I am currently reading A Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck. I am not sure how I came across this book originally, but it somehow found my way to my Goodreads list and appealed to me last time I need something to read and went perusing through my account.
I am about halfway through and I have to say that so many parts of his writing (although I will admit, not all) scream out at me as “hells ya!” truths. Things that I have always believed, but never quite articulated aloud or maybe even consciously. When I really like something in the book I am reading I do a “reverse dog-ear” and make a little fold on the bottom of the page. Once I am done reading the book I go back to all of the folded over corners, try to find the passage that jumped out at me, either make note of it somewhere (a notebook or on here), and continue to unfold the creases until I am at the back cover. I typically don’t make notes as I go along because frankly I am either too lazy or am reading in bed and don’t have another notebook handy to write in. I also get most of my books at the library and believe that a barely-seen crease at the bottom of the page is easier for a future reader to forgive than my scribbles or lines within the book itself. I also kind of like returning to the pages once I am completely done and trying to figure out what it was to “past me” that stuck out. Sometimes I don’t find it again (which I assume means it wasn’t all that great to begin with), however most of the time my eyes almost immediately jump to that line or paragraph that had made an impression on me first time around.
The reason I tell you all of this is because this book has bottom dog ears on almost every other page so far, so I have a feeling this will not be the last post you will see regarding this work.
What I wanted to write about today was Peck’s definition of love. He prefaces his take on the subject by admitting that to his knowledge, no one has fully been able to capture and define this mystery of mysteries, which is perhaps why we are all more than a little obsessed with the notion. He, however, defines it as follows:
The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.
I cannot fully capture all he has to say on the matter, but I will point out some of his beliefs which basically mirror my own. Love is not a selfish thing, even if we are focusing on our own growth. It is something that makes us extend our boundaries and take risks. Peck points out that love is courageous and requires discipline, it is not merely a feeling, but rather something requiring effort and intention.
I should probably note that he makes a very strong distinction between the feeling of “falling in love” and real love. In a nutshell, one of his main hypotheses around why that always-eventually-fleeing-feeling of falling in love exists is to basically blind individuals to the precarious nature of marriage, a commitment, he believes, few would make were it not for this illusory concept of the “forever happily after” (he is married himself so I suppose he speaks with some authority). I recently came across another theory, however, that stated we fall in love because it gives us a teaser of what we can achieve to experience on a daily basis, a oneness with the Universe and a feeling of anything-is-possible, if we put effort into becoming more spiritually evolved. I am not sure exactly where I stand. I can definitely say the absurdities of marriage are not lost on me, but there is a part of me that still thinks in this mix the idea of “true love” can somehow squeeze in.
But just to get back to the point Peck makes regarding the extension of boundaries and the taking of risk. He is not stating that this only happens through romantic love, but that a form of love for the self or for another is needed to make the effort to grow and develop. When we grow as individuals we extend who we are, often into the unknown, and this is a scary prospect. To become a new version of ourselves, we must leave something behind. For someone like me, who sometimes complains to her friends about being single, I must secretly admit that the prospect of venturing into a new serious romantic relationship scares me to the very core. Mostly because I think it will require a lot of growth on my end and a leaving behind on some levels of who I am now. I should be clear that I do not mean abandoning my sense of self to be consumed by another’s or a taking on of a new weird “couple identity”, but venturing forth with a significant other in your life is always a call for change. A healthy, but a scary one at the same time.
Lastly, I suppose just to hammer the above point in regarding the need for individuality, Peck writes that a healthy relationship (and I believe this ties to both romantic partnerships and friendships) is one in which both parties fully understand the individuality of the other and allow room for him/her to venture forth and continue on their personal growth. He provides an analogy of climbing a tall mountain. One or the other can venture off to the peaks on their own, but both must continually return to, and tend, the base camp. Although the relationship is nurturing to change, the other person cannot be the source of change and growth, or at least not exclusively. Room must be made for personal exploration and support must be provided to the other, because it expected in return.
Suddenly I am beginning to realize that I may have very high standards for the next person I pursue a relationship with, but I can only assume that they will expect and deserve the very same from me.