Self-Help Advice from The Eagles

"This could be heaven, or this could be hell."

Posted Jun 21, 2018

One of the iconic bands of my college years was The Eagles. Last week I watched their 1977 concert at Capital Centre on YouTube. I knew all the songs and most of the lyrics, including the verse that prompted this article. But, pardon the pun, this time the words struck a different chord.

The song I’m referring to is, “You Can’t Hide Your Lying Eyes,” and the line that especially impressed me was this: “Every form of refuge has its price.” 

As we say in the South, “that’s gospel.”

Back in the 1990s, Dr. Scott Peck wrote one of the most popular and insightful self-help books of all time, The Road Less Traveled.  The theme of that book, in a nutshell, is that “every form of refuge has its price.” He doesn’t use those words, but that’s the central argument of his book. Dr. Peck maintains that most of the preventable psychological suffering that we endure arises from avoiding, evading, and generally refusing to deal with lesser problems right here, right now. Undertaking the difficult task of confronting our demons is the road less traveled.

Consider addiction, for example. What’s the solution? Stop drinking, using drugs, gambling, or whatever is causing your life to spin out of control. But that’s too painful and frightening here and now. It’s easier to continue taking refuge in one’s addiction of choice. 

Here I will digress momentarily:  I’m not making an argument against the theory that addiction is a disease. Addiction is not my area of specialization. However, I think that the “disease” concept can be twisted to imply that addiction just “happens” (like the flu) rather than something one can confront and eventually master. From ages 18 to 25, I smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. At age 25 I was unable to climb a flight of stairs without losing my breath. That was the price of my refuge. So I quit cold turkey. For a short time, the withdrawal was hell (and that was another price of refuge). And then I was free of addiction. In my 30s, I was running half marathons (until my knees said “no more”).  Some psychologists would say that I traded the addiction of smoking for the addiction of running, and I wouldn’t put up much of an argument against that observation.

Just this week I received an email from a woman in her 20s who said that she has always used deceit and manipulation to deal with “people problems.”  Now she finds that karma is a word that rhymes with witch. She knows she needs to change, but as a Machiavellian, she is temperamentally predisposed to be the way she is. She doesn’t know how to change. We have all been in a similar quandary at one time or another: “I must…but I can’t (or don’t know how).”  And so we take refuge in the familiar.

“Welcome to the Hotel California…We are all just prisoners here of our own device.” Until we decide to take the road less traveled.