Updated: Nov 24, 2019
Having just finished the Salt Path, I was excited to get going on something equally as compelling.
Imagine my shock when I discovered The Road Less Traveled is a self-help book rather than an epic journey...
Still, I will read and report back!
"Life is difficult" is its opening line, and Dr. Peck compels us to working towards accepting that as an undeniable truth, rather than moaning incessantly and noisily or if you prefer, without having a damned good sulk about it. Personally, I quite enjoy a good moan, and when I'm bored of that, I can always jut out my bottom lip and do a marvellous "It's not fair" routine.
The reality of life being difficult gives us a choice about life's problems: whinge or solve them. Assuming, you want to solve them then there's some action one has to take...
Firstly, delay gratification. I am rather inclined to go for instant gratification. A 'play now, pay' later kind of person. This needs turning on its head: do the rough stuff first and then chillax! That's what well-adjusted people do.
If one does not have a deep internal sense of security nor a deep internal sense of your own value, then one has internalised something in childhood that is a fallacy: being unlovable, worthless, unsafe, useless or pointless. And if one has acquired those fundamental beliefs in childhood, the chances of overcoming those beliefs in adulthood is nigh-impossible.
However, take time to try stuff. Here's the crux then - get comfortable with failing! This one I readily relate to: I'm gung-ho about trying certain stuff, presumably because I have somewhere in the vicinity of my memory bank something to build on. But I'll shy away from other stuff and simply assume I can't do it, and then never try. Ignoring problems rarely make them go away, Dr. Peck argues. I'm not sure I entirely buy this: some problems do dissipate with the passage of time, but for the most part I should crack on with solving issues before they escalate. When I can work out which strategy to take in any given situation, I'll charge a fee and pay my bills that way...
Take responsibility. 'Nuff said. Blaming one's environment, the people surrounding one, one's upbringing, or my personal favourite: the cat, is not taking responsibility. Must stop!
However, a huge chunk of us have, and brace yourself: neurosis or a character disorder.
A neurotic assumes too much responsibility: that is a tendency to blame oneself for all and any conflict. And the other type blames everyone but themselves! Neither approaches are healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with life. If one can view life as a series of personal choices, with unknown outcomes, one is all the much healthier for doing so.
Openness to challenge means confronting truths that may make one uncomfortable, a life of continuous self-examination. You might not like what you see, but it does give you the impetus to change it. Dr. Peck believes that people who are dedicated to pursuing the truth about themselves, live in the open - that takes courage, and that in turn, eliminates fear.
Pursue a balance in one's life. That means giving up stuff sometimes. Trying not to have it all as this leads to bitterness and tears. Accept depression as part of growing up and transitioning through life's phases. One can only achieve higher levels of consciousness if one is willing to embrace pain and suffering.
It's all about love - a concept Dr. Peck readily admits is near-impossible to define. In his book, he keeps it to the ability to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth. In order to love oneself, one is going to have to grow, and to grow means to accept pain. Falling in love, on the other hand, is what happens when one is sexually attracted to another. Remember that when you casually mention how you fell in love with your cat/dog or pet giraffe at first sight!
Secondly, dependency is not love. That, Dr. Peck, rather unsettingly calls parasitism. Love is the free exercise of choice, but needing someone is not. If you need someone to feel 'fulfilled' or have a sense of completeness, then you are blocked from loving someone wholeheartedly and healthily. Flitting from person to person quickly does wonders for one's ego in a short-termist way, but little for one's long-term soul. Delayed gratification is what we're after, not immediate!
People who are willing to grow learn to tolerate loneliness, unhappiness and suffering. Likewise, a heavy dependency on wealth or power dissolves the ability to evolve. Hobbies are acts of self-nurturing until they become addictions. Self-sacrificing, or rather the more modern term: people-pleasing, are acts of taken on too much responsibility for the wellbeing of others, at the expense of one's own growth and happiness.
Love, therefore, is an over-used word and one would should be used more judiciously, just like the giving and receiving of 'love'. Love ought to be a choice, rather than a compulsion. Dr. Peck argues that love is an action and not a feeling- the making of deliberate loving acts, rather than having a overwhelming emotion. It is work, effort and a form of courage. It is listening well, not poorly. Walking through fear, not dodging it.
Growing up and being an adult is the result of taking risks: being prepared to do things differently, valuing one's time and self that one is unwilling to remain in an unhappy state. The highest forms of love are totally free choices and not acts of conformity. No more wondering what other people might say... stop caring! Instead crack on and make a commitment.
Commitment problems dominate almost all psychiatric disorders. Much of it is held deep within the psyche, a subconscious belief of 'I'll desert you before you desert me' which means letting go. For many, trusting others is sabotaged from the get-go.
And the final act of love: risking confrontation. 'Meakness can be weakness' is a useful adage to remember, the polar opposite of self-centred bursts of anger. Both corrupt relationships, in that they coersive, corrosive or controlling. Loving confrontation is the key to a successful relationships. It is finding the middle-ground between denying one has feelings, views & thoughts, and not letting them run the show!
Is all about world view and religion, and before the atheists pipe up, Dr. Peck believes that religion is simply the belief you hold about what life is all about! Religion is, therefore, not a belief in God, or a set or prescribed practices, but rather an implicit or explicit set of ideas.
Most of us are not fully aware of how our unique childhood experiences impact our understanding and create our world view. We walk around with the assumption that everyone thinks as we do. Whenever we interact with another, we can expect that we are operating on a different set of assumptions from our counterpart.
Spiritual growth is a result of distrusting what we have been taught to believe, actively seeking out the threatening or unfamiliar and by deliberately challenging the validity of things we hold dear. Be a rebel! Dr. Peck starts with what you already believe about religion and then asks you to risk concluding that you may be wrong.
There follow three cases studies of how he approached it with three clients, followed by a couple of interesting discussions of the seeming dichotomies of science and religion: both riddled with dogmatism to assist the reader to find ways of looking beyond their narrow tunnels. Dr. Peck himself was certain there was no such thing as a miracle, but life has since taught him differently, and the more he looked, the more he found.
Psychiatry is the study of exactly how and why a person develops a particular neurotic symptom or behavioural pattern, although it is a source of surprise that people survive traumas as well as they do. And yet, Dr. Peck believes that around 95% of our mind's work is unconscious and that by venturing into it will reveal riches beyond imagination. Our unconcious side reveals itself through dreams, idle thoughts and freudian slips. Of significance, is that our brain is so wow that we inherit knowledge of our ancestors, but most fascinating of all (for me) was his chapter on synchronicity and serendipity.
Synchronicity is the coming together of two highly implausible events which cannot be explained by natural law. Just as there can be freak accidents, there can be freak non-accidents. Serendipity is, therefore, the gift of finding things that are agreeable or beneficial, and yet were not being sought. Grace, then, resides in the unconscious mind: a phenomena that nurtures and supports us through life, what some may call God but others will call a 'force' of some kind that is not our conscious will.
Evolution is concerned with the spiritual growth of the individual – and that is why life can be demoralising at times. We must push against the urge to choose the more difficult path, by overcoming our own laziness, and seeking out opportunities to learn and to grow – to become more graceful, rather than to entropy.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. The information it contained was dense and the writing tiny, which I think can be off-putting, especially as these days the need for varifocals is looming large. It is old-fashioned in that the layout is unvaried and solid, but within the texts are a wealth of anecdotes which illustrate some issue that is being discussed within each chapter.
Chapters are relatively short, between five to ten pages, meaning this books could, in theory, be picked up and put down. That said it does need to be read conventionally: from start to finish so long gaps between picking up and reading it means that continuity is readily lost. At least with the middle-aged memory brain starting to kick in.
This book is ideal for anyone stuck in a the rut of 'why does this always happen to me', or a feeling that something isn't quite right and and willingness to look at themselves differently, particularly their beliefs about life, love and the universe, and how this impacts our behaviours both explicitly and implicitly.