The Road Less Traveled:  The 1000th Posting on Seeking Spirit

This is a book that I have read and studied and suggested to my friends and clients over the years.

It contains extraordinary wisdom.  I have sought some sources on the internet that have summarized his work and have compiled it here on my webpage so that it may be useful for my readers and in order that I may continue to review its truths…seeking spirit

First the Quotes:

“Life is difficult.  This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.  It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult–once we truly understand and accept it–then life is no longer difficult.  Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

“It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually.”

“It is in the whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has meaning.  Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure.  Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom.  It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually.  It is through the pain of confronting and resolving problems that we learn.”

“Whenever we seek to avoid the responsibility for our own behavior, we do so by attempting to give that responsibility to some other individual or organization or entity. But this means we then give away our power to that entity. ”

“Abandon the urge to simplify everything, to look for formulas and easy answers, and to begin to think multidimensionally, to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life, not to be dismayed by the multitude of causes and consequences that are inherent in each experience — to appreciate the fact that life is complex.”

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

“Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it. ”

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”

“I define love thus: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”

“We must be willing to fail and to appreciate the truth that often ‘Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.’”

“Life is complex. Each one of us must make his own path through life. There are no self-help manuals, no formulas, no easy answers. The right road for one is the wrong road for another…The journey of life is not paved in blacktop; it is not brightly lit, and it has no road signs. It is a rocky path through the wilderness.”

“When we teach ourselves and our children discipline, we are teaching them and ourselves how to suffer and also how to grow.”

“Since [narcissists] deep down, feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that when they are in conflict with the world they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world’s fault. Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad. They project their own evil onto the world. They never think of themselves as evil, on the other hand, they consequently see much evil in others.”

“Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional. The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love. This person has made a commitment to be loving whether or not the loving feeling is present. …Conversely, it is not only possible but necessary for a loving person to avoid acting on feelings of love.”

“The difficulty we have in accepting responsibility for our behavior lies in the desire to avoid the pain of the consequences of that behavior. ”

“Love is the free exercise of choice. Two people love each other only when they are quite capable of living without each other but choose to live with each other.”

“We cannot solve life’s problems except by solving them.”

“Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and wisdom.”

“If we know exactly where we’re going, exactly how to get there, and exactly what we’ll see along the way, we won’t learn anything. ”

“All my life I used to wonder what I would become when I grew up. Then, about seven years ago, I realized that I was never going to grow up–that growing is an ever ongoing process.”

“How strange that we should ordinarily feel compelled to hide our wounds when we are all wounded! Community requires the ability to expose our wounds and weaknesses to our fellow creatures. It also requires the ability to be affected by the wounds of others… But even more important is the love that arises among us when we share, both ways, our woundedness.”

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time. ”

“There is no virtue inherent in un-constructive suffering.”

“Human beings are poor examiners, subject to superstition, bias, prejudice, and a PROFOUND tendency to see what they want to see rather than what is really there.”

“There is no worse bitterness than to reach the end of your life and realized you have not lived.”

All the above quotes are from his book The Road Less Traveled…

“The person with a secular mentality feels himself to be the center of the universe. Yet he is likely to suffer from a sense of meaninglessness and insignificance because he knows he’s but one human among five billion others – all feeling themselves to be the center of things – scratching out an existence on the surface of a medium-sized planet circling a small star among countless stars in a galaxy lost among countless galaxies. The person with the sacred mentality, on the other hand, does not feel herself to be the center of the universe. She considers the Center to be elsewhere and other. Yet she is unlikely to feel lost or insignificant precisely because she draws her significance and meaning from her relationship, her connection, with that center, that Other.”  ―    M. Scott Peck,    A World Waiting to Be Born: Civility Rediscovered

“I feel compelled to make another ‘nonapology.’ Many readers are likely to be concerned about my use of masculine pronouns in relation to God. I think I both understand and appreciate this concern. It is a matter to which I have given much thought. I have generally been a strong supporter of the women’s movement and action that is reasonable to combat sexist language. But first of all, God is not neuter. He is exploding with life and love and even sexuality of a sort. So ‘It’ is not appropriate. Certainly I consider God androgynous. He is as gentle and tender and nurturing and maternal as any woman could ever be. Nonetheless, culturally determined though it may be, I subjectively experience His reality as more masculine than feminine. While He nurtures us, He also desires to penetrate us, and while we more often than not flee from His love like a reluctant virgin, He chases after us with a vigor in the hunt that we most typically associate with males. As C.S. Lewis put it, in relation to God we are all female. Moreover, whatever our gender or conscious theology, it is our duty—our obligation—in response to His love to attempt to give birth, like Mary, to Christ in ourselves and in others.

“I shall, however, break with tradition and use the neuter for Satan. While I know Satan to be lustful to penetrate us, I have not in the least experienced this desire as sexual or creative—only hateful and destructive. It is hard to determine the sex of a snake.”  ―    M. Scott Peck,    People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil

“Let me simply state that it is wrong to regard any other human being, a priori, as an object, or an ‘It.’ This is so because each and every human being – you, every friend, every stranger, every foreigner – is precious.”  ―    M. Scott Peck,    A World Waiting to Be Born: Civility Rediscovered

“The problem of unmet expectations in marriage is primarily a problem of stereotyping. Each and every human being on this planet is a unique person. Since marriage is inevitably a relationship between two unique people, no one marriage is going to be exactly like any other. Yet we tend to wed with explicit visions of what a “good” marriage ought to be like. Then we suffer enormously from trying to force the relationship to fit the stereotype and from the neurotic guilt and anger we experience when we fail to pull it off.”  ―    M. Scott Peck,    In Search Of Stones

“Since the primary motive of the evil is disguise, one of the places evil people are most likely to be found is within the church. What better way to conceal one’s evil from oneself as well as from others than to be a deacon or some other highly visible form of Christian within our culture”

“When I say that evil has to do with killing, I do not mean to restrict myself to corporeal murder. Evil is that which kills spirit. There are various essential attributes of life — particularly human life — such as sentience, mobility, awareness, growth, autonomy, will. It is possible to kill or attempt to kill one of these attributes without actually destroying the body. Thus we may “break” a horse or even a child without harming a hair on its head.

Erich Fromm was acutely sensitive to this fact when he broadened the definition of necrophilia to include the desire of certain people to control others-to make them controllable, to foster their dependency, to discourage their capacity to think for themselves, to diminish their unpredectibility and originalty, to keep them in line. Distinguishing it from a “biophilic” person, one who appreciates and fosters the variety of life forms and the uniqueness of the individual, he demonstrated a “necrophilic character type,” whose aim it is to avoid the inconvenience of life by transforming others into obedient automatons, robbing them of their humanity.

Evil then, for the moment, is the force, residing either inside or outside of human beings, that seeks to kill life or liveliness. And goodness is its opposite. Goodness is that which promotes life and liveliness.”  ―    M. Scott Peck,    People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil

“Spiritually evolved people, by virtue of their discipline, mastery and love, are people of extraordinary competence, and in their competence they are called on to serve the world, and in their love they answer the call.”

“The overall purpose of human communication is – or should be – reconciliation. It should ultimately serve to lower or remove the walls of misunderstanding which unduly separate us human beings, one from another.”  ―    M. Scott Peck,    The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace

The following summary of Peck’s Views are taken from Wikipedia:

Discipline

In The Road Less Traveled, Peck talked of the importance of discipline. He described four aspects of discipline:

  • Delaying gratification: Sacrificing present comfort for future gains.
  • Acceptance of responsibility: Accepting responsibility for one’s own decisions.
  • Dedication to truth: Honesty, both in word and deed.
  • Balancing: Handling conflicting requirements. Scott Peck also talks of an important skill to prioritize between different requirements — bracketing.

Peck’s book begins with the profound truth that “Life is difficult” (Peck, 1978/1992, p13). We must attest to the fact that life was never meant to be easy, and that it is nothing but a battlefield of problems. We can either moan about them or solve them. It is here that the vital role of discipline assumes significance.

Peck defines discipline as the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. These tools are delaying gratification, assuming responsibility, dedication to the truth, and balancing. These are techniques of suffering, means by which we experience the pain of problems in such a way as to work through them and solve them successfully, learning and growing in the process. Most of us do not want to wrestle with our problems because of the pain involved. Yet, it is only in grappling with our problems that life has its meaning.

Delaying gratification is the process by which we learn to meet and experience pain first, and then enjoy pleasure. By doing so, we enhance the joy of pleasure. Most of us learn this activity by the age of five. For example, a six-year-old child will prefer eating the cake first and the frosting last. Children will rather finish their homework first, so that they can play later on. However, a sizable number of adolescents seem to lack this capacity. These problematic students are totally controlled by their impulses. Such youngsters indulge in drugs, get into frequent fights, and often find themselves in confrontation with authority.

Taking responsibility for our problems is perhaps the most difficult. Only by accepting the fact that we have problems can we solve them. An attitude of ‘It’s not my problem!’ will not take us anywhere. Neurosis and character-disorder are the two disorders of responsibility. Neurotics assume too much responsibility and feel culpable for everything that goes wrong in their life. The latter instead, shirk responsibility, and blame others for their problems. “It is said ‘neurotics make themselves miserable; those with character disorders make everyone else miserable’” (Peck, 1978/1992,[6] p38). All of us are neurotics or character-disordered at some time or the other. Neurotics must realize that they need not be excessively guilt-ridden, while character-disordered ones must learn to take things in stride, instead of becoming a yoke to the society. The words of Eldridge Cleaver, “If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem”, hold good for all of us.

Dedication to the truth comes next. We all have a certain worldview that must be constantly updated and revised as we find ourselves exposed to new data. If our viewpoint is narrow, misleading and outdated, then we will be lost. The same applies to our life experiences. A bitter childhood can leave a person with the false idea that the world is a hostile and inhuman place. Yet, if the person is to grow, he must set aside this prejudice and revise his worldview. Being true also implies a life of genuine self-examination, a willingness to be personally challenged by others, and total honesty to oneself and others.

We finally come to balancing-the technique of flexibility. Many a time we function with rigid, set patterns of behavior. Extraordinary flexibility is a must for successful living. Part of this technique is also learning to give up something that is dear and familiar to us. In refusing to suffer the pain of sacrifice, we fail to truly grow. It is in giving that we gain more.

These interrelated techniques of discipline are paramount if we are to cope with the tribulations of life. A person may employ two, three or even all the strategies at the same time. The strength, willingness, and energy to apply these techniques is provided by love. There are no short cuts to happiness. Only by learning to discipline ourselves can we set foot upon the path to contentment and wholeness.

Neurotic and Legitimate Suffering

Peck believes that it is only through suffering and agonizing using the four aspects of discipline (delaying gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to truth, balancing) that we can resolve the many puzzles and conflicts that we face.[6] This is what he calls undertaking legitimate suffering. Peck argues that by trying to avoid legitimate suffering, people actually ultimately end up suffering more. This extra unnecessary suffering is what Scott Peck terms neurotic suffering. He references Carl Jung ‘Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering’.[9] Peck says that our aim must be to eliminate neurotic suffering and to work through our legitimate suffering in order to achieve our individual goals.[6]

Evil

Peck discusses evil in his book People of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil[7] and also in a chapter of The Road Less Traveled.[6] Peck characterizes evil as a malignant type of self-righteousness in which there is an active rather than passive refusal to tolerate imperfection (sin) and its consequent guilt.[6][7] This syndrome results in a projection of evil onto selected specific innocent victims (often children), which is the paradoxical mechanism by which the People of the Lie commit their evil.[7] Peck argues that these people are the most difficult of all to deal with and extremely hard to identify.[7] He describes in some detail several individual cases involving his patients. In one case which Peck considers as the most typical because of its subtlety, he describes Roger, a depressed teenage son of respected well off parents.[7] In a series of parental decisions justified by often subtle distortions of the truth they exhibit a consistent disregard for their son’s feelings and a consistent willingness to destroy his growth. With false rationality and normality they aggressively refuse to consider that they are in any way responsible for his resultant depression, eventually suggesting his condition must be incurable and genetic.

Some of his conclusions about the psychiatric condition he designates “evil” are derived from his close study of one patient he names Charlene.[7] Although Charlene is not dangerous, she is ultimately unable to have empathy for others in any way. According to Peck, people like her see others as play things or tools to be manipulated for their uses or entertainment. Peck states that these people are rarely seen by psychiatrists and have never been treated successfully.

Evil is described by Peck as “militant ignorance”. The original Judeo-Christian concept of “sin” is as a process that leads us to “miss the mark” and fall short of perfection.[7] Peck argues that while most people are conscious of this at least on some level, those that are evil actively and militantly refuse this consciousness. Peck considers those he calls evil to be attempting to escape and hide from their own conscience (through self-deception) and views this as being quite distinct from the apparent absence of conscience evident in sociopathy.[7]

According to Peck an evil person:[6][7]

  • Is consistently self-deceiving, with the intent of avoiding guilt and maintaining a self-image of perfection
  • Deceives others as a consequence of their own self-deception
  • Projects his or her evils and sins onto very specific targets (scapegoats) while being apparently normal with everyone else (“their insensitivity toward him was selective” (Peck, 1983/1988, p 105[7]))
  • Commonly hates with the pretense of love, for the purposes of self-deception as much as deception of others
  • Abuses political (emotional) power (“the imposition of one’s will upon others by overt or covert coercion” (Peck, 1978/1992, p298[6]))
  • Maintains a high level of respectability, and lies incessantly in order to do so
  • Is consistent in his or her sins. Evil persons are characterized not so much by the magnitude of their sins, but by their consistency (of destructiveness)
  • Is unable to think from the viewpoint of their victim (scapegoat)
  • Has a covert intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury

Most evil people realize the evil deep within themselves but are unable to tolerate the pain of introspection or admit to themselves that they are evil. Thus, they constantly run away from their evil by putting themselves in a position of moral superiority and putting the focus of evil on others. Evil is an extreme form of what Scott Peck, in The Road Less Traveled, calls a character disorder.[6][7]

Using the My Lai Massacre as a case study Peck also examines group evil, discussing how human group morality is strikingly less than individual morality.[7] Partly he considers this to be a result of specialization, which allows people to avoid individual responsibility and pass the buck, resulting in a reduction of group conscience.

Love

His perspective on love (in The Road Less Traveled) is that love is not a feeling, it is an activity and an investment. He defines love as, “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth” (Peck, 1978/1992,[6] p85). Love is primarily actions towards nurturing the spiritual growth of another.

Peck seeks to differentiate between love and cathexis. Cathexis is what explains sexual attraction, the instinct for cuddling pets and pinching babies cheeks. However, cathexis is not love. All the same, true love cannot begin in isolation, a certain amount of cathexis is necessary to get sufficiently close to be able to truly love.

Once through the cathexis stage, the work of love begins. It is not a feeling. It consists of what you do for another person. As Peck says in The Road Less Traveled, “Love is as love does.” It is about giving yourself and the other person what they need to grow. It is about truly knowing and understanding them.

The Four Stages of Spiritual Development

Peck postulates that there are four stages of human spiritual development:[12][13]

  • Stage I is chaotic, disordered, and reckless. Very young children are in Stage I. They tend to defy and disobey, and are unwilling to accept a will greater than their own. They are extremely egoistic and lack empathy for others. Many criminals are people who have never grown out of Stage I.
  • Stage II is the stage at which a person has blind faith in authority figures and sees the world as divided simply into good and evil, right and wrong, us and them. Once children learn to obey their parents and other authority figures, often out of fear or shame, they reach Stage II. Many so-called religious people are essentially Stage II people, in the sense that they have blind faith in God, and do not question His existence. With blind faith comes humility and a willingness to obey and serve. The majority of good, law-abiding citizens never move out of Stage II.
  • Stage III is the stage of scientific skepticism and questioning. A Stage III person does not accept things on faith but only accepts them if convinced logically. Many people working in scientific and technological research are in Stage III. They often reject the existence of spiritual or supernatural forces since these are difficult to measure or prove scientifically. Those who do retain their spiritual beliefs move away from the simple, official doctrines of fundamentalism.
  • Stage IV is the stage where an individual starts enjoying the mystery and beauty of nature and existence. While retaining skepticism, he starts perceiving grand patterns in nature and develops a deeper understanding of good and evil, forgiveness and mercy, compassion and love. His religiousness and spirituality differ significantly from that of a Stage II person, in the sense that he does not accept things through blind faith or out of fear, but does so because of genuine belief, and he does not judge people harshly or seek to inflict punishment on them for their transgressions. This is the stage of loving others as yourself, losing your attachment to your ego, and forgiving your enemies. Stage IV people are labeled as Mystics.

Peck argues that while transitions from Stage I to Stage II are sharp, transitions from Stage III to Stage IV are gradual. Nonetheless, these changes are very noticeable and mark a significant difference in the personality of the individual.

Four Tools of Discipline from “The Road Less Traveled”

by Nathan S. Collier.

–>

0743243153.jpg

“The Road Less Traveled” (RLT), by M. Scott Peck, has sold more than 7 million copies and spent at least 598 weeks on bestseller lists. The book’s first words are “Life is difficult,” and its premise is that most of our unhappiness in life is the result of having attempted to avoid the legitimate suffering or pain (sustained effort, discipline, self denial) required to face and solve life’s problems.

Peck postulates that solving one’s problems requires discipline and that four tools of discipline are essential.

This is just a portion of a summary of RLT that I wrote for my own edification almost 20 years ago. In my desire to learn at a deep level, there are several books that I summarized for myself in an attempt to drive their essence far into my consciousness. Most of what’s here is either a paraphrasing of RLT or direct quotes without the benefit of quotation marks, as my only goal was to learn

“The Road Less Traveled,” by M. Scott Peck

Life is difficult, mainly because the process of confronting and solving problems is painful. The benefit that results may be pleasurable but the process is painful. And since life poses an endless series of problems, life can be painful.

Yet it is this process of meeting and solving problems that gives life its meaning. Problems are the cutting edge between failure and success.

Fearing the pain, most of us attempt to avoid problems rather than meet them head on. We procrastinate, hoping they will go away. We ignore them, forget them, pretend they do not exist. We even take drugs to assist us in ignoring them, so that by deadening ourselves to the pain we can ignore the problem that causes it. We attempt to get out of our problems rather than suffering through them.

The key to learning to deal constructively with our problems lies in a system of discipline comprised of four tools.

1. Delaying gratification: Scheduling the pain and pleasures of life so as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with

2. Acceptance of responsibility

3. Dedication to truth

4. Balance

Good discipline takes time to think through the appropriate form. Often when we become aware of a problem in our personal lives, it so discomforts us that we demand an immediate solution and are not willing to tolerate our discomfort long enough to analyze it.

Problems do not go away. They must be worked through or they remain, forever a barrier to the growth and development of the spirit.

To willingly confront a problem early, before we are forced to by circumstances, means we are putting aside something pleasant or less painful for something more painful. It is choosing suffering now in hopes of future gratification, rather than choosing to continue present gratification hoping future suffering will not be necessary.

If we have a deep internal sense of security, a deep sense of our own value, of consistent safety in the world, we can delay gratification, secure in the knowledge that the opportunity for gratification, like home and parents, is always there, available when needed.

Dedication to reality Truth is reality. That which is false is unreality. The more clearly we see the world, the better equipped we are to deal with it. Only a fortunate few continue until the moment of death exploring the mystery of reality, ever enlarging, refining, and redefining their understanding of the world and what is true. Most feel that their maps are complete and accurate. Even if this were once true, the world is forever changing and we must continually revise our views. Yet it is so very difficult to give up our maps, behaviors that have worked in the past, that we have been positively rewarded/reinforced for continuing to use them.

Mental health is the on-going process of dedication to reality at all costs. We must always hold the truth to be more important, more vital to our self-interest, than our comfort. Life must be a continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination. We only know the world through our relationship to it. Therefore, to know the world we examine both it and the examiner.

The only way we can be certain that our map of reality is valid is to expose it to the criticism and challenge of other mapmakers. In other words, live a life willing to be personally challenged. Entering psychotherapy is an act of the greatest courage because by doing so we deliberately lay ourselves open to the deepest challenge from another human being.

A life of total honesty (clearly seeing reality, the better to deal with the world, for how can we make correct decisions/choices based on faulty data?) demands that we seek out opportunities to risk openness.

NOT to run from problems, though that is a very natural human reaction to what is perceived—and sometimes intended—as an attack, yet it also is an opportunity to test—not defend—our maps. “How we perceive the problem is often part of the problem.” If we see it as an opportunity to grow, we will learn. If we see it as an attack to be defeated, we regress. Value the differences!

Insofar as the nature of the challenge is legitimate (and it usually is) lying (even white lies), is an attempt to circumvent legitimate suffering (the pain of confronting and solving a problem/issue, as growth can be painful). Circumvention raises the issue of shortcuts. It is okay to avail yourself of any legitimate shortcuts to growth; the key is the legitimacy, and only stringent, honest, self-examination holds the answer.

1. Never speak falsehoods, and bear in mind that the act of withholding the truth is always potentially a lie that requires proper weight/attention be given to the significant moral decision involved.

2. The decision to withhold the truth should not be based on personal needs, such as a need for power, a need to be liked, or a need to protect one’s map from challenge.

3. Withholding should be based entirely on the needs of the person from whom the truth is being withheld.

4. Assessment of the needs of another is an act of responsibility that can be executed wisely only when one operates out of genuine love.

5. The primary factor in the assessment of the other’s needs should be that person’s capacity to use the truth for his or her personal growth.

Honesty requires self-discipline, which is why many people opt for a life of very limited honesty/openness, hiding themselves and their maps from the world. It is easier. Yet the rewards of the difficult life of dedication to truth are more than commensurate with the demands. By virtue of the fact that their maps are continually being challenged, open people are continually growing people. Through their openness they can establish and maintain intimate relationships far more effectively than closed people. They are sources of illumination and clarification; they are totally free to be. They are not burdened by the need to hide. They do not have to construct new lies to hide old ones. They waste no effort covering tracks or maintaining disguises. Ultimately, the energy required for the discipline of honesty is far less than the energy required for secretiveness. The more honest one is, the easier it is to continue being honest. Just as the more lies one has told, the more necessary it is to lie again. Through the exercise of their courage to live in the open, they become free from fear.

Balancing To be organized and efficient, to live wisely, we must daily delay gratification and keep an eye on the future. Yet to live joyously we must also possess the capacity to live in the present and act spontaneously. This requires flexibility and judgment, our discipline must be disciplined.

Growth is change and frequently requires giving up something, which is painful. If we are to grow we must continually give up parts of ourselves, sacrificing what we are today for what we can be tomorrow. For a relationship to grow, we must give up parts of ourselves.

The only alternative to this giving up is to not grow. Strange as it may seem, most people choose this alternative. Yet, it is in the giving up of self that human beings can find the most ecstatic, lasting, solid, durable joy of life, the joyful sense of rebirth that accompanies the successful transition into greater maturity.

Bracketing is balancing the need for stability and the assertion of the self with the need for new knowledge and greater understanding by temporarily giving up oneself, putting oneself aside, so as to make room for the incorporation of new material into the self.

Each time you approach a new object, person, or event there is a tendency to let your present needs, past experiences, or expectations for the future determine what you see. If you are to appreciate the uniqueness of any datum, you must be sufficiently aware of your preconceived ideas and characteristic emotional distortions to bracket them long enough to welcome strangeness and novelty into your perceptual world. This discipline of bracketing, compensating, or self-silencing, requires sophisticated self-knowledge and courageous honesty. Otherwise each present moment is just a repetition of something already seen or experienced.

Self-discipline is a self-enlarging process. For all that is given up, even more is gained. “Throughout the whole of life one must continue to learn to live, and what will amaze you even more, throughout life one must learn to die.” — Seneca

Discipline is a system to deal constructively with the pain of problem solving. The strength and energy to use these techniques of discipline is provided by love.

This is the self-help book that is read by people who don’t read self-help books. It contains none of the alluring promises of boundless joy and happiness that are the feature of personal development writing, yet has still been a massive bestseller. Famously beginning with the words, ‘Life is difficult’, it covers such gloomy topics as the myth of romantic love, evil, mental illness, and the author’s psychological and spiritual crises.

Perhaps because of its lack of rosiness, it is easy to give this book our confidence. The Road Less Traveled is inspirational, but in an old-fashioned way, putting self-discipline at the top of list of values for a good life. If you believe there are no easy ways to enlightenment, and that things like commitment and responsibility are the seeds of fulfilment, then you are belong in Dr Peck’s territory.

Peck was a conventionally trained psychotherapist, but has been influential in the movement to have psychology recognise the stages of spiritual growth. He sees the great feature of our times as being the reconciliation of the scientific and the spiritual world views. The Road Less Traveled was his attempt to further bridge the gap, and it has clearly been successful. The book is welcomed by anyone who has found themselves torn between the science of psychology and the spiritual search.

Discipline

Self-control is the essence of Peck’s brand of self-help. He says: ‘Without discipline we can solve nothing. With only some discipline we can solve only some problems. With total discipline we can solve all problems.’ A person who has the ability to delay gratification has the key to psychological maturity, whereas impulsiveness is a mental habit that, in denying opportunities to experience pain, creates neuroses. Most large problems we have are the result of not facing up to earlier, smaller problems, of failing to be ‘dedicated to the truth’. The great mistake most people make is believing that problems will go away of their own accord.

This lack of responsibility will damage us in other ways. Our culture puts freedom on a pedestal, yet Peck recalls Eric Fromm’s book Escape From Freedom, which looked at people’s natural willingness to embrace political authoritarianism. It is referenced to support Peck’s belief that, when it comes down to it, we shy from real freedom and responsibility.

The road and its rewards

The Road Less Traveled is rich with the stories of real people. Some of the vignettes demonstrate the transformation of a life, but in other cases people just refuse to change, or in the end can’t be bothered. Ring true? It is in these less extreme cases that we are more likely to see our own quiet turning away from a bolder, richer life. Rather than the horror of a mental illness, Peck says, most of us have to deal with the straightforward anguish of missed opportunities.

Yet why is this so, when the rewards are so great? The road less traveled might be the spiritual path, but it is also a lot rockier and dimly lit next to the regular highway of life, which other people seem happy enough on. But Peck says that to ask this question of ‘Why bother?’, we must know nothing of joy. The rewards of spiritual life are enormous: peace of mind and a freedom from real worry that most people never imagine is possible. Burdens are always ready to be lifted, since they are no longer solely ours.

But deepened spirituality also brings responsibility; this is inevitable as we move from spiritual childhood to adulthood. Peck remembers St Augustine, who said: ‘If you are loving and diligent, you may do whatever you want.’ Just as our previous spiritual timidity and laziness resulted (as we can now see) in a very limited existence, so discipline opens the door to limitlessness in our experience of life. Only the more enlightened can be amused by the fact that others think they must lead a boring and restrained life; the walls that look stark from without may simply be shielding us from the glow of rapture within.

Love is a decision

What is the fuel on the road less traveled? Love, of course, and Peck is at his best discussing this thing that cannot be adequately defined. We tend to think of love as effortless, the freefall of ‘falling in love’. While it may be mysterious, love is also effortful; love is a decision: ‘…the desire to love is not itself love. Love is as love does.’

The ecstatic state of being in love is in part a regression to infancy, a time when we felt our mother and ourselves to be one; we are back in communion with the world, and anything seems possible. Yet just as the baby comes to realise he or she is an individual, so the lover eventually returns to his or her self. At this point, Peck says, the work of ‘real’ love begins. Anyone can fall in love, but not everyone can decide to love. We may never control love’s onset, but we may – with discipline – remain in charge of our response. And once these ‘muscles’ of love have been used, they tend to stay, increasing our power to channel love in the most life-giving and appropriate way.

Final comments

The discerning reader will note the contrast between Peck’s belief that psychological change is necessarily slow, and the cognitive psychology view that our limitations can be removed without much trouble if we know how (see Seligman, Robbins). This is a basic divide in the self-help literature: the hard work ethic, components of which include building character and discovering soul; and the belief in mental technology, that our problems are not deep-seated and can be addressed by practical psycho-technological methods. If the former way is characterised by discipline and self-knowledge, the latter says that, if we only have the right tools, we can create whoever we want to be.

Those readers who exclusively cheer for the latter should balance themselves by reading Peck. He discusses, for instance, an experience that is not referred to in modern psychology at all: ‘grace’. A surprise burst of peace, gratitude and freedom, Peck feels it the highest point of human experience, fruit of a life of discipline and purpose.

In his insistence on morality, discipline and admiration of long-suffering, Peck’s writing can seem old-fashioned. Yet he is no conformist in his denouncement of the failure of psychotherapy to recognise people as spiritual beings, and the book has surprised many readers by its embrace of the Jungian, New Age concepts of the collective unconscious and synchronicity. Somehow, the blend of Christianity, the New Age and academic psychology works.

Peck’s classic will seem a little earnest for some, for others it will be full of life-changing insights. It is one of the giants of the self-help canon, having sold over seven million copies, and its title has entered the public idiom. In spite of what Peck says about resistance to spirituality, the less traveled road is clearly getting more traffic.

Source: 50 Self-Help Classics: 50 Inspirational Books To Transform Your Life by Tom Butler-Bowdon (London & Boston: Nicholas Brealey)

M. Scott Peck

Biography

M. Scott Peck’s publishing history reflects his own evolution as a serious and widely acclaimed writer, thinker, psychiatrist, and spiritual guide. Since his groundbreaking bestseller, The Road Less Traveled, was first published in 1978, his insatiable intellectual curiosity has taken him in various new directions with virtually each new book: the subject of healing human evil in People of the Lie (1982), where he first briefly discussed exorcism and possession; the creative experience of community in The Different Drum (1987); the role of civility in personal relationships and society in A World Waiting to Be Born (1993); an examination of the complexities of life and the paradoxical nature of belief in Further Along the Road Less Traveled (1993); and an exploration of the medical, ethical, and spiritual issues of euthanasia in Denial of the Soul (1999); as well as a novel, a children’s book, and other works. A graduate of both Harvard University and Case Western Reserve, Dr. Peck served in the Army Medical Corps before maintaining a private practice in psychiatry. For the last twenty years, he devoted much of his time and financial resources to the work of the Foundation for Community Encouragement, a nonprofit organization that he helped found in 1984.  He died in 2005.
Advertisements