Grace. The unconscious mind. Personal religion.
I’m not going to wax lyrical about being in any way spiritually enlightened, because I’m not. I’m no guru or saint, I’m just starting out and I’m learning a lot of things. I like to keep them safe and close to my heart by writing about them. I hope to remember my learnings and make them part of me. The Road Less Travelled has obviously made a big impact on me, as I don’t seem to be able to stop writing about it.
There are a couple of loose ends from Peck’s book that I’d like to tie up. We have discovered Peck’s belief that the ultimate aim of personal evolution is to be like God. Spiritual growth is how we as individuals evolve. And love is the force that overcomes the entropy intrinsic to the natural law of the universe. I wanted to explore the idea of God being a force within our unconscious, as this really stood out for me while reading this book.
We still have no idea why the unconscious mind possesses knowledge that we have not necessarily already learned. Peck suggests that the interface between God and man is at least in part the interface between our unconscious and our conscious. Perhaps we can go further and postulate that where God inhabits is Jung’s collective subconscious that we all share.
I find it very interesting that Peck’s view flips around the beliefs of the preceding age of psychotherapy, which held that the unconscious with its tumultuousness, nightmares, mental illnesses and assorted demons, is the seat of psychopathology. In Peck’s version, diseases of the mind occur because our conscious self resists unconscious wisdom and it is amidst this conflict that the unconscious seeks to heal. Far from being dark, unruly and fearful, our unconscious mind is an expression of a far greater power.
But, we are in the dark about what our unconscious mind – God – is telling us. Dreams are open to contradictory interpretations, dark nights of the soul seemingly serve little purpose except making us miserable, and we are very quick to discount those situations when we intuit something but cannot figure how we could possibly ‘know’ it. Perhaps on occasion we are being assisted by a force other than our own conscious will. This is where grace comes in.
Grace is a “powerful force originating outside of human consciousness which nurtures the spiritual growth of human beings”. Examples of grace include near-misses in potential accident situations, dream phenomena where revelations are made; miracles of health; examples of extra sensory perception; and other fortuitous incidents, peculiar coincidences, synchronicity or serendipity that we cannot explain. The following four conditions define them:
- They nurture human life and spiritual growth.
- They are incompletely understood by scientific thinking.
- They are commonplace among humanity.
- They originate outside the conscious human will.
Peck goes on to assert that the fact of grace basically infers the existence of God. Whether or not one believes in God is a personal matter which no argument from a book is going to change – but unbelievably it can and does change over time. This got me thinking about my own faith and asking the question, how did I go from being a hardline atheist who pretty much felt like punching every devout religious person squarely on the nose, to someone who only today over breakfast, told my flatmates that I believe in a God as a soul of the universe, a oneness, source, a spirit that unites us all?
There’s no simple answer to this. I didn’t see any huge signposts pointing me towards God or grace. I didn’t dodge death or see Jesus in a watermelon. I can only conclude my faith was slowly awakened during the fourteen months I’ve been publishing and asking questions. In searching for mental peace and desperately wanting to shake the problems I used to have with anger, violence, neuroses etc, I found that there was much more blossoming within me given that I had made a commitment to change. I had no idea when I started how much potential I have to be joyful and spiritually whole. This is my therapy.
There was one final point that Peck makes in the ‘Growth and Religion’ section that really hit home. From the theologian Alan Jones “one of our problems is that very few of us have developed any distinctive personal life. Everything about us seems secondhand, even our emotions. […] I 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”. And if sitting around waiting for God to show himself to us won’t do, we must each of us forge our own religion. This is “a wholly personal one, forged entirely through the fire of our questioning and doubting in the crucible of our own experience of reality.” I love this idea, and I think it’s what I am doing in my myriad ways.