity and grace, even amid the rubble of our dreams, swept away by life circumstances that don’t necessarily go the way we want.

I know. Been there. Done that. I’ve been to the mountaintop and seen the other side. And I’ve dived into the pit of despair and had to scratch and claw for whatever lifeline I could find to try to pull myself out.

Most of it I brought on myself, even that which “just happened to me.”

Journey to the center of my earth

Part of me would like to pretend my survival was due to some inner source of strength and determination to keep going when the going got rough. Maybe it was, but I didn’t feel very strong at those times.

Sure, I had faith that somehow the difficulties would pass and things would get better. But in reality, those weren’t enough.

I had tried to do it the same way I always had, to find a way to do it myself. But that wasn’t in the cards I’d dealt myself. I had failed in my ability to go it alone. I couldn’t play that hand and “win” in the sense of moving things back onto a track I wanted to follow.

Yet play it I did. Over and over and over again.

For a long time I thought that it was to share what I saw about the things that keep us in struggle and conflict, and to draw upon my own spiritual understandings and work with the inner voice as a way through the mess.

Perhaps I was right. But for me, that very effort to serve was a big part of my journey into the darkness. For the way was often blocked, and as hard as I tried to find my way around them, other obstacles would appear to detour me further from what I hoped to accomplish.

Talk about frustration of purpose! The contract I’d written with myself was a bad deal that wasn’t working out like I wanted. It drained our resources and stole my time and attention, diverting me from more fruitful ways to accomplish what I wanted to do, much less provide for my family in the process.

I had been trying to light a path to peace in a way that kept stealing my own, testing my ability to find it as I ventured deeper and deeper downward.

It wasn’t like it was the only way. In fact, there are many who have taken similar paths who had found various ways to sustain their efforts. I knew about them. Even tried a few. But it was a wall I kept beating my head against.

Something in me apparently wanted to explore those depths and kept me from taking another road, even the ones I knew I had to travel if I were to find a way out.

It turned out a war was being waged within me over those very issues. Part of me knew I had to find a way to make it sustainable, to balance serving others and God with serving me. Another part wouldn’t let me.

Surprisingly, I continued onward without ever resolving the conflict, knowing full well that every passing day I was digging a deeper hole, and creating more situations to deal with.

But it wasn’t without benefit. Not only did I get to help so many wonderful people, it brought me an unintended benefit as well. For with each new step into the struggle, my own peace got deeper and deeper, notwithstanding the pressure I was imposing upon myself and the growing challenges of dealing with my outer world.

It was the perfect chance to learn and apply a lesson from an old teacher. He had shared that there was light even in the darkest depths, and that if we allowed the pressure to equalize as we made our descent and our eyes to adjust to the lower levels of light, we could see it.

That light is available in every situation, no matter how bleak. It is within every heart, no matter how dark. It is ever present in all moments of our lives, there to show us how everything that comes into our lives can serve us. And even light the way out when we’re ready.

I couldn’t do it alone

Don’t think I wasn’t ready to get out. I thought I had been for a long time, but apparently I wasn’t. So I learned to adapt to the situation, to deepen my peace and find the light offered even within the darkest recesses of my world.

Apparently I was enjoying it at some level, because for a long time I was content to explore those depths, all the while knowing the harm I was doing.

Slowly, though, the tugs of those who loved me began to take hold and begin my long ascent to the surface.

If it weren’t for the loving kindness of family and friends, their help in times of need, and their nudges to pick myself up, dust myself off and find a way to get going again, I’d probably still be down there, wallowing in the darkness of a reality that was not very pleasant. And while it allowed me to see and address many things within me that I couldn’t get at any other way, I had long since reached the end of my rope and wanted to scream out “Uncle!”

So to all you who were instrumental in helping me through it all, I thank you. You are the reason I can go on and add whatever contribution I can make. And hopefully return to a place of better balance within me and my life.

I don’t pretend to have arrived there yet. It’s a long way up, and frankly am still dealing with things in me I want to address. It’s been a wonderful ride, but sometimes the bumps leave bruises that take a while to heal.

Moreover, I don’t know yet if this mission will ever unfold in a way that sustains itself, much less contribute to rebuilding the foundation I once enjoyed before I started on this trip.

That’s okay. I’ve returned to the law, or at least new ways of applying it that allow me to practice what I preach — creating peace instead of making war. And if that’s meant to be my path from here on out, that’s okay. For there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and peace starts at home. In us. And in the choices we make as we go about our lives.

Out of the ashes

My work with PeaceOptions was ably stated by Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, “What a long strange trip it’s been.” That’s why the long pause these last few months, as I sorted out all the strangeness and where it might go from here. If anywhere.

I thought it was over. But maybe it’s not.

During a recent consultation the point was driven home once again how deep the struggles of some are, and how much they need a way through those challenges, not to mention a source of peace to weather their storms.

Most importantly, it made me realize that I cannot allow myself to be dragged down trying to make things all better for those in struggle and conflict. Because I can’t.

All I can do is offer them a chance to dissipate some of the energies that have them on overload, and the opportunity to see what I see in hopes of lessening their struggles and making it a little easier to take their place within the evolving whole of human experience.

Still, I know I can’t do it as I did before. That way wasn’t sustainable. It burned me out until I didn’t have anything left to give, and began to resent the continual bombardment of those who demanded more, or who wanted to drag me into their conflicts and struggles.

It remains to be seen whether PeaceOptions will play a role in the next phase of that process. I hope it will. But if it is to do so, it cannot be on my back alone. I’m not strong enough to carry it as well as all those who need help.

Where do we go from here?

It isn’t about me. It never was. It’s not about you, either.

It’s about all of us. Trying to find peace and joy while under the assault of a world run amok. And perhaps most importantly, trying to evolve our lives and our world into more of what we want them to be.

Maybe some people can get there alone. I wish them Godspeed.

Then again, the future I envision isn’t one where we go it alone. Instead, we’re all in it together, and we’re quickly learning that what affects one affects us all.

That’s why so many of us who try to do it ourselves are falling flat on our faces. The energies are pushing us to try another way, calling us to evolve beyond the self-absorbed entities we know ourselves as into more interconnected parts of an comprehensive whole.

Look around. Everywhere you look someone’s in need. While once you may have ignored them, we can’t any longer. Our own peace demands we do something. Just as their peace demands that we do as well.

As the song goes, “we all need someone to lean on.” Just like I needed people to pull me through, at times you may be the puller, and at others the one receiving the helping hand.

Each of us must find the place that each moment requires of us, adding our piece in the here and now.

It requires a level of absolute trust that what we need will find its way to us at that moment. And a level of unrestrained giving of what we are and have to those who need it, knowing that it is our role to do what we can to keep the whole functioning effectively.

I hope PeaceOptions can be a space where people can help people find peace and negotiate their way through life’s struggles. But I also hope it won’t be just about taking and giving, but working together in coordinated fashion as the energies of our lives ebb and flow.

I don’t have the gift of great wealth to add to the cause. I don’t even have boundless health and energy to donate, either — because somewhere I have to get that which I need to get and keep my life back on track.

Yet I know that track involves others, maybe even you. Giving. Receiving. Loving. Caring. Connecting. And growing together as part of a greater humanity that is beginning to sense the source of oneness at its core.

The challenge is to apply the gifts we’ve been given and honor the urges that well up inside of us while doing justice to our souls and their desires to create a better tomorrow for us all.

Whether PeaceOptions will play a part in that process remains to be seen. What it will look like in the coming months or years I cannot say. We’re just going to have to wait and find out.

Me? I’m going to try to give a little more, and try not to allow my own circumstances or shortcomings to get in the way.

It should be an interesting time. Stepping boldly into the darkness. Embracing the uncertainty. And hopefully finding a way to get there together.

Peace is important. But it alone is not the goal. Heaven on earth is. But none of us can get there unless we all do. Maybe PeaceOptions can help. We shall see, won’t we?

God bless you indeed.


john dennisonJohn Dennison is a lawyer, peacemaker and problem solver who addresses the challenges of a world locked in chaos and conflict. An engaging speaker, author, and publisher of, he shares perspectives on how people can move through the problems in a better way to make a difference in their lives and world. To get his free newsletter or have him speak to your group, visit him at

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