Preface – Fire Of American Spirituality

I am in the process of writing a new book, “The Fire Of American Spirituality” for which I have interviewed dozens of the most dynamic spiritual leaders on American soil. I now have many hours of audio files.

These recordings are both fascinating and inspirational. As the book becomes ready, I’ll be sharing excerpts from it, as well as some of the audio files.

For now, here’s the books’ preface…

Preface: The Fire Of American Spirituality…

I CELEBRATE myself;
And what I assume you shall assume:
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
From Song of Myself – Walt Whitman

This book began as a deep curiosity about what, in the broad overview, is actually happening in American spirituality. My sense – it was only a sense and I wanted to learn just how accurate it was – is that the walls within and between the great wisdom traditions are collapsing. And merging with a whole dynamic development outside of all tradition.

What might I learn by meeting with a wide spectrum of teachers? The intention was to hear their perspective on the direction of American spirituality, learn about their experience – and fully draw out the most rounded, authentic, specific and intimate sense of these remarkable men and women.

How is spirituality actually lived in 21st Century America? Is there a Zen Buddhist life? A Sufi life? Regardless of these advanced practitioners’ views and experiences, what is the actual texture and shape of their daily lives? Visionaries of the absolute, each dwells in the temporal world. How is timeless wisdom expressed in the personal, human experience of contemporary America?

If a teacher is married, how does she get along with her spouse? If he has children, what is the quality of his relationship to them? This very line of questioning is itself very contemporary. Eastern literature, ancient or modern, does not tend to explore descriptions of a master’s relationships or personality. One might say that teachers in the East have been viewed as the mouthpiece of the Absolute, rather than as an embodied, living balance between the momentary and the eternal.

This is essentially a scouting report from the front lines of American spirituality. It discovered something quite remarkable, something that has never occurred before in human history. Certainly not anywhere near to the current degree.

Related to this inquiry was the desire to bounce off the widest possible variety of awakened people on American soil, to challenge and expand my understanding of myself and of the universe. The book-in-progress became a pass for meeting these compelling spiritual practitioners – not simply, as most people do, in their role as teacher but – as humans. In their living rooms.

This aspect of creating the book proved far richer, far more transformative than I ever imagined. Sometimes the fantasy is to go on forever, meeting one delightful person after the next, like a wondrous series of encounters.

Yet, to be clear, I did not actually choose to write this book. At a 2012 retreat in upstate New York near the Finger Lakes, surrounded by exquisite colors of October foliage, it chose me. A parade of wildly enchanting participants invited me to join them. I couldn’t resist.

It is worth mentioning that although the new developments described here very much intrigue and inspire me, this work is not so much advocating for these shifts as reporting on them. With as much objectivity as is possible.

In part to that point, every effort was made to include the greatest possible variety of teachers – based both on personal intuition and on the sage suggestions of several dozen people whose own experience gave them a lucid vantage point from which to advise. Ages range from twenty-seven to ninety-five; birth places include five continents; their homes and teaching centers span the USA. These teachers emerged from Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Taoism, Sufism, Judaism, Native American shamanism – and no tradition at all. No-tradition refers to teachers whose teachings are free of any specific tradition, whether, like Echart Tolle and Byron Katie, they awakened outside of any tradition or, like Adyashanti and A.H. Almass, they trained within traditions then broke free of those forms.

The students of these teachers include gang members, CEO’s of the planet’s most successful companies, blue collar workers, victims of unimaginable trauma, ordinary middle-class Americans, American soldiers, the homeless, and major celebrities.

These meetings have confirmed the original premise: at the level of profoundest spirituality a fire is sweeping the country. A remarkable development, the walls within and between traditions are falling. For ten thousand years – from the beginning of Hinduism and Judaism in the clouds of pre-history, to the birth of Christianity and Islam – separate, monolithic religions have established themselves in contradistinction to the others. Buddhism was a movement away from Hinduism, Christianity from Judaism. Islam from Judaism and Christianity. Now, it appears, at least on the front lines, those millenniums-old structures are giving way and merging. You may say, well, yes, Vispassina Jack, Sufi Shabda and no-tradition Katie are dancing together, literally breaking bread together. But the vast majority of Americans – especially in highly popular fundamentalism – remain as strongly divided as ever. As later chapters will demonstrate, this is not entirely so. Moreover, history shows that when the most dynamic leaders are at the front line, though they begin as outliers they – Jesus and Paul, Buddha and Bodhidharma (Washington and Jefferson, Picasso and Matisse, Dylan and Elvis) – ultimately transform the world.

Three over-riding developments drive this evolution:

The world’s dynamic center for wisdom teachings has shifted from the East to the West*.

American culture is having an incalculable impact on the great wisdom traditions.

The great wisdom traditions are quietly having a transformative effect on America.

Each of these three shifts, and the ultimate broad-stroke developments, will be addressed in this book, along with close-up looks at some of the most dynamic teachers integral to this transformation.