Over the years, I have written many articles and essays. It dawned on me recently that, in writing those pieces, the opportunity to be dishonest or misleading can present itself even when one is unaware of it. This is especially true if one wishes to hide behind their eidolon out of fear of being judged. Dishonesty creates blockages of genuine creativity and creativity is one of the few tools that is able to heal the wounds exacted upon the human soul by life.
After taking a long hiatus from writing, Jasun suggested I write an article for his blog as a companion piece to our conversation. After submitting it and receiving Jasun’s feedback, it became clear to me that the document was dishonest. Oddly, I only realized this after it was completed. I am the first to admit that I am not a great writer. However, I write better than I paint, sculpt, make music, or speak. Therefore, as a medium for soul healing (and soul-making for that matter), being honest in this, my only art, should be a priority. As a middle-aged man who has struggled most of his life to get to the rock bottom of the rabbit hole due to heady karmic debts, honesty is the highest virtue.
In writing (or writhing) this first honest piece, a feeling of nervousness befalls me. There is something here that doesn’t want hidden things revealed. Perhaps this nefarious “something” is my own trauma-daemon which has come to the painful realization that its days are duly numbered.
This is not really an essay, or even an “article.” It is one-part confession, one-part exorcism. I recognize after much hardship that not everything that operates inside of me functions cohesively. There is something autonomous at work, an interloper that deals out inner judgements and accusations so the real world won’t have to. While I have some very novel ideas about what this interloper is, and what it pretends to be, such speculation has to remain on the backburner indefinitely. First some background.
I come from a long line of people on my maternal side who have gone through profound religious crises that eventually led to personal ruin. In all of these instances, the crisis began with the loss of a job, loss of a child, a divorce, or similar personal event. The crisis then developed into a crying out to god. What may (or may not) have been visionary experiences would manifest at the height of the crisis. In two instances that I am well aware of, this visionary experience came as an audible voice of god. Through all of these instances, my relatives remained firmly inside of a protestant framework and believed god spoke to them during a troubling time. While the crisis struck grandparents, parents, uncles, and cousins usually around the early-to-mid 30s, I was struck in my early 20s.
It began innocently enough (without a preceding personal loss) at a traffic light on my way home from work, in the late 1990s. I suddenly felt an overwhelming terror surrounding me. My thoughts began to race and I realized that my life had been a misperception of reality. I was factually in hell and hell was revealing itself to me and showing me that I could not escape it. I knew with absolute certainty that I was going to be trapped in hell (as earth) forever.
A cold sweat instantly hit me. I stepped on the gas and was flying down busy city streets, foolishly trying to escape the certainty that was taking hold of me. Now in abject terror, I was periodically lifting my right foot off the gas pedal, stomping the dashboard as if trying to escape from my car. I was swerving, speeding up, slowing down and maniacally shouting in the car. I managed to call my girlfriend from my Nokia phone to tell her the bad news: that I was officially an eternal goner. Clearly terrified by the madness pouring from my mouth, she kept asking me what was wrong. All I could tell her through my quivering voice was that I was “all fucked up.” After several minutes, I pulled over and got out of my car. Breathing heavily, I laid down in the grass, soaked in sweat. When the breeze hit my skin, the fear quickly subsided, along with the irrational certainty that I was in hell. At that moment, however, the seed of crisis had been planted. Since that time, the deepest part of me has intimately understood inner crisis.
This idea of being trapped in hell was not new to me. As the son of born-again Christian parents who operated a house church, I was threatened with it throughout my early years. Only now, I had witnessed the reality of hell and was genuinely terrified by the vision I had received. Unlike my family, I had travelled far outside the Christian framework by that time.
Some would say that this experience is textbook anxiety or panic disorder. I don’t deny that there is truth to that interpretation. To my understanding, what is called mental illness is an effect of the principle that precedes it. That principle is the human soul. With all of its varied states and emotions, the soul is made up of the same primordial currents that move nature. These currents become personalized in us.
The personalized emotive currents are shaped by our forbearers and passed on to us through our parents. We inherit far more from our ancestors than just physical traits. When these energies are blocked or upset, mental and physical problems arise. It takes time to learn and grow enough to change the inherent currents and energies of the soul. I have still not entirely figured it out, let alone mastered the process of necessary change.
The vision of hell I saw that day was born out of a fascination with violence, fantasy, end times, and aggression—all of which were all a part of my childhood. While Christian faith and piety were emphasized, so too were the apocalyptic scenarios I was told were fast approaching. These scenarios required stockpiling food, ammunition, and other necessities, while learning how to fight and survive the coming chaos. Being shown violent movies at a young age was typical and these movies were almost used as learning tools. I still remember sitting down with my family in 1983 and watching The Day After, a disturbing propaganda movie about nuclear war that was aired on American television. I found myself both terrified and fascinated by that movie.
When I was young, I carried thumb-sucking and bed-wetting late into childhood. I was also obsessed with fire. All of these are signs of abuse—not to mention tropes of serial killer-childhoods. Rather than redirecting my obsession with fire and violence, it was nurtured. My family owned a huge parcel of land in the north woods where I would spend summers. This was the place we were going to survive whatever cataclysm was due before the second coming of Jesus.
I roamed about the property, starting enormous fires, shooting pistols and rifles, and fantasizing about killing cannibals and Satanists that made their way north from the burned-out cities. Fueled by Jack T. Chick comics, I knew the end was going to be a horror show and I knew that I would be ready for it. None of my activities were lost on my parents. They saw the plumes of smoke and heard the gunshots. At one point, my dad nearly stepped into a booby-trap I built with my brother. Rather than getting upset, he praised me for my ingenuity. He would give me tips on being a more effective deliverer of righteous violence.
The saving grace of my childhood which stopped me from becoming institutionalized or incarcerated was compassion. I could never harm animals or people and deeply sympathized with the suffering of my enemies. I tended to the stray cats in the neighborhood and was friendly with neighborhood dogs including my own. I am not ashamed to say that some of my best friends growing up were animals.
While many years of personal loss and suffering sometimes caused my empathy and compassion to wane, which inevitably led to real-life violence when I got older, hurting people or animals was never something I was about. When all was said and done, I made a rather terrible soldier of god.
Growing up, this compassion was viewed as cowardice. I would endure taunts from my dad that I was a crybaby or a “puppy.” Manhood to him was being able to kick someone’s ass and outwardly being strong in the eyes of others.
One evening, as my mother lay dying of cancer, my older brother, then in his 40s, began to cry as he held her. My dad looked at me disgustedly and said, “Here we go again.” There was so little compassion or understanding in him. He simply could not grasp the necessity or importance behind strong emotions. He even denied himself the opportunity to grieve when his wife of 46 years died. He quickly picked up a new girlfriend twenty years his junior, and erased every trace of my mom from his life.
As I got older and looked more closely into my father’s life, I found a truly broken man who was not as strong or pious as he pretended to be. When he was thirty years old, with a wife and three sons at home, he took an eighteen-year-old woman under his wing. She was troubled and he saw an opportunity. He told everyone he was witnessing to her about Jesus when in truth he was carrying on an affair. He only ended the affair after realizing he wasn’t the only dude “witnessing” to her. He returned home as though nothing had happened, and received forgiveness he did not deserve.
For years, I witnessed a world-class manipulator and masochist manipulating people. I saw him provoke good-hearted people to tears. He got off on seeing people cry. I have listened to hours of audiotapes of him, recorded from a Christian hotline, of people talking about painful things that happened in their lives. He takes careful note of what subjects make them cry, only to revisit them over and over again, all the while hiding behind an understanding voice. He kept these audiotapes as souvenirs. I have never met a pastor or minister (and I have met many) that did not in some way feed off the authority and admiration they received, even if only subtly. And yet I have no aggression in my heart for Christianity or Christians.
The last threads of my Christian faith died two years ago, just days after hearing a horrifying true-story about an 8-year-old girl who was kidnapped and murdered. I later heard a pastor who knew the family speak about “God’s mysterious ways” as they related to her murder. His words were so empty that they moved me to disgust. At that moment, every last desire and need for god died in me. By that point, it had been a long time coming. Since then, I have not searched out a replacement because my soul no longer desires it. Sometimes these things end just as innocently as they begin.
I am less inclined these days to believe in authoritarian or dogmatic modes of thinking. I reject the common understanding of enlightenment as a blank state of oneness where distinct personalities become unreal and meld into god. If that is enlightenment, then life itself, love, and nature have no fundamental meaning or reality. All love and distinction die in the impersonal. Not even René Guénon, a champion of self-dissolution, seemed to grasp that his own wisdom would be consumed and rendered meaningless in his enlightenment.
In exchanging these thoughts on enlightenment with Jasun, I expressed that my personal view of enlightenment would mirror very closely that of Diogenes. Though Diogenes could be an unimaginably crass individual, he was able in word and deed to reflect nature perfectly within himself. He was also incredibly honest. Diogenes did not teach a transcendent escape from physical reality, but a holistic reality that included both the gods of Olympus and the world of mortals. It is inside of the human individual that both heaven and earth seek balance. Any form of enlightenment that denies the importance of the physical body, while extolling transcendent virtue alone is dishonest and disoriented.
I personally see life as a diverse and eternal tapestry that each human individual is a part of. Life flows and unfolds forever through cycles of life, decay, death and rebirth. Death of the body moves the human personality from a localized phenomenon to a non-localized noumenon that now contains Earth and the near endless personalities of both the gods and mortals within itself. So, nothing is ever truly lost. I do not say this based on conjecture but on having seen this with the eye of my own soul, after many long and arduous personal trials that continue even to this day.
Dan Mitchell, 2020
 Jasun’s note: Dan & I had an exchange following the first reading of his piece. In the original email in which he shared it, Dan wrote: “I noticed we may disagree on ‘enlightenment.’ I was not looking to agitate you. I think it is more a part of my rejection of my upbringing in some indirect way.” After I read the piece I saw what he meant. I was slightly concerned that Dan’s statement, about not believing in the possibility of enlightenment, might confuse readers who have been following this blog. Enlightenment being almost as big a word as God, I suspected it was a problem of semantics and assumptions, and I wrote to Dan to ask for clarification. I began by saying that “one of the reasons I felt a green light around your piece is that some of the things you write about—ancestors and personalized emotive currents—echoes what Dave Oshana was talking about [on Sunday].” I had planned to blog about the Dave event and thought the two posts would hence be complementary. I have since decided against the Dave event blogpost, but here is a brief example of what I meant by “echoes”: Dave stated that there is an area between mind and body, the psychosomatic body, and that this is the space we relate from: a kinesthetic world we exist within. Our psychosomatic system, he said, is partially passed down to us by our ancestors, so the problem-sensations we encounter are not confined to our own lives. If we wish to change those sensations, first ask them where they come from, what they are connected to, and what they want.
I suggested to Dan that he “make a better case for why you don’t believe in enlightenment and in fact what it is you don’t believe in,” because for me, the word signifies “wholeness/our natural state. . .” ~ i.e., something that by definition is wholly possible, even essential. Dan responded: “Maybe our definitions of enlightenment are different? . . . . [I]f enlightenment means a being that is whole, a being that reflects nature without blemish, then I would agree with you and accept that enlightenment is possible.” Since this question seemed central to the confusion around enlightenment, and hence to this blog, I asked that he refer to our exchange in the piece itself.
6 thoughts on “Visions of Hell: Sorrow and Nostalgia On The Path to Wholeness (Guest Post from Dan Mitchell)”
A great post and a perfect follow up to the podcast.
As a child, around the age of eight, an older friend and I cut ants in half with pliers, the idea was his. Within a very short period of time, I came to a full realisation that it’s was a monstrous act. I stopped immediately and told him to do the same. He continued for a bit longer, probably because no one likes being told what to do (especially when you recognise that you’re in the wrong), but nevertheless later returned the pliers to his dad’s shed. Our ability/capacity to be compassionate or simply see the wrongness of causing harm might be the only barrier between actual Hell and hell on earth.
“While many years of personal loss and suffering sometimes caused my empathy and compassion to wane, which inevitably led to real-life violence when I got older, hurting people or animals was never something I was about.”
I wonder how many of us, while avoiding to cause pain, eventually begin to withdraw empathy and compassion for others. Even if this is Hell the fact that we have the capacity for compassion and empathy is reason enough to employ it. However, I think that we need to be discerning. If the line exists at all between being Prince Myshkin and an idiot, we might be wise to err on the side of caution.
I am not sure if you are reading the comment thread, but I wanted to say that it is good to see new writing from you. I discovered Luminosity a few years back in its last incarnation. I get the sense that you would disown most of those musings from that time, but they have had a deep impact on me. I was even able to use the “Wayback Machine” a year or so ago to retrieve some of the old blog posts and put them in pdf format. Regardless of the subject matter (which was often bleak) I found your writing was able to slip through the cracks in my consciousness in a way that let me “behold” reality in a different way. Hope you are doing well, and much appreciation to Jasun for having you on here. Jasun, I recently picked up “Prisoner of Inifinity” and read through Part I in a day. Fascinating reading, I look forward to see where the entire journey in the book leads.
Thank you, Steve. It is always good to hear that my writing has helped people out in a meaningful way. There was some good with the bad. I don’t agree with a great deal of what I wrote the last 3 or 4 years of Luminosity. If I could do it over again, I would have kept documenting the experience from a more centered perspective. The problem was that I was badly dis-oriented. So while the good was good, the bad was horribly bad…and people have a good memory.
I think the best material I wrote was much earlier. Especially when I was writing about Henry Corbin’s, Spiritual Body And Celestial Earth. I was having experiences of seeing normally unseen things including seeing what seemed to be the god Pan in my peripheral vision accompanied by an overwheming sense of familiarity when I was out hiking or riding my bicycle through the forest. These were wildly strange times.
These are things that exist in more symbolic realms. The problem was that those experiences seemed to be causing lasting damage to my body which affect me even today. I was not properly prepared. Aside from other serious health problems, I nearly lost my eyesight between 2015 and 2018 and had to endure numerous rather tortuous procedures and surgeries. This was, perhaps, the price I had to pay for Socrates’ “theia mania”. These days I prefer to keep things in balance on earth for the sake of my own survival while also understanding the reality of the unseen.
Actually, reading your comment made me realize a huge debt of gratitude that I owe you…introducing me to Henry Corbin. I hadn’t come across his work until I read about “Mundus Imaginalis” in your blog (actually the whole book list you had posted was influential for me at the time). That sent me on a long journey, which I am still on, in researching and experiencing the imaginal.
Take care – wishing you health and happiness – I find that the more I can get my bare feet in the grass and sunshine on my skin the more centered and grounded I feel, which is no mean feat living in Portland, Oregon these days 🙂
Is there any way to read the old postings from Luminosity? I wouldn’t judge you based on them, as you said you now disagree with much of what was posted, but I keep hearing how powerful your blog was for so many and I really would love to give it all a gander.
Also, your description of your moment in the car mimics the panic attacks I first had years ago, before I managed to get my anxiety mostly under control. I distinctly remember the same feeling of “I’m trapped this way forever” – which only made the panic worse.