“L’enfer, c’est les autres.”
– Jean Paul Sartre, Huis Clos
I’m not sure how or where I first heard the phrase “Hell is other people”, but it popped into my head a few times over the past few weeks, along with other thoughts which I’ll try to make coherent momentarily.
It’s generally attributed to Jean Paul Sartre, a line from his one-act play “No Exit”. For those unfamiliar, and I’ll admit I was one of them until yesterday, the play is about 3 people who are in hell, and their own flavor of hell is to be locked in a room, just the three of them, for the rest of eternity.
When researching the origin of the phrase for this post, I came across the original French quoted above, and I find the translation “Hell is other people” to be a bit too direct. A truer translation would be “Hell, it is the others”. Here is what Sartre himself had to say about it:
. . .“hell is other people” has always been misunderstood. It has been thought that what I meant by that was that our relations with other people are always poisoned, that they are invariably hellish relations. But what I really mean is something totally different. I mean that if relations with someone else are twisted, vitiated, then that other person can only be hell. Why? Because. . . when we think about ourselves, when we try to know ourselves, . . . we use the knowledge of us which other people already have. We judge ourselves with the means other people have and have given us for judging ourselves. Into whatever I say about myself someone else’s judgment always enters. Into whatever I feel within myself someone else’s judgment enters. . . . But that does not at all mean that one cannot have relations with other people. It simply brings out the capital importance of all other people for each one of us.
He didn’t mean it as a statement of universal truth, but most definitely as something that someone sentenced to hell for being selfish, manipulative, and shallow (like the characters in the play) would say.
But here’s what I’ve figured out: Hell is The Other. It’s separation from The Divine, which is Everything.
The illusion that there IS an Other, that we are somehow separate from this whole divine cosmic Creation, the terrible illusion that we are somehow separate from everything else around us.
The degree to which we consider other people to be Others, which breeds fear and mistrust and feelings of “No, gimme! This is mine!” instead of realizing that when we help others, we also help ourselves, and when we hurt or deprive others, we also hurt ourselves.
Each one of us is simply a thread, or more like a single loop of a thread, in the Great Tapestry of Creation. Our soul, or Higher Self, is the thread, our spirit as it manifests individually in this lifetime is the loop.
We are more than our bodies, and our thoughts, what we have or how we present ourselves. Our souls, emanating directly from the Divine Consciousness, connect us with Everything Else There Is, and we are simply a point of perception, and co-creation.
What we see is a narrow view of reality, through an infinitesimally limited window of time and space.
Realizing the seeming insignificance of our existence can be a gigantic blow to the Ego, scary and painful. The Ego is exactly the construct that maintains this illusion of separation.
But after that scared part of the Ego dies, the feeling of liberation is exhilarating. That is Heaven.
But we’re on Earth. We can’t just float in the ether, connected to the universal energy, and let our bodies whither away. We’re here to create. And when we are able to detach enough from our ego to connect with All, we can channel this energy to create and manifest our purpose in this plane.
This is how we avoid Hell. Even if those around us try to create a hell around us, if we can truly see our divine essence and how small their transgressions against us are in the Grand Scheme Of Things, our connectedness to this Divinity will carry us above it.
Other interesting thoughts on the subject:
- http://www.thefinancialphilosopher.com/2009/10/hell-is-other-people.html –> This, SO MUCH!