Monday, August 27, 2007

hell is other people

In Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit, which I had to read for Philosophy 101, three people who die and expect to go to Hell find themselves in a drawing room. No fire, no demons, no pitchforks. Just three people locked in a room with no windows, no mirrors. The lights are always on, they can never sleep, and they can never get away from each other. This play is the origin of the famous line, "Hell is other people."

I always have a book on my nightstand, and right now it's Carolyn Myss's book Entering the Castle: An Inner Path to God and Your Soul. So far I've only read the introduction -- Myss is a little long-winded so far -- but I am intrigued by one idea in it already. She writes that hell is identifying with the temporal self -- the collection of neuroses, worries, personality traits, and thoughts that most of us think of as who we are. She says that we can experience heaven on earth if we identify instead with the higher Self, a spark of the divine that is part of us and all things.

That's a lot for me to digest at the moment, but it is what reminded me of Sartre's play. If we can't see ourselves clearly (no mirrors) and are forever looking to other people to tell us who we are, knowing that they may be wrong about us but not able to see for ourselves, that does seem like hell to me. We might be able to fool people into thinking we are better than we are, but they could always wise up and see us just as we are. Or they may see us worse than we think we are, and we torture ourselves to show them that they are wrong, all the while not being sure that they really are. Or we start to accept that they are right.

This is the heartbreak of Weetabix's recent post in The Vault, Michele's anguish at chairs and the Urban Dictionary, Lori's worry that Fat Girl is the only language she knows how to speak,my annoyance at backwards compliments that suggest that I was always right to believe that there was Something Wrong With Me. And lots more of us.

I don't know a way out except to stop trying to see ourselves reflected through someone else's eyes. Learning ourselves from the inside out, from that spark that shines through all of our neuroses and personality flaws and problems.

I can see that I have a lot more reading to do.


  1. It's really hard to learn ourselves from the inside out when we have been conditioned - have conditioned ourselves - to only see what's reflected back from someone else. First we have to recognize that we do that now, but figuring out how to change is a lot harder.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. A lot of us are in a pretty vulnerable place right now.

    Your site is very informative! I'm trying to lose 100 pounds and I'm blogging my way through my journey.

  3. my very close friend told me the other day that i need to work on going through life without judging everything i do all the time. i realize it's true; i'm constantly measuring myself up against others, taking any and all feedback (especially bad stuff!) i can get about myself from other people, and generally trying to figure out the best way to do things and to be.
    how exhausting, huh?
    what if i just tried to have the most enjoyable days i could while still taking care of the things that are most important to me? (my health, career, friends, etc...) sounds like a better mantra, eh?

  4. There’s a lot of wisdom in this post, and it makes sense. Although developing a self-perception outside of what others/society reflect upon us sounds near impossible to me, since we are such social creatures, but I believe it’s well worth the effort if the end result would be to find heaven.

  5. Hey that play by Sartre resembles the trio of friends in the play ART - which I think was translated from the original French. Interesting. Thanks for the review and the comment!


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07