The Road Less Travelled

Revisiting a timeless masterpiece of a book.

Life is Difficult

This is the opening premise of M. Scott Peck’s timeless self-help masterpiece. He says that the sooner you accept this truth, the easier your life will become. “Once we truly know that life is difficult, once we truly understand and accept it, then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

Revisiting a Classic

Way back in 1995, in the very early days of my awakening, my first therapist suggested I get 3 books:

  • The Road Less Travelled, by M. Scott Peck
  • People of the Lie, also by M. Scott Peck
  • You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay

I got all three and consumed them, each a revelation. Since that first reading of The Road Less Travelled, I have read and listened to it many, many times. While some of its references are dated, the message is resoundingly relevant.

On my walk this morning, I decided to dust it off yet again, and was astounded at how much the opening resonated with me. How could it be that I could be on this self-development journey for almost 30 years, when perhaps I had “the answer” (I’m always seeking “the answer”.) all along.

Solving problems is painful.

He begins with the idea that life involves an ongoing process of solving problems. “What makes life difficult is that solving problems is painful.” Problems evoke a variety of uncomfortable feelings and pain. Since life provides us with an ongoing series of problems, life is full of pain, as well as joy.

Yet, it's where we find meaning.

“Yet, it is in meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning. 

“Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure. Problems call for our courage and our wisdom. Indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. Wise people learn, not to dread, but to actually welcome problems and the pain of problems. 

“Most of us are not so wise. Feeling the pain involved, most of us attempt to avoid problems. This tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent is the primary psychological basis of all mental illness. Since most of us have this tendency to a greater or lesser degree, most of us are mentally ill to a greater or lesser degree.”


Avoiding our Problems Causes Suffering

“Some of us go to extraordinary lengths to avoid our problems and the suffering they cause. We build the most elaborate fantasies in which to live, sometimes to the  total exclusion of reality. In the words of Carl Jung, neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering. But, the substitute itself ultimately because more painful that the legitimate suffering it was designed to avoid. Neurosis itself becomes the biggest problem. 

“True to form, many will attempt to avoid this pain and this problem, building layer upon layer of neurosis. When we avoid the legitimate suffering that results from dealing with problems, we also avoid the growth the problems demand from us.”

We become stuck.

“In chronic mental illness  we stop growing, we become stuck. Without healing, the human spirit begins to shrivel. 

“Therefore, let us inculcate in ourselves and in our children, the means of achieving mental and spiritual health. Let us teach ourselves and our children how to face problems directly and how to experience the pain involved.”

On the road less travelled.

It’s on this lonely road where we accept that life is a series of problems to be solved. Once we do that, we turn towards those problems, no matter how uncomfortable we feel. 

There is no fantasy finish line, beyond which we will be happy. It’s more of an unravelling where, on an ongoing basis, we turn towards our problems, often revisiting old problems, at deeper levels.

Within these depths, in the mysteries of life, we find our true selves, our meaning We forget about destinations and learn to enjoy the journey, both the good parts and the challenging parts.

The Road Less Travelled