Real Growth & “Making a Change”


The purpose of a book of meditations is to teach you how to think and not to do your thinking for you. Consequently if you pick up such a book and simply read it through, you are wasting your time. As soon as any thought stimulates your mind or your heart you can put the book down because your meditation has begun.” – Thomas Merton, “New Seeds of Contemplation,” pg. 215

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Why aren’t more people truly “growth-oriented”?

Psychologists and psychiatrists estimate that about 4% of the population can be diagnosed as having Antisocial Personality Disorder (meaning a sociopath without a conscience, with no sense that other people exist and are “real”), and that another 3% are not just narcissistic but are so extreme in their narcissism that they have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and that at least 2% of the population can be diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. That’s about 8 – 9% of the population or about one in 12 people that you meet.

On the other hand, Maslow estimated that less than 2% (less than 1 in 50 people) are truly growth-oriented, meaning capable of not just making a change, but of making a healthy and sustained change. And that even fewer people are capable of carrying out that change and growth to the point where they “transcend” the confines of the self (“self-transcendence) and are actually able to be good to and for not just themselves but, but to and for the entire human race—think of Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, and lesser known everyday heroes and saint.

The Buddha said, “If it were not possible to free the heart and mind from entanglement in greed, hate, and fear, I would not teach you to do so.”

Which begs the question. For how many people is this possible? What percentage? What percentage are capable of what in Christianity is termed a true “metanoia”—a deep and radical change of heart and mind and life direction, from one of dishonesty and avoidance and rationalizations (rational lies), to one of honesty, integrity, goodness, growth, faith, and love?

If only 1% of the population is capable of self-transcendence, then is that also approximately the same percentage that is capable of a metanoia or of “waking up” (not dying asleep and full of self-deception)?

Maslow’s numbers are not very encouraging, but they sound about right to me. If 98% of people are “deficit and repair oriented” (meaning comfort- and safety-first, addicted to living life superficially and in the shallows, addicted to the path of least resistance, and thus fairly asleep and self-centered and immature, if not pathological) and only about 2% of the population is “growth-oriented,” then that would seem to mean that only about 2% of the population is capable of true mental health and the other 98% are either asleep, blind, fairly unhealthy or immature or even outright pathological psychologically and emotionally.

I don’t think there’s just one reason or just one cause for why these numbers/estimates are the way they are. There are multiple causes and reasons. As a person who is philosophical by nature and who is an armchair psychologist at heart, all of this is something that I think about fairly often—Why can’t or don’t more people push themselves to grow? Why are so many people willing to settle for so little out of themselves in terms of honesty, knowing themselves, seeing themselves as they are and for what they are? Is it a question of ability, capacity, will, want? How can more people truly and deeply and profoundly become more aware of their own lenses and blind spot and self-defeating and counterproductive (maladaptive, even pathological) patterns and tendencies?

I know I have fairly high standards for myself; I know that I am leading a very reflective and examined life—I sense myself to be more alive and awake and self-aware than the average bear.

And since I have these high standards out of myself and seem to think that for the most part I have met them, I also tend to have them for others and expect them of others—i.e., if I’m capable of this, then others should be as well, especially if they would do some of the same things that I did or had to do, expose and subject themselves to some of the same rigors and burdens—think more, work on their moral compass, face and acknowledge their own fears instead of habitually being dishonest about them by denying them or running from them or burying them, spend time reading decent books, and then writing or journaling about their own thoughts on these books (thus the rationale behind including the excerpt from Merton that I did at the head of this post) and thus learning to better observe and become more informed and objective about their own inner processes, spending more time trying to examine their own motivations and paradigm and programming and patterns. If I can do it, why can’t or won’t more others?

This is your one brief precious life. This is all we can actually know that we get—the rest is speculative at best and delusional and dishonest at worst. Do you want to go through this life asleep, blind, unaware of yourself and your own patterns and motivations? Or deep down do you really want to wake up and see yourself and your patterns for what they are, and thus not merely “make a change” but actually grow up and truly become a psychological and emotional and spiritual adult?

Every day, people get up and tell themselves they’re gonna change their lives, and they never do. Well I’m gonna change mine.” – from the motion picture “The Town

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Doug MacRay: I’m thinking about, uhm, taking a trip . . . going out of town.
Stephen MacRay: Takin’ heat?
Doug MacRay: Just makin’ a change.
Stephen MacRay: Yeah, don’t tell me ‘making a change’. Either you got heat or you don’t.
– from the motion picture “The Town

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To awaken is difficult to do; homo sapiens are already submitted to a cosmic hypnotic influence (called survival and daily life); and if this were not enough, each individual, when he does not like the reality of life or is not satisfied with himself, dreams of himself and the world in a manner ideal for himself.” – John Baines

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Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” – John Kenneth Galbraith

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And faced with the choice between changing one’s way of thinking and living and proving there’s no need to, almost everyone get busy on the proof by trying to discredit the messenger if not psychologically killing him or walling him out. It’s easier to spin out and wall up and make excuses for it (tell ourselves and others rational sounding lies [rationalizations]) than it is to look very honestly and fairly and objectively at our own actions and patterns and how we have acted in ways that have bred distrust and suspicion and insecurity—both in ourselves and others. It’s easier to spin out and deal with that level of pain than it is to shed our many buffers and look honestly at ourselves and feel that pain and guilt and shame.

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Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.” – Milton, “Paradise Lost,” book II, Line 432.

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If it were easy kid, everybody would do it.” – from the motion picture “The Town

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Our life transformation will be in exact proportion to the amount of truth we can take without running away.” – Vernon Howard, “The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power,” pg. 13

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The process of self-development can be described as the stripping away of layer after layer after layer of all that is false.” – Vernon Howard, “The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power,” pg. 249

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What does every person want? . . . He wants to be free. But from what? He only senses vaguely what he really wants. So he spends his days anxiously seeking the wrong needles in the wrong haystacks, not realizing that he is seeking the wrong needle or searching in the wrong haystack. Human beings are frightened wanderers. And they wear a variety of mask to hide this fact from themselves and each other and convince themselves that their masks are real. They wear smiling masks, wise appearing ones, excited ones, masks of worldly success, all to convince themselves and others that the act is real. So what does every person most deeply want? To be free from himself—from his own fakery and falsity, from his ego-centered ways, from his heartache and suffering, from his compulsive desires and neurotic fears, from his secret shames and guilt carried over from past follies, to no longer be at the mercy of his moods and circumstances and other people’s opinions and approval. What every person wants most without realizing it is self-liberty—liberty from all that is ill and weak and wounded and biased and distorted and anxious and frightened within himself.” – Vernon Howard, adapted from “The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power,” pp. 9-10

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