All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you

Viktor Frankl (the creator of Logo therapy) remarked that everything can be taken from a person but for one thing, the last of our human freedoms, the freedom to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances and to choose one’s own way.

When life throws difficult and challenging events at us and doesn’t go our way, we can unsurprisingly have a difficult time dealing with it. However, we do have a choice. We can ruminate, wallow and dwell upon the experience and lament our losses and misfortune and in doing so, create our own perpetual living hell. Or we can do our best to change the situation.

However when unable to change the situation, the only way out of this living hell is through acceptance and letting go. Pain without acceptance is often cited as leading to suffering. We can bang our heads against the wall in despair at the unfairness of life, but that wont change anything and only add a headache to our lot.

Life will always bring us pain, loss and suffering and to truly live life, we may need to experience these. If we do not we are effectively dead, a type of living dead, dead from the neck up, an emotional zombie.

Acceptance and letting go does not mean that we should not think of the bad times, forget, or condone the struggles and pains we have, talk about them, or allow ourselves to experience them. Instead, it means accepting them as a part of life, but not allowing them to become the defining part of our life. I know this isn’t easy, for if it was I think suicide and self-harm rates would be lower, as would alcohol and drug use, and the number of therapists and practitioners working to alleviate our human suffering.

At times, however life can be great, fantastic, wonderful and awe inspiring. It can feel delightful, divine and heavenly. We can savor these experiences, experience gratitude for them and soak them in. These wondrously heavenly days can provide protection against the difficult and challenging, help us get through such times, and once they have passed, help restore us. However, like bad and difficult days, the good and pleasant days will also come and go. This is just how it is.

Within each of us, is the power to choose how we will respond to this natural ebb and flow. We have the ability to make things worse as well as the ability to make things better, we can make our own heaven and hell. The choice and the way forward is in us, as human beings we can be our own gods and captain of our fate. We might need help sometimes, we might need friends, families or professional, but ultimately it is in us and our responsibility to make life what we make it.

It is not important if this ability comes from a religious, divine or spiritual source or from a neurological or evolutionary basis, it is within us, no one can do it for us, and no one can take it away from us (unless we allow them). This brings me back to the title of this article and I can think of no better way to end it than reiterate All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you.” (Joseph Campbell [1904 – 1987] Author and academic in comparative mythology and comparative religion).

Further reading

  • Broom, D. M. (2003). The evolution of morality and religion. Cambridge University Press.
  • Boyer, P. (2008). Religion explained. Random House.
  • Campbell., J. (1990). The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work (Collected Works of Joseph Campbell). HarperCollins 
  • Frankl, V. E. (1985). Man’s search for meaning. Simon and Schuster.
  • Krueger, F., & Grafman, J. (Eds.). (2012). The neural basis of human belief systems. Psychology Press.
  • Wade, N. (2009). The faith instinct: How religion evolved and why it endures. Penguin.
  • Joseph Campbell Foundation