I felt called to write about certain values, such as integrity and commitment, faith and forgiveness, about the virtues of simplicity, about the difference between "amusing ourselves to death" and finding meaningful pleasures—even joy. But I have no wish to play the pontificating fool, pretending that I've suddenly come up with the answers to all life's questions. Quite the contrary, I began this book as an exploration, an exercise in self-questioning. In other words, I wanted to find out, as I looked back at a long and complicated life, with many twists and turns, how well I've done at measuring up to the values I espouse, the standards I myself have set.
Writers of a spiritual or metaphysical persuasion often convey their message through storytelling. They illustrate their points with parables drawn from great teachers of the past, whether it be Jesus of Nazareth, or Buddha, or the latest Arabic sage or Sufi mystic—the more exotic the better. Some take this natural tendency to great lengths, writing whole books devoted to finding the deep wisdom embedded in ancient folk tales, psychologically complex stories drawn from Africa, Scandinavia, East Asia, Latin America, and many other far-flung countries. They do this, it seems, to get as far away as possible from our contemporary mindset so that we can see modern, digitized, postindustrial life as if through new eyes (or, perhaps, through very ancient, very grounded eyes).