The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck

The Book in a Few Sentences

Superbly insightful book about spirituality, love and grace masterfully conveyed in clear, plain English. For anyone interested in spiritual growth, this is the first book I would recommend.

The Road Less Traveled summary

This is my book summary of The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. My summary and notes include the key lessons and most important insights from the book.

This Book is broken into 4 sections.
I:  Discipline
II:  Love
III:  Growth and Religion
IV:  Grace

Preface

The one constant I find, however, whether it be in the Northeast, the South, the Midwest or the West, is the relative lack of, and thirst for, community.

I:  Discipline 

Problems and Pain

  • Life is difficult.  This a great truth, one of the greatest truths.  It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult - once we truly understand and accept it - then life is no longer difficult.  Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.  
  • Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems.  Without discipline we can solve nothing.  
  • And since life poses an endless series of problems, life is always difficult and is full of pain as well as joy.  Yet it is this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has meaning.
  • …wise people learn not to dread but actually to welcome problems and to welcome the pain of problems.  
  • Most of us are not so wise.  This tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness.
  • But the substitute itself ultimately becomes more painful than the legitimate suffering it was designed to avoid.  

Delaying Gratification

  • Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such away 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.  
  • The feeling of being valuable - “I am a valuable person” - is essential to mental health and is a cornerstone of self-discipline.  …when one considers oneself valuable one will take care of oneself in all ways that are necessary.  Self-discipline is self-caring.

Problem-Solving and Time 

  • …many people simply do not take the time necessary to solve many of life’s intellectual, social or spiritual problems…
  • The inclination to ignore problems is once again a simple manifestation of an unwillingness to delay gratification.  

Responsibility

  • We cannot solve life’s problem except by solving them.  …we must take responsibility for a problem before we can solve it.  I can solve a problem only when I say “This is my problem and it’s up to me to solve it.”  But many, so many, seek to avoid the pain of their problems by saying to themselves:  “This problem was caused me by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control, and therefore it is up to other people or society to solve this problem for me.  It is not really my problem.”  

Escape from Freedom

  • Whenever we seek to avoid the responsibility for our own behavior, we do so by attempting to give that responsibility to some other individual or organization or entity.  In attempting to avoid the pain of responsibility, millions and even billions daily attempt to escape from freedom.  
  • Sooner or later, if they are to be healed, they must learn that the entirety of one’s adult life is a series of personal choices, decisions.  If they can accept this totally, then they become free people.  To the extent that they do not accept this they will forever feel themselves victims. 

Openness to Challenge

  • The life of wisdom must be a life of contemplation combined with action.

Withholding Truth

  • By their openness, people dedicated to the truth live in the open, and through the exercise of their courage to live in the open, they become free from fear.  

The Healthiness of Depression

  • It is precisely because the unconscious in its wisdom knows that “the way things used to be” is no longer tenable or constructive that the process of growing and giving up is begun on an unconscious level and depression is experienced. 

Renunciation and Rebirth

  • 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.
  • …the spiritually evolved individual is, as will be elaborated in the next section, an extraordinarily loving individual, and with his or her extraordinary love comes extraordinary joy.  
  • You must forge for yourself an identity before you can give it up.  You must develop an ego before you can lose it. …They want, and believe it possible, to skip over the discipline, to find an easy shortcut to sainthood.  Often they attempt to attain it by simply imitating the superficialities of saints, retiring to the desert or taking up carpentry.  Some even believe that by such imitation they have really become saints and prophets, and are unable to acknowledge that they are still children and face the painful fact that they must start at the beginning and go through the middle.

Section II:  Love

  • I define love thus:  The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.  
  • Indeed, as has been pointed out, we are incapable of loving another unless we love ourselves, just as we are incapable of teaching our children self-discipline unless we ourselves are self-disciplined.  
  • Love is not effortless.  To the contrary, love is effortful.

Falling in “Love”

  • Of all the misconceptions about love the most powerful and pervasive is the belief that “falling in love” is love or at least one of the manifestations of love.
  • Falling in love has little to do with purposively nurturing one’s spiritual development.  If we have any purpose in mind when we fall in love it is to terminate our own loneliness and perhaps insure this result through marriage.  Certainly we are not thinking of spiritual development.  Indeed, after we have fallen in love and before we have fallen out of love again we feel that we have arrived, that the heights have been attained, that there is both no need and no possibility of going higher.  We do not feel ourselves to be in any need of development; we are totally content to be where we are.  Our spirit is at peace.  Nor do we perceive our beloved as being in need of spiritual development.  To the contrary we perceive him or her as perfect, as having been perfected.  If we see any faults in our beloved, we perceive them as insignificant - little quirks or darling eccentricities that only add color and charm.  

The Myth of Romantic Love

  • When we meet the person for whom we are intended, recognition comes through the fact that we fall in love.  We have met the person for whom all the heavens intended us, and since the match is perfect, we will then be able to satisfy all of each other’s needs forever and ever, and therefore live happily forever after in perfect union and harmony.  Should it come to pass, however, that we do not satisfy or meet all of each other’s needs and friction arises and we fall out of love, we misread the stars, we did not hook up with our one and only perfect match, what we thought was love was not real or “true” love, and nothing can be done about the situation except to live unhappily ever after or get divorced.
  • …the myth of romantic love is a dreadful lie…Millions of people waste vast amounts of energy desperately and futilely attempting to make the reality of their lives conform to the unreality of the myth.  
  • Even when couples have acknowledged that the honeymoon is over, that they are no longer romantically in love with each other and are able still to be committed to their relationship, they still cling to the myth and attempt to conform their lives to it.  “Even though we have fallen out of love, if we act by sheer will power as if we still were in love, then maybe romantic love will return to our lives,” their thinking goes.  
  • Ultimately, if they stay in therapy, all couples learn that a true acceptance of their own and each other’s individuality and separateness is the only foundation upon which a mature marriage can be based and real love can grow.

More About Ego Boundaries

  • …the more and longer we extend ourselves, the more we love, the more blurred becomes the distinction between the self and 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”.  Only, instead of having merged temporarily and unrealistically with a single beloved object, we have merged realistically and more permanently with much of the world.  A “mystical union” with the entire world may be established.  The feeling of ecstasy or bliss associated with this union, while perhaps more gentle and less dramatic than that associated with falling in love, is nonetheless much more stable and lasting and ultimately satisfying.  
  • The temporary release from ego boundaries associated with falling in love, sexual intercourse or the use of certain psychoactive drugs may provide us with a glimpse of Nirvana, but not with Nirvana itself.  It is a thesis of this book that Nirvana or lasting enlightenment or true spiritual growth can be achieved only through the persistent exercise of real love.

Dependency

  • People with this disorder, passive dependent people, are so busy seeking to be loved that they have no energy left to love.  They are like starving people, scrounging wherever they can for food, and with no food of their own to give to others.  It is as if within them they have an inner emptiness, a bottomless pit crying out to be filled but which can never be completely filled.  They never feel “full-filled” or have a sense of completeness.  They always feel “a part of me is missing.”  They tolerate loneliness very poorly.  Because of their lack of wholeness they have no real sense of identity, and they define themselves solely by their relationships.
  • …she came to appreciate her own intelligence and assets, and to identify her emptiness and hunger and distinguish it from genuine love, to realize how her hunger was driving her to initiate and cling to relationships that were detrimental to her, and to accept the necessity for the strictest kind of discipline over her hunger if she was to capitalize on her assets.  In the diagnosis the word “passive” is used in conjunction with the word “dependent” because these individuals [passive dependent] concern themselves with what others can do for them to the exclusion of what they themselves can do.  
  • “If being loved is your goal, you will fail to achieve it.  The only way to be assured of being loved is to be a person worthy of love, and you cannot be a person worthy of love when your primary goal in life is to passively be loved.”
  • Consequently it is one of the behavioral hallmarks of passive dependent people in marriage that their role differentiation is rigid, and they seek to increase rather than diminish mutual dependency so as to make marriage more rather than less of a trap.  By so doing, in the name of what they call love but what is really dependency, they diminish their own and each other’s freedom and stature.  
  • “A good marriage can exist only between two strong and independent people.”
  • Love is not simply giving; it is judicious giving and judicious withholding as well.  It is judicious praising and judicious criticizing.  It is judicious arguing, struggling, confronting, urging, pushing and pulling in addition to comforting.  It is leadership.  The word “judicious” means requiring judgment, and judgment requires more than instinct; it requires thoughtful and often painful decision-making.

“Self-Sacrifice”

  • Whatever we do for someone else we do it because it fulfills a need we have.  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 the self, but this is an extension of the self rather than a sacrifice of the self.  …genuine love is a self-replenishing activity.  Indeed, it is even more; it enlarges rather than diminishes the self; it fills the self rather than depleting it.  

Love Is Not a Feeling

  • In a constructive marriage, just as in constructive therapy, the partners must regularly, routinely, and predictably, attend to each other and their relationship no matter how they feel.  As has been mentioned, couples sooner or later always fall out of love, and it is at the moment when the mating instinct has run its course that the opportunity for genuine love begins.  
  • Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional.  The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love.  This person has made a commitment to be loving whether or not the loving feeling is present.

The Work of Attention

  • Extension of ourselves or moving out against the inertia of laziness we call work.  Moving out in the face of fear we call courage.  Love, then, is a form of work or a form of courage.  Specifically, it is work or courage directed toward the nurture of our own or another’s spiritual growth.  …since it requires the extension of ourselves, love is always either work or courage.  If an act is not one of work or courage, then it is not an act of love.  There are no exceptions.
  • True listening, total concentration on the other, is always a manifestation of love.  An essential part of true 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 not to experience as far as possible the speaker’s world from the inside, stepping inside his or her shoes.  
  • The essence of life is change, a panoply of growth and decay.  
  • I have said that the attempt to avoid legitimate suffering lies at the root of all emotional illness.  
  • Not surprisingly, most psychotherapy patients (and probably most nonpatients, since neurosis is the norm rather than the exception) have a problem, whether they are young or old, in facing the reality of death squarely and clearly.

The Risk of Commitment

  • If the therapist’s commitment is insufficient to survive the vicissitudes of the relationship, basic healing will not occur.  However, if the therapist’s commitment is sufficient, then usually - although not inevitably - the patient will respond sooner or later with a developing commitment of his or her own, a commitment to the therapist and to therapy itself.  The point at which the patient begins to demonstrate this commitment is the turning point of the therapy.
  • Parents who are unwilling to risk the suffering of changing and growing and learning from their children are choosing a path of senility - whether they know it or not - and their children and the world will leave them far behind.  Learning from their children is the best opportunity most people have to assure themselves a meaningful old age.  Sadly, most do not take this opportunity.  

The Risk of Confrontation

  • But the reality of life is such that at times one person does know better than the other person what is good for the other, and in actuality is in a position of superior knowledge or wisdom in regard to the matter at hand.  Under these circumstances the wider of the two does in fact have an obligation out of loving concern for the spiritual growth of the other to confront the other with the problem.  The loving person, therefore, is frequently in a dilemma, caught between a loving respect for the beloved’s own path in life and a responsibility to exercise loving leadership when the beloved appears to need such leadership.
  • There are, then, two ways to confront or criticize another human being:  with instinctive and spontaneous certainty that one is right, or with a belief that one is probably right arrived at through scrupulous self-doubting and self-examination.  The first is the way of arrogance; it is the most common way of parents, spouses, teachers and people generally in their day-to-day affairs; it is usually unsuccessful, producing more resentment than growth and other effects that were not intended.  The second is the way of humility; it is not common, requiring as it does a genuine extension of oneself; it is more likely to be successful, and it is never, in my experience, destructive.
  • To fail to confront when confrontation is required for the nurture of spiritual growth represents a failure to love equally as much as does thoughtless criticism or condemnation and other forms of active deprivation of caring.  
  • There is a traditional concept that friendship should be a conflict-free relationship, a “you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" arrangement, relying solely on a mutual exchange of favors and compliments as prescribed by good manners.  Such relationships are superficial and intimacy-avoiding and do not deserve the name of friendship which is so commonly applied to them. Fortunately, there are signs that our concept of friendship is beginning to deepen. Mutual loving confrontation is a significant part of all successful and meaningful human relationships. Without it the relationship is either unsuccessful or shallow.

Love is Disciplined

  • To attempt to love someone who cannot benefit from your love with spiritual growth is to waste your energy, to cast your seed upon arid ground. Genuine love is precious, and those who are capable of genuine love know that their loving must be focused as productively as possible through self-discipline.
  • When I genuinely love I am extending myself, and when I am extending myself I am growing. The more I love, the longer I love, the larger I become. Genuine love is self-replenishing.  The more I nurture the spiritual growth of others, the more my own spiritual growth is nurtured. I am a totally selfish human being. I never do something for somebody else but that I do it for myself. And as I grow through love, so grows my joy, ever more present, ever more constant.

Love is Separateness

  • The genuine lover always perceives the beloved as someone who has a totally separate identity.
  • As I have grown, however, I have come to realize that it is the separateness of the partners that enriches the union. Great marriages cannot be constructed by individuals who were terrified by their basic aloneness, as so commonly is the case, and seek a merging in marriage.  Genuine love not only respects the individuality of the other but actually seeks to cultivate it, even at the risk of separation and loss. 
  • The ultimate goal of life remains the spiritual growth of the individual, the solitary journey to peaks that can be climbed only alone. Significant journeys cannot be accomplished without the nurture provided by a successful marriage or successful society.  Marriage and society exist for the basic purpose of nurturing such individual journeys.
  • Intensive psychotherapy in many ways is a process of reparenting.

The Mystery of Love

  • It has been further suggested that the absence of love is the major cause of mental illness and that the presence of love is consequently the essential healing element in psychotherapy.

Section III:  Growth and Religion

World Views and Religion

  • Consequently, among the members of the human race there exists an extraordinary variability in the breadth and sophistication of our understanding of what life is all about. This understanding is our religion. Since everyone has some understanding – some world view, no matter how limited or primitive or inaccurate - everyone has a religion. This fact, not widely recognized, is of the utmost importance: everyone has a religion.
  • How do people's religions develop?… the most important factor in the development of the religion of most people is obviously their culture. But less obvious (except to psychotherapists) is the fact that the most important part of our culture is our particular family.  The most basic culture in which we develop is the culture of our family, and our parents are its "culture leaders.”  Moreover, the most significant aspect 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. In other words, what we learned about the nature of the world when we are growing up is determined by the actual nature of our experiences in the microcosm of the family.  It is not so much what our parents say that determines our worldview as it is the unique world they create for us by their behavior.
  • The fact that our religion or worldview is initially largely determined by our unique childhood experience brings us face-to-face with a central problem: the relationship between religion and reality.
  • Most of us operate from a narrower frame of reference than that of which we are capable, failing to transcend the influence of our particular culture, our particular set of parents and our particular childhood experience upon our understanding. It is no wonder, then, that the world of humanity is so full of conflict. 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 to make matters worse, most of us are not even fully aware of our own world views, much less the uniqueness of the experience from which they are derived.

The Religion of Science

  • Spiritual growth is a journey out of the microcosm into an ever greater macrocosm. We must continually expand our realm of knowledge and our field of vision through the thorough digestion and incorporation of new information.
  • …the Learning of something new requires giving up the old self and a death of outworn knowledge. To develop a broader vision we must be willing to forsake, to kill, our narrower vision.  In the short run it is more comfortable not to do this – to stay where we are, to keep using the same microcosmic map, to avoid suffering the death of cherished notions. The road of spiritual growth, however, lies in the opposite direction. We begin by distrusting what we already believe, by actively seeking the threatening and unfamiliar, by deliberately challenging the validity of what we have previously been taught and hold dear.  The path to holiness lies through questioning everything.

The Baby and the Bath Water

  • I have firmly stated that it is essential to our spiritual growth for us to become scientists who are skeptical of what we have been taught - that is, the common notions and assumptions of our culture.  But the notions of science themselves often become cultural idols, and it is necessary that we become skeptical of these as well.
  • In thinking about miracles, I believe that our frame of reference has been too dramatic.  We have been looking for the burning bush, the parting of the sea, the bellowing voice from heaven.  Instead we should be looking at the ordinary day-to-day events in our lives for evidence of the miraculous, maintaining at the same time a scientific orientation.  This is what I shall be doing in the next section as I examine ordinary occurrences in the practice of psychiatry which have led me to an understanding of the extraordinary phenomenon of grace.

Section IV:  Grace

  • My own experience has confirmed Jung’s views in this regard to the point where 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.
  • Freud discovered in many of his patients sexual desires and hostile feelings of which they were not aware yet which were clearly making them ill.  Because these desires and feelings resided in the unconscious, the notion arose that it was the unconscious that "caused" mental illness.  But why were these desires and feelings located in the unconscious in the first place? Why were they repressed? The answer is that the conscious mind did not want them. And it is in this not–wanting, this disowning, that the problem lies. The problem is not that human beings have such hostile and sexual feelings, but rather that human beings have a conscious mind that is 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.
  • Through a complex of factors, our conscious self–concept almost always diverges to a greater or lesser degree from the reality of the person we actually are. We are almost always either less or more competent then we believe ourselves to be. The unconscious, however, knows who we really are. A major and essential task in the process of one's spiritual development is the continuous work of bringing one's conscious self–concept into progressively greater congruence with reality. Went a large part of this lifelong task is accomplish with relative rapidity, as it may be through intensive psychotherapy, individual will often feel "reborn".  “I am not the person I was," a patient will say with real joy about the dramatic change in his or her consciousness; "I am a totally new and different person.”
  • The fact of the matter is that our unconscious is wiser than we are about everything.
  • Among the possible explanations, one is that of Jung’s theory of the “collective unconscious,” in which we inherit the wisdom of the experience of our ancestors without ourselves having the personal experience. While this kind of knowledge may seem bizarre to the scientific mind, strangely enough its existence is recognized in our common everyday language. Take the word “recognize” itself.  When we are reading a book and come across an idea or theory that appeals to us, that “rings a bell” with us, we "recognize" it to be true. Yet this idea or theory may be one of which we have never before consciously thought.
  • Therefore when we educate people, if we use the word seriously, we do not stuff something new into their minds; rather, we lead this something out of them; we bring it forth from the unconscious into their awareness. They were the possessors of the knowledge all along.
  • The mind, which sometimes presumes to believe that there is no such thing as a miracle, is itself a miracle. 
  • 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.
  • The principle of synchronicity does not explain why or how this happened; it simply states that such implausible conjunctions of events in time occur more frequently than would be predicted by chance alone. It does not explain miracles. The principle serves only to make it clear that miracles seem to be matters of timing and matters that are amazingly commonplace.

The Definition of Grace

  1. They serve to nurture – support, protect and enhance – human life and spiritual growth.  
  2. The mechanism of their action is either incompletely understandable (as in the case of physical resistance and dreams) or totally obscure (as in the case of paranormal phenomena) according to the principles of natural law as interpreted by current scientific thinking.
  3. Their occurrence is frequent, routine, commonplace and essentially universal among humanity.
  4. Although potentially influenced by human consciousness, their origin is outside of the conscious will and beyond the process of conscious decision–making.
  • Although generally regarded as separate, I have come to believe that their commonality indicates that these phenomena are part of or manifestations of a single phenomenon: a powerful force originating outside of human consciousness which nurtures the spiritual growth of human beings. 
  • We perceive the world composed of such entities: ships, shoes and sealing wax, and other categories. And we've been tend to understand a phenomenon by placing it in a particular category, saying it is such and such an entity. It is either this or that, but it cannot be both. Ships are ships and not shoes. I am I and you are you.  The I – entity is my identity and the you – entity is your identity, and we tend to be quite discomfited if our identities become mixed up or confused. As we have previously noted, Hindu and Buddhist thinkers believe our perception of discrete entities to be illusion, or Maya, and modern physicists, concerned with relativity, wave–particle phenomena, electromagnetism, et cetera, are becoming increasingly aware of the limitations of our conceptual approach in terms of entities.

The Miracle of Evolution

  • Spiritual growth is the evolution of an individual. An individual’s body may undergo the changes of the life cycle, but it does not evolve. New physical patterns are not forged. Decline of physical competence in old age is an inevitability. Within an individual lifetime, however, the human spirit may evolve dramatically.  New patterns may be forged. Spiritual competence may increase (although it usually does not) until the moment of death in advanced old age. Our lifetime offers us unlimited opportunities for spiritual growth until the end.
  • Again and again I have emphasized that the process of spiritual growth is an effortful and difficult one. This is because it is conducted against a natural resistance, against a natural inclination to keep things the way they were, to cling to the old maps, and old ways of doing things, to take the easy path. About this natural resistance, this force of entropy as it operates in our spiritual lives, I will have still more to say shortly. But as in the case of physical evolution, the miracle is that this resistance is overcome. We do grow. Despite all that resists the process, we do become better human beings. Not all of us. Not easily. But in significant numbers humans somehow manage to improve themselves and their cultures. There is a force that somehow pushes us to choose the more difficult path whereby we can transcend the mire and muck into which we are so often born.
  • As we evolve as individuals, so do we cause our society to evolve.  The culture that nurtures us in childhood is nurtured by our leadership in adulthood. Those who achieve growth not only enjoy the fruits of growth but give the same fruits to the world. Evolving as individuals, we carry humanity on our backs. And so humanity evolves.

Entropy and Original Sin

  • Being about spiritual growth, this book is an inevitably about the other side of the same coin: the impediments to spiritual growth. Alternately there is only the one in impediment, and that is laziness. If we overcome laziness, all the other impediments will be overcome. If we do not overcome laziness, none of the others will be hurdled. So this is a book about laziness. In examining discipline we were considering the laziness of attempting to avoid necessary suffering, we're taking the easy way out. And examining love we were also examining the fact that nonlove is the unwillingness to extend oneself.  Laziness is love’s opposite. Spiritual growth is effortful, as we have been reminded again and again. We are now at a position from which we can examine the nature of laziness in perspective and realize that laziness is the force of entropy as it manifests itself in the lives of all of us.
  • Gradually, however, I became increasingly aware of the ubiquitous nature of laziness. In the struggle to help my patients grow, I found that my chief enemy was invariably their laziness.  And I became aware in myself of a similar reluctance to extend myself two new areas of thought, responsibility and maturation.
  • Much of our fear is fear of a change in status quo, a fear that we might lose what we have if we ventured forth from where we are now. In the section on discipline I spoke of the fact that people find new information distinctly threatening, because if they incorporate it they will have to do a good deal of work to revise their maps of reality, and instinctively seek to avoid that work. Consequently, more often than not they will fight against the new information rather then for its assimilation. Their resistance is motivated by fear, yes, but the basis of the fear is laziness; it is the fear of the work they would have to do. Similarly, in the section on love I spoke of the risks of extending ourselves into new territory, new commitments and responsibilities, new relationships and levels of existence. Here again the risk is of the loss of the status quo, and the fear is of the work involved in arriving at a new status quo.
  • Psychotherapists know that although patients come to us seeking change of one kind or another, they are actually terrified of change - of the work of change. It is because of this terror or laziness that the vast majority of patients - perhaps nine of ten – who begin the process of psychotherapy, drop out of therapy long before the process has been completed. The majority of these drops–outs (or cop–outs) are heard during the first few sessions or first few months of treatment.
  • For to recognize laziness for what it is and acknowledge it in oneself is the beginning of its curtailment.  For these reasons, those who are in the relatively more advanced stages of spiritual growth are the very ones most aware of their own laziness.  It is the least lazy who knows themselves to be sluggish.
  • Evil people hate the light because it reveals themselves to themselves. They hate goodness because it reveals their badness; they hate love because reveals their laziness. They will destroy the light, the goodness, the love in order to avoid the pain of such self–awareness. My second conclusion, then, is that evil is laziness carried to its ultimate, extraordinary extreme. As I have defined it, love is the antithesis of laziness. Ordinary laziness is a passive failure to love. Some ordinarily lazy people may not lift a finger to extend themselves unless they're compelled to do so. Their being is a manifestation of non-love; still, they are not evil. Truly evil people, on the other hand, actively rather than passively avoid extending themselves. They will take any action in their power to protect their own laziness, to preserve the integrity of their sick self.  Rather than nurturing others, they will actually destroy others in this cause. If necessary, they will even kill to escape the pain of their own spiritual growth. As the integrity of their sick self is threatened by the spiritual health of those around them, they will seek by all manner of means to crush and demolish the spiritual health that may exist near them. I defined evil, then, as the exercise of political power – that is, the imposition of one's will upon others by overt covert coercion – in order to avoid extending one's self for the purpose of nurturing spiritual growth. Ordinary laziness is non-love; evil is anti-love.
  • And when we become aware of a new truth, it is because we recognize It to be true; we re-know that which we knew all along. Therefore, might we not conclude that to become conscious is to know with our unconscious? The development of consciousness is the development of awareness in our own conscious mind of knowledge along with our unconscious mind, which already possesses that knowledge. It is a process of the conscious mind coming into synchrony with the unconscious. This should be no strange concept to the psychotherapists, who frequently defined their therapy as a process "making the unconscious conscious” or enlarging the realm of consciousness in relation to the realm of unconsciousness.
  • I believe that the conscious is the seat of psychopathology and that mental disorders are disorders of consciousness.  It is because our conscious self resists our unconscious wisdom that we become ill.  It is precisely because our consciousness is disordered that conflict occurs between it and the unconscious which seeks to heal it. 

The Nature of Power

  • Political power is the capacity to coerce others, overtly or covertly, to do one’s will.  This capacity resides in the position, such as a kingship or presidency, or else in money.  It does not reside in the person who occupies the position or possesses the money.  Consequently political power is unrelated to goodness or wisdom.  Very stupid and very evil people have walked as kings upon the earth.  Spiritual power, however, resides entirely within the individual and has nothing to do with the capacity to coerce others.  People of great spiritual power may be wealthy and may upon occasion occupy political positions of leadership, but they are as likely to be poor and lacking in political authority.  Then, what is the capacity of spiritual power if not the capacity to coerce?  It is the capacity to make decisions with maximum awareness.  It is consciousness.  
  • Most people most of the time make decisions with little awareness of what they are doing.  They take action with little understanding of their own motives and without beginning to know the ramifications of their choices.  
  • We are often most in the dark when we are the most certain, and the most enlightened when we are the most confused.  
  • But others, sufficiently aware to know that they are lost, dare to hope that they can work themselves out of ignorance through developing even greater awareness.  They are correct.  It is possible.  But such greater awareness does not come to them in a single blinding flash of enlightenment.  It comes slowly, piece by piece, and each piece must be worked for by the patient effort of study and observation of everything, including themselves.  They are humble students.  The path of spiritual growth is a path of lifelong learning.
  • Invariably when asked the source of their knowledge and power, the truly powerful will reply:  “It is not my power.  What little power I have is but a minute expression of a far greater power.  I am merely a conduit.  It is not my power at all.”
  • We live our lives in a real world.  To live them well it is necessary that we come to understand the reality of the world as best we can.  But such understanding does not come easily.  Many aspects of the reality of the world and of our relationship to the world are painful to us.  We can understand them only through effort and suffering.  All of us, to a greater or lesser extent, attempt to avoid this effort and suffering.  We ignore painful aspects of reality by thrusting certain unpleasant facts out of our awareness.  In other words, we attempt to defend our consciousness, our awareness, against reality.  We do this by a variety of means which psychotherapists call defense mechanisms.  All of us employ such defenses, thereby limiting our awareness.  If in our laziness and fear of suffering we massively defend our awareness, then it will come to pass that our understanding of the world will bear little or no relation to reality.  
  • Although our conscious mind has denied reality, our unconscious, which is omniscient, knows the true score and attempts to help us out by stimulating, through symptom formation, our conscious mind to the awareness that something is wrong.  In other words, the painful and unwanted symptoms of mental illness are manifestations of grace.  They are the products of a “powerful force originating outside of consciousness which nurtures our spiritual growth.”
  • The symptoms and the illness are not the same thing.  The illness exists long before the symptoms.  Rather than being the illness, the symptoms are the beginning of its cure.  
  • As soon as they [patients] realize they will ultimately be required by the process of psychotherapy to assume total responsibility for their condition and its cure, most patients, no matter how eager for therapy they initially appeared to be, will drop out.  They choose rather to be sick and have the gods to blame than to be well with no one to blame ever again.  Of the minority who stay in therapy most must still be taught to assume total responsibility for themselves as a part of their healing.  This teaching - “training” might be a more accurate word - is a painstaking affair as the therapist methodically confronts patients with their avoidance of responsibility again and again and again, session after session, month after month, and often year after year.  Frequently, like stubborn children, they will kick and scream all the way as they are led to the notion of total responsibility for themselves.  Eventually, however, they arrive.  

Resistance to Grace

  • The call to grace is a call to a life of effortful caring, to a life of service and whatever sacrifice seems required.  It is a call out of spiritual childhood into adulthood, a call to be a parent unto mankind.  
  • Most people want the peace without the aloneness of power.  And they want the self-confidence of adulthood without having to grow up.
  • There are many who, by virtue of their passivity, dependency, fear and laziness, seek to be shown every inch of the way and have it demonstrated to them that each step will be safe and worth their while.  This cannot be done. For the journey of spiritual growth requires courage and initiative and independence of thought and action.  While the words of the prophets and the assistance of grace are available, the journey must still be traveled alone.  No teacher can carry you there. There are no preset formulas. Rituals are only learning aids, they are not the learning. Eating organic food, saying five Hail Marys before breakfast, praying facing East or West, or going to church on Sunday will not take you to your destination.  No words can be said, no teaching can be taught that will relieve spiritual travelers from the necessity of picking their own ways, working out with effort and anxiety their own paths through the unique circumstances of their own lives toward the identification of their individual selves…
  • So the replacement of our human myths by scientific information has caused us to suffer a sense of personal meaninglessness. Of what possible significance could we be, as individuals or even as a race, buffeted about by internal chemical and psychological forces we do not understand, invisible in a universe whose dimensions are so large that even our science cannot measure them?
  • 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?

Additional Thoughts

  • That said, apparently he was an alcoholic, smoker and philanderer, and therefore falls into the category of beings we would not consider enlightened (along with Alan Watts, Sogyal Rinpoche, et al).  However, this does not in any way diminish the soundness of his teachings.  And to those who say the concepts in this book are dated, I would ask, “Are Jesus’ teachings on love dated?  Are Jung’s insights into the human mind dated?”
  • Unfortunately, there were at least two glaring errors in the book.  First, he writes “The first of the “Four Noble Truths” which the Buddha taught was “Life is Suffering””.  The Buddha actually taught, “Suffering occurs” and “The possibility for ending suffering exists”.  
  • While the first one implies that “suffering is just the way life is”, the second one acknowledges that suffering exists and that suffering can be ended too.  Very different messages.  In another section, he writes, “…there is a regressive quality to the mystical thought of some Hindu or Buddhist theology, in which the status of the infant without ego boundaries is compared to Nirvana and the goal of entering Nirvana seems similar to the goal of returning to the womb”.  Buddhism is about maturation, not shrinking from life and regressing to infancy.  Dissolution of ego boundaries is about realizing the empty nature or oneness of all things and that perceived separateness is an illusion.
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