“Genuine love is self-replenishing. The more I nurture the spiritual growth of others, the more my own spiritual growth is nurtured.” – M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled
Spiritual growth as the ultimate aim of human existence crops up many, many times in Peck’s seminal work, The Road Less Travelled. It has got me thinking about what is meant by such a far-reaching and lofty concept as real spiritual growth. Could it be, awareness of universal truths? Truly understanding and accepting the self? Behaving out of love unwaveringly? Knowledge and insight into the nature of God? Cultivating the spiritual growth of others? I have a few ideas, but for now let’s stick to what I understood from the book.
Spiritual growth is the one and only will of love. Love, we remember, is defined by Peck as, “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. When real love occurs, we cannot help but extend our limits into a larger state of being. Self-love and loving others go hand in hand because ultimately they are indistinguishable. Loving is self-evolution.
If spiritual growth is the purpose of love, what is the purpose of spiritual growth? It is evolution. The phenomenon of evolution shouldn’t exist. It violates the second law of thermodynamics, which states that energy flows from a state of higher differentiation to a state of lower differentiation – or entropy as it is known. Entropy is the force of decay, of homogenisation, of chaos. Evolution is nothing short of a miracle in our cosmos.
Spiritual growth is the evolution of the individual. While the decline of physical competence is an inevitability, the human spirit may evolve throughout one’s lifetime. Such growth is so difficult and effortful because it is conducted against a natural resistance. The natural inclination is to keep things the way they are. Growth entails embracing and seeking change – not merely for the sake of change, but in as far as making changes allows us to become better and better versions of ourselves, and there is no end to this process.
So, what is the force that pushes individuals and the whole species to grow in spite of our natural lethargy, and against our instincts to keep things the same? It is love. Love is a struggle, it is work. It is the extension of the self, and it is evolution in progress. Love is the force that defies the natural law of entropy which is present throughout the known universe on the micro and macro levels.
I wonder if without a significant other or others to love, can an individual grow? The kind of love that Peck is talking about isn’t the general ‘love they neighbour’ sort, nor the ‘in love’ feeling. By love’s very nature, an individual has only enough energy to manifest real love to a few chosen individuals. Vast amounts of energy are required to extend the self truly to others, and our individual stores of energy are as limited as hours of the day.
I am not nurturing another’s spiritual growth at the moment. I wonder if I ever have. My own growing process is stalling, like all aspects of my life now. I have had some bad times lately and have struggled to identify where they have come from, and what recent experiences or run-ins may have triggered them off. At the end of the day, it comes down to a lack of connection and simple loneliness but this is what I expected as I am in the middle of a huge giving-up/ growing up process. I live a transient lifestyle. So, this lack of soul connection is a hard reset. I know I am lucky to have possessed the wisdom and guts to do something about what I lacked.
If spiritual evolution could be said to have a goal, what is that goal? This is where Peck loses a lot of his readers. The goal of spiritual growth is Becoming God. Peck writes, “We are growing toward godhood. God is the goal of evolution. It is God who is the source of the evolutionary force and God who is the destination.” Peck concedes that it would be putting it mildly to say this is a terrifying idea. But think about it. While we deny our godliness and shirk our responsibility, we don’t have to worry about the responsibility of spiritual growth. We can reject the hard work, relax, grab a beer, watch TV, stick a hand down our pants and just be human. Of course the idea that there is a path to godliness sounds crazy, because that’s just it, it’s the road less travelled. But once you’re on this path, like I am, you realise you might as well enjoy it because after all, the journey is the destination.