I recently had a couple of close friends recommend that I read the book The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by world-renowned author M. Scott Peck, M.D.. The book itself is very well known and recognized worldwide and has appeared on the New York Times Best Seller’s list over 10 times, selling over 7 million copies. Both of the individuals who recommended it to me did so out of a knowing of my general fields of interest as well as my particular appreciation for the writing of Eckhart Tolle, whom they both felt to be very similar to Dr. Peck.
The book itself was written in 1978 with the most recent introduction being written in 2002, 3 years prior to Dr. Peck’s death in 2005. In my opinion, at certain points the content of the book certainly did show its age as many of the theories and examples presented would not be as widely accepted today. Nonetheless there were still a number of powerful messages/ lessons that I took from reading the book that I wanted to share with you.
1. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it -then life is no longer difficult: These exact words appear on the very first page of the entire book immediately after Dr. Peck states that life being difficult is one of the greatest truths to understand. Many of us seem to have this inherent belief that life should be easy and because of this when things become even slightly difficult we see it as a painful or unwanted experience. By accepting and understanding the difficulty to many things in life we allow ourselves to develop the tools and discipline necessary to overcome everything.
2. Problems/ challenges do not go away: We may be able to temporarily run from our problems but at some level they always remain, and they usually remain as a barrier to our growth. In addition to this Dr. Peck also adds that we are all capable of solving any problem that we are faced with, it’s just a matter of being willing to take the time we may need to solve them.
3. Accept responsibility for all behavior: Far too many of us regularly choose to not accept responsibility out of fear of the potential pain that may come of it. By not openly taking responsibility for all of our actions we hold ourselves back from true freedom. How so? Because we entrap ourselves in a series of lies rather than fully accepting who we are and what we do.
4. The world is constantly changing and we must be willing to change along with it: Developing a working view of the world can be a long and tedious process and because of that many of us will choose to stand by it steadfastly from that point onward. The world is constantly changing and in order to optimally function in it we need to always remain open and be willing to incorporate new information. Find pride in your flexibility and openness rather than your long-standing belief.
5. Look for a challenge rather than immediate relief: Within his work in psychiatry -which most of the book is directly based upon- Dr. Peck stated that the most common first challenge that every new patient must overcome is the desire and expectation for immediate relief. When we have a headache, we immediately go to the pain killer. When we have heartburn, we immediately go for the Pepto Bismol. True relief often lies in a conscious willingness to go through and face a challenge head on.
6. We are incapable of truly loving another unless we love ourselves first: This isn’t love in the narcissistic sense of word, but more so in the willingness to extend yourself for spiritual growth. A true acceptance of who you are. Dr. Peck presents that once we truly learn to love ourselves in this way, that self-love and love for another become indistinguishable.
Two people love each other only when they are quite capable of living without each other but choose to live with each other. – Page 98
7. Learn to truly listen: Far too many of us, myself included, are terrible listeners. It’s not that we don’t have genuine interest in what is being said to us, it’s that we are too consumed with what we will say next to fully comprehend it. Learning to listen is the greatest exercise is learning to give attention and more importantly be fully present.
8. Choose a life of growth with unlimited possibilities, rather than a life of consistency: By resisting change and staying within what we have already come to know many of us feel as though we are prolonging life. Why? Because we are avoiding what is unknown and potentially dangerous. Dr. Peck reminds us that by choosing an isolated and closeted life we commit a much worse form of death to our experience than openness could ever create.
9. The path to understanding lies in questioning everything: So much of what we do and say is secondhand and we don’t even realize it. We blindly accept the words and ways of physicians, news anchors, friends, family, etc. and as result never take the time to try developing our own way of being. Even if things feel like they resonate with us fully, we need to question them and develop our own way of understanding them.
10. Our lifetime offers us unlimited opportunities for spiritual growth: This being the case we can never be too late for the party of life. Even when things feel bland or repetitive an opportunity for growth always exists. Its just a matter of being willing and wanting to grow, that stands in its way of screaming out to us.
When we grow, it is because we are working at it, and we are working at it because we love ourselves. It is through love that we elevate ourselves. – Page 268
11. Ultimately in life there is only one true impediment, laziness: Laziness is very real. It exists in all of us to varying degrees and it is at the core of all other impediments we face. Even fear is based out of laziness, a laziness to go beyond or do something about what we are afraid of. The more we continue to be lazy the more it compounds, because even the act of no longer being lazy unlocks a great deal of work and effort that we will continually have to not be too lazy to do.
12. We hold the answers to everything and the keys to peace within ourselves: Rather than continually exporting the answers to everything to an external force (God), realize that they are within us all. God (no matter how we define him/her/it) is within us, has been with us all along and always will be.
If you want to know the closest place to look for grace, it is within yourself. If you desire wisdom greater than your own, you can find it inside you. – Page 281
The book itself is a very interesting read. As I briefly mentioned throughout, a great deal of what Dr. Peck shares is further substantiated by real examples from his work in psychiatry -an aspect that I truly enjoyed. Keep in mind that these 12 lessons were based on how my interpretation of Dr. Peck’s writing. If you haven’t already read it, I encourage you to add it to your must-read list. If you have read it, feel free to share any of your lessons or opinions of the book via the comment section below.
Peck, Scott M. M.D.. The Road Less Traveled A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth. Touchstone Publishing, 1978, Preface Revised 1985, Introduction Revised 2002.
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