Saturday, February 22, 2014

Blinded by Anticipation

"A Burst of Color"

Yesterday was one of those "picture perfect" desert days.  The moderate temperatures, no humidity and crystal clear sunlit skies made it impossible to do anything but go outside and enjoy the splendor of it all. 

In the afternoon hours, I decided to take my camera and "hit the wilderness trails," anticipating that the lengthening shadows and the bright sun would offer me opportunities for some fantastic pictures of the desert as it starts to blossom into spring. 

As I walked the trails, I was on a quest, looking for that perfect picture, the one everyone would see and say, "wow, what a beautiful shot." I kept looking but I was kind of disappointed -the shadows were not as pronounced as I thought they might be and the trail I was on was one that I walk almost every day - very familiar, nothing special, certainly not the stuff of the beautiful picture I was anticipating.

And then suddenly,  I "literally" ran into the branches of a little desert tree along the trail. It's branches hit me in the face and stopped me in my tracks. The branches were green and gold, sparkling in the sunlight as they stood in glorious contrast against the backdrop of brown-red stone of the mountains in the distance.

 A "moment of beauty" had literally reached out to me and struck me right between the eyes.

And in that instant, I had one of those "flashes of insight" that I get once in a while living out here. 

I keep talking about living in the present - being awake in the moment.  In fact I practice a discipline of mindful meditation on a daily basis as I sit silently in my garden with an uncluttered mind and open heart intentionally awake to the "now."

Yesterday when "beauty" reached out and "stopped me in my tracks," I suddenly realized that, apart from those 15 minutes of morning mindfulness, it's incredibly hard for me to live my everyday life in the moment. After all, throughout my entire life I was continually nourished on a steady diet of "anticipation." 

All my life I have been "getting ready" for something or other -getting ready to graduate, getting ready to be ordained, getting ready for a family, getting ready for career moves. 

The focus of my "everyday life" was that of anticipating what was yet to come.  As a priest, I would spend my days preparing for festivals like Christmas or Easter, and then anticipate upcoming vacations. Then there were those endless sessions of making long-range plans for church growth, and of course those weekly staff meetings to set the agenda for the week to come.

I would wake up every day and the first thoughts that came to mind were anticipatory of the day to come - the day's appointments, the upcoming schedule.

So, it's no surprise to me that I should now have such a hard time living my everyday life "in the moment."

My life in the desert affords me such a holy opportunity to live more mindfully. My life is now more calm and quiet. But, my task now is to learn how to tame that compulsion to always be gazing into the future, anticipating what may happen, and to learn instead how to be awake to what is happening in the present. 

Indeed it is always and only "in the moment" that the greatest beauty is revealed to any of us.

As I look out into the mountains this morning, I recall a simple yet utterly profound wisdom taught by my spiritual ancestors- those 4th century Desert Mother and Fathers. 

A young monk approached his teacher eagerly anticipating his future life as a monk. The young monk asked his teacher what he should do in order to become more spiritually awake. Should he pray more often, more regularly? Should he fast or perhaps work harder? The old "Abba" simply told his young charge:

Go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything

I walked out onto the trail yesterday looking for that perfect picture, disappointed that it wasn't there.  I was blinded by anticipation.  However the universe taught me a lesson, and beauty reached out and stopped me in my tracks. 

If I sit in my cell, my cell will teach me everything. 


  1. Hey Paul

    Great Post. We are surrounded by the beauty of Life each moment. The more we recognize that beauty, first within ourselves the more we see that beauty is everywhere present.

    May we continue to cultivate peace, honoring the Life that rests throughout all.

    Peace and Respect to you my friend,


  2. Thanks so much for the comment Jeffon. Peace and respect to you also.

  3. Sometimes when you describe the desert, I get an urge for sending you this video - perhaps you've seen it. This is one of the most amazing projects I've seen so far - I hope you'll watch it!

  4. Allen thanks for this- I'll check it out

  5. Great insight, as always. Thank you, sir!