A 40-year anniversary tribute to M. Scott Peck’s timeless self-help book The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth [Part 2 of 2]. Read Part 1 here»

Ironically, this book was on The New York Times‘ bestseller list for more than 10 years. Peck’s message is not revolutionary, but it is attractive to those who search for something other than convenience, escape, emptiness and efficiency in life.

Forty years ago, as today, there seem to be many who preach a simple gospel of awareness without facing life’s raging currents. Peck describes a human reality full of problems, and suggests that each person needs to cultivate four specific disciplines in order to engage with the difficult problems of life:

  • Delaying gratification (simple action or inaction to solve problems)
  • Accepting responsibility
  • Pursuing truth
  • Striving to live a balanced life

These disciplines do not guarantee an easier life, but they help human beings solve the problems of life.

Can you do the internal and interrelational work necessary to groom the disciplines suggested in The Road Less Traveled? What do these disciplines actually look like within an individual’s life?

The case of Dad

Fresco war memorialMy Dad, in his proud warrior’s tone, would tell me, “Life is not E-gggeeeee (easy), MY-KO (Michael)!”

My Dad’s voice is garnished with a sound similar to that of 10 U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) Parris Island drill instructors, even if he politely asks for a free coffee refill at Waffle House. To make things more confusing for you, the readers, he reads M. Scott Peck and Sigmund Freud in Korean.

My Dad immigrated to the U.S. from Korea in the early ’60s, and embodies the words ‘life is difficult’ in his forceful voice, rough handshake and constant gaze of fury. He has been battered by being in numerous wars, and carries the pain of so many people from those wars. Maybe that is the ‘dark weight’ I mentioned earlier.

My Dad feels that he did not achieve the American dream. I disagree with him. He is alive and lives by his daily bread. This is the original American dream from Plymouth Rock. My dad is 80 and I have never seen him appear vulnerable to anyone.

I, on the other hand, turned into Alan Alda, but with the knowledge of 50 shades of choking a man. My Dad would be a better guest speaker at the Cave Talk Men’s Conference in 2018.

What is my dad’s character?

Gardening spade in earthLet me tell you how a hard life is meaningful and embodies many aspects of M. Scott Peck’s message in The Road Less Traveled.

My father shows an admirable restraint. He angers easily, but he is not vindictive. He doesn’t speak negatively about others, and focuses on his own darkness with occasional smiles and jokes. He communicates the truth with great authenticity. Albeit with few words, my father does take responsibility for his harsh actions and many failures.

I see a broken man but not a beaten man. He is clean because he never preaches empty promises. My father has a great distrust for people, but at least the truth can be seen in him. He is not ashamed of his failures, and in a way, rejoices in this last chapter of his life. He is a fallen man in many areas, but he has a disciplined core that helps him live a balanced life, one day at a time.

‘The difficult life’ has not consumed my father. He can smile at his grandchildren while working in his garden, and there is grace in this moment. M. Scott Peck viewed this moment as a miracle. My father, in this moment, honoured the ‘growth process of all life.’

Life, though difficult, carries miracles. Human beings can dare to be part of the miracle of human growth, even throughout life’s storms.

I can smile at my father

father and son walking on beachWhen I look at my Dad’s cold, brutal attitude, I see some signs of empathy. This inspires me to dare to take ownership of my challenges. I actively pursue solving my own challenges of readjustment from Iraq—this is a priority, not a lie.

These days, I can smile at my father instead of sharing a facial expression of resentment. I can forgive him without getting enmeshed in his life. I can try to understand his wars. even if he can’t understand my war. In my pursuit of wellness, I honour my Dad by not getting enmeshed in his life.

In The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck presents the case of a patient by the name of Kathy. Kathy’s life is enmeshed with her mother’s. Kathy’s mother uses religion to control Kathy, and Kathy is dependent on her mother’s control. She can’t separate herself from her mother’s wishes, values and demands.

Kathy, for many years, does not have a clear identity and carries an incredible amount of pain. After pursuing the difficult work of processing her thoughts and feelings, Kathy gains a sense of self and is able to become a more authentic adult. She also pursues help, which takes incredible courage.

Kathy experiences the miracle of the human growth process, a la M. Scott Peck. Kathy does not let her mother’s views and judgments fully dominate her. Kathy instead experiences the freedom to live her own life, and also transcends the pressured shame and guilt put upon her by her mother.

Find your freedom

seagulls taking offWhat can a veteran learn from Kathy’s transformative narrative? Well, that it takes work to be free from a diagnosis, symptoms, stigmas, narratives/sounds/images of violence, false hopes, distorted media messaging, inadequate services and other aspects of pain. A major step towards progress involves self-differentiation.

Find your freedom in your daily struggles. Own it. Share it in a spirit of truth, and recognize that there is a nebulous world between the war and home.

Honour your fellow veterans, but do not get enmeshed in their lives. Each warrior experiences readjustment differently. Find your freedom in your daily struggles. Own it. Share it in a spirit of truth, and recognize that there is a nebulous world between the war and home.

Make efforts that contribute to your own wellness and apply the discipline you learned in the military to the process of transformative learning. M. Scott Peck stressed that it is imperative for a human being to know ‘where the human being ends, and where he or she begins.’ This quote is from another great book by Peck, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil.

A fellow psychoanalyst was showing off during one of those dyadic, less-than-romantic autumn walks through Central Park. I think we were both wearing Harris tweed? The bright show-off said to me that the overlooked tragedy in the Oedipus Rex story is that King Oedipus gouges his eyes out!

The show-off later asked me, what did this symbolize? I said nothing, but thought: Fear. Avoidance. Evasion. Etc.

You have an uncommon discipline

old man sitting alone in solitudeLife is difficult. Accepting this reality will lead you to actualize healthy imagination.

Imagine a life without bouncing from one person to another for emotional strength. Imagine not feeling threatened by a mentee because the path of truth shares expansive knowledge for all. Imagine being free from the war because you have an uncommon level of discipline from your training to delay the gratification of spewing out complaints.

Imagine a life where balance is central, instead of your partner’s schedule. Imagine a mind that’s not worried about how you’re perceived on social media. Imagine having a voice to challenge your loved ones, because while you hear their voice, you also have your own voice. Imagine being free from jealousy because you are secure in your own beauty.

Imagine not being confused about money because you value honouring life instead of destroying it. Imagine truly loving someone for their being instead of chasing unrealistic romance in the name of love. Imagine grace in the workplace, for work can truly be meaningful. Imagine not being a slave to conflict, for peace is at your fingertips when you are open to it.

Life is difficult.

Know that M. Scott Peck was a veteran and a civilian. He joined both faces in promoting constructive self-discipline, not self-pity or a fake ‘Welcome Home’ yellow ribbon!

Where are they now … emotionally?

wide horizon reflected in windowMy Dad left us for a bit to pursue his fortune: missionary work with the native population of Honduras along the Mosquito Coast in Central America (a hot area), during the Cold War. Was this my Dad escaping towards danger to revisit ghosts?

This was difficult for all of us. Also, he chose to not be ordained because he could not live up to the moral standard. He is at peace and I have the highest respect for him in this brutal honesty.

I stopped waiting for Sadie Hawkins. This opened the door to more books and adventures beyond my expectations. The chase is found in life, not in another person!

My Dad stopped buying cheap motels and retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a public health veterinarian. After my Mom died, in some odd way, he redeemed himself in the human condition by being present to his second wife during her death. He chose not to do USAID veterinary community development in Afghanistan. He showed discipline this time and did not rush towards his ghosts of danger and destruction.

My Mom died of cancer after a 10-year battle. In her last days, she told me a story about how she survived bombs laid down by jets during a war. We did not talk about how she would care for my Little League uniform as if it belonged to Babe Ruth, though her son never hit a home run. She left me with this.

I chose to be ordained. I take on the moral standard daily and find freedom in it, but it is a lonely life, choosing to live the Gospel of compassion 100 percent. And I stopped waiting for Sadie Hawkins. This opened the door to more books and adventures beyond my expectations. The chase is found in life, not in another person!

Regarding my Mom’s death? I left her seeing me in my crisp military officer’s uniform. She died just after my commissioning. I hope it was a last gift for her, for she knew how hard I’d invested myself in order to be selected for this great responsibility and duty.

This article is part of a weekly column exploring spiritual transformation for veterans. To read the previous article in the series, visit THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED: A Veteran reflects on the road he chose [Part 1]»

Mike Kim Veteran: Mike is a psychoanalyst, an Iraq War vet, an ex-friar monk, a war trauma care provider and a doctoral researcher at the Teachers College of Columbia University. Find him on his website (www.mikekimveteran.com), on Twitter, on Instagram and on Facebook at Warrior Wellness and Lifeworlds.

image 1 Solitude by Neil Moralee via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) cropped from original 2 War memorial by aimee rivers via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) 3 Pixabay 4 A father and son walk on the beach by Don Harder via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) 5 Jane Olivier 6 Reflected glory by Justin Kern via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)