Yesterday I was talking to a friend of mine from back East. He was telling me how much he enjoys the snow, especially at Christmastime, and how he could never live in a place like the desert where the seasons never change. My response was that he had it all wrong. In fact I have never before lived in a place where the seasons change as much as they do in the desert.
There is a certain stereotypical image people usually have about a desert. They think of it as a place of permanence - rock solid mountains that have been there forever, miles of wilderness terrain, and being hot - always hot. However, when you actually live out here, you realize how different a desert is from those stereotypical images.
Now that winter is upon us, I have come to realize just how radically different my desert home is from what it was just a few months ago when the temperatures were in the triple digits- the air conditioning was blasting, flowers were blooming, and the the desert floor was so hot that you could barely walk on it in the heat of day.
As I sit in my garden this morning, everything looks different and feels different, smells and sounds different than it did a season ago.
The mornings are frosty, the nights are long and cold, but the night sky is clearer and more cosmically ablaze than at any other time of the year. The morning air is pristine as the winter wind blows through the canyons. The late afternoon sun on a winter's day makes the mountains glow with such golden brilliance that you literally can't look at them without wearing sunglasses. There are few flowers, but the sage brush on the desert floor has all turned to a brilliant shade of green. The season has changed.
Ever since I have lived out here, I have said that the desert is a great teacher; and with the coming of winter, my desert home is again teaching me. My lesson this season is about the nature of change. My winter lesson: "nothing stays the same."
I used to believe that when I would take my daily walks into the desert, if I kept my eyes open, awake in the present, I would always see something new, something that I hadn't seen before even though it had always been there - a mountain cave, a concealed trail, a citrus tree growing in the wild. Now, I have somewhat modified my thinking.
From the moment I wake up until I go to bed at night, when I walk in the desert in the afternoon, or sit in my garden under the night sky or at the rising of the sun, if I am alert and mindful in the moment, I will indeed always be able to see something I hadn't seen before - not because I had somehow missed what was already there, but because every day it's all brand new - every day it changes, nothing ever stays the same. Every day I am new, every day my world is different than it was the day before.
My life in the ever-changing desert has reinforced for me a key tenet of Buddhist teaching - the principle of "impermanence," everything is impermanent. More than saying that everything changes, the principle of impermanence teaches that everything IS change.
Life is a constant flow, and indeed "you can't step in the same river twice." Everything that appears so unchangeable is "change."
The Buddhists teach that since everything in life and everything about life is impermanent, we suffer when we try to cling to anything or control anything.
If we think we have finally "arrived" in life - at the peak of a career, the perfect house - if we think we have finally figured out the "meaning of life, even perhaps figured out who and what "God" is all about- - rigidly cling to our things, to our ideas, our opinions and beliefs, we are fooling ourselves, lulling ourselves with the false assurances of a stability that just doesn't exist.
Nothing stays the same. It's all changing. It's all change.
So I get up in the morning and every day I pray, "surprise me."
I sit in my garden at the break of day and reach out to the universe. I call out to an ever-abiding, ever- changing, wild, untamed Holy Presence and I say, "What's new?"
And the answer I always get is: "Everything."
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