Wise spiritual teachers from all traditions have taught how the path of service is the most important of all, as it means we are less self-obsessed; through caring for others we can step out of indulgence and into big-heartedness, releasing any sense of separateness.
Probably the deepest inquiry in any of the spiritual traditions is the question, "Who am I?" If we look behind the roles and images that our culture gives us, behind the ideas that we internalize from our family, who's really here?
I had my first spiritual experience when I was 16 years old. I was sitting up late one night having a conversation with my mother about something I can't remember, when for no apparent reason, the doors of perception opened wide.
Meditation can be the doorway through which we enter into a deeper connection with the world within and around us. At the beginning of his five-day retreat at Kripalu, The Wise and Loving Heart, Jack Kornfield reflects on the benefits and blessings of meditation.
Whether it is the internal or external sense of being "maxed out," what is often helpful is to seek a larger landscape in which to hold one's experience. This is not only a skillful means of coping with difficulty, but it is also an aspect of mindfulness and awareness.
Buddha, sitting with one hand raised to show he's teaching, the other reaching down to touch the Earth below. With that one act, Buddha stopped the march with a single gesture. He taught us to look for the timelessness within time.
By connecting to your inner teacher, you can be your own guru first and foremost, and even if you choose to follow a guru, teacher or master, you always have yourself to check in with along the way to see if you're in agreement with their teaching or comfortable with the experience.
For years, I prided myself on being an atheist and had no interest in god or religion. Back then, the word "spirituality" wasn't part of our everyday vernacular. But all that changed during the 1970s when spirituality became a buzz word.
Buddha's own simple truth was that nirvana is right here and now. It is within each of you. And it is up to you to uncover it and live it in the present moment, not through the layers and rituals that different men and women have added, but through what should be very simple teachings.
The eightfold Path was designed to be practiced as a seamless whole. Otherwise things can go awry. Any single practice or effort can go off the rails. The ego constantly looks for ways to bend the benefits of the practice back toward the self and its selfish needs.
We need the courage to trust our own insights and awakenings. Oprah is on the cutting edge of this media revolution, and she shares every step of her search, but her answers may not always be applicable for all of us.
"They're telling the nuns, 'Oh, you're so humble, you're not interested in gaining prestige and power like these Westerners,'" Lekshe says with a calm voice but a quizzical look. "Well, I just wonder why they are not telling the monks that."
I have visited, prayed, chanted, bowed and meditated in many, if not most, of the great houses of worship of this evanescent world. And at this holy time of year, I send my warmest wishes and prayers for your health and well-being.
The effort of remembering our shared humanity assures us that we are embraced by a wider community, not forsaken as isolated individuals. This daily practice can enhance our appreciation for life. It can also make us more able to face death like a Buddha.