In Stalin’s Russia, when prison sentences stretched ten, fifteen, and twenty-five years, the future Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn found himself incarcerated in its genocidal “corrective” labor camps (the so-called Gulag of the Soviet Union). His crime: expressing anti-Stalinist opinions in a letter to a friend.
A devout Communist at his arrest, condemned to be worked to death in the frozen wastelands of Russia, he underwent instead a profound psychological transformation, broke free of his Marxist ideology—and survived. This full biography of one of the most influential personalities of the Twentieth Century follows his astounding journey from the camps, to living through near-terminal cancer, to winning the Nobel Prize, to publishing the groundbreaking book that played a key role in the fall of the Soviet Empire—exposing the half-century of inhuman atrocities, and the sixty-million slaughtered lives, it kept so jealously hidden for so long.
In this second installment in the Self-Actualizing People in History series, biographer, historian, and humanistic psychologist Roman Gelperin combines the fascinating narrative of the life of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, with the history of the Soviet State it was embedded in, with a psychological study of the pivotal experiences that shaped him. In a highly illuminating, new perspective on Solzhenitsyn, he shows him to be a perfect example of the self-actualized person—a very specific (“enlightened”) personality type first identified by Abraham Maslow in 1950.
Using Solzhenitsyn’s life as a demonstration, he also illustrates what self-actualization is, why its peculiar character traits, and how Solzhenitsyn found enlightenment on rotting prison straw.
Targeted Age Group:: 18 and up
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Experiencing the state of enlightenment Abraham Maslow described personally. Then becoming able to recognize it in other people. Then realizing I can explain that state in other people through describing my own experiences in deep introspective detail.
In the late autumn of 2009, while slowly recovering from a harrowing spine injury, I was suddenly rocketed into a state of pure self-actualization. I was nineteen at the time, a sophomore psychology student at Stony Brook University; and for the next year and a half, until I dropped out of college at the end of my third year, I experienced a near-uninterrupted state of the most ecstatic enlightenment—the kind few philosophers, sages, and mystics across all history rarely attain.
From a highly neurotic, insecure, intellectually confused adolescent—rife with anxieties, self-reproaches, dishonesty, laziness, and incessant self-doubt—I was transformed into an utterly confident, profoundly driven, totally guilt-free human being—possessing radiant intellectual clarity, unblemished honesty, and a bulletproof self-esteem.
During this transformation, I could gaze back at my former psychological malaise with a god’s-eye view. The doors to my mind’s full potential were thrown asunder. I was supremely cognizant of the person I was before, of everything that had changed in me, and of why it had changed. I was able to glean the most dazzling truths about the human mind, to independently reach the most earth-shattering insights into human nature. And having solved all my own psychological problems, I felt I had the ability to solve anyone’s, that I had discovered the single root cause of the worst of humanity’s ills, and that I—and perhaps I, alone—held the cure.
That now became my mission in life: to help others reach the same enlightenment I did, to teach mankind the path to unlocking its full potential. I was supremely confident in myself and in my ability to change the whole world. I felt mentally, intellectually, emotionally, inferior to no man. I became happiness incarnate. I was going to tear through all obstacles. Nothing would stop me from reaching my goal: the one task fate had chosen me—and only me—for, and that nobody else could do.
And then, in the summer of 2011, my self-actualization vanished as quickly as it had come. I did make some definite gains, to be sure; and I still remembered everything that happened to me. But I suddenly felt, in the worst possible sense of the word, normal. I thought I’d emerged from my psychological malaise as a completely new type of human being; but now, I found many of my old qualities returning—my laziness, my inhibitions, a whole spectrum of negative emotions. I was no longer a being of sheer happiness. I felt tossed out of my private psychological paradise, the gates shutting behind me, leaving me clawing at its threshold, desperately trying to get back in.
Looking back at those blissful one-and-a-half years, I’m still amazed at the tremendous potential temporarily unlocked in me—the acuity of my mind, the power of my intuition, and the ability to act effortlessly, confidently, spontaneously, in the face of all circumstances—a state of being I never before thought possible, and which I can hardly believe happened to me even now.
Shortly after my fall, having been banished from paradise, I embarked on an intellectual quest to discover what made me so different during those one-and-a-half years, a quest to find out what I’d really been like, and a quest to find my way back to that lost paradise—when I soared to the highest reaches of human potential, when the brightest happiness flowed exuberantly from my being, when my mind danced through the eternal universe with exultant ease. This book, and especially this first chapter, is the successful product of that quest—and, maybe, the start of yours. Enjoy.
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