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.