I’ve written a lot of posts covering our physical, mental, and emotional well-being since starting this blog nearly 2 years ago. I suppose it’s time that I cover some thought leaders in the spiritual realm.
I read M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth years ago and decided to reacquaint myself with his words of wisdom. The following captures some of his ideas, recognizing full well that I can’t do his work justice in this post.
Peck begins with a sobering reality: Life is difficult. We all face a steady stream of problems to be solved. We may be tempted to avoid these challenges because it’s painful to confront them head-on. Yet meeting and solving problems gives life meaning. It creates opportunities for physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social growth. Besides, it’s better to solve smaller problems before they snowball into bigger ones!
We must accept responsibility for problems before we can solve them. That acceptance presupposes accurate perceptions of the world and our places in it. Peck says that our views of reality are like maps for which we are the map-makers. We use them to navigate the terrain of life. The most useful maps are those forged with considered effort, dedication to the truth, and a willingness to make revisions as we gather new information and accept constructive feedback from others.
We must be dedicated to the truth. Peck admonishes us to never speak falsehood. Of course, occasions may arise where we might choose to withhold information rather than cause needless harm to others. Thoughtful disclosure presumes an accurate assessment of another person’s capacity to make use of information for his or her spiritual growth. We can only make such assessments from a place of genuine love, and then only imperfectly. Should we opt to maintain silence, our decision should never be rooted in personal gain – e.g., a quest for power, a concern for popularity, or a need to protect our views of reality.
Love provides a compass for right action and serves as a powerful engine for spiritual growth. Peck defines genuine love as the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. This definition packs a lot of punch:
- It presumes a level of individuation and emotional maturity sufficient to manifest selfless action and attention. Love based on neediness (e.g., loneliness, insecurity) has little to do with spiritual development and rests upon a shaky foundation.
- Genuine love maintains the distinction between myself and the other.
- Love is an act of will. It is not dependency; it’s an exercise of free choice. Two people can be said to experience genuine love when they are fully capable of living apart but choose to be together.
- Love takes attention. For example, listening well takes focused concentration and a sincere effort to experience the world from the speaker’s point of view. It also takes regular investment of time and effort.
- Genuine love implies commitment and the exercise of wisdom. Growth is fostered through a relationship of constancy.
- Love is not a feeling; it is an action. It demands that we order our behavior to contribute optimally to our beloved’s spiritual growth.
Real love is a permanently enlarging experience. In order to truly understand others, we must make room for them within ourselves. As they take up residence, we also experience growth by stretching and thinning our ego boundaries. Genuine love is self-replenishing.
With an awareness of the limits of our time, we want to live and love well. Loving always carries the risk of heartbreak. But if we shy away from love, we shy away from life. While there are no guarantees, the most successful strategy for finding genuine love is being a person worthy of love.
Peck allows for the presence of grace which delivers life-producing or growth-enhancing experiences in our lives. He believes grace is accessible to everyone; however, most of us fail to acknowledge its presence or appreciate the value it brings. We cannot will grace into our lives, but we can prepare ourselves to be fertile ground.
He closes with these thought-provoking words:
“The journey of spiritual growth requires courage and initiative and independence of thought and action. While the words of the prophets and the assistance of grace are available, the journey must still be traveled alone. No teacher can carry you there.”