I myself am hell–no one’s here says Robert Lowell’s narrator in his poem “Skunk Hour.” It’s loosely cribbed from Milton’s Paradise Lost, the great realization of the fallen angel, Lucifer: Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell.”
These words have held deep resonance for me for many decades, since I wrote as an undergraduate about Milton’s Satan as a Romantic hero, since encountering Lowell’s homage cum apology to Elizabeth Bishop and her (superior) poem “The Armadillo.”
But the merely literary hence intellectual resonance has suddenly found traction in my body. In myself as that which is.
I realized recently, on a day when I was once again trapped in a hell of my own making, unable to end it or free myself, the absolute tenacity with which my mind will WORK to lay blame on outside sources and experiences for my feelings. My bad feelings.
In the parlance of psychology this is called projection. It appears to me to be a fairly common human endeavor. To blame our parents, partners, bosses, children, and various public functionaries for our anger, hurt and suffering.
It was quite bracing to realize in the throes of my particular misery as I wallowed in it with profound awareness of it that my mind was making every effort to lay blame outside of myself. And at the same time, these words “I myself am Hell.” The truth of that.
Whichever way I fly is Hell if I myself am Hell.
Or: everything is arising in consciousness. My pain is mine. It is arising from my own conditioning. It can be triggered by others (in as much as there ARE others) because they mirror us to ourselves. Relating is a reflection. Sometimes what is reflected is our best and highest self and sometimes it’s our deepest, most burdensome and unseen wounds.
To see them as they arise is liberation. To know them as yourself without seeking an outside source is to begin to integrate them and bring yourself closer to wholeness.