The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth
© 1978 M. Scott Peck
In February, I read A World Waiting to be Born: Civility Rediscovered by M. Scott Peck, a psychologist who applied the tools of his craft to society at large. In that book, he focuses on relationship/organization-building behavior (his working definition of civility), but the general idea of using psychology or psychiatry in a “mindful” sense fascinated me. Granted, Peck’s mindfulness is more “clinical” than “spiritual”, but I think they’re similar. I decided to read his first and apparently most known work this week in The Road Less Traveled.
In his first book, Peck uses psychology to address the matter of spirituality, and the results for me are fascinating. The book addresses the importance of discipline, love, growth and religion, and finally “grace”. He begins by saying that “Life is difficult” and compares this to Siddhartha Gautama’s first noble truth — life is suffering. According to Peck, people create suffering for themselves when they attempt to avoid facing life’s difficulties-head on. He proposes an unflinching path of self-discipline that involves (among other things) delaying gratification, avoiding deceit, keeping our minds clear of dogma and being open to new evidence, and giving though to the things we do.
Peck devotes his second section to love, which he defines as the extension of one’s self for one’s own or for someone else’s spiritual growth. While acknowledging its “mystery” — holding the opinion that we don’t really know what it is — he is quite stern on what it isn’t, and writes at length on romantic love, ego boundaries, dependency, cathexis (emotional investment: it’s my word for the week), and various other behaviors or concepts associated with the idea of love. He’s definitely gotten me to thinking about the subject more.
He writes next on spiritual growth and religion, and his criticisms are more sharp than I expected, given how much emphasis he placed on deity-based ethics in A World Waiting to Be Discovered. His definition for religion is very broad, encompassing “worldview” and bringing in science under its wing. Peck does not criticize science-as-religion: indeed, he advocates the scientific approach as a very necessary part of human studies. A good bit of this chapter consists of case-studies, the common theme of which is that ideas about religion and god can both hurt and help people. I found this section to be somewhat thought-provoking as well.
It is in the last section that I find the most fault — the section on “Grace”. He begins the section with a series of “Isn’t it interesting” type essays in which he identifies a Mysterious Quality about good health, the unconscious, serendipity, evolution, and power. He then attempts to reconcile the Judeo-Christian creation story with his own worldview by interpreting the “original sin” as laziness — Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise not because they’d disobeyed an arbitrary rule, but because they didn’t bother to question God about the rule.
Although I found this section weak and more than a little unfocused, the book as a whole was well-done. It was definitely one of the more thought-provoking reads this week.