Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The books of M. Scott Peck and Rollo May

Years ago, I discovered the writer and psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, who wrote a book that helped to change my way of looking at some important aspects of my life. ‘The Road Less Traveled’ (published in 1978) was an eye-opener of a book, one that I have recommended to many people through the years. The book’s basic tenet is that life is difficult and that personal and spiritual growth is a lifelong process involving hard work, struggle, pain and introspection. Reading it made me realize at a fairly young age that it was possible to change your life; that the hand of cards you were dealt was not a permanent hand. It was possible to rise above personal and family problems and the inefficient and often stagnant ways of dealing with them. But the key was to be actively invested in doing so; it was important to understand and accept that the work involved would be difficult and that there would be no immediate gratification. Peck is one of the few authors to whom I have written; I was so enamored of his book. Even though I was disappointed to subsequently learn about his alcoholism, marital infidelities, and other problems, it made me realize that he probably wrote the book as much for himself as for his readers. I wanted him to be a person without faults; there are no such persons, and he would be the first to admit that. He was not always able to practice what he preached. I also read Peck’s ‘People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil’, published in 1983. It is a much more disturbing book since it presented and discussed his patients, albeit anonymously, who had chosen to live in the darkness of their problems (pathological lying, cheating, neuroses, anxieties, obsessions, banal evil) rather than seek the light of truth (facing themselves and their problems and fears), health and recovery.

Rollo May, another of my favorite authors, was a psychiatrist who wrote many excellent books, such as The Meaning of AnxietyLove and Will, and The Courage to Create, published in 1950, 1969, and 1975, respectively. My father introduced me to his writings when I was a teenager. I read The Meaning of Anxiety when I was in my early twenties, and it was one of those light-switch books—books that have the ability to push you from darkness into the light. The power of the printed word never ceases to amaze me. Little wonder that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. Words can change your perspective on things, and in this case, May’s words changed my perspective on anxiety. Rather than viewing it as a major problem to be eliminated on the path to mental health, his view was that anxiety is necessary for personal growth, and that it forces us to act, in order to alleviate the anxiety or to help us confront what it is we are anxious about (what we fear?). Doing so allows us to live life to the fullest. In Love and Will, May discusses different types of love and how they should be intertwined. The ideas of purpose and responsibility related to love are discussed at length. In The Courage to Create, May writes about the importance of creativity and art in our lives; this quote from his book best describes his views, beautifully so:  

“If you wish to understand the psychological and spiritual temper of any historical period, you can do no better than to look long and searchingly at its art. For in the art the underlying spiritual meaning of the period is expressed directly in symbols………They (the artists) have the power to reveal the underlying meaning of any period precisely because the essence of art is the powerful and alive encounter between the artist and his or her world."

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