No matter what happens after we die, the different ideas we have about it – including in religions or spiritual traditions – reflect what’s going on in this life.

Take purgatory. That’s what happens any time an old issue or emotion or discomfort comes up and we meet it in a way that allows it to release and heal. It’s uncomfortable. And it leads to release and healing.


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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Purgatory and love

A dark night is a form of purgatory, a cleansing out.

And it’s as much or more about love.

What’s surfacing seeks to be recognized as love, and met with love. It seeks a loving presence.

It seeks to be seen, felt and loved.

It seeks for the believed stories that created it and maintains it to be seen through.

It seeks to be felt as is, and for it’s sensation component to be felt as sensations.

It seeks to be recognized as love, coming from confused love and a wish to protect the apparent separate self, and to be met with love.

It seeks it’s own liberation.

What’s triggering these wounded parts of us also seeks love.

Any situation in the world bringing these parts up in us also seeks love. It seeks to be recognized as love, and met with love.

Any person bringing this up in me comes with an invitation to be met with love.

Any perceived challenging situation is a potential purgatory, in this sense. It comes with an invitation for us to see through our stories about it, feel it, and find love for it.

It comes with an invitation for me to see through any of my stories about it. (Head center.) Recognize it as love, and find love for it. (Heart center.) And feel it. (Belly center.)

And for the heart facet of this, simple practices can be very helpful.

Prayer. Prayer for guidance. Prayer for the well being of myself and others. Prayer for love for me, suffering parts of me, and others. Prayer for receptivity. Prayer for support in meeting what’s here with love.

A simple loving kindness practice. I wish you love. I wish you ease. Said to myself or parts of me (my heart, pain), and others.

Tonglen. Ho’oponopono. (With me, parts of me, others.)

All-inclusive gratitude practice. I am grateful for….. (anything, what’s its easy to be grateful for, and especially what it’s less easy to find gratitude for.)

Seeing myself in the heart flame. Seeing others, and the world, in the heart flame. (Fanning the heart flame with my attention and devotion. Then seeing myself – body and mind – inside of it, allowing it to burn away anything not like itself, anything not real, anything not like clarity and love.)

Christ meditation, visualizing Christ in my heart, above and below me, in front and behind me, and on either side of me.

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Ways through emotional pain

In the most recent phase of my life, I have become much more familiar with emotional pain. Where my life used to be relatively easy and I was consistently quite content and happy, I instead got thrown into cycles of deep emotional pain alternating with relative calm. There is a clear sense that my system is bringing up whatever wounds and trauma are here – from this life and ancestral material, and perhaps from previous lives – so it can be digested. Or…. so it can be seen, felt, loved and released. So it can be seen for what it is. Felt as it is. Loved as it is. Recognized as love. So this human self can heal and mature a little more. So more of who I am is aligned with the clarity and love of reality. Anything not like love and clarity will come up so it can align with clarity and love.

Here are some of the ways I have found helpful in relating to this emotional pain.

Reframing. How I frame the emotional pain makes a difference. If I see it as a problem, or a sign that something went wrong, it’s difficult. I stay in the battle with the pain. Instead, if I see the pain as coming to be seen, felt, loved and released, it’s different. Making it even more personal, I can see the pain as unloved children coming to find a home and love. The unloved parts of me seek the light, they seek the loving presence I really am, and reality really is.

Love. The pain seeks love. Here are some ways to meet the pain with love: (a) Can I meet and feel it with love? Can I allow it to happen within me, (with me) as a loving presence? Is it true that love is not already here? (b) I can say something very simple to myself and the pain, such as “I wish you love, I wish you ease, I love you”. (c) I can use practices such as ho’oponopono, metta or tonglen, either on the pain itself, the suffering me, someone triggering pain in me, and anyone/everyone else in my life and the world. (d) I can meet the pain in satsang. You are welcome here. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for your love for me. What would satisfy you forever? What are you really? (This is also a form of inquiry.)

Feeling the sensations. Emotional pain is much easier to deal with when it’s felt as sensations, and the associated stories (words and images) are either set aside (temporary solution) or seen through (more lasting). Where do I feel it in the body? What are the sensations? How is it to feel these? How is it to bring attention to the sensations in themselves? How is it to allow them to be there, to change?

Inquiry. Inquiry can be very helpful here, in many different ways. Through inquiry, I can….

(a) Identify and see through beliefs triggering the pain.

(b) Examine the words and images “glued” to a sensation, making up the experience of emotional pain. As words are seen as words, and images as images, it’s easier to feel sensations as sensations. This, in turn, allows the “charge” behind it to be released.

(c) Examine the emotional pain itself, and the apparent me that’s experiencing or reacting to the pain. Is either as real and solid as it appears?

Also, I can…..

(d) Ask myself: Is it true it’s too intense? Is it true I can’t take it? Is it true I can’t feel the sensations as sensations? Is it true I am unable to feel it within (me as a) loving presence? Is it true it’s not already allowed?

(e) Notice that the emotional pain is here, and that which it is happening within is here – the wider space, allowing, a loving presence. I can notice the content of consciousness (aka in this case “emotional pain”), and consciousness itself (wider space, allowing, loving presence). Both are already noticed, and that noticing can be very helpful.

Additional approaches. There is a range of additional approaches and healing modalities that can help here, including Tension and Trauma Release (TRE), EFT, EMDR, massage, and more.

Support. Finding support can ease the process a great deal. I have found support in friends, people who have gone through something similar, teachers and guides, gaining some understanding of the process, being in nature, walking, nurturing and grounding foods, body work (massage, Breema etc.), taking time, finding some patience with myself and the process, and more.

Transparency. Letting people around me know what’s going on, at least if they are understanding, can prevent some problems. I have found myself behaving “out of character” when the process gets intense, and also, at times, acting on the pain that’s coming up. It helps to remember that my current situation, and people in my life now, are not the “cause” of this pain. It’s much older and more primal than that. And it helps to (honestly) admit to not always being able to relate to the pain in a sane and mature way, and apologize.

Give myself a break. It’s also been important for me to give myself breathing room. Sometimes, just going for a walk, watching a movie, or doing something with friends seems to be the best medicine. It feels good to take my mind off what’s happening, even – or perhaps especially – when the process feels intense and relentless.

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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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Purgatory is a fiery purification, and have elements of both heaven and hell.

And that is an accurate description, at least in my experience, of the practice of being with experiences, as we do in Shikantaza (sitting practice) or by asking ourselves in daily life can I be with what I am experiencing right now?

It is especially accurate when the content of our experiences are intense, such as strong pain or emotions. The content of our experiences, including any resistance to experiences, are allowed to arise as they are, without or with less identification, and this allows a habitual pattern of identification with them to burn through.

The fiery hellish elements is the fire of the intensity of the content, and the blissful heavenly elements is the bliss of fully allowing any experience, independent of its content. Together, there is the purification of purgatory.

Resistance, dark night and purgatory

Over the last few days, the birth of the seed resistance, the effects of identities, and the difference between resisting and fully experiencing these effects have been even more acutely up for me. I also see how resisting the effects of a sense of I and identities is a dark night, while allowing myself to fully experiencing these effects is purgatory. It allows the sense of I and its identities to gradually burn away.

Seed resistance, giving rise to a sense of I and its identities

First, there is the resistance to what is as inherently absent of I. This resistance gives rise to a sense of I, and of I and Other.

This sense of I is fleshed out through various identities. I am this, not that. I want this, not that. And this gives rise to resistance to various aspects within form.

Resistance to the effects of the sense of I and identities

Then, there is resistance to the effects of the sense of I and the various identities. There is resistance to the experiences of loneliness, fear, anger, attraction, aversion, confusion, and so on.

When there is this resistance to the effects, the sense of I and its identities tend to seem very real and substantial. We act as if they are real, so they tend to appear as real.

When the resistance to the effects is dropped, when we allow ourselves to fully experience the effects of a sense of I and various identities, they tend to appear less substantial. They may even erode over time and fall away.

Resisting experiences vs. fully experiencing

In practical terms, it means that when we resist experiences, the sense of I and its identities appears as more real to us. They become solidified.

Many of these experiences arise when the world is filtered through a sense of I and its identities, such as fear, anger, loneliness, and so on. And resisting these experiences only makes them proliferate. We pour gasoline on the already existing fire.

When we allow ourselves to fully experience, the sense of I and its identities appear as less substantial and real. Eventually, they can burn out completely.

Fully experiencing allows us a glimpse into what we really are, awake emptiness and form absent of I, and this gives a sense of coming home, and even of bliss.

Resisting experience is hell. Allowing the resistance to experience to fall away is bliss.

Dark night and purgatory

I notice for myself that this is also the difference between an experience of dark night and purgatory.

When I resist experiencing the results of a sense of I and various identities, it is hell and an experience of a dark night.

When I allow myself to fully experience the results of a sense of I and the various identities, there is a sense of fullness, being held, coming home, and even bliss. There is also an experience of the sense of I and its identities burning away, of purgatory.

Put another way, resisting God’s will is hell and a dark night. Surrendering to God’s will is heaven and purgatory.