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Emblem 083: The emptiness

In the center of hell is emptiness. It’s what hell accumulated around. Oddly enough all that torment and suffering is so you don’t go wandering into the emptiness by accident. Or if you do, the suffering acts like one of those ladders at the side of a swimming pool. This way out.

Perhaps you’ve fallen into it once or twice yourself? In which case you know what it feels like—nothing at all. Very unpleasant to anyone who exists. Compared to that, any sense of fear or hopelessness or shame is a step up. At least you’re feeling something.

Meanwhile most of us live lives that keep us out of hell as much of the time as possible. We lead good lives, or really good lives of total over-accomplishment, or find a compulsive behavior that can carry us faithfully, or mix and match. Our lives keep us out of hell—most of the time—the way hell keeps us out of the emptiness: most of the time.

And if you deliberately (and carefully) seek out the emptiness and begin sitting with it, what then? The old legends say that when this occurs hell loses much of its purpose and downsizes considerably. Drinking becomes less charming, as does overwork. And the terrible drive to be the person people want to be with eases up, and the one you really are comes forward to say hello and enjoy the cool evening breeze.

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Emblem 049: Just so long as it flies

One day as a man is walking along he trips, stumbles and falls into hell. Being hell it’s very unpleasant—the worst place the man’s ever been. In fact he can’t bear it, it’s that terrible. He peers back up the way he came but he can’t even see it. He looks all around. He’s desperate.

He spots one of the birds of hell. It’s huge, filthy, has a nasty-looking beak on it. All the man sees are its powerful wings. He approaches it boldly. “Can you fly me out of here?” he asks.

The bird sizes him up. It’s always hungry. “No problem,” it assures him. “But what will you give me?”

“Whatever I’ve got,” the man promises. “Whatever you want.”

“Well then, every so often I’ll have a little bit of you. And then maybe a little more.”

What would you do in these circumstances? “Done,” the man cries, climbing onto the bird’s back. It unfolds its wings and soars up into the air. Soon hell is hidden from sight under clouds of smoke.

But the distance back to the surface is far, and what the bird failed to mention is that it can only get part of the way there. When it reaches the halfway point the bird levels off and begins flying in a circle, around and around and around. Every so often it turns its head over its shoulder and has a little bit of the man, gives the matter some consideration, and then has a little more.

The man doesn’t care about this. As long as he’s out of hell he’s happy. Or if not happy, at least he’s not in hell.

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