Monday, 26 December 2011

“The Road Less Travelled” by M. Scott Peck

“The Road Less Travelled” is a book I go back to time and time again; when life gets “too hard” or I’m feeling a bit stuck, it almost always helps me to move forward. So I want to share my experience.

It took the universe three tries to get me to engage with this book. The first time was on my 21st birthday, when my Great Uncle gave it to me with a wonderful letter, urging me to “read the relevant passages diligently” so I would be “miles ahead in my understanding of what love is and what it is not”. I had just graduated with a science degree, and thought I had my world view sorted – it was a rational and atheistic one. So one look at the word “spiritual” on the front cover and I gave the book away without even opening it (an arrogant act that now makes me cringe). The second time was through a counsellor I saw for a long time, who recommended it and lent it to me. This time I did read it, and liked some of what it had to say, but superficially. Once I returned it I couldn’t have told you anything I’d read. I’d skimmed the words but not absorbed the meaning.

But the universe is persistent. It turned out that when I’d given that first copy away, it hadn’t gone far, to my mother in fact. She’d kept it, with the letter, and a couple of years ago during a clear out she returned it to me. I was going through a difficult period, and questioning a lot of aspects of my life. And finally, the time was right for me to hear the messages in the book, and learn some of the lessons.

It was still a gradual process. I read the first section, often in tears as I recognised myself and my life. I started the second, but realised I wasn’t ready, so went back to the beginning. This happened several times before I made it to the end of the book. I have lost count of how many times I have read and re-read the book (I’m currently just starting the second section again) and even now I am much more comfortable with the first and second sections than the third and fourth.

Nevertheless, this book has had a profound impact on how I understand the world, and try to act in it. So much of it I read and get that wonderful feeling of “yes, that makes sense, that’s my experience”. But as well as explaining, this book gives guidance on how to live well in the world, how to break negative patterns and how to grow. Let’s be clear; there are no glib easy answers here, quite the opposite. The opening line is “Life is difficult” and a theme of the book is the necessity of facing and going through pain in order to progress. A hard message to accept, but delivered with extraordinary compassion. And with passion, for the joy that living with genuine love brings.

The book starts with a set of tools, or disciplines, to help us tackle life’s problems and so move to a higher spiritual level. This section alone is a fantastic guide to an enlightened life. If you stop here, as I did initially, you will still have got your money’s worth. The next talks about genuine love (and some types of non-genuine love) and is a real eye-opener. This love provides the will to use the tools from the first section. The last two sections talk about “religion” (the word is used to mean the set of beliefs a person holds about the world) and grace.

I am not the first person to find this book helpful. It was written in 1978, and spent years on the bestseller lists. I am sure that, as with my Great Uncle, it has been passed on many times by those who have found clarity, understanding, support and encouragement in its pages. And now it is my turn to pass on the guidance I have received. As my experience shows, it takes a certain amount of openness and attention to embrace the difficult lessons in the book. Yet if you are looking for a more fulfilled and meaningful existence, I suggest “The Road Less Travelled” may be a valuable part of your journey.

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