Since the dawn of humanity, nearly every culture on Earth has spawned its own breed of longstanding lore regarding the concept of hell. Notions of retribution in the afterlife for the wrongs committed at the helms of our flesh and blood vehicles transcend time, passed down through the ages via religion, literature, mythology and folklore. Many of these bear striking similarities.
Some doctrines claim that eternal suffering is our just deserts. For others hell is a rehabilitation center for souls; some of which go on to reincarnate after serving their sentence, while others resurrect at the end of days. More neutral belief systems contend that hell is a holding tank that all of us migrate to once our physical bodies expire, though the majority of hellscape afterlives are depicted as fiery, cold or otherwise unpleasant.
And yet, for a conjecture that has pervaded human psychological experience throughout antiquity, no one has discovered the precise geographical location of hell. Doesn’t that seem strange? To me this is an indication that hell is not necessarily a physical place, but a component of the human subconscious. Perhaps a fiery pit is not requisite to hell; it need not be an inferno in the ground, a torture chamber or prison cell – hell can be anywhere at any time.
Many of us have endured anguish, some live it on a daily basis. Bring to mind for a moment the most painful experience you’ve been through. I’m sure you can think of something. Whether the pain was emotional or physical doesn’t matter – all sensation and perception is routed back to our psychology. Human experience begins and ends with the mind. Are you thinking of it? This is where the expression lived through hell was born. Hell is a subjective experience. We conceptualize hell because we know it all too well. Hell is inside you.
Let’s switch tracks here for a moment. Have you heard of the Masochistic Equilibrium? Here’s a quick rundown. Essentially, our baseline level of comfort – our equilibrium – is established when we are kids. As children we learn about life, love and happiness. We also learn about pain and the negative side of psychological experience. As we grow up and become adults, we subconsciously gravitate to situations in which we achieve a level of stress comparable to what we had in our childhood. Does that sound about right? It’s all fine and dandy if you had a happy, well-adjusted childhood; chances are good that you would continue to be driven toward circumstances that are positive and healthy. But enough of that.
Let’s say a youngster was taught that life comes along with maltreatment. Say they were raised inside the negative tension dynamic of a dysfunctional family, or had an overly controlling or narcissistic parent; possibly they were neglected in some respect, or subjected to physical or verbal abuse. Perhaps this child had a role model with a very active masochistic equilibrium, and despite the adult’s best intentions, this was passed on to the child – the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Now fast forward to adulthood, where being in a situation with peace and positivity will actually inspire tremendous anxiety. An abundance of joy may trigger them to self-sabotage their happiness, or they might choose scenarios that bring them lower levels of overall happiness to appease their psyche’s status quo. Faced with significant or consistent turmoil as a child – so the theory goes – our subject is not going to feel comfortable without negative stress in their adult life.
In the same way that a fetus who experiences prolonged narcotic exposure in utero will have an existing chemical addiction when they are born, so the stress levels of our childhood follow us as we emerge into adulthood. Without realizing it, we can be addicted to stress, tension and negativity. Many of us with highly active masochistic equilibriums will go on to stir up and seek out turmoil in its absence. We’ll choose a high-stress career, difficult or abusive relationships, friendships that are strenuous and toxic. When we can’t access the devil we know, we substitute whatever we can to feed our negative psychology – anything that will keep our internal tension state at its predetermined watermark. The masochistic equilibrium demands to be fed.
If we’re not careful, we will become obsessed with what is wrong in our lives, coercing others to contribute to a long list of complaints. We ingest food for thought that gives us a distorted perception of social ideals, superimpose our projected worth against inflated standards that are impossible to realistically achieve. We somehow don’t see that major corporations pay marketing companies billions of dollars to manipulate us into feeling so badly about ourselves that we empty our pockets for their products, thinking they will save us – while they laugh all the way to the bank and we fall further into the consumer abyss.
Disoriented in the midst of this virtual miasma, we feel so guilty about how much money we spent at the mall and how short we still fall in comparison to the condescending marketing medleys saturating our inner experience, that we turn to highly caloric, sodium-packed, sugar-laden, fat soaked foodstuffs, heavy in preservatives and additives, only to feel worse still. Some will turn to alcohol or drugs, others to more dangerous or detrimental coping mechanisms. Stuck in this sick cycle, we loath ourselves, torture ourselves; but it’s what we know.
What most of us don’t realize is that, by and large, as adults we have a choice. Are you living in a war-torn country? Worried about your next meal? Are you stricken with a debilitating psychiatric disorder or currently facing a severe health crisis? Are you in an abusive situation right now? Ask yourself: Is something actually wrong? Perhaps so – and I won’t diminish what it is like to traverse the lava laden land in waking life and how that can impact a person, but if nothing is actually wrong and your life is still in a constant state of turmoil, then I’d wager that hell is your creation. You’re choosing to relive whatever hell you have known. You’re allowing your masochistic equilibrium to run the show.
True, many people who have gone through horrifying traumas actually experience a form of enlightenment therein – the realization that they control their inner experience. Some of the most inspiring people we could hope to meet are survivors in some respect or another. On the flip side, a lot of us who have suffered difficulties in the past don’t realize that we are conditioned to live in a negative state of turmoil. Unawares, we continue to suffer further from a maxed-out masochistic equilibrium.
The thing about stress is, well – it will kill you. But it’s sneaky, it works indirectly. If you have a genetic propensity toward a physical or psychological ailment, stress is more often than not the catalyst that will bring it out. In this way, living with a highly active masochistic equilibrium will end your life sooner. It will also make your time here more difficult than it has to be. It’s therefore more important than ever to face the hell inside you.
We are creatures of habit, routine. A person only has to do something about seven times before it becomes habitual. So why not make a habit out of something that could change your life for the better? Extreme changes can be painful, damaging even – like plunging frost gnawed skin into hot water. Often these kinds of changes won’t stick. Alterations of this magnitude also have the power to kick one’s masochistic equilibrium into high gear and sabotage the efforts made. But what if we were to start making small changes that we actually implement into our way of being over time? What if we expended the same amount of energy focusing on positivity as we do on negativity?
Have you ever felt intense joy or overwhelming feelings of love, tranquility or ecstasy? In the same way that someone’s life could be a living hell, heaven is also inside you. We can imagine heaven existing after we die because we have the potential to experience it while we live. This is the real heaven and hell duality – the two seemingly always at war inside us as we go about our lives. References to heaven are prevalent in our lexicon, culture and spiritual ideals. True, for those of us with the cognitive capacity to process life in a positive way, each day has elements of the ethereal. Heaven, as we live and breathe.
All of human experience can be extrapolated to a continuum, gradients from one extreme to the other. So why do we as a species so often acquiesce to the negative? Common sense suggests that one would want their experience to be more positive than negative, though we continue to carry around the psychological baggage passed down to us. How sad is it that so many of us are uncomfortable being happy? I feel like we should be able to share what is positive in our lives, without a sense of shame or self-judgment, without worrying whether others will react negatively to our joy.
So how do we change? We take an honest look at what we learned about life and happiness in childhood and identify the ways in which we sabotage our happiness in current time. At first these thought patterns and actions are difficult to pick out, but if you pay attention you will see them. Then we make small changes; substitute positive thoughts and actions for the negative until these become habitual.
Learn to be uncomfortable outside of your comfort zones when the hell inside you wants to pull you back to the pit. It’s okay to feel happier than you’re used to. Over time you create a new pattern and joyfulness becomes the status quo. You run the show. We need not wait until the afterlife to experience heaven. Somewhere between heaven and hell lies our own personal paradise, right here on Earth.