Friday, September 22, 2017

Seasons

"Autumn"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

Some people may think that we don’t have any change of seasons in Southern California (especially here in the desert); and while the leaves don’t change colors and snow never flies, it’s not perpetually summer out here and the seasons most definitely change. 

Yesterday afternoon, great gusts of wind roared through the desert canyon where we live and I went outdoors to take it all in. I could feel that “change” was in the air.  It was as if the world of nature was looking at the calendar and, “right on schedule, it was ushering in a brand new season.  

After the stifling triple-digit heat of this past summer months (which kept me indoors much of the time), I went outside this morning and discovered that air was delightfully cool and even crisp. The position of the rising sun, the colors in the sky, the fresh smell of the morning were all signs that told me Autumn had indeed arrived.

This morning as I sat outside to greet the dawn, I thought about “changes in the air” and I  experienced the very familiar feeling that I often get when I become aware of change in my life -  a strange and wonderful mixture of trepidation coupled with a sense of adventure.

It’s certainly much easier to stay within the comfort zone of our lives and so when we feel as if we are being pushed or pulled out of the “zone,” most of us tend to get a bit nervous.  We all develop our routines in life, the routines of work and school, shopping, eating, going to the gym,  and our routines can be good because they offer us a sense of stability in the chaos of everyday living. On the other hand, our routines can quickly turn into ruts and rob us of all the new and fresh possibilities life offers us each and every day. This is true for everyday living and perhaps even more true for the spiritual journey.

It seems to me that, for the most part, “all the magic” of life almost always happens outside the narrow confines of our comfort zone.

I am reminded of something Buddhist teacher and nun, Pema Chodron, once said:

To be fully alive, fully human and completely aware
is to be continually thrown out of the nest.
To live fully is to be always in no-man’s land,
to experience each moment as completely new and fresh.

This new Fall season reminds me once again that everything and everyone is impermanent, a constant process of change, always becoming something else. If I am to be fully alive and completely aware, I must approach each day with an uncluttered mind and an open heart awaiting all those new possibilities that will be manifested to me even in the most ordinary routines of everyday life.

Author and teacher, Alan Watts, once said:

The only way to make sense out of change
is to plunge into it,
move with it and join the dance.

It’s a new day and a new season, time for “all the magic” to happen.

Shall we dance?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Peace that Surpasses Understanding

"Deep Peace"
- Sunset at the Desert Retreat House -

I just had a rather disturbing but also informative conversation with a friend of mine who told me that he is “giving up” listening to, reading about or watching any more news reports. He said that he has enough problems in his own personal life without being constantly barraged by reports of hurricanes, ethnic cleansing, terrorist attacks, and political infighting. So, he is suspending all news consumption because he can no longer endure the anxiety that such stories elicit in him.

As I listened to my friend the other day I wondered how many other people might be feeling the same way, overburdened by the anxiety of everyday life nowadays.

My conversation with my friend also reminded me of an ancient “saying” from the 13th century English mystic, Julian of Norwich:

And all shall be well, and all shall be well,
And all manner of things shall be well.

I have heard this phrase quoted many times before and I think it is often misinterpreted to mean that, no matter how tough life is, everything will eventually turn out ok, so “don’t worry and be happy.”  Actually the wisdom of this one little phrase speaks of something far more profound, it points to a deep peace that can “ground” all of us no matter what may come our way in life.

In our culture the word “happiness” often refers to a surface and fleeting feeling of wellbeing and peace is translated as the absence of trouble. People are happy when they get a job or buy new clothes. People find peace when there is nothing to trouble them. But there will always be trouble in life no matter who we are, suffering is inherent in our human condition.

As I see it, the kind of peace and happiness available on a spiritual quest is much more of  what the ancient ancestors called a “deep peace”- a peace that flows underneath the surface of everyday living.

The Christian scriptures talk about a peace that passes all understanding. I think that’s what “deep peace” means, it’s a sense of underlying peace one experiences that goes beyond analysis or understanding. After all, on the surface it probably doesn’t “make sense” to feel peace in the midst of suffering, pain and chaos; and yet that sense of a deep peace that passes understanding lies at the heart of the spiritual journey.

In my own life I experience this deep peace whenever I am able to recognize that “I” am more than a separated individual ego inside a tiny human body. I experience that peace that passes understanding when I become aware of my connection to the cosmos. I experience a deep peace when I know that, even in the darkest times, an abiding Love and Universal Energy “sparks” within my being and in all other beings connecting us all in an amazingly beautiful, mysterious and mystical web of dynamic interrelationship.

And so, I experience a deep peace when I know that all shall be well because Love flows in and through it all - Love is stronger than hate and Love won’t let me go. 

Most “wisdom” traditions of the major world religions recommend the practice of equanimity as a primary virtue on the spiritual journey.

Equanimity is the stability of mind
that allows us to be present with an open heart
to everything that comes our way,
no matter how wonderful or how difficult.

When we are able to practice this “stability of mind” we can abide in deep peace. When we are present with an open heart to all those disturbing news reports, when we are present with an open heart rejoicing at the birth of a child, when we are present with an open heart at the loss a spouse or when we are diagnosed with cancer, when we buy a house or lose a job and we are “present with an open heart” to everything that comes our way we can find a deep peace, knowing that underneath it all, all is well, all is well, all manner of things shall be well.

I am reminded of a blessing that comes from the ancient Celtic Druids. I offer this blessing to any who may happen to read my post today:

Deep peace of the Running Wave to you.
Deep peace of the Flowing Air to you.
Deep peace of the Quiet Earth to you.
Deep peace of the Shining Stars to you.
Deep peace!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Time to Plant

"Blooming Cacti"
- At the Desert Retreat House -


Having spent most of my life on the east coast of this country, I still remember that, in mid-September we were all getting ready for Fall - a time for the harvest, a time to get ready for the coming winter, a time for shutting down.

In my mind I still expect to walk into a store and see them selling rakes for the autumn leaves, snow shovels and anti-freeze for the coming winter season; instead they are selling autumn seeds, potting soil and garden tools because this is a planting season out here where we live.

Here in Southern California (especially out here in this desert region), we have several growing seasons all year long. The intense summer heat has now come to an end and so around mid-September we plant the “winter crop” in backyard gardens and in farm fields.

I have often said that the desert is a perhaps my best teacher, it offers so many lessons about life, so much wisdom for the journey – that’s one of the reasons a desert is often perceived as being such a spiritual place. At this time of the year the lesson the desert teaches me is:

Don’t ever shut down.
 Don’t ever give up.
Every season of life is growing season.

I know plenty of people who feel as if they have reached a dead-end place in their lives. Their life-long ambitions have never come to fruition, relationships have failed or dried up, they are bored with their jobs or have no jobs, many are dulled by the “same old-same old” of the daily routine and so they become cynical and despondent and they begin to “shut down.”

Whether or not you actually live in a desert, the lesson learned from the wisdom of the wilderness at this time of year offers us all a “wake-up call.  Every life is always ready to burst with blossoms that have not yet bloomed no matter what the season, no matter how dry life may seem or how long the day has been.


The Buddha said:

There are two mistakes one can make on the way to truth,
one is not going all the way,
the other is not starting.

The desert in autumn teaches me something about starting over and over, again and again as I walk on that journey to truth.

We’ll be going to the nursery today to get what we need for the garden we will plant in our backyard this week and I am reminded of something Robert Louis Stevenson once said:

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap
but by the seeds that you plant.