Cover of "The Road Less Traveled"

Cover of The Road Less Traveled

A while back a colleague’s comments encouraged me to revisit the book, The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck.  I am very glad this happened because it resonated much differently with me twenty years later.  I’ve decided to end the year sharing some excerpts from the book which I have found especially enlightening and helpful:

“Life is difficult…This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.  It is a great truth because once we truly see the 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.”

“What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one…Yet it is in the whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning…It is through the pain of confronting and resolving our problems that we learn.”

“…when children know they are valued, when they truly feel valued in the deepest parts of themselves, then they feel valuable…the feeling of being valuable is essential to mental health and is the cornerstone of self-discipline…when one considers oneself valuable one will take care of oneself in all ways that are necessary. Self discipline is self-caring.”

“We must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. We cannot solve a problem by saying, “It is not my problem.” We cannot solve a problem by hoping that someone else will solve it for us. I can solve a problem only when I say “This is my problem and it’s up to me to solve it.  But many, so many, seek to avoid the pain of their problems by saying to themselves: “This problem was caused me by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control, and therefore it is up to other people or society to solve the problems for me.”

“…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; for the entirety of our lives we must continually assess and reassess where our responsibilities lie in the ever-changing course of events.”

“Frequently our choices lie between the lesser of two evils, but it is still within our power to make these choices…there are indeed oppressive forces at work within the world.  We have, however, the freedom to choose every step of the manner in which we are going to respond to and deal with these forces.”

“What happens when one has striven long and hard to develop a working view of the world, a seemingly useful workable map, and then is confronted with new information suggesting that view is wrong and the map needs to be largely redrawn?  The painful effort required seems frightening almost overwhelming. What we do more often than not, and usually unconsciously, is to ignore new information…Rather than try and change the map, an individual may try to destroy the new reality.  Sadly, such a person may expend much more energy ultimately in defending an outmoded view of the world than would have been required to revise and correct it in the first place.”

“The life of wisdom must be a life of contemplation combined with action.”

“The only way that we can be certain that our map of reality is valid is to expose it to the criticism and challenge of other map makers.”

“The more honest one is, the easier it is to continue being honest, just as the more lies one had told, the more necessary it is to lie again. By their openness, people dedicated to the truth live in the open, and through the exercise of their courage to live in the open, they become free from fear.”

“Mature mental health demands, an extraordinary capacity to flexibly strike and continually restrike a delicate balance between conflicting needs, goals, duties, responsibilities, directions, etc.  The essence of this discipline of balancing is giving up… the giving up of personality traits, well established patterns of behavior, ideologies, and even whole life systems.”

“It is in the giving up of self that human beings can find the most ecstatic and lasting, solid, durable joy of life.  And it is death that provides life with all of its meaning.  This is the “secret” wisdom of all religion.”

“It is also clear that the farther one travels on the journey of life, the more births and deaths one will experience, and therefore the more deaths – the more joy and more pain.”

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”

“…we are incapable of loving another unless we love ourselves, just as we are incapable of teaching our children self-discipline unless we ourselves are self-disciplined. It is actually impossible to forsake our own spiritual development in favor of someone else’s.”

“Love is not effortless.  To the contrary, love is effortful.”

“Ego boundaries must be hardened before they can be softened. An identity must be established before it can be transcended. One must find one’s self before one can lose it…”

“Whenever we think of ourselves as doing something for someone else, we are in some way denying our own responsibility.  Whatever we do is done because we choose to do it, and we make that choice because it is the one that satisfies us the most.  Whatever we do for someone else we do because it fulfills a need we have.” 

“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 person’s growth…By far the most common and important way in which we can exercise our attention is by listening.”

Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the making of action in spite of fear, the moving out against the resistance engendered by fear into the unknown and into the future.  On some level spiritual growth, and therefore love, always requires courage and involves risk.”

“Commitment is inherent in any genuinely loving relationship.  Anyone who is truly concerned for the spiritual growth of another knows, consciously or instinctively, that he or she can significantly foster that growth only through relationship of constancy.”

“Genuine love is self-replenishing.  The more I nurture the spiritual growth of others, the more my own spiritual growth is nurtured.”

“Great marriages cannot be constructed by individuals who are terrified by their basic aloneness, as so commonly is the case, and seek a merging in marriage.  Genuine love not only respects the individuality of the other  but actually seeks to cultivate it, even at the risk of separation or loss…”sacrifices” on behalf of the other result in equal or greater growth of the self.”

“.. all human interactions are opportunities either to learn or to teach (to give or receive therapy), and when they neither learn nor teach in an interaction they are passing up an opportunity.”

“To develop a religion or world view that is realistic – that is, conforms to the reality of the cosmos and our role in it, as best we can know that reality – we must constantly revise and extend our understanding to include new knowledge of the larger world.  We must constantly enlarge our frame of reference…”

“The path to holiness lies through questioning everything…”

“Many scientists simply do not look at the evidence of the reality of God.  They suffer from a kind of tunnel vision, a psychologically self-imposed psychological set of blinders which prevents them from turning their attention to the realm of the spirit.”

“A major and essential task in the process of one’s spiritual development is the continuous work of bringing one’s conscious self-concept into progressively greater congruence with reality…”

“…one of the reasons we fail to take full advantage of grace is that we are not fully aware of its presence – that is, we don’t find valuable things not sought for, because we fail to appreciate the value of the gift when it is given us…we consider such events unremarkable, and consequently we fail to take full advantage of them.”

“An individual’s body may undergo changes of the life cycle, but it does not evolve.  New physical patterns are not forged.  Decline of physical competence in old age is an inevitability.  Within an individual lifetime, however, the human spirit may evolve dramatically.  New patterns may be forged. Spiritual competence may increase (although it usually does not) until the moment of death in advanced old age.  Our lifetime offers unlimited opportunities for spiritual growth until the end.”

“When we grow, it is because we are working at it, and we are working at it because we love ourselves.  And it is through love that we elevate ourselves.  And it is through our love for others that we assist others to elevate themselves.  Love, the extension of the self, is the very rare act of evolution.  It is an evolution in progress.  The evolutionary force, present in all life, manifests itself in humankind as human love.  Among humanity love is the miraculous force that defies the natural law of entropy.”

“If we overcome laziness, all other impediments will be overcome.  If we don’t overcome laziness, none of the others will be hurdled.”

“A major form of laziness is fear…Much of our fear is fear of change in the status quo, a fear that we might lose what we have if we venture forth from where we are now.”

“Evil people hate the light because it reveals themselves to themselves.  They hate goodness because it reveals their badness; they hate love because it reveals their laziness.  They will destroy the light, the goodness, the love in order to avoid the pain of such self-awareness…evil is laziness carried to its ultimate, extraordinary extreme.”

“Most people most of the time make decisions with little awareness of what they are doing.  They take action with little understanding of their own motives and without beginning to know the ramifications of their choices…”

“Is it any better to do the right thing for the wrong reasons than the wrong thing for the right reasons?  We are often most in the dark when we are the most certain, and the most enlightened when we are the most confused.”

“We attempt to defend our consciousness, our awareness, against reality.  We do this by a variety of means which psychiatrists call defense mechanisms.  All of us employ such defenses, thereby limiting our awareness.  If in our laziness and fear of suffering we massively defend our awareness, then it will come to pass that our understanding of the world will bear little or no relation to reality.”

“The call to grace is a call to a life of effortful caring, to a life of service and whatever sacrifice seems required.  It is a call out of spiritual childhood into adulthood, a call to be a parent to mankind…”

“…the human race is in the midst of making an evolutionary leap. Whether or not we succeed in that leap is your personal responsibility.  And mine.  The universe, this stepping stone, has been laid down to prepare the way for us.  But we ourselves must step across it, one by one.  Through grace we are helped not to stumble and through grace we know that we are being welcomed.  What more can we ask?”