I read M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled a few months ago and I have gleaned a lot of useful information from it. I learned how important it is to have discipline in life, how to have a firm grip over reality and learn not to overestimate or underestimate yourself and how to be able to delay gratification. But, perhaps, the most important thing he taught me is a practical definition of love. Most definitions of love are too airy-fairy to have any useful application in life. Religious texts tell you the importance of loving others but how do you do it? Peck defines love as thus: the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.
When I re-read the definition, I noticed something. He used the words one’s self and not oneself while defining love. It sort of implies the importance of nurturing and loving one’s self, not for the feel-good factor of narcissism but because I believe that unless you love yourself, you cannot extend yourself enough to love others. The thing about not loving yourself is that, when you are insecure or unhappy, most of your thoughts are turned towards yourself. You are constantly analysing yourself and why you don’t measure up to your own or someone else’s standards. Your thoughts are turned inwards and not outwards. You don’t see others the way they are; you see them through the prism of your own prejudices about the world and yourself.
I remember once pouring out my problems to an empathetic friend. He listened carefully and then told me: “You are overthinking things.” It was such a simple statement and yet so true. It was only later when I recapped my monologue that I realised how many times the word ‘I’ was used in that conversation. Since then, I have learnt not to over-analyse things, to enjoy life as it is and not to have many expectations of others.
I believe that by respecting and loving yourself, there are three things to gain:
1) It helps you find your life purpose
2) It helps you make sense of the world
3) It helps you grow spiritually
I was listening to a TED talk by Caroline McHugh, founder and CEO of Idology, a movement dedicated to helping individuals attain their full potential. She says that the most successful people in the world are individuals who have managed to figure out the unique gift the universe gave them when they were incarnated and put that to the achievement of their goals. “I think we all come complete with one true note that we were destined to sing,” she says. “These are people that have managed to figure that out.” Unless you love and respect yourself and believe you are a note in a larger melody, you will never be able to figure out your life’s purpose.
When you love yourself, the world opens up to you. Primarily, you make sense of the world through your values and what you consider important in life. For example, if ambition is your chief motivating force, you see the world in terms of what obstacles you have to overcome, what is the end-goal and what is the road map that will take you there. But if love is the yardstick with which you measure yourself, then learn to love yourself and only then will you consider yourself worthy of loving and being loved.
And finally, it is important to consider the second part of Peck’s definition: love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is an important aspect of love. But as Peck says, you cannot claim to love someone without acting on that love. Love is as love does. And to find the will and grow spiritually, you have to believe that what you do matters, if not in the world, then in the lives of the people who matter to you.