The "Fierce" Desert Landscape
-in front of my retreat house-
"Spirituality" is an extremely popular word in today's social media scene. Blogs and tweets, videos and Facebook pages are replete with pictures, prayers, quotes, stories and advice - all listed under the broad category of "spirituality."
Every day I peruse the web, I discover that many people today want to be in touch with their spiritual side to find some soothing comfort. Blog posts are replete with images of gentle waterfalls, lush green meadows, and birds rushing through orange skies at sunset, and these images are often accompanied by quotes and stories about finding "inner peace."
The more traditionally religious folks look for that inner peace by going to church, saying prayers, and taking comfort in the rules and doctrine of the tradition. Today's "spiritual but not religious" folks often seek that inner peace by sitting on a yoga mat, or watching a sunset over the ocean.
In some sense I think "spirituality" does have something to do with finding inner peace and assurance. But my life in the desert has taught me that finding a deeper peace involves being emptied out rather than being filled up.
I have been reading a book about desert spirituality in which the author refers to the desert landscape as "fierce" - and indeed it is fierce. I walk outside my house and the scenery is never "pretty," it is fierce. The desert is fiercely beautiful, fiercely stark and vast; fierce because it seems boundless and without borders of limitations.
I walk in the desert and the sun bakes my bones. I often feel disoriented (even on a trail) and out of control because the wildly expansive landscape makes you feel tiny and unsure of your bearings. I hear sounds that could be rattlesnakes. I see a wild coyote. I look at the many mountain caves that are certainly filled with bats and who knows what else. And yet, it is all so very majestic and awesome.
I walk in the desert and I feel so alone, and yet at the same time, I sense that I am totally surrounded by a presence that will never let me go.
The desert is teaching me a most important lesson about the spiritual journey.
I once read that the desert is intrinsically hostile to the ego. Living here, I now understand what that means. Instead of filling me up, the desert is emptying me out. The desert terrain brings me to the margins - to a place where I am not the one in control. It brings me to a place of "surrender" to Holy Presence.
I do indeed believe that getting in touch with my "spirituality" brings me a sense of deep inner peace; but the road to that inner peace is fierce and sometimes frightening and often not soothing and assuring at all.
The journey to inner peace means that I have to lose my "self" in order to find my "self."