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The road less traveled and beyond : spiritual growth


Description: The road less traveled and beyond : spiritual growth
File name: The road less traveled and beyond : spiritual growth
The Road Less Traveled begins with two very basic premises—suffering is integral to life and avoidance of challenge is a characteristic of human nature. What follows is a selection of case studies from M. Scott Peck’s pyschotherapeutic practice. Each of them illustrating the remarkably creative ways we let our emotions circumvent rationality in decision-making, from the mundane to the life-altering. We so easily choose the path of myopic, infantile, self-destructive behavior, because remaining u The Road Less Traveled begins with two very basic premises—suffering is integral to life and avoidance of challenge is a characteristic of human nature. What follows is a selection of case studies from M. Scott Peck’s pyschotherapeutic practice. Each of them illustrating the remarkably creative ways we let our emotions circumvent rationality in decision-making, from the mundane to the life-altering. We so easily choose the path of myopic, infantile, self-destructive behavior, because remaining unconscious, passive actors in our own lives is less painful than confronting the difficult path we are required to traverse in order to achieve mental health.

“Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.” —Carl Jung

So we trudge along, carrying all of our unresolved disorders imprinted upon us by our parents, their parents’ parents, and on. There are certain people we do not get along with. We know them well. They fit a “type.” So we avoid all characters that fit the bill. There are certain situations we do not get along in. We also know them well. They also fit a “type.” So we avoid all situations that fit that bill. There are even certain thoughts we do not get along with. We’ve got their type marked and we do pretty damn well at avoiding them too. People, places, things—all covered. With our neurotic blueprint in hand we know exactly how to raze all the walls in the labyrinth.

At last we are secure in our comfort zone where resistance is our path of least resistance. It’s a quiet place. Low humidity. Warm, but not too warm. Occasionally it rains, but we’ve got buckets for the leaks. We learn to keep tempo to the drips. All good news comes in quarter notes. Then one day, in the budding ennui, perhaps over a bowl of Cheerios, while changing the kittie litter, or hitting reply-all, you lose your vision. Complete darkness. Then your hearing, touch, smell, and finally taste—your most dear friend, gone without a trace. And there you are, lying in the middle of the room, waiting. Time must be passing, but you’re not sure, there’s no dripping. You feel like you’re shaking, like you’re heating up, like you smell smoke, like you hear a voice…

“Oh, how happy I am to see you.”

Your eyes flick open, the light registers, and you see the face. Two eyes, a nose, a mouth. It’s a human face and it’s terrifying. This is the face of Satan and you are going to die.

“SATAN IS GOING TO FUCKING KILL ME!”

“Shhh. Shhhh. Come, come. You are in no harm.”

“I’M DYING! SATAN IS KILLING ME RIGHT NOW!”

“That is not true at all. Look, just take a deep breath.”

“FUUUUUUUUUCK!!!”

“You will close your mouth and breath in deeply through your nose.”

“Now exhale through your mouth.”

“Very good. Welcome back. Now, it took me a long time to get here. You on the other hand have been lying on the ground in this dingy hovel for, a while. So I am going to do the talking. You may answer my questions. Otherwise, you will remain silent.”

“Perfect. Now, before I got here. Were you in discomfort?”

“Yes.”

“And now that I am here. Are you still in discomfort?”

“Yes.”

“Let me ask you again, but first take another deep breath.”

“Now that I am here. Are you still in discomfort?”

“No.”

“Perfect. Now, do you like the sensation of this feeling?”

“Yes.”

“Would you like to remain this way?”

“Yes.”

“Then you will do exactly what you were doing before I arrived.”

“But—“

“What did I say earlier?”

“Yes, that was a rhetorical question.”

“I repeat. You will do exactly what you were doing before I arrived. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Now if you see me again, you did something wrong and our conversation will go a bit differently.”

OK, so that definitely was not Satan. [PeeWee Herman laugh] It was an excerpt from an inner dialogue at a moment of crisis. Those lovely moments where we are shown how much power we have through our ability to make decisions for ourselves. How funny that we often feel completely impotent in those moments, right?! That’s the pain of freedom. If we truly want to rid to ourselves of dysfunction, we must accept responsibility for our own problems, inherited and self-inflicted, so that we may confront them and work through them.

“…the problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence. It is never completely solved; for the entirety of our lives we must continually assess and reassess where our responsibilities lie in the ever-changing course of events. Nor is this assessment and reassessment painless if performed adequately and conscientiously. To perform either process adequately we must possess the willingness and the capacity to suffer continual self-examination."

“Does that sound like fun?”

“Nope, no fun to be had there.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m good. I think I hear the drips calling my name.”

Turns out there is more than fun to be had by accepting responsibility for our disorders and committing to working through them, there is joy:

“What transpires then in the course of many years of loving, of extending our limits for our cathexes, is a gradual but progressive enlargement of the self, an incorporation of within of the world without, and a growth, a stretching and a thinning of our ego boundaries … we become identified with the world. And as our ego boundaries become blurred and thinned, we begin more and more to experience the same sort of feeling of ecstasy that we have when our ego boundaries partially collapse and we “fall in love.”

So this silly little thing called love is the vehicle for transmogrifying pain and suffering into spiritual evolution. Love, the fundamental ordering process, working against the fundamental disordering process, the force of entropy:

“The process of evolution is a miracle, because insofar as it is a process of increasing organization and differentiation, it runs counter to natural law—the downhill flow of energy toward the state of entropy.”

And there we have it, the fundamental opposing forces: laziness and love. And we get to choose. All the time.

“Those who have faced their mental illness, accepted total responsibility for it, and made the necessary changes in themselves to overcome it, find themselves not only cured and free from the curses of their childhood and ancestry but also find themselves living in a new and different world. What they once perceived as problems they now perceive as opportunities. What were once loathsome barriers are now welcome challenges. Thoughts previously unwanted become sources of energy and guidance. Occurrences that once seemed to be burdens now seem to be gifts, including the very symptoms from which they have recovered.”

I’ve found The Road Less Traveled to be the most insightful synthesis of wisdom on spiritual growth and self-realization I have yet come across. The source of insights range from M. Scott Peck’s personal experiences as a psychotherapist to Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow, T.S. Eliot, William Johnston, Edith Hamilton, Joseph Campbell, Erik Erikson, Carlos Castaneda, P.D. Ouspensky, and Buckminster Fuller to name a few.

The essential message is nothing new, but what’s most helpful is how that path is elucidated through rational analysis and real-world examples of people discovering, understanding, and ultimately changing their dysfunctional behavior. It’s always easier to recognize our own disorders in the actions of others, and the patients' stories offer many entry-points for revelation.

My only criticisms are of occasional unnecessary language and the slave-owner analogy used for controlling one’s emotions. Phrases like, “In a sense,” “By virtue of the fact,” “First of all, as has been pointed out,” are clumsy and do not add any clarity. The slaver-owner analogy comes off embarrassingly callous. For such a comprehensive conception, this one comes out of nowhere.

My favorite part of the book is Peck’s speculation on the purpose of spiritual growth and where our collective evolution may lead. It’s such a wild concept, I think learning of it is reason enough to read the book.

“The healing of the spirit has not been completed until openness to challenge becomes a way of life.” ...more


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