This is one in a series of adventures in which I undertake a new and exciting pilgrimage journey to a local religious, cultural, or historic landmark in my immediate area. The purpose of these mini-expeditions is to deepen my faith while broadening my horizons of what it means to live an embodied and committed spiritual life. Feel free to add to the discussion in the comments section below.
A Torah Trek
Founded in 1903, Temple B'nai Israel is the first permanent Jewish house of worship in Oklahoma. It's a vibrant center for Reform Judaism, is inclusive and diverse, and welcomes people from all backgrounds to worship, study, and participate in meaningful acts of service. With a strong focus on social justice and community engagement, I knew that Temple B'nai was a place I wanted to visit. I set out on my pilgrimage walk just before Thanksgiving Day in the fall of 2017. My intention was to stay open to new experiences and to practice gratitude on the way there and back.
A neighborhood gratitude tree, a busy Oklahoma freeway, a tree sparing sidewalk,
a local hospital complex, and the Torah
Along the Way
During my walk, I passed through quiet neighborhoods, across busy byways, alongside a street construction zone, and past businesses and convenience stores. There were very few fellow travelers out on foot because it was mid-morning, and cold. But the skies were blue, the sun was bright, and there were opportunities for gratitude all along the way.
In one of the neighborhoods, I noticed a tree that had sticky notes tacked to it, with extra pens and paper placed on the ground nearby. As I got closer, I read the notes which had been left by others. They said things like, "I'm thankful for my wonderful family," and "I'm grateful for my dog," and "I'm thankful for everything I have." It was a gratitude tree! I was surprised, because this was early into my trip and already gratitude was a part of the journey. The spirit of Thanksgiving was in the air. This small act of intentionality was a sign to me of the good things that surround us everyday, if we only take the time and energy to look for them.
Down the road, I also passed by a community sidewalk which was purposely constructed around an existing tree. A small detail, but one that could make a big impact. The tree is a live oak and its leaves stay green all year round. It provides shade to people waiting for the bus during the hot summer months, and it gives a burst of green during the fall and winter when other trees and plants have gone dormant. The tree could have easily been removed, but it wasn't, and as a result people will benefit from this small and generous act for years to come.
The large wooden doors leading into the main sanctuary
When I arrived at the temple, I was struck by the beauty of the woodwork throughout the facility. Large panels, sturdy doors, and entire walls lined with natural wood all made a strong and warm impression on me. In an age of manufactured products and disposable materials, it was refreshing to see a more timeless element prominently included.
The Holocaust remembrance room
One of the most moving experiences of my journey was being able to visit the Holocaust remembrance room inside the temple complex. An eternal fountain has water that flows across words of sorrow and hope and then out into the world underneath a glass wall. I spent time studying the faces of actual temple members and their families who lost their lives through the atrocities committed during World War II. The room is constructed to resemble a concentration camp bunkhouse, which adds a chilling and poignant effect. We all must remember the pain from the past, while carrying hope for the future.
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
- Elie Wiesel
The temple's historical marker from the State of Oklahoma
Talking the Walk
During my visit, I had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with Temple B'nai Rabbi Vered Harris. Listen to the inspiring and thought provoking conversation below, as Rabbi Harris and I discuss the following questions:
Me and Rabbi Vered Harris in front of her office library
"A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair."
- Abraham Joshua Heschel
What does it mean to you to live an embodied and committed spiritual life? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Charles Gosset is a Certified Professional Life and Leadership Coach (ACC, CPC) and founder of Full Integration Coaching, LLC. He helps big-hearted people with huge drive lead exceptional lives. You can find out more about him and the transformational services he offers by visiting: www.fullintegrationcoaching.com.
This is the first in an occasional series of blog posts where I'll undertake a new and exciting pilgrimage journey to a local religious, cultural, or historic landmark in my immediate area. The purpose of these mini-expeditions is to deepen my faith while broadening my horizons of what it means to live an embodied and committed spiritual life. I hope you enjoy the series and feel free to join the discussion in the comments section below.
A Dharma Destination
I first learned about the Dharma Center of Oklahoma when I was in my initial year of recovery from alcoholism. I had been attending AA meetings regularly and was working my way through the 12 steps with a sponsor. Somewhere around step 11 ("Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out"), I discovered a new world in spiritual life. I started regularly going to the library to check out two or three new books and devoured them like a hungry ghost who was starving from a lifelong lack of soul food. I had stumbled across a few intriguing books about Buddhism, and then I found one that would change my life completely. Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield's classic, "A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life" was like nothing I'd ever heard of or experienced before. Jack's depth of wisdom, kindness, and humor, together with systematic practices for healing and wholeness, picked up where the 12 steps left off and launched me into an entire universe of rich inner life to explore. That book is what my soul had been waiting for.
“The purpose of a spiritual discipline is to give us a way to stop the war, not by our force of will, but organically, through understanding and gradual training.”
As I worked my way through the depths and delights of the book, I searched online to see if there were any Buddhist temples in Oklahoma, and sure enough there were. I looked into all of them but felt like the Dharma Center was the place for me to start. Their secular approach and blending of eastern and western cultures was really appealing. From the first few times I visited, I knew this was part of my homecoming. For most of my life, I had felt like an outsider and a stranger even to myself. In recovery that began to change, and when my wife and I moved back to Oklahoma City where most of our immediate family lives, the sense of homecoming was even more tangible. I wasn't raised religious, but had attended Christian churches starting in junior high (off and on), and tried for years to find spiritual enlightenment in the bottom of a whisky bottle. In the end, I found my Divine Home in smoky AA meetings and in the teachings of the Buddha, which then showed me how to commit my life to Christ. Who knew? I couldn't have planned it that way if I tried!
Many Paths One Truth
It wasn't long before I became a member of the Dharma Center. It was so encouraging to find a deep spiritual tradition that also embraced a variety of different paths. As the old Chinese proverb goes, "There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same." Or, as the Japanese say in the Lotus Sutra traditions, "Many in body, one in spirit." Other members were Christian, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, Agnostic, Atheist, New Age, None, and other traditions or combinations. At the same time, the teachings were profound and connected strongly with the Rissho Kosei-kai tradition, which originated in Japan in 1938. It was inspiring to play a part in meaningful rituals, wise and timeless teachings, and practical understanding learned within the context of daily life. I felt that most of this had been missing from my experience with the Christian church up to that point, so it was refreshing to find a truly connected spiritual life which was being lived out in community together.
“There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same."
The bell, mokusho wood block, and taiko drum used in chanting services
The Dharma Center street sign, the Buddha, and Kannon (bodhisattva of compassion)
Gone But Not Forgotten
After being a member of the Dharma Center for a few years, I left to join my wife and kids at a local Christian church where it was more practical for us to attend as a family. It was one of the most rewarding times of my spiritual life, and I've made some friends that will last for at least one lifetime. Last year, I was motivated to revisit the Dharma Center by foot in order to set out on my first urban pilgrimage. And I wanted to take along some compelling questions with me for Kris Ladusau, my friend and the Reverend of the Dharma Center, to answer in her own words. The purpose for my journey and these questions was to help me deepen my faith while broadening my horizons of what it means to live an embodied and committed spiritual life. Here's my interview with Reverend Kris:
Me: How do you personally practice living an embodied or committed spiritual life?
RKL: I try to raise conscious awareness daily to realize that every single interaction I have with other people is a chance for enlightenment.
Me: What is the most important thing that people need to know about the Dharma Center?
RKL: I would like people to know that the Dharma Center is an inclusive, welcoming and comfortable atmosphere for anyone wanting to practice the Buddhist tradition, either by itself, or in conjunction with another spiritual path.
Me: What do you think people are looking for in religion or spirituality today? Why?
RKL: I think most people are either looking to maintain a healthy, relevant, spiritual connection or to reestablish one.
Me: What does "life's a journey, not a destination" mean to you?
RKL: I think that hooks back into the earlier mentioning of the continued development of awareness and appreciation.
Me: If you could change one thing in our world today, what would it be? How?
RKL: For me, it's not about focusing on anything changing (because that will occur naturally in this realm). It's more of a wish for all people to acknowledge interconnectedness, and develop insight and compassion to deal with the changes in a healthy manner.
Above: Reverend Kris Ladusau and me standing with the central mantra "Namu Myoho Renge Kyo"
May you be free from suffering.
May you be well in body and mind.
And may you be filled with peace.
What does it mean to you to live an embodied and committed spiritual life? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
"Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it,
I must listen to my life telling me who I am."
- Parker J. Palmer
What is a pilgrimage?
Essentially a pilgrimage is a journey. A journey that changes you. It would seem that human beings have made pilgrimages as long as they've been able to walk. The Greeks, Israelites, Mayans, Chinese, Christians, Muslims, and a variety of other peoples and religions throughout history have always taken long, often arduous, journeys toward some new understanding about their lives and the world they lived in. The journey itself was just as important as the destination, if not more so. Our ancient ancestors may have something to teach us about ourselves in our own times.
In today's world, pilgrimage has taken on new meanings for those who may or may not identify with a particular faith tradition. Millions of people increasingly identify as "spiritual but not religious" or may classify themselves as "nones," no religion at all. But at the same time, an estimated 300 to 330 million "spiritual tourists" visit significant religious sites every year. Why is this? What are they looking for?
They're looking for different things: from reclaiming a faith long abandoned, to hopes for healing, or clarity around an overwhelming decision. People today, just as much as at any point in history, are looking for something more than the status quo when the status quo can no longer sustain their lives. They're searching for new perspectives, relief from unending busyness, and deeper and more meaningful connections to themselves and their work. They want to encounter a simpler way to be in an increasingly complicated, and an ever more rapidly changing, world. They're hoping to go away on a journey that will bring them back to some greater sense of what it means to be at home in this life.
“Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart.”
Charles Gosset is a Certified Professional Life and Leadership Coach (CPC) and founder of Full Integration Coaching, LLC. He helps big-hearted people with huge drive lead exceptional lives. You can find out more about him and the transformational services he offers by visiting: www.fullintegrationcoaching.com.