"Still there always exists the resurgent spirit pulsing in the ligaments of our lives. As Gary Snyder, the poet, Buddhist, and eco-activist points out, 'The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us. There are more things in mind, in the imagination, than "you" can keep track of — thoughts, memories, images, angers, delights, rise unbidden. The depths of mind, the unconscious, are our inner wilderness areas.' When we turn to a spiritual teacher we look for a guide, not one who is familiar with well-worn paths, but one who knows, as Snyder puts it, the 'etiquette of freedom.'

"Yet in wanting a teacher to illuminate the lush and tangled undergrowth of our interior, we inevitably step into a paradox. As the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (gifted Tibetan teacher, author, and founder of the Shambhala organization, who introduced thousands of Westerners to Tibetan practice) said, 'When you hear of someone that possesses remarkable qualities, you regard them as significant beings, and yourself as insignificant.' In other words, our perceived inadequacy — that feeling which often got us looking for a teacher in the first place — is reinforced when we look upon someone or something as 'more advanced,' 'wiser,' 'more enlightened' and so forth. We want what we think they 'have.'

" 'Is the existence of so many religious types and sects and creeds regrettable? . . . I answer "No" emphatically . . . No two of us have identical difficulties, nor should we be expected to work out identical solutions,' wrote William James. We are genuinely lucky in the West to have so many choices, but then an endless supply of options can lead to inaction, to a dysfunctional stupor or an attitude of 'shopping' frenzy in which desire trumps truth. We have to find the heart of our own sincerity — not the prepackaged kind found in greeting cards — to give the spiritual journey meaning. Intimacy is essential and inherently risky.

"The feeling of inadequacy is not all bad: it is good that we want to change our often shrunken and self-absorbed view of the world and become more compassionate. Yet we must stop wanting to fix ourselves. In the spiritual world, continually wanting to 'get somewhere' gets us nowhere. Because it's the ego that's never satisfied, that's always thinking there is something right around the corner and therefore keeps us from just 'being,' keeps us feeling separate.

"It is the spiritual teacher's job to offer new ways of seeing. But this process entails a delicate surgery that places both the student and the teacher in a vulnerable position. The exchanges of power in these situations can do considerable damage if not held in balance."