Another revisited topic:

Anything we imagine, including any maps we have about the world and anything described in religions, and especially the ones that feel juicy and capture our imagination, reflect something in ourselves.

And so also with purgatory, heaven, and hell.

For me, purgatory is what happens when I befriend the parts of me I have seen as an enemy, alien, a problem, or something to avoid, fix, or get rid of in some other way. I meet the unmet, feel the unfelt, examine the unexamined, find love for the unloved.

And that can be very painful. It’s a pain that leads to heaven.

Heaven can be seen as a pleasant and comfortable state. And a more real heaven is when we befriend our current experience.

Hell is what the mind creates when it believes hellish thoughts. It’s what we create for ourselves when we believe painful stories, and when our most cherished identifications are threatened by life and situations.

Of course, we can say a lot more about each of these. For instance, we can say that heaven is when we find ourselves as that which we already are, that which this experience happens within and as. Or it may be when we recognize all our experience, including the ones our personality doesn’t like, as consciousness, or the divine, or happening within and as the One. Or that it’s all of that when our human self is more healed and thus less in pain. Although right now, I like the befriending way of talking about it.

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Are hell, heaven and purgatory real?

Another revisited topic:

Are hell, heaven, and purgatory real?

Yes, we can definitely say they are…. if we see them as reflecting states and process of the mind.

Hell reflects a hellish state of mind. The mind experiences something and tells itself it’s hell. It may be caught in beliefs about a situation, state, or emotion. And it gets caught in blind reactivity to it which is experienced as hellish and may look like getting caught in anger, despair, grief, vengefulness, justification, self-pity, and much more.

Heaven can reflect two different things. One is similar to hell. The mind experiences a pleasant state and tells itself it’s good, it’s so good it’s heaven. It’s heavenly. Another is when the mind is able to notice and allow what’s here, whatever it is. It’s a certain equanimity or contentment, independent of the particular content of experience.

Purgatory is any time an unloved or unquestioned part of ourselves is met in a way that allows for healing. It can happen through noticing and allowing it as is. Or, for instance, inquiring into it. It may be uncomfortable. It can feel like torment. It can feel overwhelming. And yet, because of how it’s met – with some noticing, allowing, respect, and patience – it’s ultimately healing. It’s purifying and can bring us to heaven.

So if someone asks me if I believe in heaven, hell, or purgatory, I’ll say yes. But it’s a heaven, hell, and purgatory that’s right here and we can explore for ourselves right now. We don’t need to wait until we die.

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Samuel Bercholz: A guided tour of hell

I went to an excellent talk with Samuel Bercholz and Pema Namdol Thaye at the Asian Art Museum earlier today. They are the author and artist of A Guided Tour of Hell: A Graphic Memoir. I can highly recommend the book. (Samuel Bercholz also happens to be the founder of the Shambala publishing company. I must have read hundreds of their books.)

A few things about hell. It’s created by our own mind, and more specifically by our beliefs and identifications. Beliefs and identifications are at odds with reality, and create unease and sometimes suffering. This hell is with us as long as we have these beliefs and identifications, whether in this human life or between incarnations. We create our own hell.

What’s the remedy? It’s partly to heal our very human trauma and wounds. And more to the point, to heal our relationship with our experience. To befriend our experience, independent of it’s content. To find kindness and even love for it. And to recognize our experience as awakeness and even love. And this goes for all of our experience, including other people, the world, ourselves, different parts of ourselves, and our own discomfort, pain, and suffering.

My own experience with hellish states. It’s a good reminder for myself. As I have written about before, I have gone through a difficult few years. Following a nondual opening that lasted a few months, I was plunged into chronic fatigue (CFS) and later PTSD. Adyashanti talks about how an awakening or opening can “take the lid” off anything suppressed or avoided in our mind, and that’s what happened to me. There was no chance of holding it back or pushing it away.

A huge amount of unprocessed material surfaced over the following months and years, and it led to PTSD and several months where I hardly slept and all I could do was walk in the woods in Ski, Norway. (While listening to the audio version of the dark night chapter of Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill and Adyashanti talking about the dark night and other topics.) Fortunately, I had some guidance by someone who had gone through it himself and understood (Barry Snyder) and I also did The Work and found TRE, both of which helped me tremendously.

And still, a great part of this process was something I just had to ride out. Practices and healings helped in taking the edge off some of it, but the vast bulk of it just had to live its own life and was something I had to find a way to live with, even if it often felt indescribably unbearable and overwhelming.

As so many describe, it has gradually tapered off although I still feel I am in it to some extent. I am very grateful for having found Vortex Healing which has been and is a great support for me in the healing and continued awakening process.

Note: As I wrote the section above, I was aware that this is a good example of hellish states but not a good example of how we can work with it. The unprocessed material that surfaces is something I have worked with extensively and continue to work on healing and clearing – mainly through inquiry (Living Inquiries, The Work), TRE, resting with it, and – these days – Vortex Healing. As the intensity has gradually decreased, it’s easier for me to work on it.

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Hell, heaven, purgatory

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.

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How to suffer

Here are some ways I can make sure I suffer.

Argue with reality. Tell myself something is wrong, bad, shouldn’t be.

Ignore, reject, and battle my own experiences. My emotions, physical pain, thoughts.

Treat myself harshly. Tell myself I am doing it wrong.

Get absorbed in thinking. Taking it as real and solid, and saying something true about life and the world.

Interpret what’s happening in my life, and what others say and do, in the most painful way possible.

Avoid resting with and feeling what’s here. Go into thought instead. Analyze. Ruminate. Blame.

Eat foods that doesn’t work for me.

Stay physically inactive. Ignore the needs and messages from my body.

Avoid nature. Avoid silence. Avoid animals.

Blame others. Put the blame on my own unhappiness or discomfort on people in my life, and groups in society.

Find others who do the same. Make them my company. Or isolate myself.

Spend a lot of time doing this. Make it a daily habit.

It can be helpful to make or look at these types of “how to suffer” instructions. It brings these dynamics into sharp relief, and shows me what’s happening when I am doing this to myself.

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Hell, purgatory, heaven

Any map mirrors what’s here, and so also the map of hell, purgatory and heaven.


Hell is when I believe a story.

When I tell myself something is, was or may be and shouldn’t be.

Or something isn’t, wasn’t or may not be, and should be.

Hell is also what I explore through question no. 3 in The Work:

What happens, how do you react, when you believe that thought?


Purgatory is The Work, being with fear, shaking and so on.

It’s taking the backwards step.

It’s seeing, feeling and finding love for any experience, meeting it as a friend.

It’s meeting and investigating any stressful thought, finding what’s more true for me.

It’s the dark night of the senses or soul.


Heaven is a temporary well being, an alignment of should and is.

Heaven is clarity, loving what is.

And eventually noticing all as already innocence and love.

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Free to meet people where they are

It is easy to see that when I am caught up in my beliefs, I am not able to meet people where they are. I see them through my stories of them (as I always do), and am also limited in where I can go through my own identification, through the stories I take as true about myself, others and life.

When there is a freedom from a particular belief, there is also a freedom from a particular identification, and more options in terms of where to go. I am more free to meet people where they are, go to the stories they hold as true – or are just familiar with and find useful – and try them on, see how the world looks through those particular stories. And if it looks like some variation of hell, I can find some clarity in myself around those stories, a way out of identification with them. And by doing that, there is an invitation for the other to find clarity in themselves, or not, depending on what is available to them and where they wish to go.

I am not aware of any better example of this than Byron Katie. She is completely free to go wherever the other person is, and she is more than willing to go into hell with them and shine some clarity on it for herself, which can then help the other find clarity for themselves.

Of course, meeting someone where they are is also a story. In this context, I can only imagine what story they take as true here and now, and then try it on for myself. What happens if I take that story as true? How do I live my life? How do I see myself and others? And who am I without that belief? How do I live my life without that belief?

When I see Byron Katie work, I am sometimes reminded of the beautiful story of Christ going into hell to rescue Adam and Eve. In this context, it shows someone free to try on any story as true, and through their own clarity help others find clarity in themselves.

It also shows someone who recognizes all experience as the play of awakeness itself, and is free from identifying with any particular content. Here too, there is a freedom to allow – even welcome – any experience, independent of its content, because it is all recognized as the play of that which is untouched by any of it.

The third thing that comes up for me, from my own experience, is how hell (knots) tends to come up in a process of healing (as who we are) and awakening (as what we are). It wants to be recognized – seen, felt and loved – as awakeness itself.

Each of these are really just different flavors of the same process.

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