If I had to choose the single most-necessary recognition in spiritual endeavor, I guess it would be, "I am important." Without it, any religion I can think of would become like a sand castle on the beach -- subject to decimation by an in-coming tide.
What's interesting is that you don't even need to go the spiritual route to feel the supportive qualities of what might be called The Cornerstone: I am important... atheists, true believers, it's the same ... same stuff, different day. The cornerstone is the single most vital support structure in any building. It is the starting point for any serious piece of architecture ... something that will last and soar and be beautiful and provide assured shelter.
At about this point, I can almost hear the Buddhists ("there is no abiding self") and the Christians ("do unto others as you would have done unto you") ... and the Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Jains and atheists rising up in a controlled fury. "I am important" is most emphatically NOT their teaching; they're in business for the good stuff, the kindly stuff, the over-arching stuff, the pure stuff, the virtuous stuff the charitable stuff, the empty stuff, the righteous stuff. Caveats and riders and explanations rain down on the proposal that the Cornerstone could be anything so icky as "I am important." "Others may be like that," the explanations go, "but not me." They might do anything -- anything -- to escape the lash.
But I think that trying to escape is the wrong approach, one that only intensifies the fallout from "I am important." A better approach is not to flee, not to duck and cover, but to embrace and then investigate. Yes, I am important and my spiritual (or non-spiritual) endeavor builds miraculous support structures above this Cornerstone.
Given the tenderness of human longing -- the desire to revise the self-centered uncertainties of this life -- it would be cruel to try to shove the Cornerstone down anyone's throat, let alone your own. Like an archaeologist, it's important to go carefully, brushing away the accumulated sands bit by bit. Belief and hope encourage the way, deeper and deeper into this ancient site. Still, without unearthing the Cornerstone, what can anyone know of this delightful dig? True, some will remain in a world of belief and hope, but the uncertainties will continue to nag. Belief is just another way of asserting doubt, and no one wants to live in doubt. Hope is just another way of underscoring uncertainty and no one wants to live a life of quivering uncertainty.
Deeper and deeper until at last there it is -- the Cornerstone, the piece of architecture without which the rest would dissolve. "I am important." I may have muttered and memorized and dissected my importance in the past, laying on more and more and more spiritual appreciations as a means of assuring my peace, but here at last is the Cornerstone that upholds the entire effort: "I am important."
And it's OK ... or anyway I think so. To my way of thinking, it's not just OK, it's really very good. Now the honest work can begin. Spiritual discipline may have created the skills necessary to this work, but the work itself is beyond anything with a spiritual label. It is plain as salt: "I am important." Nothing fancy about that.
And at this point, I think, the dime begins to drop. You made a mistake in thinking or trying to escape from "I am important." Hell, anyone can make a mistake, especially when not enough information is available. Yup, you goofed. You screwed the pooch. But for those who practice what they preach, screwing the pooch is par for the course. Another day, another goof. But goofs are what put meat on the bone of understanding and actualization.
When the dime begins to drop, I think it drops sort of like this: Yes, I am important -- it's just that I didn't know how important I was. Inescapably important, vastly important, important to the far ends of the universe. Integral to what was, what is and what will be. And it has nothing to do with me.
It's important -- the Cornerstone that makes every other stone shimmer in the sun. It's important, but it's not that important.