If you're seeking peace of mind, emotional fulfillment, and a sense of your place in the world, try looking in hell. We're not talking about your Sunday-school teacher's fire-and-brimstone inferno but the one you've built for yourself in the privacy of your own mind. According to husband-and-wife psychotherapists Bonney and Richard Schaub, the road to enduring solace begins, inevitably, with a tour of your home-honed torture chambers.
The Schaubs' personal journey, which led to their book, Dante's Path
(Gotham), began 40 years ago. Frustrated that traditional therapy failed to address spiritual needs—and that so many apparently successful people they met seemed to feel lost in their lives—they stumbled on the work of an Italian analyst named Roberto Assagioli. A student of Freud, Assagioli had rejected the master to develop something called psychosynthesis, which rests on the belief that we're each capable of reaching beyond our personalities, that we can grasp transcendent wisdom—but only if we first take a long, hard look at how we contribute to our suffering.
"Born in a Jewish ghetto in 1888, Assagioli was no stranger to the kind of hardships we can't control. He was imprisoned by the Fascists (for being a pacifist), then freed, only to be forced into hiding during the Nazi occupation. Shortly after the war, his only child died. He deeply understood the pain that life can visit on us, yet insisted that a profound, healing wisdom is always available. He found his internal Mapquest not in modern science but in Dante's 14th-century masterpiece, The Divine Comedy
. Written while Dante was in exile, this epic poem depicts the progress of "the Pilgrim" on a guided tour of hell and purgatory, and finally into an illuminated paradise. While Dante's frame of reference was Catholicism, Assagioli read his work metaphorically, as an exploration of our inner realms, a model of personal transformation.
"The idea," Richard Schaub says, sitting in the Manhattan office where he and Bonney use psychosynthesis to treat clients with 21st-century problems, "is that we all use a limited amount of consciousness. If it's absorbed in hell patterns—fear-based instincts and the reactions we develop around them—that means we're unable to discover other parts of ourselves." We create our own hell, the Schaubs believe, through indifference (attempting to protect ourselves by assuming an air of not caring); greed (insatiably craving money, stuff, accolades—anything to fill the emptiness inside); jealousy; intentional cruelty; betrayal; and addiction. We're in "purgatory" when we become aware of our self-created torments and consciously work to release ourselves, and rise to "paradise" when we tap into our higher wisdom, our universal connection with others.
"Combining traditional therapeutic techniques with meditation, visualization, and even contemplation of art, the Schaubs have helped cancer, cardiac, and AIDS patients gain relief from depression and rage. They've also led clients with marital strife, career anxiety, and garden-variety angst to recognize their role in their problems as a first step in getting unstuck.
Next: Are you addicted to misery?