Bo Lozoff is co-founder of the Human Kindness Project and its award-winning Prison Ashram Project. He holds an honorary doctorate from the Chicago Theological Seminary and is a recipient of the prestigious Temple Award for Creative Altruism. The author and his wife, Sita, live in a community where they regularly practice meditation, prayer, spiritual reading, yoga, walking in nature, saying mantras, and taking vows. Lozoff believes that these spiritual practices are part and parcel of living a meaningful life.
This practical and inspiring book is organized into two sections: one on inner spirituality and the other on external spirituality. The former focuses on the principle of communion — "that each of us, in silence and solitude, can touch and eventually merge into the Divine Essence deep within us." The second principle, common to all religions, is community — "We are instructed to love and respect all of creation, to be forgiving and compassionate and generous, and to dedicate our lives to the common good rather than merely to personal success." Kozoff calls these "the two-fold prescription written by the great religions as the means to fulfill our "one task" of God-realization."
Each chapter opens with a question often encountered by teachers on the spiritual path. For example: "I have friends who do plenty of spiritual practice, attend retreats, travel to the East, and who don't seem any more fulfilled than I am without doing any of those things. What are they missing? What should the end product look like when you are living a meaningful life?" Lozoff's answer: It always comes down to kindness. The Dalai Lama, who wrote the foreword to this book, would agree.
Lozoff gives many practice suggestions to develop one's inner life and outer commitments. Many of them imply a critique of modern culture and its heartbeat of consumerism. Some, such as growing your own food, fixing things up, and eschewing the media, are reminiscent of the idealism of people who lived on communes in the 1960s. But Lozoff's idealism has been translated into years of service. That's what is important here.
In a powerful passage, Lozoff encourages us not to take the easy way out. Spiritual practice, he says, will help us meet the world with courage and perseverance:
"We have a saying around Kindness House, the community where I live: 'You can do hard.' The reason that we say this is that, in our modern era, the words 'It's too hard' have become an anthem for giving up. Have an ache or pain, reach for a pill; get depressed after losing a job, take Prozac for a while. A friend once confided to me that she regretted divorcing her husband. She said the only reason she did it was the prevailing attitude at the time that 'If it gets really hard, why make yourself suffer?' Maybe we have become afraid to tackle anything that might be very hard; maybe we've been convinced that we can't do hard things.
" 'You can do hard' is one of my community's ways of reminding us that we need not run away in fear just because something is greatly challenging. It might be daunting, but we can do daunting. It might even be scary, but we can do scary. No matter how bad it is-and it could be very bad for a while-we can do it. And then years later, it's just one sentence: 'Sita and I hated each other for most of 1979; we held on to our marriage by a thread.' Just one little sentence in a conversation. Nothing extraordinary. Nobody falls over when you tell them.
"We can do hard. Really, we can. Don't let a brief cultural myopia fool you into thinking you'll crumble when the chips are down. Human beings are designed for the chips to be down sometimes. We can endure unimaginably hard things and come out better for them."