What was needed to uphold the old spirituality and to educate its followers is quite different from what we need now to guide us on a spiritual path. To forge our own way through life's deeper terrain requires different perceptions and skills than what it took to follow someone else's directives. To pursue personal happiness here on earth, and to sanctify the human body, is a different sort of quest than the search for redemption in an afterlife. And to understand and heal the troublesome parts of our own self and the world, as opposed to punishing or repressing the darker parts of human nature, asks us to do something for which few of us have been trained.

While the new spirituality traverses much of the same territory that spiritual pilgrims have crossed throughout the ages, it also brings us into uncharted lands and presents each of us with disturbing paradoxes: If I focus too much of the self, won't I end up drowning in Narcissus' pool? But if I neglect myself, what will I really have of value to give to others? If I turn my attention to my body, what will keep me from becoming vain, or materialistic, or obsessed with the body's inevitable demise? But isn't the body the temple of the soul? If I work on opening my heart, what's to stop me from becoming an emotional mess? Conversely, won't I dry up if I concentrate exclusively on spirit? With so many ways to worship, seek, and heal, what will prevent me from flitting like a butterfly from fad to fad to fad, never landing long enough to settle into wisdom and health?

It's important to swing back and forth between these questions. Somewhere, in the middle, between the old homogenized, autocratic ways, and the new diverse and individualistic ways, is a clear path through the paradoxes. The goal, as we move from the old ways to the new, is not to replace one set of "isms" with another. Rather, the goal is to become more and more genuine, fearless, and free. Therefore, one of the most valuable skills we can develop as we travel the spiritual path is the ability to known the difference between genuine spirituality and "spiritual materialism," a phrase coined by the Tibetan scholar and meditation teacher Chögyam Trungpa.
Excerpted from The Seeker's Guide by Elizabeth Lesser, Copyright © 1999 by Elizabeth Lesser. Excerpted by permission Villard Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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