If in heaven you believed everything you believed here on earth, where would you be?
– Byron Katie
Hell, heaven, even purgatory are states of mind, and we experience them here and now.
Hell. In a way, it’s true that people who hurt others go to hell, because hurting others comes from a hellish mind state. It comes from believing painful thoughts. It often comes from unhealed trauma.
People who Christians traditionally thought would go to hell often already are in hell. Their actions comes from a hellish mind state.
And when I say “people” I mean (just about) all of us, including myself. I sometimes experience and act from a hellish mind state. It may not always be as extreme as it sometimes is for us humans, but it’s still a hellish mind state, and it can lead to actions that sometimes hurts others (in an ordinary, everyday sense).
Heaven. Similarly, we all sometimes experience heaven. We find ourselves in heavenly mind states. These come about in three ways.
(a) When things go our way. When life conforms to our shoulds.
(b) When we find peace with what is, as it is.
(c) When we meet our experiences and our world with heaven, with love, kindness, noticing, feeling, allowing (the content of our current experience).
The first of these is somewhat outside of our control. We are dependent on life circumstances for this form of heaven to happen. The third comes from intention, practice, and creating new ways of relating to our experiences and our world. We create our own heaven, by relating to our world in a heavenly way. (It’s much simpler and more ordinary than that may sound.) It doesn’t just happen, we make it happen in an active and engaged way. And the second comes from the third.
Purgatory. This is what happens on the way from hell to heaven, on the way from a hellish mind state to a heavenly mind state. It may happen in inquiry, when we look at and feel hell as part of the exploration, eventually leading to finding more peace with it. It may happen in TRE, when trembling releases old and previously unresolved emotions and memories. It may happen just as part of life, when old unresolved things surface with an invitation to see it, feel it, find love for it as it is (to meet it with heaven).
I usually don’t use these words, since they belong to a different worldview than the ones I am more comfortable with. But it’s sometimes helpful to use terminology from our mainstream culture to bridge and explore. (It also bridges something in me.)
And yes, I know that the ideas of heaven and hell come from Christianity and not Jesus. They are not found in the New Testament in the way they later came to be understood. They are created by the Christian tradition. And even within that tradition, there are many ways to understand these words.