Peck assumes that psychological and spiritual growth are indistinguishable, and that developing wholeness or maturity is a long process. This assumption, together with the rejection of “quick fix” solutions, distinguishes this volume from most self-help books.
The discipline section counsels the acceptance of life’s problems and their accompanying pain, and stresses the need for discipline (delayed gratification, acceptance of responsibility and of truth, and seeking wholeness of mind and body) as self-caring. Parental love develops discipline and a realistic idea of one’s personal responsibility and its limits.
The maladaption of over-responsibility (neurosis) and under-responsibility (character disorder), the need for continual self-examination to avoid transferring old patterns of perception into new situations, the role of depression or sadness, and the importance of renunciation-- even ultimately the giving up of oneself in death--for rebirth are discussed.
The love section defines love by its aim: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth,” which also results in one’s own spiritual growth. Love is intimately associated with self-discipline rather than with passion or feeling, uniting love of another and of self. Peck connects love with development from infancy to maturity, rejecting the myth of romantic love, asserting instead the necessity of individuality and clearly rejecting as forms of love both dependency (which does not foster growth of the other) and self-sacrifice (which can be masochistic tolerance of abuse). Love is attentive, courageous, and willing to risk loss, independence, commitment, and confrontation. Psychotherapy itself is loving, just as love is psycho-therapeutic.
The growth and religion section assumes that everyone has a religion and attempts through case histories to identify psychologically dysfunctional religion. Grace, the final section, identifies its operation in health, in the unconscious, in serendipity, and in evolution. The book ends by attempting a theodicy, explaining the origins of evil or entropy, the evolution of consciousness, and resistance to grace. Ultimately the call of grace is unitive, leading to union with God.