Missed Treasures: Summer Spirituality Book Club
Join Zen practitioner and S&H columnist Geri Larkin on a guided reading of three essential spiritual texts. For June: A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield
A couple of months ago I spied a copy of A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield on a bookshelf in my favorite consignment shop in Eugene, Oregon. Remembering how much I loved the book when I first read it some twenty years ago, I bought it for a visiting Seattle friend. While waiting for her bus to arrive, I started reading it again, finishing it over the course of the following week. And when I was done, I couldn’t stop thinking about how wise, funny, heartfelt, and helpful Kornfield can be. Plus, he really understands the problems westerners wrestle with, mostly psychological, when we decide to take our spirituality seriously. He has been through the stages of spiritual growth (short of ascending to the heavens) and covers them all.
Structurally, the book is divided into four parts. The first section is basically an outline of the fundamentals of meditation, including advice about the personal healing we need to do if our spiritual practice is going to take hold. The second part of the book takes on the demons— the pitfalls that come with spiritual effort—and explains some of the surprising experiences—like kundalini energy flying up our spines— that can occur as we move along the path (so we don’t have to be afraid of them if they happen). The third part of the book alone is worth its weight in gold. Here Kornfield talks the reader through what to look for when choosing a teacher and community, so we don’t fall into a less than ethical situation (and how to get out of the situation if we do.) The final part of the book includes a wonderful and detailed description of spiritual maturity—what it really is, as opposed to what we might want it to be. Kornfield’s voice is kind, understanding, and unflinching—the voice of a genuine best friend. Have I raved enough?
A bit about Kornfield:
After he graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in Asian Studies in 1967, Jack joined the Peace Corps, ending up in northeast Thailand, where he met his first teacher, Venerable Ajahn Chah, a Theravadan monk. That meeting led to years of practice in Asia, including living as a forest monk. Following his return to the United States in 1972, he founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, along with Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein. Since then, he has been a teaching machine. Kornfield has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is one of the founders of Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California, where he still teaches.
Questions for yourself (to ask and answer once you’ve read the book)*
- What spiritual practices (will) give me the greatest comfort?
- How can I integrate (more) spiritual practice into my life in a sane way?
- Who needs my forgiveness?
*A note about how to respond to the book club questions in writing: Based on a sample of one—me—you’ll find that you have taken way more than you think from the book if you:
A) Don’t give yourself a time limit for each answer. In other words just keep writing until your answer feels complete.
B) Respond at a time of day when your ego isn’t kicked into high gear. For me that time is pre-caffeine, post-meditation. Basically I write the question down on a piece of paper, pick up a pen, and pretend that my guardian angel is whispering the response into my ear. This helps me to stay brave and unflinchingly honest.
Try not to be shocked by the insights that surface. If you think of follow-up questions to answer, bravo. Life is short.
In 1999, Geri Larkin founded Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple in Detroit.Her most recent book is Close to the Ground: Reflections on the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, reviewed here.