This month, Dr. Rob chose The Road Less Traveled. This is a wonderful book written by a physician about observations he has made in his everyday life, and as a psychiatrist. Dr. Peck addresses many topics such as pain, relationships, love, and faith. While we can only touch on a few topics here, I suggest you take the time to read through this wonderful piece. It is applicable to each stage in life, and can be revisited over, and over again. Although there are countless discussions to be had regarding this book, I am going to focus on Peck’s techniques of suffering.
Problems and Pain
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. 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.” (Peck 15)
While the above quote may sound negative at first, it is important to look further. Peck is talking about accepting the fact that things change, and not always according to plan. If we acknowledge that our plans are not definite and we cannot have complete control, we become flexible and more comfortable when faced with challenges.
“Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing. With only some discipline we can solve only some problems. With total discipline we can solve all problems.” (Peck 15)
Here, we are speaking of the self-discipline required to consistently confront the pain associated with change and challenges. Often we will procrastinate or avoid challenging situations to save ourselves from suffering. However, this process ultimately stunts our emotional and spiritual growth, and causes more suffering in the end.
“What are these tools, these techniques of suffering, these means of experiencing the pain of problems constructively that I call discipline? There are four: delaying of gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to truth, and balancing.” (Peck 18)
This is the process of “…scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with. It is the only decent way to live.” (Peck 19) We teach children this process at a young age, ‘eat your vegetables first, then you can have dessert’ or ‘first complete your homework then you can play’. The concept is to efficiently complete the task that is least pleasurable first, get it out of the way. Then you will have time to focus on and enjoy what you are looking forward to. This also pertains to emotionally challenging situations.
Acceptance of Responsibility
“We cannot solve life’s problems except by solving them.” (Peck 32) We naturally avoid confronting challenges to save ourselves from being hurt. However, it is necessary to acknowledge what we are responsible for, and make things right. The opposite is also true. We have to accept that we are not responsible for everything that happens, and stop blaming ourselves for something that was beyond our control. This sounds like a very challenging contradiction! It is crucial to keep a continual conversation with ourselves open, assessing our responsibility in a given situation and responding appropriately.
Dedication to Truth
The key here is to be true to yourself. We often have a set plan or vision that abruptly changes. If we hold on to the original plan, we are properly acknowledging the reality of the situation. In order to grow and evolve, we must continually adjust our reality with each piece of knowledge we acquire. We have to be honest with ourselves, and with those around us.
“Yet the rewards of the difficult life of honesty and dedication to the truth are more than commensurate with the demands. By virtue of the fact that their maps are continually challenged, open people are continually growing people. Through their openness they can establish and maintain intimate relationships far more effectively than more closed people.” (Peck 63)
Delaying of gratification, acceptance of responsibility, and dedication to truth all require balance. This forth and last discipline tool is critical because it keeps us flexible in our day-to-day lives.
“To be free people we must assume total responsibility for ourselves, but I doing so must possess the capacity to reject responsibility that is ot truly ours. To be organized and efficient, to live wisely, we must daily delay gratification and keep an eye on the future; yet to live joyously we must also possess the capacity, when it is not destructive, to live in the present and act spontaneously. In other words, discipline itself must be disciplined. The type of discipline required to discipline discipline is what I call balancing…” (Peck 64)
Peck further investigates each of these tools in his book. Peck also includes wonderful anecdotes to illustrate each tool and scenario, to help us further understand his goals. These tools may not come easily at first, but daily practice will lead to a life that is more honest, simple, and rewarding.