Devils with pitch forks, little men in red suits with tails, burning fire and eternal damnation never made much sense to me since we come from a compassionate, loving God. I also never gave much thought to what punishment on the other side might really be and although lots of books and articles portray heaven, I don’t think I’ve seen much of anything about what hell might really be like.
Then, in 2004, I had a dream. It wasn’t your normal dream; it was one hell of a dream. It was emotionally gut wrenching, full of fear and guilt and was so intense that even when I awoke, I still felt the unbelievable pain.
Let me try to explain the subject matter. The images that still stick with me were that of a single mother (me) with a young son (Jon, age 3 or 4) in the midst of an orgy of bodies. The bodies were grotesque and the images sexually explicit and disgusting in detail - everywhere I looked. The bodies looked like 16thcentury art with body parts that were highlighted, slightly deformed and those emphasized were swollen and exaggerated. It wasn’t titillating in the slightest but I was aware of the focus and the subject matter, impactfully so. It was obviously this experience was an expression of guilt I had felt decades past.
As a single mother, at the time, I’d felt terrible leaving my son for an evening or for a weekend in order to date, especially since I worked so many hours every day with my new business. But, since I was desperately trying to find a suitable mate with whom I could rebuild a life for myself and for my son, dating was necessary. Every time I was away from my precious son, I missed him dreadfully and felt guilt – doing whatever it was I was doing. I adored the little guy and I felt like I was abandoning him for my own selfish interests. I had also felt a lot of guilt working full-time, well actually more than full-time, but that was survival – not a choice, as dating was. So, the guilt relative to dating men for me was much more intense.
In this dream, with all the bodies and body parts everywhere, I couldn’t find my little Jon. He was gone. I ravaged through the throngs of people desperately trying to find my beautiful little boy but he was nowhere to be found. With him missing, my guilt was so intense and the pain so horrific, I can’t even begin to describe it.
I also sensed Jon would be in danger if I didn’t locate him soon – and that intensified the panic of my search. As it turned out in the dream, I never found him and ended up waking up still feeling all those horrific feelings. The pain in that dream was 1,000 times greater than anything I had ever felt in my life and I wondered how anyone else could survive such emotional trauma.
I woke up exhausted and still in pain. I ran to my meditation room, grabbed my pad and began asking for help with this. I needed to understand. The answer I received was surprising – but ring true. I was told I had just experienced “hell”.
That “hell” is the self-punishment and judgment we experience over emotions in our lives with which we never effectively dealt: anger, fear and guilt among the most prevalent. If not released adequately here on earth, on the other side, the primary emotions surface and we experience them to the Nth degree while living through related experiences that intensify those emotions. This judgment and punishment are self-inflicted and not bestowed on us by anyone or anything else.
To prevent that type of trauma when in the afterlife, we must learn to release those feelings of guilt, especially, while still living. Learn to forgive ourselves for forgiveness heals. Since we are told that God loves us unconditionally and forgives us for everything, we are the ones who need to be more like Him and have the same charity toward ourselves as we are asked to bestow on others.
But, “hell” isn’t just reliving our own harmful emotions – it’s also reliving the pain we caused. Again, the punishment is self-inflicted, but as we review the lives we have just lived, we are able to see the pain we caused others through our indifference and our actions. We relive the pain others felt, too. Again, magnified many times over, so we recognize the emotional angst we caused others. Once we have satisfied ourselves that we realize what we have done, are sorry for those actions and somehow have recognized how to do better in the future - we can move on to more comfortable places in the afterlife.
To prevent the last type of trauma on the other side – we could quit being so selfish – be more kind and thoughtful toward others; and in other words – live more by the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.