It is not by chance that I stumbled onto this book, some may even call it serendipitous. The Road Less Traveled starts with this proclamation: life is difficult. It’s not a foreign concept, as Buddha has always taught us life is about suffering, and Christians are expected to endure tribulations on earth and suffer for Jesus’ sake. Yet somehow we still expect it to be easy, as we watch others with envy as if their lives are not filled with difficult decisions and unbearable pains. We search for teachers and guides, rules and tools to make life easier. But none of these would help, if we don’t first accept the fact that life is difficult.
M. Scott Peck wrote this book in 1978, before I was born. He passed away in 2005, having divorced his wife of 45 years, estranged from his children, and suffering Parkinson’s disease and cancer. One might venture to call him a hypocrite, since despite all he said about love, he was not able to provide his family with love that satisfied them. However, that is his story, his suffering, and no one will truly understand the road that led him there. Knowing what to do is also very different from actually doing it, another paradox that causes much of human suffering.
As a psychiatrist, Peck describes discipline as a set of tools to help us deal with the problems we all invariably face in life. His tool set consists of delaying gratification, accepting responsibility, being truthful, and balancing. These are also not new concepts, but simply things we learn as we mature. For me the most important one is to accept responsibility for your life, which leads one to be truthful, and leads to the understanding that one must achieve balance by delaying certain gratification. Truly accepting responsibility for our lives is difficult, and this quote boldly suggests why: “Much as we feel oppressed by our parents-or by society or fate we actually seem to need to have powers above us to blame for our condition. To rise to a position of such power that we have no one to blame except ourselves is a fearful state of affairs.” It’s because of this fear that some of us would rather remain in chains, to relinquish at the same time the freedom of choice and the responsibility that comes with it.
The second section of Peck’s book describes his perspective on love, defined as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” This I found to be intriguing, which led me to look up the word love in the dictionary, shallowly defined as “a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection.” In comparison I do like the author’s definition better, although in truth I can’t define what love means, even for myself. The concept of cathexis is novel to me. It is what psychiatrists call the process of attraction, investment and commitment. It seems to me that for many that already means love, but the author says it’s not enough. Real love begins with cathexis, but it is the disciplined actions one performs after cathexis that signifies true love. It’s about understanding what the other person needs, breaking down ego boundaries, and extending yourself to help the other person grow. I vaguely understand and agree with this idea, although I find the practice of it quite difficult.
The final sections of the book were about spiritual development. As I began to understand a bit more about how he saw this world, I was delighted that I was able to absorb certain of his world views into my own. After years of questioning and doubting, I managed to formulate a view of religion/life that works for me. I equate God with everything good, but reject the idea of a personified, loving God. I am a possibilist who believes in miracles, yet a skeptic in that I have trouble believing miracles would happen around me. I believe people are born with morality ingrained in our hearts, but we are given the choice to ignore our conscience if we wanted to. I believe in accepting responsibility for the one and only life I’ve been given, and that my life is the sum of all my choices. I believe in helping others, if only for the fact that it makes me appreciate my own life more. I don’t believe in heaven or hell, but I’d like to think that there’s a greater consciousness beyond life on earth. I believe in contributing to the future of humanity, and never quite thought about why that should be the case.
This world view has worked for me, but I always knew it was a work in progress. Truthfully I struggle a lot with the idea of a benevolent God, as I see the world filled with suffering. But why do I believe we should not suffer? If I accept suffering as a fact of life, I will cease to blame God for the world’s suffering because I have no right to expect him to have created a world without suffering. For a long time I could never accept the idea that God is love, perhaps because I felt that a loving God would not have created a world with suffering. Yet would we really know what love is in a world where suffering did not exist? And if I accept that fact that morality is innate and came from God, why do I question the need to love, the desire to be loved, and the ability to love also came from the same place?
Peck has the idea that the end goal of human evolution is to become God. On first look the idea almost seems blasphemous. How can we even think it’s possible to become God? I think it helps if I defined God a bit further. God is powerful and responsible for the universe. If I shrink this concept of God of the universe a gazillion times, to the insignificant speckle of time that is my own life, I can see that I hold the power and responsibility for it. If I define God as goodness, then with the power and responsibility I have over my own life, I shall strive to be good. If I accept the notion that God is also love, then I shall also strive to love all humanity and all life, whether it be in the steps of Jesus or Buddha. I would never reach such a lofty goal, but the journey to inch closer each day would make for quite a meaningful life.