I didn't want to ask this before, because it's an obvious paradox to the sensual mind; but obviously it works differently than that, and I guess I was fine with letting the question be a paradox for a time.
How can the ideas of recurrence and of heaven and hell work at the same time? ...And yes, I do realize the irony of asking "at the same time," since it's probably a question of time.
When I first read this question, it seemed paradoxical to me, as well—yet I think a legitimate answer to it is embedded in the question of eternal and recurrent suffering, and the hierarchy of octaves.
I know this is quite technical, and that some eyes will glaze over considering all the metaphysical spinach one has to eat in order to obtain the intellectual moxy to break this timepiece down and understand the function of all the gears.
Fortunately, I think it's possible to approach it from less technical a mythological point of view, even though the mythology recapitulates the inexorable law of octaves. The enneagram, after all, is directly reflected in the embodiment of myth.
Eternal recurrence takes place because there is a hierarchy of octaves, (the Ray of Creation) through which all lives and created things pass.
Each note in each octave constitutes an entire octave of its own; and in order to understand the structure of the universe, one would have to understand that one begins at the lowest note in the lowest octave, and, for each note in that octave — and all the success of octaves above it — one must complete a subordinate octave.
There are seven levels; and seven notes in each level; so there are 49 total notes that need to be completed in the ascent through the universal hierarchy, that is to say, a recurrent exercise in ascent through octaves, 49 recurrent "soundings" of notes in all.
Because one can get "stuck" in any point in an octave and cycle around again, one can repeat over and over again — hence the law of eternal recurrence. Buddhist parables such as the parable of the red fox from Dogen's Shobogenzo reflect exactly such an understanding. His sophisticated observations on the nature of cause and effect in this particular essay (Great Practice) represent some extraordinarily high level discourse on the matter, most of which is very, very difficult to master.
In summary, it is common, because of mistaken understanding, resistance, and clinging to a stage, that one fails to develop enough vibration to move to the next note. One must then repeat the effort, sometimes including the ones that lead up to it, again and again.
[In a side note here, because there are 49 notes to move through in the hierarchy of seven octaves, and because each note embodies both a positive and a negative aspect, the total system reflects 98 of the 99 names of God, with the last iterated name being Allah, that is, God Himself. The number is, in other words, not arbitrary; the esoteric schools that originally gave it precisely understood the law of octaves and the structural nature of the Ray of Creation.]
The hero — the seeker on the spiritual path — moves from note to note in an octave in an ascending hierarchy, where every note must be completed, and all rely one on the other. So we move through life surmounting one challenger obstacle after another, both in an inward and an outward sense.
Recurrence takes place when we have to repeat an effort to pass through a note or level of vibration; and at the end of every octave, that is, before one moves definitively upward in the hierarchy (every cycle around an octave takes place on the level of that octave alone) one must endure a passage of intense intentional suffering in order to move on.
There is a heaven and hell (positive and negative) on each level, all of which are in turn linked together, level by level. Souls dwell within the opposing forces of heaven and hell at all times, and in all places; because the properties of heaven and hell are ubiquitous and penetrate through every level. They are not separated from us, and other words; we are always in either heaven or hell, according to the dictates of our own will and selfishness. Ego puts us in hell on any level, including the angelic ones; selflessness puts us in heaven. The doctrine of separation of hell and heaven from existence on every level is, thus, a theoretical one that has to be understood from a metaphysical level separate from practice.
I have mentioned before that one of the women who knew Gurdjieff personally told me that she was in the room when someone asked him about reincarnation; whether it was true. He said words to the effect that it was true; that it was impossible to describe it exactly in words, but that yes, it worked "something like that." (Which last, according to my friend, were his exact words.) The explanation I have given here would at least be congruent with his suggestion, if not necessarily exactly what he meant.
So one lives through heaven and hell on a given level— over and over—and one suffers to reach the next one in a recurring set of tasks.
In this sense, internal recurrence and heaven and hell exist side-by-side, and although the sense of time permeates them all, there is an equally eternal aspect to the hierarchy, its interactions, and the turning of the great wheel of cosmic development.
I have felt for some time that one of the deepest, if most complex and challenging, essays on the subject is Sri Anirvan's chapter on Buddha and buddhiyoga, a sophisticated exploration of divine purpose.
This material is not for the faint of spiritual heart; yet it both affirms and, in some extraordinarily compassionate ways, explains the purposeful nature of the cosmos.