Have you read The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck? Do you know what it teaches about spiritual growth?
In The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck asserts that the path to spiritual enlightenment involves discipline and grace (in addition to love and personal religion, or worldview). Without these qualities, you risk not only spiritual stagnation but also the mental health problems that come with it. Embracing these qualities leads to better health, better relationships, and a richer life.
Keep reading to learn what The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck says about the roles of discipline and grace in spiritual growth.
The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck
In The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck teaches you how to face the inevitable challenges in your life, grow through hardship, and ultimately attain deeper self-knowledge. The Road Less Traveled is based on three assumptions:
- The mind and spirit are connected (mental growth is spiritual growth and vice versa).
- Spiritual growth is a painful, complicated, lifelong process.
- The purpose of life is to develop full spiritual competence and spiritual power.
According to Peck, our greatest impetus in life is to spiritually evolve. Our greatest obstacle to spiritual growth is the reality that it occurs only through the overcoming of obstacles. We would rather complain, suffer, and resist, because acceptance means confronting our problems, and the confrontation process is often uncomfortable or painful. However, avoiding spiritual growth eventually leads to poor mental health. In fact, the core of mental illness is the inability to confront problems and the pain or discomfort associated with them. Avoiding problems = decreased growth and increased suffering.
In contrast, confronting and solving your own problems builds courage and allows you to develop wisdom. You can do this by developing discipline and grace (along with love and personal religion, or worldview). In The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck provides an in-depth exploration of these tools through the lens of his experiences as a psychotherapist.
First, we’ll look at common obstacles to self-knowledge and spiritual evolution. Then, we’ll explore how discipline and grace assist you in your journey.
What Hinders Spiritual Evolution?
In The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck describes two key obstacles to spiritual evolution.
Laziness impedes you from working through the problems that support your growth. Furthermore, if you don’t conquer laziness, you won’t conquer the other obstacles; if you do conquer laziness, you know the others are conquerable, too.
#2: Fear of Power
When you spiritually evolve, you develop greater awareness of your actions and their impact. This makes decision-making more difficult, because being aware of the impact of your actions means understanding the pain and suffering you can cause. The more spiritual awareness you develop, the greater your uncertainty may become.
How Discipline Supports Spiritual Evolution
The first and most valuable tool you can develop to support spiritual growth is discipline. If you have strong discipline, you use willpower to work through the discomfort associated with problem-solving. The challenges of life require mastery of four components influenced by discipline.
#1: Delayed Gratification
We often procrastinate solving problems because the process is uncomfortable, and we are not willing to sit with discomfort even if doing so will result in an overall more positive result.
To develop strong discipline, you need to be willing to sit with the discomfort of the problem-solving process. When you immediately take care of painful or frustrating tasks, you enhance your experience of later, more enjoyable activities.
#2: Acceptance of Responsibility
Related to procrastination, people with poor discipline usually struggle with embracing responsibility. But If you try to make your problems the responsibility of others, they won’t get solved, and you will be the one who suffers. Avoiding responsibility can lead to one of two types of mental illness:
Neuroticism: Neurotics feel responsible for too much, leading them to avoid commitment, develop codependent relationships, and succumb to generalized anxiety.
Character Disorder: Character disordered people feel responsible for too little, leading them to blame others for their problems and stagnate their own growth.
In The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck says that life is a series of choices—and the best way to develop a healthy sense of responsibility is to engage in rigorous self-examination while you make those choices. Observe yourself, and notice whether or not what you expect of yourself is realistic, and make adjustments where necessary. Alternatively, notice when you may be blaming others for a problem that is your responsibility, and take responsibility for solving it.
#3: Committed Honesty
Seeing and engaging with the world through an honest lens is often painful, but when you have the discipline to do so, you are able to make choices that best support growth.
One obstacle to committed honesty is transference: We inherit our perception of reality from our upbringing. As we grow, these perceptions become outdated, and this misalignment causes mental illness.
- For example, Peck once had a patient named Stewart, who was a successful professional in his midlife who developed severe depression. There did not seem to be a specific trigger, but he had grown up in a dogmatically religious environment, and in adulthood had become an atheist. Stewart, through therapy, eventually realized that his upbringing had instilled in him a belief in a punishing God, whom he had rejected once leaving home. His attempts to reject the existence of God had only suppressed this underlying belief.
You can overcome transference by evaluating your current values and beliefs and determining whether or not they are outdated. You must deliberately replace outdated values and beliefs with ones that are consistent with who you are.
- For example, in Stewart’s case, he realized that his idea of God had actually come from his experience of his own parents. They had been ruthless in their punishments for any perceived transgressions, and consequently, Stewart grew up to believe in a world and God that was terrifying and dangerous, just like his parents.
Balance is an aspect of discipline that allows you to take a measured approach to your life. Optimal balance looks like:
- Understanding when to be truthful and when to withhold truth for the higher good.
- Understanding what you are and are not truly responsible for in life.
- Understanding when to delay gratification versus when to be in the present moment.
Balancing is critical because it keeps you from making extreme decisions. For example, when you’re angry, you might be inspired to do harm to another person when that isn’t the appropriate course of action to take. There will also be times when you’re angry because you’re genuinely under threat and you’ll need to take action to defend yourself. Balancing this choice is the job of your flexible response system, which controls how you moderate the expression of your emotions. For most people suffering from mental illness, the flexible response system is out of balance. Therapy often seeks to correct this imbalance.
Optimal balance (and indeed, optimal wellness) occurs when you find a middle ground between contrasting needs, objectives, or experiences. This kind of balance requires you to give up certain needs, objectives, or experiences. For example, when you’re angry and choose not to lash out at the object of your anger, you are letting go of your need to “get even” or your perception of yourself as “under threat.”
How Grace Supports Spiritual Evolution
In The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck explains that another tool you are given on your growth journey is the availability of grace, a mysterious force supporting you to remain on your path to spiritual evolution. You need to work through your resistance to spiritual growth before you can access grace. There is one core obstacle to embracing spiritual growth.
Evil is the most extreme manifestation of laziness, characterized by the deliberate avoidance of growth and destruction of goodness. If genuine love is the willingness to extend yourself to support the spiritual growth of yourself or others, evil is actively narrowing yourself to avoid your own growth or positively impacting the growth of others. In other words, evilness is anti-love. The light in the world illuminates the pain evil is avoiding, and evil is motivated by the desire to remain ignorant of this pain.
For example, the decision to cheat on your spouse because you’re unhappy in the relationship is a result of laziness. The decision to cheat on your spouse because you feel contempt towards them for how well they treat you and want to hurt them might be rooted in something closer to evil.
Grace is a spiritual force that originates beyond you but moves through you or to you through others for the purpose of contributing to your spiritual growth. Instances of grace are characterized by:
- Their positive impact on spiritual growth.
- Their contribution to the resilience of the human spirit.
- Frequent, universal occurrence.
- Origins beyond the human mind or will.
Why Might We Resist Grace?
Many believe grace to be an expression of support from a genuinely loving God who wants us to grow. The suggestion is that this God wishes for us to spiritually evolve to the point of becoming God. In The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck asserts that we resist because, if we don’t, we would have to take on the immense responsibility of being a God-like version of ourselves. This goal requires continual, intense effort, and accepting that we can become God puts us in confrontation with our greatest obstacle to God: laziness (or evil, when expressed to an extreme).
What Are the Results of Resisting Grace?
In short, mental illness. In order to evolve to full spiritual competence, you must live life in alignment with your soul. This requires an impeccable relationship with reality, which requires engaging in continual, rigorous evaluation of your worldview. If you avoid this, you will grow increasingly disconnected from reality, and your behavior will look increasingly erratic or peculiar to others.
How to Welcome Grace
To open your connection to grace, you need to understand how it shows up in your life. There are four indicators which, when examined, lend evidence to the existence of grace.
Indicator #1: Resilience
In the realm of both psychology and medicine, there are cases where, against all odds, patients retain resilience. For example, consider people who experience extreme abuse in childhood, yet go on to live happy and successful lives, or those who are in horrific car accidents, yet go on to make full recoveries. What can explain this? Evidence suggests that the secret ingredient in these types of circumstances is grace, supporting the human resistance system to recover and thrive.
Indicator #2: Synchronicity or Serendipity
Synchronistic events are events that occur outside the boundaries of natural law with impeccable and unexplainable timing or frequency. Serendipitous events are moments where positive occurrences arise unexpectedly and at times of great significance. For example, when a person is shot, but the bullet misses all vital organs, what can explain this? There is no natural law suggesting that the organs move to avoid the bullet, or one suggesting that the human body somehow influences the bullet to curve in such a way that it avoids the organs.
Events of synchronicity and serendipity are common, but many see them as coincidences and choose not to see a deeper meaning in them. This is a powerful indicator of grace, as moments of grace are only meaningful to those who are open to them.
Indicator #3: The Unconscious
5% of the human brain is conscious, while the remaining 95% makes up the unconscious. The unconscious is a major vessel of grace, communicating important insights to us through dreams, idle thoughts, word vomit, and symptoms of illness (both mental and physical). These occurrences can bestow any of the following benefits:
- Support you to deepen your understanding of yourself or others
- Provide guidance for challenges in your life
- Communicate a “yes” or “no” about decisions you’ve been struggling with or conclusions you’ve had difficulty coming to
- Help you identify next steps when you’re in periods of stagnancy
The greatest indicator of a message from the unconscious is it being unexpected or unwanted. Traditional psychologists (like Freud) thought the unconscious was bad because its insights often reveal neuroses. Modern psychologists (like Jung) have evolved to view the unconscious as the “unfiltered truth” of the human psyche, providing deep wisdom for meaningful growth. In this context, again, symptoms of mental illness revealed through the unconscious (obsessive thoughts, irritability, anxiety, and so on) seem to be manifestations of grace, alerting you to the state of your soul for the purpose of redirection.
Indicator #4: Evolution
In The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck identifies the miracle of evolution as possibly the greatest indicator of grace there is. The law of thermodynamics shows us that the flow of growth in the universe is always rushing downstream. Rather than expanding, it is narrowing. Over time, energy becomes less complex and more disordered. Eventually, this process will reach its conclusion, with higher complexity no longer possible. This is known as entropy. The downward flow of growth is the force of entropy. Evolution is a process of expansion, where energy becomes more complex, with greater and greater states of differentiation. The upward force of evolution pushes against the downward force of entropy to evolve organisms to their highest state of differentiation (currently, human beings). From a spiritual standpoint, the process is identical. Human beings fight against the force of entropy (laziness) to evolve to the highest state of spiritual competence.
What Is the End Goal of Spiritual Evolution?
A key aspect of spiritual competence is awareness, and evil is the greatest expression of ignorance, awareness’s opposite. This suggests spiritual evolution and the evolution of consciousness are the same journey. If the term “conscious” means “to know with,” consider that the unconscious is the source of ultimate knowledge, and full consciousness is to bring that knowledge into conscious awareness. Further, the source of unconscious knowledge is God. This suggests the unconscious is a vehicle of grace, something not “of us” that nonetheless moves through us. The process of bringing the unconscious to the surface to be integrated into the conscious is to know God within us and bring God into conscious action through us.
In The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck argues that the primary goal of spiritual evolution is to integrate human consciousness with God-consciousness. We engage in growth to develop awareness and spiritual competency, which allows God to influence our actions for the betterment of humanity. The mysterious force of grace moves through us to help others experience consciousness as well.
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- The four key elements in the path to enlightenment
- The importance of spiritual competence in relation to mental health
- How you can face challenges and grow through hardship