When Llewellyn asked us to write a book on spiritual development for the For Beginners series, we jumped at the opportunity for a couple of reasons. First, as Richard spent time in various bookstores promoting his first book, Authentic Spirituality, he heard many people talk about the need for a good introductory book to spirituality that does not persuade the reader to buy into a specific path or tradition. It seems that there is a need for a generic book on spiritual development. People want to be able to develop a spiritual life without immediately subscribing to a specific path or taking on a spiritual guide. Some may wish to take that step at a later time, but they feel they want to be in a more informed position when they make such an important choice. Second, and even more important for our purposes, we have been noticing that life seems to be getting more difficult for many people by the day. We are living in those “interesting times” from which the old Chinese proverb asks the gods to protect us. There is now a more urgent need for people to be able to seek meaning and wisdom within.
We could speculate about why life is getting more intense. It often feels as if humans are losing ground against the forces of entropy, but it may be more important at this point to provide tools that individuals can use to turn their lives around, despite outward conditions. We have been incredibly fortunate in our lives to have been able to learn powerful techniques of inner development from some of the amazing spiritual guides and shamans who were teaching during the 1970s and 1980s. During that era guides from many mystical and indigenous traditions were getting together, sharing and comparing their methods, and a universal spiritual ideal seemed attainable. We were lucky to have been there, learning from many of the great ones. At the time it felt as if the world was changing so quickly that soon everyone would know the inner teachings. One of our teachers used to say that there would be a “beautiful world of beautiful people,” and we believed it. Well, it’s true that we do live in a beautiful world, and there are many beautiful people in it, but many of us are under too much stress to be able to see the beauty in the world, in other people and in ourselves. What’s exciting for us is that we now have the opportunity to share much of what we have learned at a time when it is sorely needed.
People have told us that they need not just a book on meditation or spiritual practices, or a book of philosophy, but rather a comprehensive guide to developing an inner life. Drawing from our life experiences, we have taken the best from many different paths and synthesized them in a way that will make it possible for the reader to truly create a deep and real spiritual life. In addition to discussion and exercises on more common themes in spiritual books such as meditation, prayer, mastery, intention, the living heart, and dreams, there is material that specifically targets everyday life in the twenty-first century. For instance, a chapter entitled “Taming the Wanting Beast” addresses our modern consumption-based lives and suggests ways to live a spiritual life in the midst of a consumer society. Readers are invited to look at the role that our relationships can play in an authentic and grounded inner life. Since many people become confused about the difference between “getting high” and “going deep,” we devote a chapter to helping readers to understand these two common directions in our spiritual lives—and then they are given exercises for experiencing each.
We no longer live in a world where many of us can isolate ourselves from the world by living in a cave or a monastery or wandering in a forest or the desert. Most of us who seek awakening live in the midst of this world—with all of its opportunities and distractions. We need tools that address the lives we live. The world is getting to be a more difficult place in which to be a spiritual person. But if we do not begin to transform here and now, then where and when will we begin?
What people need today is practical guidance on how to transform themselves while living a life in the world. It was a delight to write Spiritual Development for Beginners and provide a grounded approach to this sort of transformative journey. We believe that all of us are in this together. In order to begin to create a more livable, sustainable world, we must shift the balance in the collective human mind and heart. The collective can only change once many of us have learned how to awaken within the lives we are living. It is time for a spiritual renaissance that will change the world—a renaissance in which all of us participate.