The hunger of Hell

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“Having food is equivalent to being in heaven!”  I know that feeling.  But once you have enough food, you start realizing that there is one more thing needed to escape your personal hell.

A few years ago, around the Easter of 2005, I had an illness that affected my digestion.  I was unable to digest most food for a couple weeks, and since then I have been unable to digest fat in more than small quantities.  At the time, I used to not eat much, but mostly fatty foods.  When I was no longer able to eat fat, my digestive tract simply did not have the capacity to keep up with my need for food.  I lost weight for several months until my body had adjusted to the larger quantities of starch I needed.  Even then it took many more months to get back to a more normal weight.

During the period when my fat reserves were low, I was almost always hungry.  Even when my stomach was full, there was a deep craving in my body and brain for more food.  I would overeat and get sick until I learned to know my limits. But even when sick, a part of me was still hungry.

For millions of people around the world, this is their daily life, or even worse.  They can rarely eat as much as they want, and even when they do, they cannot do so for the months it would take to fill their body’s reserves.  They are always starving.  Whatever they do, there is always this craving that can only briefly be alleviated, and never fully.

There are also some people who suffer from a problem of the metabolism, in which the body never gets the signal that it has enough energy in storage.  These people are wrecked by hunger even when they are drowning in their own fat. It is an almost hellish existence, and one to call on deep sympathy from anyone who has truly felt hunger. If you feel contempt for these people, please reconsider before you are given a hands-on demonstration.

And yet, there is something even more hellish, namely the hunger of the soul.  For like the body depends on food to survive, so does the soul depend on love.  I use “soul” partly in a religious sense, but even the psyche in the most clinical sense is in deep trouble if it cannot receive and metabolize love.  Children given food but not love will often sicken and die, or grow up with brain damage visible in a scanner.

As with the body, the soul also has its metabolism.  There are many people who cannot absorb and make use of all kinds of love.  A large number of them cannot believe in voluntary, selfless love.  They rely on threatening or coercing others, or using “guilt trips”.  But of course the quality of the attention they get is much lower than that of ordinary love. But they have developed this strategy early in life, and they stick with it, even though they are bound to suffer from “love hunger” throughout their whole life.  Ryuho Okawa writes that the souls in Hell are in this situation, desperate for love but unable to receive it because they only think of taking, not giving. His notion of Hell sounds more like the Purgatory of Catholicism, and I certainly don’t claim any personal knowledge of it.  But that many people are in a kind of hell already in this life because they cannot “metabolize” higher forms of love, that is an almost trivial observation.

Even if you exclude the hellish “love substitutes”, there is clearly a wide range of loves. There is the physical love (as in “making love”), which can have both good and bad aspects, depending on the situation that surrounds it.  A higher form than this is the natural form of “love that gives”, such as the love a decent parent has for its child.  In a good marriage, the spouses will also have this kind of love for each other.  And there are even more selfless forms of love. But around here, we start to enter the realm of religion, and I don’t expect all or even many of you to take any interest in that.  In any case, if we strive to share the highest form of love that we are aware of, even if it is of this world, it is far more useful than theoretical speculation on some remote, spiritual love that we then proceed to never use.

Not that it seems particularly theoretical or remote to me at this time.

At this point you may say: This talk about higher love, is that not just “sour grapes” for people who fear being rejected for physical love, and perhaps with good reason?  (The concept of “sour grapes” refers to an ancient fable of a fox who was unable to reach some grapes on the vine because they were hanging too high, and walking away commented that they were sour anyway.)

“Sour grapes” can certainly happen. It is quite common, in fact.  Many of the “live single or die” people suffers from this.  But in fact the name is quite apt.  This attitude has a bad taste.  It is bitter, cynical, mocking, critical. Those who suffer from sour grapes will at some point make it clear that they don’t feel they get what they deserve.  In contrast, you will notice that my most fervent hope is to never get what I deserve.  This was not always so – when I was young, it was the other way around. But that is a long story, not for today.

The Japanese writer Ryuho Okawa compares love to a river that flows downward, from higher realms to lower.  Divine love flows through the realms of archangel, saints and angels, through the spirit world and into our own, like a river in cascading waterfalls. This is the life of the saints, a waterfall of love passing through them from the endless source above to the endless need below. Even while in this world, they are also in Heaven and take part in the flow of love there.

You may not believe in saints, much less angels, not to mention God. But you believe in love, unless you are already in Hell while still alive. Please understand that just like some foods are more dense in nutrients  than others, so also there are higher forms of love that are more nourishing than lower forms. In this way, someone who has access to a very high level of spiritual love may say to those who are still unfamiliar with it:  “I have food that you don’t know about.” You may believe this or not, but what counts right away is to metabolize the love that is available at our current level, so we can work and grow.

It is not true that love is all we need.  We still need air, water and food.  Nor does spiritual love completely replace sex, in case you wondered.  But true love frees us from seeking all those things of this world as a substitute for love. Comfort eating, for instance, or “making love” where there is no love, only desperate need for attention. Opening up to ever higher forms of love frees us from the hunger of Hell, while we are still alive.  If you set your sight on the highest form of love you believe in today, and seek to attune to it and share with others, Heaven will be on your side whether you believe in it or not. And gradually, over months or years, you will feel the fierce hunger fade and a deep sense of satisfaction flow through your days.  You don’t need to explain it to experience it.

Oh, and this seems like a good time to link to The Hungersite.  You can show your love by clicking once a day to feed the hungry of the world for free.

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