Heaven, Hell and Reality

I wrote that I am in Heaven and Hell. The beauty of the world overwhelms me. The threats I face terrify me.

CS Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce, The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.’

Lewis related Heaven and Hell to the afterlife, but also to acts and experiences in life. I treat them as metaphor. Hell is the pain I cannot bear, Heaven the delight that seems incredible or impossible. Not my acts, but the world that surrounds me, other people doing their thing which I might not influence. For Lewis, my own acts, in Love or meanness create my place.

What is the name of the golden mean between selfishness and self-abnegation?

What would it mean to take responsibility for my brokenness? Not denying it. My complete loss of confidence just stops me acting. I should do this, I say to myself, it is a simple thing, and I find myself not doing it.

I do not see others for what I can get out of them. Instead, I see them generally as implacable, unsatisfiable. So I do not act, not out of fear of failure but fear of destruction.

I might find simple things to start on, I will take just this one step, but find myself not doing it. Or, having done it, I think, well, that was nothing, no-one would have had any problem with that. I have difficulty assessing how difficult any particular act will be for me, because I have imbibed others’ judgments of what should be easy or difficult and my own different judgments have been suppressed.

Marlowe’s Mephistopheles said, Why this is hell, nor am I out of it. But then he goes on,
Think’st thou that I who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of Heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,
In being depriv’d of everlasting bliss?

After Heaven, everything else is Hell. Of course he is a deceiver and predator, seeking to destroy Faust, possibly incapable of truth even to himself. One wonders what his experience of Heavenly bliss was, if he left it, or thought there could be something more.

What is Heaven, for me, here, now? Standing in front of art and relating to it, especially with my dear friend as our feelings and words together reach critical mass and explode. And feeling my pain, knowing my pain, for it is me and I will not deny any part of myself.

Audre Lorde, in her conversation with Adrienne Rich: One thread in my life is the battle to preserve my perceptions- pleasant or unpleasant, painful or whatever…
AR: And however much they were denied.
AL: And however painful some of them were. When I think of the way I courted punishment [throughout my life], just swam into it: ‘if this is the only way you’re going to deal with me, you’re going to have to deal with me this way.’

Heaven is acknowledging the feeling self I denied. Heaven is being a whole human. Not just delight, but also pain fully felt and owned. Or Heaven is freedom and Hell oppression.

Having habitually denied my feeling self, and got on with it, whatever the it of the time was, I don’t know how to be my doing self and feeling self both at once. It’s like having to carry two large bags of groceries without handles. I can embrace one and carry it, but if I try to embrace both things fall out the top and the bags slip through my arms.

And, I am in Reality. Heaven and hell are not future states, or even metaphors for possibilities now, but an expression of the range of my experience, of delight and terror. This world now is bigger than both, containing things more Heavenly and more Hellish than I can imagine.

So I will release my feeling self. I will permit myself to feel, and to experience the feeling, whatever the feeling is. I practise this in the Quaker meeting and in the Silence in my own ritual space at home. I am carrying her, or needing to learn to walk again, in a new way- but it is getting easier.

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