The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck – Book Summary


Love is a complex topic that many fall behind in. The Road Less Travelled explains how with spiritual growth, one can understand love better.

Date Read: 9 August 2021
My Rating: 8/10

The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. Life is hard – accept it.
  2. Love is not what you think it is. It is far wider and complex than language can describe and no one has been able to accurately describe it.
  3. The purpose of any relationship in life is the spiritual growth of the people involved.

Overall Thoughts

Although I have read similar wisdom in other books over the years, this book changed my life. This book is by far one of the best books I have read in many years on the topics of love, parenting, spiritual growth, psychology and philosophy. There are so many complex ideas in this book that need to be read, examined and understood individually. I have tried to distil my understanding and learnings from this book in the summary here.

Who is this book for?

I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. There are so many insightful lessons in this book, this is definitely a book I will be revisiting over and over.

Although the author recalls stories of his psychotherapy patients – the points that he makes are far-reaching and much broader than just patients with mental illness. As you will read below, the book covers topics such as life, parenting, marriage, love, spiritual growth, religion and much more. And he covers all these from the lens of human psychology and philosophy.

Main Points & Ideas

  1. Life is hard. Once we understand and accept this truth, the fact that life is hard does not matter anymore. Life is a series of problems. We can either solve problems and move from one to another or we can complain about them. Problems do not just go away. They need to be worked on, solved with time and attention. Most people try to avoid problems as they are not equipped to solve them because most people simply do not take the time necessary to solve life’s intellectual, social and spiritual problems. We must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. If I say ‘this is not my problem’ and it is caused by society or other people then I have thrown away the responsibility and with it, the solution.
  2. Parenting
    • Undisciplined parents are poor role models.
    • Parenting can either follow the ‘Do as I say’ or ‘ Do as I do’ model … if you do not (cannot) do it, then don’t expect your child to do it either. Monkey see monkey do.
    • For a child, the beginning of self-discipline starts with self-disciplined parents. “If a child sees his parents day in and day out behaving with self-discipline restraint, dignity and a capacity to order their own lives then the child will come to feel in the deepest fibres of his being that this is the way to live.”
    • The feeling of being valuable and feeling ‘I am valued’ is a corner store of self-discipline. When you feel valuable, when you feel that you can create value for others, you will naturally take care of yourself because you are valuable because you are important.
    • We spend all this time teaching kids how to read, write, do and but very little time teaching them how to listen, how to speak and how to be.
    • When children watch their parents interact with and navigate the world, that becomes their truth. How their parents do anything is how they think it is done – throughout the universe.
  3. Ego boundaries
    • Ego boundaries must be hardened before they can be softened. We must have something to lose or give up. An identity must be established before it can be transcended.
    • True reality is oneness. We see ourselves as discrete objects in the universe separate from all others; stars, rocks, planets, trees etc. Mysticism claims that these boundaries are misconceptions and an illusion. Maya. The only way to experience oneness with the universe is the dissolution of these ego boundaries. An infant has no ego boundaries, in his/her perception they are not separate from the universe. He/she is in the state of pure sainthood and in order to become one – we need to go back to the state of being an infant. One with everything, mother, father and the universe.
    • The world is constantly changing but so is our view of it. Our vantage points keep changing depending on our circumstances (poor, rich, married, a father etc) We need to constantly update the map of reality. We must be willing to get challenged and change our viewpoints. Be open to criticism. Nostalgia is seldom about missing the old things but more about missing the old self. For us to develop a new idea, concept, theory, understanding or self-image the old must die first, there is no other way.
  4. Love, marriage and relationships
    • The definition of love in this book; the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s or another’s spiritual growth.
    • The act of ‘falling’ in love is sexually motivated. The agenda is terminating our own loneliness and we insure it with marriage. Falling in love is a temporary collapse of our ego boundaries – driven by the need to procreate and have sex. No matter whom we fall in love with, sooner or later we fall out of love too if the relation goes long enough – we don’t stop loving that per person per se but the feeling of honeymoon and static lovingness soon fades.
    • At the beginning of the relationship, we become one with the beloved but over time we have differences; different opinions, ideas, friends, plans and preferences. We suddenly realise we are not one with our beloved and our individuality comes into play. Our ego boundaries go up immediately – that’s when lots of people fall out of love and start to fall out of the relationship – but that is also when the real work of loving starts.
      The genuine lover encourages the individuality of the beloved. True love is the commitment towards the spiritual growth of another. A major aspect of genuine love is the separateness of the self and the beloved.
    • Love is an expression of freedom. The exercise of choice. When someone claims (or acts in ways that says) they cannot live without someone, it is a necessity – it is not love. That person is a parasite.
    • The problem with the modern-day image of marriage is that one person needs to be everything for the other – friend, husband, lover, partner, companion, support, guide and so on. This is simply not possible. The author makes a point that open marriage is the only mature marriage that is healthy and not seriously destructive to the spiritual growth and health of the individuals involved.
    • Passive dependent individuals get their identity from others and their relationships. They want to be loved all the time and seek it so desperately and spend all their energy pursuing love that in the end, they have no energy left to give any love. If your goal is to be loved – you need to become worthy of the love you seek. You cannot be a person worthy of love if all you want is to be loved passively.
  5. Everyone has a religion.
    • Religion here is greater than a factional membership. Greater than being a Hindu, Muslim, Jew or a Buddhist. Everyone has some understanding of life and its purpose, some worldview, some perspective on how they look at life and the world – That is their religion. How someone chooses to see the world (just, fair, dualistic, karmic, random, chaotic, etc) is their religion because based on this religion is how they interact with and operate in this world.
    • Very few of us have distinct personal lives – most of the things we believe and carry with us throughout life are hand me down from our parents – including our worldviews and religions. Second-hand information of God and religion – we are taught by someone else based on their views and experiences. True religion should be a personal one – based on our own experiences.
    • Spiritual growth is the journey from the microcosm into the macrocosm – we must be willing to learn new things in order to do this and let go of our old ideas and self. People find new information threatening because they have to work and revise their maps of reality.
    • You cannot give up anything you don’t already have. You cannot give up winning before you have won – you are still a loser. You must forge an identity before you can give it up. You must have an ego before you can lose it. You must have an opinion before you can change it.
    • The process of spiritual growth is much like the process of evolution. They both run contrary to entropy, against the natural laws and forces. They both go from a lower form of organisation to a higher one.
    • People at the top are often alone. This is true in business, athletics, or spiritual evolution – not many have reached that level.

My Favourite Quotes

  • Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering – Carl Jung
    We must learn for ourselves and teach our children the tools and techniques through which to allow true suffering. As neurosis ultimately becomes a bigger problem than the suffering itself.
  • Good discipline requires time.
  • It is death that provides life with all its meanings.
  • Throughout the whole of life, one must continue to learn to live and what will amaze you even more, throughout life one must learn to die – Seneca
  • The best decision-makers are those who are willing to suffer the most over their decisions but still retain their ability to be decisive.
  • Two people love each other only when they are quite capable of living without each other but choose to live with each other.
  • A good marriage can exist only between two strong and independent people.
  • True love is not a feeling by which we are overwhelmed (like sexual attractiveness). It is a committed, thoughtful decision.
  • Love anything that lives – a person, a pet, a plant – and it will die.
  • If someone is determined not to risk pain, then such a person must do without many things [in life].
  • Great marriages can not be constructed by individuals who are terrified by their basic aloneness, as so commonly is the case, seeking a merging in the marriage.
  • All human interactions are opportunities either to learn or to teach.
  • The path to holiness lies through the questioning of everything.
  • Science is a religion. A religion of scepticism.
  • We are almost always less or more competent than we believe ourselves to be. The unconscious, however, knows who we really are.
  • The culture that nourishes us in childhood is nurtured by our leadership in adulthood.
  • Evolving as humans, we carry humanity on our backs. And so humanity evolves.

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet