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The Seeker's Guide (previously published as The New American Spirituality)

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The Seeker's Guide (previously published as The New American Spirituality) [Paperback]

Elizabeth Lesser
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews Review

Elizabeth Lesser, cofounder of the Omega Institute, speaks to America's cross-pollination of religious, psychological, metaphysical, and ancient traditions that have flowered into contemporary spirituality. Like many seekers, Lesser has discovered a deeply personal religious path--one that wandered through Zen Buddhist monasteries, meandered through Christian churches, dabbled in African and Native American traditions, and expanded into the teachings of the Great Mother. Using her own journey as the road map, Lesser discusses why so many Americans are coming to a deeply personal form of religion--one that does not prescribe to a specific doctrine or definition of God.

Although she expertly performs the role of memoirist and observer, Lesser has stretched this book into a useful tool for all seekers. She offers numerous suggestions, such as how to listen to your body, increase your spiritual bank account, "live the questions" rather than "seek the answers," and create a supportive community. This is a moving workbook for anyone who's hoping to find, claim, or simply maintain their spiritual truths. --Gail Hudson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"If spirituality is not religion or cynicism or sentimentality or narcissism, then what is it?... we can confidently say... that spirituality is fearlessness. It is a way of looking boldly at this life we have been given, here, now, on earth, as this human being." Lesser, cofounder of the Omega Institute, a pioneering holistic learning community in upstate New York, blends autobiography with broader observation to offer readers a compelling, commonsense guide to a new American style of spiritual search that she has watched coalesce over the past decades. Tracing her own path from idealistic Barnard student to young wife, mother and ardent communard follower of Sufi teacher Pir Vilayat, Lesser describes how she (and a generation of seekers) have gradually expanded the Puritan ideal of personal spiritual transformation to include deep psychological, physical and creative work. Only as we learn to accept and cherish ourselves as we really are, Lesser shows, can we tap our innate wisdom. Drawing inspiration from teachers and teachings from many traditions, infusing each chapter with her own stories and experience, Lesser reveals how illuminating it can be to turn the light of awareness and acceptance on ourselves. Several times, she offers this quote by the great Sufi poet Rumi: "When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy."With honesty, warmth and seasoned judgment, Lesser leads readers to the water. Even the publisher's unfortunate decision to include blurbs praising the book from teachers and authors mentioned in its pages does not undermine a modest integrity and intelligence that is the best advertisement for the new American spirituality. (June)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

As cofounder of the innovative Omega Institute in New York State, Lesser is in a unique position to assess the current state of spirituality in the U.S. For more than 20 years, the Omega Institute has offered teachings from a cornucopia of religious, scientific, and artistic disciplines, reflecting what Lesser believes is a new approach to spirituality based on the values of democracy, diversity, and individuality. To map this complex of perspectives, she describes the four landscapes anyone embarking on a spiritual journey must traverse: the landscapes of the mind, the heart, the body, and the soul. The guides she's chosen to help her cross these terrains include the Sufi teacher Pir Vilayat, Teilhard de Chardin, Joseph Campbell, and Thich Nhat Hanh. Lesser's anecdotal narrative includes numerous concise profiles of spiritual figures and interpretations of their beliefs and practices as well as meditation exercises and straightforward advice. Attuned to the "weeds" in the garden of spirituality, including narcissism, superficiality, and a desire for magic, Lesser's knowledge is matched by her candor. Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Elizabeth Lesser has witnessed the search for God in America from a front-row seat. As both an observer and a participant, she is funny, profoundly moving, and simply brilliant. This is a book for anyone who wants to read their own spiritual story more clearly and find the inner compass that can lead them home."
-Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., author of Kitchen Table Wisdom

Book Description

Shares guidelines & practices to help listeners make choices amid the many spiritual paths open to them today. Includes a complete session of useful exercises & meditations --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

In 1977, Elizabeth Lesser cofounded the Omega Institute, now America's largest adult-education center focusing on wellness and spirituality. Working with many of the eminent thinkers of our times, including Zen masters, rabbis, Christian monks, psychologists, scientists, and an array of noted American figures--from L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson to author Maya Angelou--Lesser found that by combining a variety of religious, psychological, and healing traditions, each of us has the unique ability to satisfy our spiritual hunger.

In The Seeker's Guid, she synthesizes the lessons learned from an immersion into the world's wisdom traditions and intertwines them with illuminating stories from her daily life. Recounting her own trials and errors and offering meditative exercises, she shows the reader how to create a personal practice, gauge one's progress, and choose effective spiritual teachers and habits. Warm, accessible, and wise, this book provides directions through the four landscapes of the spiritual journey:

THE MIND: learning meditation to ease stress and anxiety
THE HEART: dealing with grief, loss, and pain; opening the heart and becoming fully alive
THE BODY: returning the body to the spiritual fold to heal and
overcome the fear of aging and death
THE SOUL: experiencing daily life as an adventure of meaning and mystery

From the Back Cover

"Elizabeth Lesser has witnessed the search for God in America from a front-row seat. As both an observer and a participant, she is funny, profoundly moving, and simply brilliant. This is a book for anyone who wants to read their own spiritual story more clearly and find the inner compass that can lead them home."
-Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., author of Kitchen Table Wisdom

About the Author

Elizabeth Lesser is the cofounder and senior adviser of the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. Prior to her work at Omega, she was a midwife and childbirth educator. She attended Barnard College and San Francisco State University. She can be reached at

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Although a book is born of many impulses, and influenced by diverse experiences, authors often speak of a symbolic moment of conception--an "aha" moment when you say to yourself, "I have to tell this story." That moment came for me several summers ago, in the faculty dining room at Omega Institute, the education and retreat center I cofounded in 1977. Over the years I have shared countless meals with conference and workshop leaders in that room, moderating discussions between medical doctors and shamanic healers, Christian monks and Jewish rabbis, Zen teachers and business executives.

On this particular day I was eating lunch with Babatunde Olatunji, the West African drum master and world-music innovator. Seated next to Baba was the American poet Allen Ginsberg, engaged in conversation with Gelek Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist lama, and Joseph Shabalala, a South African musician and freedom fighter. They were talking about their twin passions--politics and spirituality--and how challenging it was to combine the two. At the other end of the table was the onetime heavyweight champion of the world Floyd Patterson picking over his plate of tofu salad and discussing his workshop, "The Tao of Boxing," with a Chinese tai chi master, a tiny woman dressed in black pajamas. Next to them sat Huston Smith, the renowned authority on the history of religions, chatting with Ysaye Barnwell of the gospel group Sweet Honey in the Rock, and John Mohawk, a Seneca author and spiritual leader.

Catching bits and pieces of conversations, I turned to Baba Olatunji and asked, "So, what do you make of this--all these traditions meeting and merging?" Baba leaned back in his chair and surveyed the scene. Then, waving his fork at the extraordinary cast of characters seated around us, he announced, "This is a new kind of spirituality. It's American, and one day it will be the world."
An American spirituality--I liked that concept. It described my own spiritual life, something I had never been able to label. I had been actively searching for God since childhood. My path wove through the peaks and valleys of many different traditions: organized religion, disorganized mysticism, psychotherapy, philosophy, mythology, science. My search had all the signs of being an American one: it was open-minded, individualistic, and adventurous. It celebrated diversity: ten years of discipleship with an Eastern meditation master; a deep immersion into Christian, Jewish, and Islamic mysticism; extended work with a psychotherapist; study of Jungian psychology and Western schools of philosophy; and exposure, from my work at Omega Institute, to a range of healing systems, from ancient Chinese medicine to modern consciousness research.

For more than twenty-five years I had been on an adventure, searching for a genuine and fearless kind of spirituality. My goal had not been to become a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim; a Buddhist or a Sikh or a Hindu. I didn't want to become anything other than my most vibrant, peaceful, and grateful self. I wanted to find a sacred path through the fullness of life in the real world--a daily discipline that reached into the heavens even as it dug deeply into my psyche, helping me overcome resistance, falseness, and mistrust. On such an adventure I would need to seek guidance freely, from the rich repository of the world's wisdom traditions. Baba Ola-tunji's words about an "American spirituality" rang true: what I was seeking was a spirituality as diverse, democratic, and individualistic as America itself.

After my "aha" moment in the lunchroom with Baba Olatunji, I set out to research and write about the emerging American spiritual tradition. I had three distinct yet related stories to tell: America's story, my story, and yours--the reader's story. America's story, because each American's spiritual quest is fundamentally marked--for better and worse--by American values. My story, because a book about the spiritual journey is about an individual's most basic questions: Who am I? How should I live? What happens when I die? Without honest, real-life examples to accompany theories and practices, spiritual literature lacks veracity. Since the real-life examples I am most familiar with are my own, I have structured this book around my spiritual adventures--my blunders and my accomplishments, my dark nights and my luminous awakenings. But in writing about my path, I did not want to betray the most important message of the book, which is that each person's spiritual journey is different, worthy, and unique. Therefore, the third story in the book belongs to the reader. Directions on the spiritual path are offered here; it is my hope that you will use them to chart a course all your own.
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