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The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck

by davesandel on August 31st, 2011


Two underlying assumptions of book:

1.  No distinction between the mind and the spirit; no distinction between processes of achieving spiritual and mental growth.

2. This process is a complex, arduous and lifelong task.


 1.         Problems and pain.

Life is difficult (at least until we truly understand and accept its difficulty).

Life is a series of problems.

Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems.

What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a difficult one.  Yet it is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually.

We attempt to avoid problems instead of solving them by procrastination (hoping they will go away), ignoring them, forgetting them, pretending they don’t exist.  We take drugs, skirt around them, try to get out of them rather than suffer through them.

The tools of discipline are techniques of suffering.  They help us to suffer under control, to suffer successfully.  They are simple tools, but we do not always possess the will to use them.

There are four:

1. delaying of gratification

2. acceptance of responsibility

3. dedication to truth

4. balancing

 2.         Delaying gratification.

Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with.

It is the only decent way to live.

It is learned in part as early as age five.  By age fifteen or sixteen such behavior is expected and considered normal.

Many adolescents fall far short however.  Why?  Perhaps there are other reasons, but the quality of parenting a child receives is crucial.

 3.         The sins of the father.

When discipline is undisciplined, it is worthless.

When the parents are unself‑disciplined, they serve as undisciplined role models for their children.  Their attempts to order the lives of their children make little sense to these children.

If a child sees his parents day in and day out behaving with self discipline, restraint, dignity and a capacity to order their own lives, then the child will come to feel in the deepest fibers of his being that this is the way to live.

If a child sees his parents day in and day out living without self restraint or self discipline, then he will come in the deepest fibers of his being to believe that this is the way to live.

But even more important than role modeling is love.  From some chaotic and disordered homes where love is present come self disciplined children.  And sometimes the most strict and ordered homes of professional people, which have not love, send out children who are destructive, disorganized and undisciplined.

Love is ultimately, everything.  When we love something it is of value to us.  When something is of value to us we spend time with it.

Good discipline requires time, simply so we can know when our disciplinary assistance is needed.  Gentle urging, reprimand, structure and praise, administered with thoughtfulness and care, are only possible when the parent knows when to use them.

By taking the time to think about their children’s needs, parents will often agonize over them.  They will in a very real sense, suffer along with their children.  They are not blind to this and will learn also to suffer.  This is the beginning of self discipline.

Children who are truly loved (spent time with) unconsciously know themselves to be valued.  This knowledge is worth more than gold, because they can then feel valuable, in the deepest parts of themselves.

This feeling being valuable is essential to mental health and a cornerstone of self discipline.  It is a direct product of parental love, extremely difficult to acquire during adulthood.

What one considers valuable, one will take care of in all ways that are necessary.  And self discipline is self caring. For example, if we feel ourselves valuable, then we will feel our time to be valuable, and we will want to use it well, not procrastinate and use it poorly.

Loved children also enter adulthood with a deep internal sense of security, free from the fear of abandonment.  With this internal sense of the consistent safety of the world, such a child is free to delay gratification of one kind or another, secure in the knowledge that the opportunity for gratification, like home and parents, is always there, available when needed.

In summary, for children to develop the capacity to delay gratification, it is necessary for them to have

1. self disciplined role models

2. a sense of self worth

3. trust in the safety of their existence

These possessions are ideally acquired through the self discipline and consistent, genuine caring of their parents.

 4.          Problem solving and time.

It takes time to solve problems.  The problems can be in any area of life, from fixing mechanical things to dealing with children.

We are not always willing to tolerate discomfort long enough to analyze the problem causing the discomfort.  Who among us can say that they unfailingly devote sufficient time to analyzing their children’s problems or the tensions within the family?

There is a defect in the approach to problem solving more primitive than impatience, and that is the hope that problems will go away of their own accord.

Problems do not go away.  They must be worked through or else they remain, forever a barrier to the growth and development of the spirit.

This inclination to ignore problems is once again a simple manifestation of an unwillingness to delay gratification.  To willingly confront a problem early, before we are forced to confront it by circumstances, means to put aside something pleasant or less painful for something more painful.

It is choosing to suffer now in the hope of future gratification, rather than choosing to continue present gratification in the hope that future suffering will not be necessary.

This problem is the single greatest problem in most organizations, from the army to the family.  Parents often perceive problems for years before they take any effective action.

 5. Responsibility.

We must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it.  We cannot solve a problem by saying, “It’s not my problem” or by hoping someone else will solve it for us.  Rather we can solve a problem only when we say “This is my problem and it’s up to me to solve it.”

 6.         Neuroses and character disorders.

These two conditions are disorders of responsibility.

The neurotic assumes too much responsibility; the person with a character disorder not enough.

When neurotics are in conflict with the world they automatically assume that they are at fault.  Those with character disorders automatically assume that the world is at fault.

Their speech patterns are different.  Neurotics says “I ought to,” “I should or shouldn’t,” always falling short of the mark, always making wrong choices.  Those with character disorders will say “I can’t or couldn’t,” “I have to,” as if they have no power of choice, directed by external forces totally beyond their control.

Neurotics, assuming responsibility for their difficulties and therefore seeing themselves as having problems, are much easier to work with in psychotherapy than persons with character disorders.

Few of us can escape being neurotic or character disordered to at least some degree.  This is because 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; we must continually reassess where our responsibilities lie.

This process is also not painless.  We must have the willingness and capacity to suffer continual self examination.  This is not inherent in any of us.

All children can be said to be character disordered, in that they tend to deny responsibility for many conflicts in which they find themselves.  But also all children can be said to be neurotic, assuming responsibility for deprivations they experience but do not understand (e.g. an unloved child will assume himself to be unlovable rather than see his parents as unloving).

As a child grows parents have thousands of opportunities to confront children with either their tendency to avoid or escape responsibility, or to reassure them that certain situations are not their fault.  To seize these opportunities requires time and sensitivity from parents, as well as willingness to make the uncomfortable effort to meet these needs.

Parents can also do much to hinder this maturation process.  Mildly neurotic people often make good parents because they are willing to assume responsibility for parenting.  Character disordered people however make disastrous parents.  They fail to assume adequate responsibility for their parenting.  They tend to brush off their children in thousands of little ways rather than provide them with needed attention.  Eventually these parents will blame their own children for their problems, and children often accept this responsibility and become neurotic.

By casting away their responsibility character disordered persons may feel comfortable with themselves, but they have ceased to solve the problems of living, have ceased to grow spiritually,and have become dead weight for society.

 7.         Escape from freedom.

All of us from time to time seek to avoid the pain of assuming responsibility for our own problems.

Whenever we seek to avoid the responsibility for our own behavior, we do so by attempting to give it to some other entity, be it “fate” or “society” or the government or the corporation or our boss.  In attempting to avoid the pain of responsibility, millions daily attempt to escape from freedom.

In the world our choices are frequently between two evils, as we recognize oppressive forces at work in our lives.  But we have freedom every step of the way to choose how we are going to respond to and deal with these forces.

When we give away our power we feel impotent.  We fail to accept responsibility for our problems and our lives, then give away our freedom and feel impotent.  As we learn that the entirety of our adult life is a series of personal choices, we become free people.

To the extent that we do not accept this we will forever feel ourselves victims.

8.         Dedication to reality.

The third tool of discipline is dedication to the truth.

Our view of reality is like a map with which to negotiate the terrain of life.  The truer and more accurate the map, the more we will know where we are and how to get where we’re going.

While this is obvious, it is something that most people ignore, because our route to reality requires difficulty and persistent effort.  We are not born with maps; we have to make them.  Some stop making maps by the end of adolescence.  Their maps are small and sketchy, their views of the world narrow and misleading.  By the end of middle age, most people have given up the effort.  They feel certain that their maps are complete and no longer interested in new information.  Only a relative fortunate few continue until death exploring the mystery of reality and truth.

The biggest problem is that even the maps we have need to be continually revised.  Our vantage point changes rapidly.  As children we are dependent and powerless.  As adults we may be powerful.  In illness or old age we may become powerless again.  Having children, having money or being poor, requires more revisions of our old maps.  And the process of making revisions, particularly major revisions, is sometimes excruciatingly painful.

Herein lies the major source of many of the ills of mankind.  Because when we ignore new information, we often ignore it actively, viciously, even attempting to manipulate the world so as to make it conform with our view of reality.

9.         Transference: The outdated map.

Actively clinging to an outmoded view of reality is referred to as transference.  It is a set of ways of perceiving and responding to the world that was appropriate during childhood but has been inappropriately transferred into the adult environment.

This is a problem between parents and children, husbands and wives, employers and employees, between friends, between groups, even between nations.  So how can we learn to revise our maps more rapidly.

Psychotherapy is often a task of map revising.  We can revise our maps only when we have the discipline to overcome the pain involved in facing truth or reality.  To have such discipline we must be totally dedicated to truth: we must always hold truth to be more important and more vital to our self interest than is our comfort.

Conversely, we must always consider our personal discomfort to be relatively unimportant in the search for truth.

Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.

10.         Openness to challenge.

So what does a life of total dedication to the truth mean?

It means first a life of continuous and never ending stringent self examination.  The life of wisdom must be a life of contemplation combined with action.  Examination of the world without is never as personally painful as examination of the world within; therefore the majority steer away from it.  But the farther one proceeds along the path of self examination, the less painful it becomes.

It also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged, exposing our map to the criticism and challenge of other mapmakers.  Otherwise we live in a closed system, a closed belljar, rebreathing the same fetid air.  Messages like, “I’m your parent; don’t talk back,” or “Let’s live and let live,” or “if you challenge me I may die.”

This tendency to avoid challenge is so omnipresent in humans that it can properly be called a characteristic of human nature.  But it is not essential or beneficial or unchangeable.  Another characteristic of human nature, perhaps the one that makes us most human, is our capacity to do the unnatural, to transcend and hence transform our own nature.

No act is more unnatural, and hence more human, than the act of entering psychotherapy.  For by this act we deliberately lay ourselves open to the deepest challenge from another human being.  Entering psychotherapy is an act of the greatest courage.

This is not evident to most who initially come to the psychotherapist.  Most are looking simply for “relief.”  When they realize they are going to be challenged as well as supported, many flee and others are tempted to flee.

The third thing that a life of total dedication to the truth means is a life of total honesty, a never ending process of self monitoring to assure that our communications reflect as accurately as humanly possible the truth or reality as we know it.

The reason people lie is to avoid the pain of challenge.  Insofar as the challenge is legitimate, lying circumvents legitimate suffering and hence is productive of mental illness.

Two of the most common and potent lies people tell themselves are “We really love our children” and “Our parents really love us.”  These statements may be true, but when they are not people often go to extraordinary lengths to avoid the realization.

One of the roots of mental illness is invariably an interlocking system of lies we have been told and lies we have told ourselves.  These roots can be uncovered and excised only in an atmosphere of utter honesty.

11.         Withholding truth.

A white lie is a statement we make that is not in itself false but that leaves out a significant portion of the truth.

White lying is socially acceptable because “we don’t want to hurt peoples’ feelings.”  For parents to feed children a diet of white lies is thought to be loving and beneficent, thought to protect and shield the children from unnecessary worries.

When this protection is unsuccessful, as it usually is, the result is deprivation.  The children learn nothing, receive no reassurance from their parents, and lose  role models of honesty and openness.  The parents are deprived of reality checks, openness is replaced by defense systems, rationalizations obscure their own weaknesses and hence keep them from being faced.

There are situations when the desire for total honesty is opposed by the needs of some people for certain kinds of protection.  The expression of opinions, feelings, ideas and even knowledge must be suppressed from time to time in the course of life.

What rules can one follow if one is dedicated to the truth?

1. Never speak falsehood.

2. Bear in mind that the act of withholding the truth is always potentially a lie, that a significant moral decision is required each time it is done.

3. Never base the decision on personal needs.

4. Always base the decision entirely upon the needs of the person from whom the truth is being withheld.

5. Assessing another’s needs is so complex that it can only be executed wisely out of genuine love for the other.

6. The primary factor in assessing another’s needs is assessing another’s capacity to utilize the truth for personal spiritual growth.

7. Bear in mind that we tend to underestimate rather than overestimate another’s capacity to utilize the truth for their spiritual growth.

So much, so never ending, such an impossible task!  It is indeed a never ending burden of self discipline, which is why most people opt for a life of very limited honesty and openness and relative closedness, hiding themselves and their maps from the world.

But the rewards are great.  Open people are continually growing people.  They can establish and maintain intimate relationships far more effectively than closed people.  Because they never speak falsely they can be secure and proud that they have done nothing to contribute to the confusion of the world.  Finally they are totally free to be.  They are not burdened by any need to hide.  Through the exercise of their courage to live in the open, they become free from fear.

12. Balancing.

The exercise of discipline is demanding and complex, requiring both flexibility and judgment.  Discipline itself must be disciplined.  This tool is called balancing.

Balancing is the discipline that gives us flexibility.  To a greater or lesser degree, all people suffer from inadequacies of their flexible response systems.  Mature mental health requires the capacity to strike a delicate balance (and then restrike it) between conflicting needs, goals, duties, responsibilities, directions, et cetera.

The essence of this discipline of balancing is “giving up.”  It is a discipline precisely because the act of giving something up is painful.  In its major forms, giving up is the most painful of human experiences.

13.         The healthiness of depression.

In the process of psychotherapy patients sometimes undergo more changes than some people experience in a lifetime.  For this growth spurt to occur, a proportionate amount of the old self must be given up.

Even before seeking therapy there is giving up involved.  The feeling associated with giving up something loved is depression.  Because this giving up is necessary and normal to life, depression is a necessary and normal, basically healthy phenomenon.  The feeling of depression is a major reason why people seek psychotherapy.  That is, the symptoms of the growth process impel them toward the office and the therapist’s job is to help them complete the growth process already begun.

Ultimately, we are each called upon to give up the self and life itself.

14.         Renunciation and rebirth.

In western culture, where self is sacred and death is an unspeakable insult, giving up of self and life may seem like a cruel joke on the part of God.  Yet the exact opposite is true.

It is in the giving up of self that human beings can find the most ecstatic and lasting, solid, durable joy of life.  And it is death that provides life with all its meaning.  This “secret” is the central wisdom of religion.

One form of temporary giving up of the self is absolutely essential for significant learning during adulthood.  It can be called “bracketing.”  It involves “silencing the familiar and welcoming the strange, being sufficiently aware of my preconceived ideas and characteristic emotional distortions to bracket them long enough to welcome strangeness and novelty into my perceptual world.”  This involves a purposeful “decentralization of the ego.”

For all that is given up, even more is gained.  Self discipline is a self enlarging process.  Death of the old is the birth of the new.

Can we become free of emotional pain in this life?  Can we grow to a spiritual maturity where the pain of living is at least diminished?

Yes and no.

Yes, because once suffering is accepted it ceases in a sense to be suffering.  And because practice makes for mastery.  And because the spiritually mature person is an extraordinarily loving individual, and with this loves comes extraordinary joy.

No, because there is a vacuum of competence in the world.  A specially competent and loving person can no more withhold his competence than deny food to a hungry infant.  By virtue of their discipline, mastery and love, spiritually evolved people are extraordinarily competent.  They are called on to serve the world, and in their love they answer the call.

In their service they accept great power, and must make difficult decisions involving the lives of other people.  One measure of a person’s greatness is the capacity for suffering.  Yet the great are also joyful.

If your goal is to avoid pain and escape suffering, do not seek higher levels of consciousness or spiritual growth.  Why desire to evolve at all?  If you ask this question, you do not know enough of joy.

If you want to skip over the discipline, to find an easy shortcut to sainthood, forget it.  It is not possible to give up something without having first attained it.  Without becoming adults we are still children.  We must start at the beginning and go through the middle to get to the end.


1.          Love defined.

Love provides the motive, the energy for discipline.

Rather than dividing love into different categories, I define love as the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.

The behavior of love is defined in terms of the goal or purpose it seems to serve (teleological definition)‑‑spiritual growth.

As defined, love is a strangely circular process.  That is, the act of loving is an act of self‑evolution even when the purpose of the act is someone else’s growth.

This definition includes self love with love for the other.  To love humans means to love myself as well as you.

It is actually impossible to forsake our own spiritual development in favor of someone else’s.  Ultimately love for self and love for other are indistinguishable.

The act of extending one’s limits implies efforts.  Our love becomes real only through our exertion.

“Will” is desire of sufficient intensity that it is translated into action.  The desire to love is not itself love.  Love is as love does.

Will also implies choice.  We do not have to love; we choose to love.  We also choose not to love.

The nature of love is ultimately mysterious.  In the face of this, misconceptions abound.

First, we will examine WHAT LOVE IS NOT.

2.          Falling in “love”.

Two problems: 1. The experience of “falling in love” is specifically a sex‑linked erotic experience, whether conscious or unconscious.  2. The experience is invariably temporary.

To understand this we must look at ego boundaries.

A baby does not separate itself from its surroundings.  When it is hungry, the world is hungry.  When its mother sings, it does not know it is itself not making the sound.

With experience, a sense of the “me” begins to develop.  Its will is experienced as something separate from its mother’s behavior.  More and more distinctions set up boundaries for each person.  The development of these ego boundaries continues through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood.

It is lonely behind these boundaries.  Most of us yearn to escape from behind their walls and feel more unified with the world outside ourselves.

“Falling in love” is a sudden collapse of a section of an individual’s ego boundaries, permitting one to merge identity with that of another person.  We and our beloved are one!  Loneliness is no more!

We reexperience omnipotence we felt when we were tiny.  We can conquer all things.  All problems will be overcome.  This is as unreal now as it was at the age of two.

As this becomes evident (through disagreements, through circumstances), the ego boundaries gradually snap back into place.  Once again they are two separate individuals and must begin the work of real loving or dissolve their relationship.

Real love does not have its roots in a feeling of love.

Falling in love is not an act of will, a conscious choice.  We do not control it.

Falling in love is not an extension of one’s limits or boundaries; it is only a partial and temporary collapse of them.  Extension requires effort; falling in love is effortless.  Once the experience is over the individual in not usually larger.  Real love is a permanently self enlarging experience.

What IS falling in love?  Perhaps it is simply a trick that our genes pull on our otherwise perceptive mind to hoodwink or trap us into marriage.

3.          The myth of romantic love.

This myth tells us that falling in love will last forever.  And it tells us that for every young man in the world there is a young woman who was meant for him, and vice versa.  When we meet this person we will be able to satisfy all of each other’s needs forever and ever, and live happily.

If this does not happen, the myth tells us that a dreadful mistake has been made and nothing can be done except divorce or accept misery.

This is a dreadful dreadful lie, causing millions of people to waste vast amounts of energy.

4.          More about ego boundaries.

Falling in love is VERY CLOSE to real love.  The misconception works because it contains a grain of truth.

Real love also has to do with ego boundaries, since it involves an extension of one’s limits.

Before we reach out to another we must be attracted to that other.  This process of attraction, investment and commitment is called “cathexis.”  When we cathect a person we also psychologically incorporate a representation of that object into ourselves.

By this incorporation one’s self becomes enlarged and ego boundaries extended.  This means a gradual but progressive enlargement of the self and a thinning of our ego boundaries.

The more we love, the more blurred becomes the distinction between the self and the world.  As this occurs we begin more and more to experience the same sort of feeling of ecstasy that we have when we “fall in love.”  Only this feeling is a plateau rather than a peak; it is permanent not temporary.

Sexual orgasm is also associated with a greater or lesser degree of collapse of ego boundaries and attendant ecstasy.  With or without a partner, for a second we may totally forget who we are, lose track of self, be transported.  We may become one with the universe.  But only for a second.

Becoming one with the universe through real love is not simply regressing to the oneness experienced by a baby.  The path to sainthood goes through adulthood.  An identity must be established before it can be transcended.  Lasting enlightenment can only be achieved through the persistent exercise of real love.

5.          Dependency.

This is the second most common misconception about love.

Dependency is parasitism, not love.  When you require another person to survive, you are a parasite.  There is not choice, no freedom.

Dependency is defined as the inability to experience wholeness or to function adequately without the certainty that one is being actively cared for by another.

We all have dependency needs or feelings, but for most of us these do not rule our lives.  When they do rule our lives, we are dependent.  This is perhaps the most common of all psychiatric disorders, called the “passive dependent personality disorder.”

These people are so busy seeking love that they have no energy left to love.

They are rapidly changeable.  It seems as if it does not matter whom they are dependent upon as long as there is just someone.

These individuals concern themselves with what others can do for them to the exclusion of what they themselves can do.  When the possibility of care from another is not directly involved, they have great difficult in “doing things.”

Role differentiation is usually very rigid.  They seek to increase rather than diminish mutual dependency to make marriage more of a trap.  Because the needs of both partners are met, this is rarely seen as sick.  But when a marriage is made lasting and secure through dishonest manipulative means, it is neither healthy nor genuinely loving.  Growth cannot happen.

Lack of love, beginning in childhood, causes dependency.  These people also lack self discipline, as did their parents in many cases.

They cannot delay gratification of their hunger for attention.

They throw honesty to the winds to preserve attachments.

They cling to outworn relationships.

Mostly, they lack a sense of responsibility for themselves.

They look to others for their happiness and are often disappointed.  Thus they are endlessly angry.

This is the addictive personality.  Sucking on people and gobbling them up, or if not people, then the bottle, needle, pill or food.

Dependency appears to be love because it is a force that causes people to fiercely attach themselves to one another.  But it works to trap and destroy; it is a form of anti-love.

6.    Cathexis without love.

Dependent people don’t want to grow, only to be happy and filled.  They don’t care about the spiritual growth of the other or themselves.

There are other forms of behavior called “love” incorrectly, when concern for spiritual evolution is absent.

Whenever a job or hobby becomes an end in itself (replacing the end of spiritual growth), it becomes a substitute rather than a means for self development.  In fact a hobby may be compelling precisely because it does obscure the need for self development.

We can love only human beings.  Loving pets is not the same thing.  Sometimes we turn a human being into a “pet” because that is all we can love (depriving the other person of his own choices and decisions).

Blind nurturing, to the point of retarding growth, is not good nurturing. Love is not simply giving; it is judicious giving and judicious withholding as well.  It is leadership and requires thoughtful, painful decisionmaking.

7.          “Self‑Sacrifice”.

Injudicious giving and destructive nurturing have a basic feature in common‑‑the “giver” under the guise of love is meeting his own needs without regard to the spiritual needs of the receiver.

Love is a complicated rather than simple activity, requiring head as well as heart.  Not giving at the right time can be more compassionate than giving at the wrong time.  Expressing one’s own needs is every bit as important to a family’s health as self sacrifice.  Love is manifested as much in confrontation as in acceptance.

Self sacrifice borders on the more serious perversion of love called masochism, when a person seeks to be hurt by another through their relationship: by allowing oneself to be treated basely he or she can feel morally superior.  They seek revenge through their sense of moral superiority, which requires repeated humiliation and mistreatment.

Whenever we think of ourselves as doing something FOR someone else, we are in some way denying our own responsibility.  All our choices are made because those choices satisfy us the most.

Parents who say, “You should be grateful for all I have done for you” are invariably parents who are lacking in love to a significant degree.

Anyone who genuinely loves knows the pleasure of loving.  When we genuinely love we do so because we WANT to love.

It is true that love involves a change in self, but this is an extension of the self rather than a sacrifice of the self.

8.          Love is not a feeling.

This is the last major misconception about love.  It is an action, an activity, not a feeling.  In fact a genuinely loving individual will often take loving action toward a person he dislikes, with no positive feelings present.

The feeling of love is the emotion that accompanies the experience of cathecting (the process by which an object becomes important to us).  Once cathected we invest our energy into it as if it were a part of ourselves.

The misconception exists because we confuse cathecting with loving.  They are similar processes, but with striking differences:

We can cathect anything, not just human beings.

We may not care a bit for that person’s spiritual development.

Intensity in a cathexis may not be wise or disciplined.

Our cathexes may be fleeting and momentary.

Genuine love on the other hand implies commitment and the exercise of wisdom.

Cathexis does occur in genuine love, but love transcends it.  Love exists with or without cathexis and with or without a loving feeling.  True love occurs because of a decision to love, not a feeling.

Feelings of love must sometimes be rejected by a genuinely loving person.  My feelings of love may be unbounded, but my capacity to be loving is limited.

It is easy and not at all unpleasant to find evidence of love in one’s feelings.  It may be difficult and painful to search for evidence of love in one’s actions.

Love and nonlove, as good and evil, are objective and not purely subjective phenomena.

9.          The work of attention.

Let us now examine what love is.

Love is always a form of work or a form of courage.

The principal form that the work of love takes is attention.  We attend to another person’s growth, or to our own.  Attention is an act of will, of work against the inertia of our own minds.

By far the most common and important way in which we can exercise our attention is by listening.  We spend an enormous amount of time listening, most of which we waste, because on the whole most of us listen very poorly.

The process of listening to children depends on the age of the child.  For a six year old, who chatters incessantly, there are several choices:

1. Forbid the chatter.

2. Permit the chatter,but do not listen to it.

3. Pretend to listen.

4. Selectively listen (hoping to separate the wheat from chaff with minimum of effort).

5. Truly listen, giving him full attention.

#5 requires a quantum leap of energy more than the other 4 ways.  What is required is a balance of all 5 ways.  But this balance is difficult to strike.  Parents may think they are truly listening when all they are doing is pretend listening.  For true listening, no matter how brief, requires tremendous effort.  It requires total concentration, very difficult to give to a six year old.

So why should we make the effort?

1. It is the best possible concrete evidence of your esteem for the child.

2. The more children feel valuable, the more they will begin to say things of value.

3. The more you listen, the more you will realize that your child has valuable things to say.

4. The more you know about your child, the more you will be able to teach.

5. The more children know that you value them, the more they will listen to you and value you.

There is a wonderful reciprocity to love, evident in the above sequences.

Adolescent children require less total listening time but even more true listening time.

The need for one’s parents to listen is never outgrown.

An essential part of listening is the discipline of bracketing, the temporary giving up or setting aside of one’s own prejudices, frames of reference and desires so as to experience as far as possible the speaker’s world from the inside.

Since true listening involves bracketing, a setting aside of the self, it also temporarily involves a total acceptance of the other.

The energy required for the discipline of bracketing and the focusing of total attention is so great that it can be accomplished only by love, by the will to extend oneself for mutual growth.  Most of the time we lack this energy.

True listening can occur only when time is set aside for it and conditions are supportive of it.  It cannot occur when people are driving, or cooking or tired and anxious to sleep, or easily interrupted or in a hurry.  Romantic “love” is effortless, and couples are frequently reluctant to shoulder the effort and discipline of true love and listening.

A vital element of the capacity to truly listen is being on the alert for those lapses when one is ┤not▒ truly listening.

The knowledge that one is being truly listened to is frequently in and of itself remarkably therapeutic.

Other forms of attention giving (especially for children): game playing, reading to a child, helping child with homework, family activities . . . all have in common spending time with the child.

Since love is work, the essence of non-love is laziness.

10.          The risk of loss.

Let us turn now from the work of love to the courage of love.

When we extend ourselves, our self enters new and unfamiliar territory, so to speak.  This experience of change is always frightening and always will be.

Courage is not the absence of fear; it the making of action in spite of fear.  Love always requires courage and involves risk.

Love requires cathexis for a beginning.  We can love only that which in one way or another has importance for us.  But there is always the risk of loss or rejection.  Love anything that lives‑‑a person, a pet, a plant‑‑and it will die.  Trust anybody and you may be hurt; depend on anyone and that one may let you down.  The price of cathexis is pain.  A full life will be full of pain as well as joy.

The essence of life is change, a panoply of growth and decay.  Elect life and growth, and you elect change and the prospect of death.  When we shy away from death, the ever changing nature of things, we inevitably shy away from life.

11.          The risk of independence.

Of the thousands of risks we take in a lifetime, the greatest is the risk of growing up.  This is a leap that many people never take in their lifetimes.

This process usually occurs very gradually, with multiple little leaps into the unknown, with a few enormous ones mixed in.

What has this business of growing up to do with love?

1. Changes like this are all examples of self love

2. Not only does love for oneself provide the motive for major changes; it also is the basis for the courage to risk them.

3. It is only when one has taken the leap into the unknown of total selfhood that one is free to proceed along still higher paths of spiritual growth.

12.         The risk of commitment.

Commitment (constancy) is the bedrock of any genuinely loving relationship.  It is commitment after the wedding which makes possible the transition from falling in love to genuine love.  It is our commitment after conception that transforms us from biological to psychological parents.

Childhood injuries regarding commitment can only be healed if it is possible for the person to have a basic and more satisfying experience with commitment at a later date.  It is for this reason, among others, that commitment is the cornerstone of the psychotherapeutic relationship.

Injuries caused by a parental failure of commitment are not healed by a few words, a few superficial reassurances.  On successively deeper levels they must be worked through again and again.

13. The risk of confrontation.

The final and possibly greatest risk of love is the risk of exercising power with humility.  The most common example of this is the act of loving confrontation, saying to another, “You are wrong, I am right.”

This capacity is one that many people have no difficulty exercising.  But shot from the hip, impulsive, angry, annoyed, such confrontation does more to increase the confusion in the world rather than the enlightenment in the world.

Out of true love, confrontation/criticism does not come easily; it is evident that the act has great potential for arrogance, as we assume a position of moral or intellectual superiority for the moment.  Yet the reality of life is that such times do occur, when one person does know better than the other what is good for the other.

The dilemma can be resolved only by painstaking self scrutiny of the wisdom and motives of the lover.  Good questions to ask oneself:

1. Do I really see things clearly or am I operating on murky assumptions?

2. Do I really understand my beloved?

3. Could it not be that the path my beloved is taking is wise and that my perception of it as unwise is the result of limited vision on my part?

4. Am I being self serving in believing that my beloved needs redirection?

The two ways of confrontation are the way of arrogance and the way of humility.

On the other hand, many have learned to inhibit their arrogant confrontation but have gone no further, hiding in the moral safety of meekness, never daring to assume power.

To fail to confront when required for the nurture of spiritual growth represents a failure to love as much as does thoughtless condemnation.  Parents and spouses must repeatedly confront each other to grow spiritually.

No marriage can be judged truly successful unless husband and wife are each other’s best critics.  And the same holds true for friendship.

Confrontation is a way of exercising power, of attempting to change another’s life.  There are many other ways of exercising power: suggestion, parable, reward and punishment, questioning, prohibition or permission, creation of experiences, organizing with others, etc.  LOVING INDIVIDUALS MUST CONCERN THEMSELVES WITH THE ART OF EXERCISING POWER, in order to accomplish nurturing others’ spiritual growth.  If we are to love we must extend ourselves to adjust our communication to the capacities of our beloved (see example on p. 154).

Where is the risk?  The more loving one is, the more one asks, “Who am I to play God?”  Playing God can be horribly destructive when we are wrong.

14.         Love is disciplined.

The energy for the work of self discipline derives from love, which is a form of will.  Any genuine lover behaves with self discipline; any genuinely loving relationship is a disciplined relationship.

Discipline is not the opposite of “passion.”  Uncontrolled passion, though colorful, is uncontrolled without discipline.  Disciplined people can also be very passionate, under control.

Self discipline does not mean the squashing of one’s feelings out of existence.  Feelings are our slaves; the art of discipline is the art of slave owning.

Feelings provide the horsepower (or slave power) to accomplish the tasks of living.  We must treat them with respect.  Too little or too much discipline of feelings both result in eventual takeover by the slaves, by the feelings.

Even the feeling of love must be disciplined.  This feeling is not genuine love, but the feeling associated with cathexis.  Respected, but not allowed to run rampant.

We simply cannot love everyone.  Genuine love for a relatively few individuals is all that is within our power.  To attempt to exceed the limits of our energy is to offer more than we can deliver, and there is a point of no return beyond which an attempt to love all comers becomes fraudulent and harmful to the very ones we desire to assist.  Choosing who to love involves many factors, but is a necessary choice to make.

Call it what you will, genuine love, with all the discipline it requires is the only path in this life to substantial joy.  Genuine love is self replenishing.  I am a totally selfish human being.  I never do something for somebody else but that I do it for myself.  Neopuritan perhaps I am.  I am also a joy freak.

15.          Love is separateness.

A major characteristic of genuine love is that the distinction between oneself and the other is always maintained and preserved.  The other has a totally separate identity, to be respected and encouraged.

Failure to perceive this separateness is extremely common and the cause of much mental illness.  Its extreme form is called narcissism, the inability to perceive one’s children, spouses or friends as beings separate from one on an emotional level.

Since they do not perceive others as others, but only as extensions for themselves, narcissistic individuals lack the capacity for empathy, which is the capacity to feel what another is feeling.

Parents usually fail to some degree to recognize their children’s otherness.  Adolescents frequently complain that they are disciplined not out of genuine concern but because of parental fear that they will give the parents a bad image.  Such adolescent resentment is usually justified.

Spouses have similar problems.  Many couples define each other in reference to themselves, failing to perceive their mates’ separateness.  Using the analogy of mountain climbing, marriage is like a good base camp from which to reach for mountaintops.  Successful climbers know they must spend at least as much time in tending to their base camp as they actually do in climbing mountains.

The “capitalist” husband spends all his time climbing mountains; the “communist” wife tends to the camp.  Never the twain shall meet. (see pp. 166‑168 for this example)

Genuine love seeks to cultivate others’ individuality, even at the risk of separation or loss.  The ultimate goal of life remains the spiritual growth of the INDIVIDUAL, the solitary journey to peaks that can be climbed only alone.  Marriage and society exist for the basic purpose of nurturing such individual journeys.

But, “sacrifices” on behalf of the growth of the other result in equal or greater growth of the self.

16.          Love and psychotherapy.

It is necessary to be honest in therapy at all times.

The essential ingredient that makes psychotherapy effective and successful is not “unconditional positive regard;” it is human involvement and struggle.  It is the willingness of the therapist to extend himself for the purpose of nurturing the patient’s growth‑‑to go out on a limb, to involve oneself emotionally.  In short, the essential ingredient is LOVE.

Western literature on the subject ignores this issue, perhaps calling it warmth or empathy.  We seem to be embarrassed by the subject of love.  Feelings of love for the patient are called “countertransference” and avoided.  But transference refers to inappropriate feelings.  There is nothing inappropriate about patients coming to love a therapist who truly listens to them hour after hour in a nonjudgmental way.  And when the patients submits to the discipline of psychotherapy, willing to learn, it is appropriate for the therapist to love as well.

Mostly, mental illness is caused by an absence of or defect in the love the a child required from its parents for maturation.  In order to be healed, then, the patient must receive from the psychotherapist at least a portion of the genuine love of which the patient was deprived.  If the therapist cannot genuinely love a patient, then genuine healing will not occur.

Is love always psychotherapeutic?  Certainly.  I would not call my friends friends were they to withhold from me the honesty of their disapproval and their loving concern as to the wisdom and safety of the directions of my own journey.  Can I not grow more rapidly with their help than without it?

One’s capacity to love grows.  But it is always limited, and one clearly should not attempt psychotherapy beyond one’s capacity to love, since psychotherapy without love will be unsuccessful and even harmful.

All human interactions are opportunities either to learn or to teach (to give or receive therapy).  When we neither learn nor teach we are passing up an opportunity.

Most people do not want to achieve such a lofty goal.  They will terminate their therapy far short of completely fulfilling their potential.  The whole journey is not for them.  They are content to be ordinary men and women and do not strive to be God.

17.         The mystery of love.

There are other, unanswered, questions.  Where does love itself come from?  And what are the sources of the absence of love?  Why do some people transcend their circumstances and others fall prey to them?

The answers lie in a discussion of grace, but even those answers will not be wholly satisfying.

Why is awe part of a sexual relationship?  Why not just hunger or horniness?  Why should sex be complicated by reverence?

What is it that determines beauty?  What about the beauty of nature?  Why in the presence of beauty do we feel sadness or tears?

There are dimensions of love that are most difficult to understand.  They will not be answered by sociobiology, or psychology.

Religious students of mystery and grace know much more about these answers than western scientists and psychotherapists.


1.         World views and religion.

As we grow or don’t grow in discipline and love and life experience, our understanding of the world and ourselves grows or doesn’t grow.  Consequently there is a great variability in our understanding of what life is all about.

This understanding is our religion.  Everyone has a world view, a religion.

Psychotherapists rarely pay attention to the ways in which their patients view the world.  Yet the patient’s world view is always an essential part of his problem, and a correction in his world view is necessary for his cure.

Patients are often unaware of how they view the world, and sometimes may even think they possess a certain kind of religion when they actually are possessed by a far different kind.

In Stewart’s case, he was unconsciously doing penance and figuratively cutting his own throat in the hope that by so doing he could prevent God from literally cutting it.

The most important factor in the development of the religion of most people is obviously their culture.

Less obvious is the fact that the most important part of our culture is our particular family.

And the most significant part of that culture is not what our parents tell us about God and the nature of things but rather what they do‑‑how they behave toward each other, toward our siblings and above all, toward us.

The “monster‑God” is a common concept of God, accompanied by a similarly bleak or terrifying notion as to the nature of existence.  Our first notion of God’s nature is a simple extrapolation of our parents’ natures, a simple blending of the characters of our mothers and fathers or their substitutes.

This blending may be one of love and forgiveness, or one of harshness and punishment.  Our view of God and the world is likely very similar.

Often the essence of a patient’s childhood (and world view) is captured in the “earliest memory.”

Our religion, then, is shaped by unique experience‑‑yet we exist in a real world.  What is the relationship between our religion and the world’s reality?  To develop a religion or world view that is realistic‑‑that is, conforms to the reality of the cosmos and our role in it, as best we can know that reality‑‑we must constantly revise and extend our understanding to include new knowledge of the larger world.  Using mapmaking and transference (discussed in the first section), we must constantly enlarge our frame of reference.

To transfer our unique childhood map to a larger adult world is to some extent inappropriate.

Therefore most of us operate from a narrower frame of reference that that of which we are capable.  And in a crowd, we have a situation in which human beings, who must deal with each other, have vastly different views as to the nature of reality, yet each one believes his or her own view to be the correct one since it is based on the microcosm of personal experience.  And we are not even fully aware of our own world views.

So we squabble over our different microcosmic world views, and all wars are holy wars.

2.    The religion of science.

The earlier stages of spiritual growth are a journey of knowledge and not of faith.  To escape the microcosm of our previous experience it is necessary that we LEARN.

Love has been defined as an extension, or expansion of ourselves, with the accompanying risk of moving into the unknown of new experience.  Learning something new requires a giving up of the old self and a death of outworn knowledge.

To broaden our vision we must kill our narrow vision.  In the short run it is more comfortable not to do this.  But the road to spiritual growth lies in the opposite direction.

We begin by distrusting what we already believe, actively seeking the threatening and unfamiliar, deliberately challenging the validity of what we have held dear.


That is, we begin with science, replacing our parents’ religion with the religion of science.  There is no such thing as a good hand‑me‑down religion.  Our religion must be a wholly personal one, forged entirely through the fire of our questioning and doubting in the crucible of our own experience of reality.

“We cannot survive on a secondhand faith in a secondhand God.  There has to be a personal word, a unique confrontation, if I am to come alive.”

Science as a world view (religion) holds:

1. the universe is real, a valid object for examination

2. it is of value for human beings to examine the universe

3. the universe makes sense (is predictable)

4. to overcome our tendency toward seeing what we want to see instead of what is there, we must subject ourselves to the discipline of the scientific method

Science is a religion of skepticism.  This attitude can enable us to transform our personal experience of the microcosm into a personal experience of the macrocosm.

However, most scientists have barely begun the journey of spiritual growth.  Rarely do they understand themselves as spiritual beings.  And they have grave difficulty dealing with the reality of God.

In religious people we can look and easily find: dogmatism, hypocrisy, rituals and images without consensus, ignorance, superstition, rigidity.

Is belief in God a sickness, a manifestation of transference (our image of our parents projected onto the macrocosm)?

What happens to one’s belief in God as one grows through the process of psychotherapy?

3.    The case of Kathy.

“Mother told me I should not question the church.”  Mother was peaceful but implacable.  Father was not present.  He offered no relationship to Kathy.  Mother “never gave me ME.  She made me in her image.  She never let any of me be me.”  And so her God did the same.

In the course of therapy she learned to take over her own life.  She challenged her husband with his failure as a lover.  Eventually they amicably divorced.  She no longer considers herself a Catholic and does not consider the issue of God an important one in her life at this point.

Her domineering mother and absentee father were the more basic cause of her neurosis, but the church was also to blame.  No nun ever encouraged Kathy to reasonably question religious doctrine or to think for herself.

While Kathy believed wholeheartedly in God and the concept of sin, her religion was handed down and badly suited to her needs.  Yet Kathy’s church made not the slightest effort in working out a more appropriate and original personal religion.  Churches seem to favor the hand‑me‑down variety of religion.

4.    The case of Marcia.

Not all cases are like Kathy’s.  Through therapy Kathy moved from a place where the notion of God was all‑important to a place where it was of no importance.  Marcia, on the other hand, moved from a position where she rejected the notion of God to one where it was becoming quite meaningful for her.  She did this without the therapist ever challenging her religious concepts in any way.

5.    The case of Theodore.

A comment Peck made: “It’s interesting, Ted, that whenever something painful happens to you, you rail against God, you rail against what a shitty, terrible world it is.  But when something good happens to you, you guess you’re lucky.  A minor tragedy and it’s God’s fault.  A miraculous blessing and it’s a bit lucky.  What do you make of that?”

Gradually Ted’s religious nature blossomed.  Everywhere he looked he saw the mystery of life and death, of creation and decay and regeneration.

By act of will, continually having to remind himself that he was not still ten, that he was not still under the thumb of his parents or within striking distance of his brothers, bit by bit he forced himself to communicate his enthusiasm, his love of life, and his love of God.  He decided to go on to divinity school.  He began to use his full name, Theodore, which means “lover of God.”

6.    The baby and the bath water.

So, is belief in God a form of psychopathology?  The answer is obviously not a simple one.  Sometimes, yes.  Sometimes, no.  This is not clean, clear or easy.  Scientists don’t like this and are prone to fall into two traps: throwing the baby out with the bath water, and tunnel vision.

The list of dirty bath water surrounding the reality of God goes on and on.  Holy wars,  inquisitions, animal and human sacrifice, book burning, witch burning, morbid guilt, insanity, dogmatism.  Belief in God is often destructively dogmatic.

Is the problem that humans tend to believe in God, or that humans tend to be dogmatic?

Science, as a religion, can also be dogmatic.  The notions of science themselves often become cultural idols, and it is necessary to become skeptical of these as well.

It is possible to mature either into or out of a belief in God.  Is it possible that the path of spiritual growth leads first out of superstition into agnosticism and then out of agnosticism toward an accurate knowledge of God?

The God that comes before skepticism may bear little resemblance to the God that comes after.

Psychotherapists with simplistic attitudes toward religion are likely to do a disservice to some of their patients.  This will be true if they regard all religion as good or healthy.  It will also be true if they throw out the baby with the bath water and regard all religion as sickness or the Enemy.

7.    Scientific tunnel vision.

Scientists are prone to throw the baby out with the bath water because they do not see the baby.  They don’t look at the evidence of the reality of God.  What are the causes of this tunnel vision?  There are two that result from the nature of scientific tradition.

1. An issue of methodology.  Science places great emphasis on measurement, a dimension in which we can make observations of great accuracy which are repeatable by others.  By virtue of its success, measurement has become a scientific idol, resulting in often outright rejection of what cannot be measured.  Since it cannot be studied, it cannot be worth studying.

Two challenges to this are growing: first, the increasingly sophisticated measurements available and second, the discovery of science of the reality of paradox.  Paradox no longer means error to the scientific mind:

“If we ask whether the position of the electron remains the same, we must say NO; if we ask whether the electron’s position changes with time, we must say NO; if we ask whether the electron is at rest, we must say NO; if we ask whether it is in motion, we must say NO.”

When we are able to say that “a human is both mortal and eternal at the same time” and “light is both a wave and a particle at the same time, science and religion have begun to speak the same language.

This beginning possibility of unification of science and religion is the most significant and exciting happening in our intellectual life today.

Miracles are still anathema to scientists.  Having been succcessful in discovering natural laws, they have made an idol out of the concept of natural law just as they did with measurement.

“What is very difficult to study doesn’t merit study.  And what is very difficult to understand doesn’t exist.”

Often it has seemed to me that my work with patients toward their growth was being remarkably assisted in ways for which I had no logical explanation‑‑that is, ways that were miraculous.  I began to look at ordinary existence with an eye for the miraculous.  The more I looked, the more I found.

I believe that our frame of reference has been too dramatic when we look for miracles.  We should be looking at the ordinary day to day events in our lives for evidence of the miraculous.

On the other hand, just as it is essential that our sight not be crippled by scientific tunnel vision, so also is it essential that our critical faculties and capacity for skepticism not be blinded by the brilliant beauty of the spiritual realm.


 1.          The miracle of health.

What follows will demonstrate grace to be a common phenomenon and, to a certain extent, a predictable one.  Common and predictable, but unexplainable.  Miraculous and amazing.

An amazing fact:  our patients are amazing healthy mentally.

Horrible traumas produce neurosis, but much less severe than should be expected in the ordinary course of things.

In the example given we were able to exactly trace the determinants of a mild neurosis.  We were not able in the slightest degree to determine the origins of his unpredictable successes.

We know why some people commit suicide.  We don’t know, within the ordinary limits of causality, why certain others don’t commit suicide.

All we can is that there is a force, the mechanics of which we do not fully understand, that seems to operate routinely in most people to protect and to foster their mental health even under the most adverse circumstances.

A similar phenomenon exists in the physical realm.  We know a great deal more about the causes of physical disease than we do about the causes of physical health.  The best we can say about how an illness develops is simply to say that the forces that normally protect our lives somehow failed to operate.

An increasing number of thinkers are beginning to suggest that almost all disorders are psychosomatic‑‑that the psyche is somehow involved in the causation of the various failures that occur in the resistance system.  But the amazing thing is not these failures of the resistance system; it is that the resistance system works as well as it does.

In the ordinary course of things we should be eaten alive by bacteria, consumed by cancer, clogged up by fats and clots, eroded by acids.  It is hardly remarkable that we sicken and die; what is truly remarkable is that we don’t usually sicken very often and we don’t die very quickly.

The matter of accidents.  Accident proneness.  It is an unusual, unexplainable phenomenon.  It is not simply that certain people at certain times in their lives are accident‑prone; it is also that in the ordinary course of things most of us are accident‑resistant.

If readers examine their own lives, I suspect most will find patterns of repeatedly narrowly averted disasters, a number of accidents that almost happened that is many times greater than the number of accidents that actually did happen.  And that these patterns are not the result of any process of conscious decision making.  “Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far.”

Call this the survival instinct?  Does the mere naming of something explain it?  Look at accidents for a moment.  While we know practically nothing about instincts, we do conceive of them as operating within the boundaries of the individual who possesses them.  Accidents, however, involve interactions between individuals or between individuals and inanimate things.

Did the wheels of the man’s car fair to run over me when I was nine because of my survival instinct or because the driver possessed an instinctual resistance to killing me?

Does the inanimate machinery of a motor vehicle possess an instinct to collapse itself in just such a manner as to preserve the contours of the human body within?  Such a question seems inherently absurd.

In trying to explain such incidents, the concept of instinct will be of little help.  More helpful perhaps, will be the concept of synchronicity.  First, however, let us examine the functioning of the unconscious.

2.          The miracle of the unconscious.

95% of our mind is the unconscious; only 5% is conscious.  One way we know of this vast realm is through our dreams.

Dreams are often very helpful in understanding our problems.  We begin to work on a problem.  Almost immediately our unconscious may produce a drama that elucidates the cause of the problem, a cause of which we were previously unaware.

The unconscious clearly wants to assist us in our work, and will often do so with consummate skill.  We do not always understand, but when we do the message always seems to be one designed to nurture our spiritual growth.

The unconscious may communicate with us when we are awake as well, in the form of “idle thoughts.”  As with dreams, most of the time we pay these thoughts little or no attention.  It is for this reason that patients in psychoanalysis are instructed again and again to say ┤whatever▒ comes into their minds, no matter how silly or insignificant it may initially seem.

When a thought, no matter how seemingly ridiculous, keeps coming to mind, it may very well be an extremely important message from the unconscious to illuminate the situation.

These thoughts may illuminate our self understanding, or our understanding of another, or of the world around us.

Often these thoughts will seem alien and unwanted.  Because of this Freud and many others saw the unconscious as the repository of the primitive, the antisocial and the evil within us.  They also assumed that mental illness somehow resided in the unconscious as a lurking demon.

Jung initiated a correction of this view, in which the unconscious was valued as a repository of wisdom rather than primitive urges.

I have come to conclude that mental illness is not a product of the unconscious; it is instead a phenomenon of consciousness or a disordered relationship between the conscious and the unconscious.

In the case of repression, for example, the problem is NOT that human beings have hostile and sexual feelings, but rather that human beings have a conscious mind that is so often unwilling to face these feelings and tolerate the pain of dealing with them, and that is so willing to sweep them under the rug.

A third way the unconscious communicates with us is through slips of the tongue or other “mistakes” in behavior (Freudian slips).  A slip like this in psychotherapy is invariably helpful to the process of therapy or healing.  While the conscious mind is engaged in trying to hide the true nature of the self (even to self‑awareness), the unconscious struggles toward openness, honesty, truth and reality.

Slips like this express the truth, positive or negative, the way things are as opposed to the way we like to think they are.  Generally a patient tries more to hide from himself than from the therapist.  We are almost always either less or more competent than we believe ourselves to be.

A major and essential task in the process of one’s spiritual development is the continuous work of bringing one’s self‑concept into progressively greater congruence with reality.

When this happens relatively quickly, the patient may feel “reborn,” and be able easily to understand the words, “Once I was blind, but now I see.”

There is, then, a part of us (the unconscious) that is wiser than we are, wiser about everything.  What is its source?  Do we inherit it as part of the collective unconscious?  When we speculate on the technology of possible models of inheriting knowledge, we are still left standing in total awe before the phenomenon of the human mind.

3.          The miracle of serendipity.

The fact that highly implausible events, for which no cause can be determined within the framework of known natural law, occur with implausible frequency has come to be known as the principle of synchronicity.

I have a very firm but “unscientific” impression that the frequency of beneficial examples of synchronicity are is greater than that of detrimental examples.

Paranormal events with beneficial consequences is the phenomenon of serendipity, defined in the dictionary as “the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.”

We don’t all experience this, although I believe we all have it available.  One of the reasons for this is that we fail to appreciate the gift when it is given us.  It often seems commonplace, this touch of grace.  We can often survive without them.

4.          The definition of grace.

The phenomena we have described have some things in common:

a. They serve to nurture human life and spiritual growth.

b. Their mechanisms are at least partly obscure.

c. Their occurrence is frequent, routine and universal.

d. Their origin is outside of the conscious will.

I believe that their commonality indicates they are part of a powerful force originating outside of human consciousness which nurtures the spiritual growth of human beings.  We cannot touch it or measure it.

But I do not think we can hope to approach a full understanding of the cosmos without incorporating the phenomenon of grace into our conceptual framework.

We cannot locate it.  Where does it reside?  This is not only a problem for scientists.  The religious have through the ages had the same difficulting locating God.  There is the doctrine of Emmanence, which holds that grace emanates down from an external God to men; while the other, the doctrine o fImmanence, holds that grace immanates out from the God within the center of man’s being.

This problem, and for that matter the whole problem of paradox, results from our desire in the first place to locate things.  Because we conceptualize best in terms of discrete entities, we want to locate things, even when we know our tendency is interfering with our comprehension of these matters.

I attempt not to think of the individual as a true entity at all.  “For as the body is clad in the cloth, and the flesh in the skin and the bones in the flesh and the heart in the whole, so are we, soul and body, clad in the goodness of God and enclosed.  Yea, and more homely for all these may wear and waste away, but the Goodness of God is ever whole.

5.          The miracle of evolution.

Spiritual growth is the evolution of an individual.  Our lifetime offers us unlimited opportunities for spiritual growth until the end.

One of the basic natural laws is the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which in essence states that the universe is winding down into a state of total disorganization and undifferentiation (entropy).

The flow of physical evolution is against the force of entropy.  It is in fact a “miracle,” it runs counter to natural law.

Another miracle is that the natural resistance is overcome in our spiritual lives.  Despite all that resists the process, we do become better human beings.

We are disillusioned with the dream of progress.  But our very sense of disillusionment arises from the fact that we expect more of ourselves than our forebears did of themselves.  Human behavior that we find repugnant today was accepted as a matter of course yesteryear (e.g. child care).

Among humanity love is the miraculous force that defies the natural law of entropy.

6.          The alpha and the omega.

Where does love come from?  And from whence comes the whole force of evolution?  And where does grace come from?

Love is conscious; grace is not.

These questions are too basic for our “science” as it currently exists.  To explain them we hypothesize the existence of a God who wants us to grow, who loves us.

If we take it seriously we are going to find that this simple notion of a loving God does not make for an easy philosophy.

All of us who postulate a loving God and really think about it eventually come to a single terrifying idea: God wants us to become Himself (or Herself or Itself).  We are growing toward godhood.  God is the goal of evolution.  God is the source and God is the destination, the Alpha and Omega.

By the millions we run from this idea in sheer panic.  It is the single most demanding idea in the history of mankind.  It demands from us all we can possibly give, all that we have.

As long as we can believe that godhood is an impossible attainment for ourselves, we don’t have to worry about our spiritual growth, we don’t have to push ourselves to higher and higher levels of conscious and loving activity; we can relax and just be human.

By this belief we will have trapped ourselves, at least until death, on an effortful treadmill of self‑improvement and spiritual growth.  The idea that God is actively nurturing us so that we might grow up to be like Him brings us face to face with our own laziness.

7.          Entropy and original sin.

This book is about spiritual growth and the impediments to spiritual growth.  Ultimately there is only one impediment, and that is laziness.  If we overcome laziness, all the other impediments will be overcome.

So this is also a book about laziness.  Laziness is the force of entropy as it manifests itself in the lives of all of us.

In the Garden of Eden, why didn’t Adam and Eve say to God, “We’re curious as to why You don’t want us to eat any of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Would you explain it to us?”  But instead they never made the effort to challenge God directly.  They listened to the serpent, but they failed to God’s side of the story before they acted.

Why not?  The step missing is the step of debate.  Our own failure to conduct this internal debate between good and evil is the cause of those evil actions that constitute sin.  Human beings routinely fail to get God’s side of the issue.  We make this failure because we are lazy.

If we take these debates seriously we usually find ourselves being urged to take the more difficult path, the path of more effort rather than less.

So original sin does exist; it is laziness.  Besides its obvious manifestations, a major form that laziness takes is fear.  Much of our fear is fear of a change in the status quo, a fear that we might lose what we have if we venture forth from where we are now.

The lazy part of the self, like the devil that it may actually be, is unscrupulous and specializes in treacherous disguise.  To recognize laziness for what it is and acknowledge it in oneself is the beginning of its curtailment.  It is the least lazy who know themselves to be sluggish.

We all have a sick self and a healthy self, a life urge and a death urge.

 8.          The problem of evil.

The problem of evil is perhaps the greatest of all theological problems.  Yet the science of psychology has mostly acted as if evil did not exist.  Here are four conclusions I have come to about evil:

1. Evil is real, not the figment of religious imagination.

2. Evil is laziness carried to its ultimate extreme.  Ordinary laziness is nonlove; evil is antilove.

3. The existence of evil is inevitable, at least at this stage in human evolution, given the fact of entropy and the fact that humans possess free will.

4. While entropy is an enormous force, in its most extreme form of human evil it is strangely ineffective as a social force.  For every soul it destroys it is instrumental in the salvation of others.  Our consciousness of it is a signal to purify ourselves.

9.          The evolution of consciousness.

We can now define spiritual growth as the growth or evolution of consciousness.  We have spoken of the fact that the unconscious part of our mind is the possessor of extraordinary knowledge.  It knows more than we do.  To become conscious is to know along with our unconscious, which already possesses the knowledge.

Where does the unconscious get that knowledge?  Postulate a God who is intimately associated with us, so intimately that He is part of us.  The interface between God and man is at least in part the interface between our unconscious and our conscious.  To put it plainly, our unconscious is God.  God has been with us all along, is now, and always will be.

Christians call this the Holy Spirit.

In my vision the collective unconscious is God; the conscious is man as individual; and the personal unconscious is the interface between them.  The personal unconscious will be the scene, then of some struggle between God’s will and the will of the individual.  It may be the site of nightmares.  And mental illness occurs when the conscious will of the individual deviates substantially from the will of God, which is the individual’s own unconscious will.

Since the unconscious is God all along, we may further define the goal of spiritual growth to be the attainment of godhood by the conscious self.  It is for the individual to become totally, wholly God.

And the point is to become God while preserving consciousness.  If the bud of consciousness that grows from the rhizome of the unconscious God can become itself God, then God will have assumed a new life form.  This is the meaning of our individual existence.  We are born that we might become, as a conscious individual, a new life form of God.

We can then become God’s agent, his arm, so to speak, able to influence the world according to His will.

10.          The nature of power.

This is much misunderstood, partly because there are two kinds of power: political and spiritual.

Political power is the capacity to coerce others to do one’s will.  It resides in a position or else in money, not in the person who occupies the position or possesses the money.  Political power is unrelated to goodness or wisdom.

Spiritual power is the capacity to make decisions with maximum awareness.  It is consciousness.

Most decisions are made with little attendant awareness, either of motives or ramifications.  Even when we try, we are often most in the dark when we are the most certain, and the most enlightened when we are the most confused.

Greater awareness can be gained.  But it does not come to a person in a single blinding flash of enlightenment.  It comes by the patient effort of study and observation of everything, including ourselves.

Gradually things begin to make sense.  Blind alleys are discarded.  Gradually we actually know what we are doing.  We come to spiritual power.

This is a joyful experience, joy based on mastery, on being an expert in living.  There is one greater joy, the joy of communion with God.  When we truly know what we are doing we are participating in the omniscience of God.

With total awareness of the nature of a situation, of our motives for acting upon it, and of the results and ramifications of our action, we have attained that level of awareness that we normally expect only of God.  Our conscious self has succeeded in coming into alignment with the mind of God.  We know with God.

This stage of spiritual growth is invariably characterized by joyful humility.  The rhizome from which my awareness grows is not mine alone but God’s.  It is joyful because this connectedness to God results in a diminution of my sense of self.  “Your will, not mine, be done.”  Such a loss of self brings with it a kind of calm ecstasy, not unlike the experience of being in love.  And there is no more loneliness in this connection with God.  There is communion.

However, the greater one’s awareness, the more difficult it is to take action.  It is easy to act with the awareness of limited data, and watch the chips fall as they may.  The more we know, the more it becomes possible to predict just where the chips will fall.  We are likely to become so overwhelmed by complexity as to sink into inaction.

Of course, inaction is also a form of action and this action may be destructive.

So spiritual power is not just awareness; it is the capacity to maintain one’s ability to still make decisions with greater and greater awareness.  Godlike power is the power to make decisions with total awareness.

So omniscience does not make decision‑making easier; rather, it becomes ever more difficult.

Another problem with power (both political and spiritual, but even more with spiritual power) is aloneness.  There is no one above to whom to pass the buck.  You alone are responsible.  One of the most poignant themes of the Gospels is Christ’s continual sense of frustration on finding that there was no one who could really understand him.  This burden could not be borne except that our relationship with God inevitably becomes correspondingly closer.

11.          Grace and mental illness: the myth of Orestes.

Let us examine the issue of mental illness more closely and unify the disparate statements made so far in the book.

We live in a real world.  But all of us attempt to some extent to defend our consciousness against reality.  At the same time our unconscious, which is omniscient, attempts to help us out by forming symptoms.  These symptoms (mental illness) are manifestations of grace, signs that we have taken the wrong path and have stopped growing.

The illness exists long before the symptoms.  The symptoms are the beginning of the cure.  The fact that they are unwanted makes them all the more a phenomenon of grace‑‑a gift of God.

As is common with grace, most reject this gift and do not heed the message, trying to ignore the symptoms.

We can work around them, quitting jobs, moving to a new town, avoiding certain activities.  We can use pills.  We can blame the world for our condition.

Or we can accept responsibility for the symptoms, heed the message and accept its grace.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the Kingdom of heaven.”

Orestes, trapped in a dilemma, acted and was punished (with the visitation of the tormenting Furies ‑ seen and heard only by him).  He could have blamed his circumstances or the gods.  But he did not.  He claimed responsibility for his action of murdering his mother (who had killed his father).  The gods then relieved him of their curse and transformed the Furies into the Eumenides, loving spirits with wise counsel.

The transformation of the Furies into the Eumenides is the transformation of mental illness into good fortune.  It occurred as Orestes took responsibility for his mental illness, not seeing his Furies as an unjust punishment.  Mental illness is certainly a family affair, but Orestes did not blame his family, or the gods or “fate.”

When a patient realizes he must assume this total responsibility, he will often drop out of therapy.  He chooses rather to be sick and have the gods to blame than to be well with no to blame ever again.

It is only the rare patient who enters therapy with a willingness to assume total responsibility from the beginning.  Frequently, like stubborn children, they will kick and scream all the way.

When they have faced their mental illness and accepted total responsibility for it they find themselves living in a new and different world.  Problems now are opportunities.  Barriers become challenges.  Unwanted thoughts are now seen as insights.  Life is no longer a dangerous place, but one in which they are continually being touched by and recognizing the power of grace.

12.          Resistance to grace.

Psychotherapy is only a tool, a discipline.  It is up to the patient to choose or reject the tool.  Very few walk the tough path to spiritual growth.  Since it is open to all, why do so few choose to travel it?

It is possible for an individual to be extremely ill and yet at the same time posses an extremely strong “will to grow,” in which case healing will occur.  Mildly ill patients without this will will not budge an inch from unhealth.

This concept brings us once again to the edge of mystery.  The will to grow is in essence the same phenomenon as love.  Genuinely loving people are, by definition, growing people.

I believe that people’s capacity to love (will to grow) is nurtured not only by the love of their parents during childhood but also throughout their lives by grace, or God’s love.

I believe that grace is available to everyone, that we are all cloaked in the love of God, no one less nobly than another.  Why do most of us resist grace?

The answer is our laziness, the original sin of entropy with which we have all been cursed.

Psychiatric problems occur with remarkable frequency in individuals shortly after promotion to positions of higher power and responsibility.  In fact there are even vaster numbers of people who resist promotion in the first place.

The call to grace is a promotion, a call to a position of higher responsibility and power.  The call to grace is a call to inner tranquility and peace, and a life of effortful caring, to a life of service and whatever sacrifice seems required.

It may sound strange,but psychotherapists are familiar with the fact that people are routinely terrified by mental health.  “I don’t want to have to think all the time!  I want to be able to just relax and enjoy myself.”

Part of this fearfulness is healthy: “O Lord, I fear I am not worthy of your trust in me.  Is my diligence and my love alone sufficient to govern me?”

And part is unhealthy.  Most of us actually seem to need to have powers above us to blame for our condition.  Most people without the aloneness of power.  And they want the self confidence of adulthood without having to grow up.

What distinguishes the few from the many?  I am unable to answer this question.  I have learned that in the earlier stages of the psychotherapeutic process I have absolutely no ability to predict which of my patients will fail to respond to therapy, which will respond with significant but still partial growth, and which will, miraculously, grow all the way to the state of grace.

13.          The welcoming of grace.

We are left facing paradox.  I have indicated that whether or not we become blessed by grace is a matter of our choice.  Essentially, I have been saying that grace is earned.  And I know this to be true.

At the same time, however, I know that that’s not the way it is at all.  We do not come to grace; grace comes to us.

How do we resolve this paradox?  We don’t.  Perhaps the best that we can say is that while we cannot will ourselves to grace, we can by will open ourselves to its miraculous coming.  The paradox that we both choose grace and are chosen by grace is the essence of the phenomenon of serendipity.  One must both seek and not seek, work to gain God’s favor while not expecting God to make the way easy.

Let us redefine serendipity not as a gift itself but as a learned capacity to recognize and utilize the gifts of grace which are given to us from beyond the realm of our conscious will.

Living in a scientific age fosters discouragement.  We believe in the mechanical principles of the universe; not in miracles.  We see ourselves as helplessly determined and governed by internal forces not subject to our will.  The replacement of our human myths by scientific information has caused us to suffer a sense of personal meaninglessness.

But once we perceive the reality of grace, our understanding of ourselves as meaningless and insignificant is shattered.  We are certain that our human spiritual growth is of the utmost importance to something greater than ourselves.  This something we call God.

We live our lives in the eye of God, and not at the periphery but at the center of His vision, His concern.

The universe, this stepping stone, has been laid down to prepare a way for us.  But we ourselves must step across it, one by one.  Through grace we are helped not to stumble and through grace we know that we are being welcomed.  What more can we ask?

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