THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED
M. Scott Peck, M.D. has sold over 6 million copies of the above-entitled book! To say the least, that is very impressive. However, what is even more impressive is that the book doesn't really have anything new in it. It is basically a nicely packaged rehashing of old ideas, often very old ideas. The ideas borrowed by Peck are sound ones, that is why they have lasted down through the centuries. At times the book is a little too simplistic and overstated, but, in general, it works and is worth your time and energy. The following are quotes from the book:
"…two assumptions…underlie this book. One is that I make no distinction between the mind and the spirit, and therefore no distinction between the process of achieving spiritual growth and achieving mental growth. They are one and the same" (p. 11).
"The other assumption is that this process is a complex, arduous and lifelong task" (p. 12).
Problems and Pain
"Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. (The first of the 'Four Noble Truths' which Buddha taught was 'Life is suffering.') It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it…Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters. Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly…as if life were generally easy, as if life SHOULD be easy…I know about this moaning because I have done my share. Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them?…Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life's problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing" (p. 15).
"What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one" (p. 16). Although I agree with Peck that this is often the case, it does not have to be this way. We can confront and solve problems with exhilaration, joy, flow, and the thrill of the challenge. Therefore, what we should be teaching people is not how hard and painful it is, but, how wondrous and exciting it can be to solve problems!
"Yet it is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning…It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually…As Benjamin Franklin said, 'Those things that hurt, instruct.' It is for this reason that wise people learn not to dread but actually to welcome problems and actually to welcome the pain of problems. Most of us are not so wise. Fearing the pain involved, almost all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid problems. We procrastinate, hoping that 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 forget the problems that cause the pain. We attempt to skirt around problems rather than meet them head on. We attempt to get out of them rather than suffer through them. This tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness" (pp. 16-17)
THE CHALLENGE TO YOU: Try to identify how you are doing the above! You are doing it! Therefore, identify where you are doing it in your life! What do you avoid/fear?
"Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering." Carl Jung
"But the substitute itself ultimately becomes more painful than the legitimate suffering it was designed to avoid…True to form, many will then attempt to avoid this pain and this problem in turn, building layer upon layer of neurosis" (p. 17).
Peck lists four techniques to deal with life:
· Delayed gratification.
· Acceptance of responsibility.
· Dedication to truth.
"The problem lies not in the complexity of these tools but in the will to use them. For they are tools with which pain is confronted rather than avoided, and if one seeks to avoid legitimate suffering, then one will avoid the use of these tools" (p. 18).
"Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with. It is the only decent way to live" (p. 19).
"…the problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence" (p. 37).
THE CHALLENGE TO YOU: Try to identify what you should be responsible for and separate it from what others have told you and taught you that you should be responsible for! Example, advertising tells us we should look a certain way, and since we don't, that is our responsibility and their solution is for you to buy their product. You buy the product, you still don't look like the models in the ads, so you continue to feel lousy and continue to get sucked into buying endless new products. Try to let go of these responsibility games. You are responsible for your health, not for living up to some ridiculous image.
Don't get "…so overwhelmed by unnecessary responsibilities that (you) have scant energy left for the necessary responsibilities…" (p. 38).
"The difficulty we have in accepting responsibility for our behavior lies in the desire to avoid the pain of the consequences of that behavior" (p. 42).
DEDICATION TO TRUTH
"The less clearly we see the reality of the world---the more our minds are befuddled by falsehood, misperceptions and illusions---the less able we will be to determine correct courses of action and make wise decisions" (p. 44).
CHALLENGE TO YOU: What practices, habits, and daily exercises can you engage in to help you move toward truth, to revise your biases? For example, when you watch television and the ads come on, do you laugh at them to help defeat their potential to imbed a lie into your brain? What are you doing to help you become more aware of the patterns and connections between the various lies the world is offering up to you each day?
"Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs" (p. 50).
"What does a life of total dedication to the truth mean? It means, first of all, a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination….to know the world, we must not only examine it but we must simultaneously examine the examiner" (p. 51).
"One of the roots of mental illness is invariably an interlocking system of lies we have been told and lies we have told ourselves. These roots can be uncovered and excised only in an atmosphere of utter honesty" (p. 58).
"What rules, then, can one follow if one is dedicated to the truth? First, never speak falsehood. Second, bear in mind that the act of withholding the truth is always potentially a lie, and that in each instance in which the truth is withheld a significant moral decision is required. Third, the decision to withhold the truth should never be based on personal needs, such as a need for power, a need to be liked or a need to protect one's map (map = a person's plan to live a healthy life) from challenge. Fourth, and conversely, the decision to withhold the truth must always be based entirely upon the needs of the person or people from whom the truth is being withheld. Fifth, the assessment of another's needs is an act of responsibility which is so complex that it can only be executed wisely when one operates with genuine love for the other. Sixth, the primary factor in the assessment of another's needs is the assessment of that person's capacity to utilize the truth for his or her own spiritual growth. Finally, in assessing the capacity of another to utilize the truth for personal spiritual growth, it should be borne in mind that our tendency is generally to underestimate rather than overestimate this capacity" (pp. 62-63).
"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, when it is not destructive, to live in the present and act spontaneously. In other words, discipline itself must be disciplined" (p. 64).
The greatest force in leading a healthy life is your ability to love. To love requires action---acts of hard work and courage. "If an act is not one of work or courage, then it is not an act of love. There are not exceptions. The principal form that the work of love takes is attention. When we love another we give him or her our attention; we attend to that's person's growth. When we love ourselves we attend to our own growth…By far the most common and important way in which we can exercise our attention is by listening. We spend an enormous amount of time listening, most of which we waste, because on the whole most of us listen very poorly" (pp. 120-1).
Listening takes skills most of us do not have. Therefore, just as with swimming, you need to take lessons if you don't want to die when you jump in. We listen to ourselves by writing in journals. We listen to life through our observations, which means we must slow down long enough to make those observations. We listen to others with concentration so that we are NOT thinking about our response while they are talking. (Read one or more of Deborah Tannen's books to learn more about linguistics and what you need to know if you are going to be an effective listener.)
"Since love is work, the essence of nonlove is laziness" (p. 130).
Please keep in mind that some of the hardest working people are "lazy" when it comes to changing. It is fear that keeps us from changing. Fear that keeps us from doing the hard work that change requires.