Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Gift of Indifference

"Wilderness"
-Outside the Desert Retreat House-

A few years ago, while preparing to move out into the desert, I read a few books about "Desert Spirituality." All the books I read claimed that the wilderness terrain offers a great gift to a soul-searching, spiritual seeker.  The desert setting is a place to learn about and experience the value of "indifference" on the spiritual path. 

I must say that at first I was quite uncomfortable to think that my new home was going to teach me to be indifferent. As a priest, all my life I had struggled to be a kind and caring person- compassionate and welcoming.  Why would I ever want to learn to be indifferent?  How could indifference possibly be an asset on the spiritual path?

Now that I have lived in the desert for over a year, I totally get it. 

I have learned to embrace, welcome and relish the indifference of my desert home. I have indeed received a great gift for walking on my spiritual path. 

Every morning, as I sit in my garden and reflect on my daily blog posting, I look out into a vast wilderness. The desert is wild (that's why it's called "the wilderness"). You never feel like you have any control over it. The high rocky mountains and expansive desert floor seem so immense; and living among them, I seem so very small. 

Every day I realize just how inhospitable this desert is to growing an "ego." The desert is indeed "indifferent" to me. The desert ignores me - which doesn't mean that I don't feel connected here. "I" just feel ignored.

In fact, in my desert life I feel more "connected" than I ever have before in my life. I am connected to those vast mountains, to the miles of endless rocky sandy soil, connected to desert bushes and flowering cacti, connected to the brilliant skies blazing in a desert night. I feel connected to all that lives and has breath- to people I know and to people I will never meet.

While I feel connected, "I" also feel ignored- not all that important in the vast scope of things. The universe is indifferent to me as I make my way in the wilderness - and herein is my greatest gift.

Like most people, through much of my life, I spent far too much time and energy thinking and acting on the basis of how I thought other people might think about me or judge me. We all want to be loved. At some level, we all seek the approbation of others, and so it's no wonder that we would tailor our everyday lives to "fit" in, to be welcomed, approved and judged favorably. 

But my desert lesson in "indifference" has taught me that most of the time most people hardly ever think about me at all. The people I have known, the people with whom I interact with today may care for me (or not), but they don't spend their time thinking about "me" - about what "I" say or "do" or  how "I" look or where "I" live. 

One of those desert spirituality books I read a few years ago puts it this way:

So often people presume themselves to be at the center of everyone else's attention, performing for an audience that isn't there. Their chief loss, in the process is missing the gift of blessed indifference that was being offered to them all along. 'We are saved in the end by the things that ignore us.'

There is a great freedom in the experience of being loved, connected and also ignored. It feels good to live in this holy wilderness where the "ego" doesn't thrive so well. 

As I sit in my garden and gaze out into the desert glowing in the brilliance of the morning sun, a well quoted little phrase comes to mind:

You gotta dance like there's nobody watching
Love like you'll never be hurt
Sing like there's nobody listening

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