Spiritual growth is the heart of mental health as described by psychiatrist M. Scott Peck in his book The Road Less Traveled. The path of growth Peck describes is not often taken because it involves pain, discipline and stretching. The rewards of this life are great, but they are obtained through effort.
People forgo growth, and sometime develop mental problems, because they refuse to accept a difficult fact: life is hard. Unfortunately, they often put themselves through a lot of extra pain for a longer period than they might have suffered if they would accept and deal with challenges in the first place.
Later in the book, Peck characterizes this as a kind of laziness. It is refusal to extend oneself and put effort into mastering life. The extension of oneself for the purpose of spiritual growth (your own or another’s) is the essence of love in Peck’s view. Laziness is the opposite of love.
Love is one of the main elements of spiritual growth. This love is not primarily emotion. It is commitment. It is respect for others and the distinction of others as unique individuals. It it is the effort one puts into growing and helping others to grow.
Emotions are important. They are fuel for action. To be effective in supporting growth, emotions must be disciplined.
“Passion is feeling of great depth. The fact that a feeling is uncontrolled is no indication that it is in any way deeper than a feeling that is disciplined.” M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled
Discipline is another major practice for growth. Discipline is not beating up on yourself. It is accepting responsibility for your life and dealing with reality. It is the practice of giving up things for the purpose of taking hold of more valuable things. Proper discipline is not rigid but it helps us to be flexible and enlarge ourselves.
Love and discipline work together. As Peck frames it, successful psychotherapy occurs when a patient is ready to discipline himself and a therapist can create a relationship of love that supports that discipline.
This is just the beginning of growth. In the latter chapter of the book, Peck shifts to other elements, particularly religion. For Peck, religion is your conception is your conception of how the world works. Even a scientific worldview is a religion.
Religion is also where we can grapple with mystery, especially the mystery of grace, which is important to growth. Peck sees grace in many areas, such as serendipity and the strange knowingness of our unconscious minds.
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