Highway To Hell

As a loud and proud 80’s Rocker Chick, I had to pay homage to AC/DC with the title of this post. However, the subject I want to explore has more to do with the proverb, The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions.

Hmmm… I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

To make sure that I had remembered the quote correctly, I did the appropriate research and Googled it. Wikipedia offers three general interpretations of the proverb:

  1. Good intentions are meaningless without action and follow through.
  2. Evil actions or wrongdoings are often masked by good intentions.
  3. Good intentions – even with appropriate follow through – may have unforeseen negative consequences.

What I find interesting is that all three interpretations of this proverb are applicable to the self-help and personal growth industries. If one is not careful, the “good intentions” of self-help and personal growth could lead directly to hell.

I know because I have been there. In my efforts to heal my own pain, I have explored virtually every psychological, spiritual, metaphysical, self-help approach around. And I’ve also fallen into every sand trap and stepped onto every land mine each path hides.

The most basic trap is the Snake Oil Salesman who peddles Wish Fulfillment disguised as Spiritual Truth. I hate to admit it, but it’s a pretty easy sell. When you’re in deep spiritual and psychological pain, you just want it to stop. So the idea that you can “change your reality” by harnessing “spiritual laws” can be very seductive.

One of the biggest problems with this approach (aside from the lack of action and follow through) is that it places all of the power – and all of the responsibility – of your life circumstances on you alone. At first that seems like a great idea! You can “create your reality” to suit your own needs and desires (thereby ending your pain). But there’s a flip side to this logic. If anything goes wrong – it’s your fault.

There is no greater hell than the suffering experienced by those who question – and continue to question – what they thought or did wrong to create their painful situation. Or the pain they continue to suffer over not “being happy enough” or “thinking the right thought” or “having the right vibration” when their undesirable, painful situation persists.

So the first two interpretations that Wikipedia offers of our proverb are taken care of by the Snake Oil Salesmen and their “The Universe is a Cosmic Vending Machine” approach. They profit off our pain and perpetuate it by teaching us to focus on positive intentions and vibrations without regard to our actions.

However not everyone in the self-help and personal development world sells snake oil. This industry is full of loving, compassionate, wise, insightful, and smart thought leaders who sincerely want to help people create healing and transformation. And yet even their good intentions, coupled with appropriate action, can have unforeseen negative consequences. (Wikipedia interpretation #3.)

Oftentimes the negative consequence is simply a misunderstanding – a misinterpretation of the speaker’s words. And sometimes no misunderstanding is needed – a speaker simply uses poorly chosen words when trying to explain a concept.

To illustrate, one of my favorite speakers recently gave a lecture aimed at transforming the consciousness around work and career. And she used the example of being an actor to make her point.

To paraphrase, simplify and edit greatly, she said something to the effect of this:

You don’t want to say, “I’m an actor and I want to win an Oscar.” That’s very ego based – it has a very low vibration. You want to say, “I’m an actor and I want to create great art. I want to work on quality projects that elevate humanity.” That has a higher vibration. And then you know what? Those great projects are more likely to earn you an Oscar.

Now as an actor myself, I have an insider’s view of this entire thought process and emotional dynamic. And I can state, without equivocation, that my beloved speaker hit a faulty note with her words in this example. To someone who is in pain about their acting career, her words run the risk of perpetuating their pain. To someone in pain over their acting career, it is very easy to infer that she said “change what you say to raise your vibration and win an Oscar.”

Once again, those good intentions pave the path to hell…

Because I’ve been to hell myself (and fought my way back), I do understand the underlying point she was trying to make. And this is what I would offer. I’ll keep the example the same – an actor.

I’m an actor. I just am. I don’t know why – it’s a stirring that seems to come from the deepest part of my soul. I want to act because it makes me happy. And it’s important to me. So I want to work on projects with other people that find it meaningful and important too. I want to work on projects with people for whom this matters as much as it does to me. And when we’re all working on this together, we’re all happy. And hopefully other people will come watch what we’ve created – and hopefully it will make them happy too. And you know what? It doesn’t matter if I win an Oscar or not – because I’m happy. And that’s the only reason I really wanted to win it in the first place. I thought winning an Oscar would make me happy. But I already AM happy. That’s my miracle. I’m happy! And if that Oscar should come along some day, that would be a super cool bonus! But I’m not waiting for an Oscar. It’s all good just as it is right now. Because I’m happy. And THAT’s what I really wanted.

The good news is that you don’t need to be an actor to find peace and happiness. And you don’t even need to “find” peace and happiness. Peace and happiness are yours to experience right here right now. That’s what all this psychological and spiritual stuff is about. From Buddhism to Taoism, A Course in Miracles to metaphysics, positive psychology to simple mindfulness – they are all paths to help us experience peace and happiness in the here and now. That’s the miracle – experiencing peace and happiness – in any moment – regardless of our circumstances.

When you’re in pain, there are two roads you can take. One is to try to control external conditions to suit your needs – which you think will bring you peace and happiness. And even with good intentions, this path is a Highway to Hell. The other road asks something more of you. It asks you to use all the self-help and spiritual skills and tools you have available to go deeper into yourself – to find your center – to find that place of peace and happiness that – regardless of external conditions – already exists within you. And when you do that, you’ll find that Heaven is a Place On Earth.