From whence the spark that causes books like this to be written?
It was one of those very dark nights, I recall: totally dark; the kind of night that wraps you in a black cloak of unknowing but that is, at the same time, if one is open for it, reassuringly quiet and comforting.
There was but one spot of light on the winding path before me as I made my way from the inn that my family and I owned to the parking lot just up the hill to replace a burned out light bulb. That warming circle of light was cast by a small flashlight at my side, faithful little device that it was. I stopped for a moment and stared at the little pool of light on the forest floor and noted with affection how the little light had, for so long, guided me and our guests through the darkness and to the safety and warming comfort of their cottages or rooms.
My thoughts turned to the many interesting conversations in which I had engaged my guests over the years. While many were troubled, ill at ease or lost…and I helped those as best I could…another group seemed somehow radiant, alive, content and at peace with themselves and who they had become. One of the latter was a pilot of a large passenger jet. One was a world-class astronomer, one a supreme court judge, another a well-known movie star. There was an Indian swami, a beef farmer from the Canadian West, an Egyptian Orthodox priest, a person who ran a halfway house for battered women, a woman who ran a center for crack addicts in a large American city, a man who was the director of one of the world’s most popular television shows. There were many such people in my life now, I realized. Fortunately, at one level or another, I had briefly come to know them all, over dinner sometimes, or as we sat watching the sun slip down over the ocean on a quiet summer evening. I considered this a privilege. And it was endlessly fascinating.
In the end, over the twelve years I was at the inn, there were many hundreds of these people. They were all thinking folk, one way or the other well-educated (formally or informally), often well-read and all had stories to tell; good ones. Many of those stories proved to be pieces that fit into what was for me a larger puzzle.
Their conversations ranged from their personal state of mind and well-being to their thoughts about the unfolding world and the direction in which it was headed, for this was a matter of deep concern to them all. And there was good reason for this.
What I found intriguing about these people was that a certain number of them seemed to have experienced an awakening of some sort at a point in their lives wherein they found themselves in a state of mind one might describe as one of “calm knowing.” Or perhaps “serene.” Or “at peace.” This was a common destination at which they had all arrived by various routes through the jungle and the tangled underbrush of old ideas, possible plans, loud media persuasions, life philosophies and personal passions.
Conversation and camaraderie within this group of people, I noted, even though strangers to each other, was instant and deep. And common to all was the desire to talk about their wishes for the world, and these wishes, I discovered, were uncannily aligned with my own.
But through all the conversations an old question hung in the air and it was this: what was the route by which each of these people had found their way to this stable, comfortable and peaceful state of mind? This state of knowing? Surely no two came by the same path…
I slowly became preoccupied by this question and so I continued to explore their ideas until my preoccupation became an obsession.
What was most heartening, I noticed, was that all the people in question held fast to a certain set of common beliefs, of ideals, of guiding principles that illuminated and guided their lives and created a solid foundation of values around which their lives revolved. Among this sea of ideas were some words or values that recurred frequently in the conversation, and these tended to rise above the others and become as guiding lights or lenses through which they observed the world, often predetermining the path ahead. These same words shone from the pages of the world’s great literature.
With continued exploration, I found, these values, steeped in ancient wisdom, served as time tested guides for finding one’s way through the thickets of thought and brambles of delusion that characterize the mindset of many in our difficult days.
There was, in the end, I discovered, a body of thought, a mindset, a set of values with which I myself stood in firm agreement; one that could well serve individuals trying to find peace of mind in an ailing and endangered world. The core of that body of thought was not so large as to be unwieldy, but not so small as to be without copious substance. For it showed itself to be relatively compact, portable, and easily understandable: perfect for today’s busy world. One had only to keep it front of mind to find a better life.
I remember staring at the pool of light on the ground and pondering all this. Once again I wondered how all these people had found their way to this common, comforting mindset while so many others in the world still wandered, groping in the darkness, plodding along their own rough path, oblivious to the idea that there might be a better way. Why, I wondered, were so many in the western world held prisoner by an archaic set of delusional ideas, myths and values that served no better purpose, really, than to keep them in their place on an endless treadmill, pursuing the great materialist dream which was always just out of reach, and achieving little more than keeping the wheels of industry spinning at full speed?
No two of my “awakened” guests had followed the same path, obviously. But they had, somehow, all reached the same destination in much the same way as many roads can lead to a common point. And they were all in agreement that our world, our planet, our future as a species was at a dangerous turning point and in deep rooted need of some sort of spiritual rebirth: of a moral compass from which we might take heart and then direction, to guide us across the shoals of our increasingly complex, confusing, tumultuous and increasingly dangerous times.
Slowly, my thoughts began to gel, as I recognized the resonance between these ideas, the thoughts of the world’s great writers, teachers and spiritual masters, and the lessons I had learned in my own life. Knowing something of world religions, I noted that there was a common ground here: a universal deep-rooted spirituality upon which persons of all faiths and persuasions might stand, speak, and go forward.
And then, as one might guess, and significantly as it turned out, I began to wonder how I myself had arrived at my own comfortable state of mind. What influences had shaped my world view? My ethics? What people or events had helped me forge my own value set and helped guide me to the peace of mind that was mine?
It was then that an idea occurred that would help shape the next ten of my life.
What, I wondered, if I were to retrace my own life’s path might be revealed to someone, who, step by step followed that same path: a young person in a busy world, perhaps, who did not have the time (as most people don’t these days) to read all that I had read? An older person, perhaps, who felt they had missed out on some of the awards life had to offer? Someone who did not have the time to talk with all those with whom I had conversed as an innkeeper, and in the days before that, as a broadcaster? As a teacher? To do the otherwise hard work of self-exploration: of finding and embracing a spiritual home, and at the same time a practical working set of positive social ideals?
If I were to stand back and look at my own journey, and document the pivotal experiences, might not such an effort act as did the little light at my side, to trace a path through the dark and frenetic forests of confusion and despair in which so many people find themselves these days, and into the light of a reasoned, grounded and socially beneficial way of looking at the world?
If nothing else, it might prove to be, for the curious, an interesting adventure, for to me, life certainly was that.
Finishing my business in the parking lot, I turned to go. The little light by my side, as it had so many times before, guided me safely through the darkness, down the forest path and back to the warmth and comfort of the inn. I sat down and began to write.
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