Wednesday, February 19, 2014


-At the Desert Retreat House-

Last evening I thought I would turn on my TV set to see if there might be something I'd like to watch.  We have satellite reception here - 700 channels catering to every imaginable entertainment desire and taste along with thousands of "On Demand" movies. In fact, there were so many choices that I didn't even feel like scrolling through all the possibilities - action, adventure, drama, comedy, cooking, game shows, sports, 24 hour news? I thought maybe I'd just read a book instead. 

As I sat in front of the TV last night, a very amusing memory came into my mind. I don't want to sound like I am "the old man from the mountain," but when I was a young child, TV was just making its debut. Our family purchased the very first TV set in our neighborhood. The thing was that, even after we had the set, the networks hadn't yet started broadcasting and so for several months the only available signal was a "test pattern." 

I can still vividly recall all our neighbors coming over to our house and all of us sitting around and watching that "test pattern," marveling at the CBS logo on our little black-and-white screen, anticipating the glories that were soon to come.

It seems to me that almost everything about today's world has become so cluttered, so complex and so complicated that is becomes more and more difficult to find joy in the simple things in life.  The problem is that the deepest peace is found in the deepest simplicity.

This morning as I sit out here in the desert garden, I think about my spiritual ancestors - the Fourth century Desert Mothers and Fathers who left behind all the trappings of church and society and moved out into the desert to be in community with one another. 

They lived the simplest of lives in the desert caves that served as their homes. They owned nothing.  They lived off the land, and yet they found such profound  joy in the simplicity of their common life living in accordance with the teachings of Jesus, bound in love for one another, extending that love in radical hospitality toward all who would come their way.

I think also of those early followers of the Buddha - the rich and the famous who abandoned their palaces, gave away their wealth, dressed in rags, and begged for their daily bread. They lived a life of profound simplicity, and this simplicity was their gift. 

They had nothing to distract  them  - no desire to cling to things, no need to show how important any one was. Their simplicity allowed them to be single-minded, to simply be present, awake, mindful in the moment - ever present to the beauty manifested in all being. 

As I reflect on my own life, I think about just how complex and cluttered it had all become. Before moving out into the desert, we had accumulated so many things, that before we moved, we had to hire a truck to take away all the stuff that we didn't need. 

Over the years I had managed to orchestrate a very complex life- career goals, positions of authority,  a mind filled with ideas, systems, concepts, doctrine, lots of plans and and lots of carefully concocted strategies. 

In my move out here, I let most of it go. My life has become much more simple over this past year, and in the simplicity I am finding freedom. In the deepest simplicity we do indeed find the deepest peace.

The ancient Taoist philosopher, Lao Tzu, taught a very simple yet utterly profound wisdom for encountering the deep peace life has to offer:

Manifest plainness,
Embrace simplicity,
Reduce selfishness,
Have few desires

A stunning little hummingbird is at my garden feeder. His movements are so graceful - the sounds he makes are poetic. He moves from the feeder to the fountain, then swirls around my head as if he is dancing for me. I could sit and watch him all day long. 

I really don't need 700 TV stations and thousands of downloadable movies. 



  1. Paul Kowalewski:

    "In my post today I reflect on the complex and cluttered nature of contemporary life.

    Throughout history, in every spiritual tradition, the teachers always point in one direction: the deepest peace is found in the greatest simplicity - a much-needed wisdom for 21st century living."

  2. Paul - I greatly enjoy your writings. They very much resonate with my own views and experiences. I have no spiritual ancestors as I severed the ties to the very much closed in catholic tradition of my Polish and German family branches, but I do have spiritual teachers and guides, among them Robert Aitken Roshi of Hawaii (where I lived for a while) and the German Catholic Zen Master Willigis Jäger. Both embrace the view of a unified human spirituality, that when digging through the differences and complications we arrive at the same source, no matter what spiritual tradition we originally come from. I find it fascinating that when we open our eyes, we can look at several millenia of spiritual teachings from all continents and cultures that point towards simplicity, humility, letting go, being instead of having, community, kindness. The warnings against greed, thirst, desire, out of control emotions, against being overwhelmed by complications, shallow, hollow distractions - and quite clearly also the warnings against wealth and more concretely money, also resound through the our history. All the troubles we have as a species and as individuals have been thought through and clearly laid out. The answers are on the table. Have been on the table for a very long time. The puppy stretches out, gasping in the first rays of the spring sun. The IQ 140 "Quant" dies a multi millionaire after ten years in in the Hedge Fund rat race, leaving a never used yacht behind but no family of his homes - yet thousands of families who lost their homes. The puppy by any standard can be wiser than even gifted humans. What drives humans? Why are there so few who manage to step out of their emotional river of greed and desires and watch it flow by?

  3. Stefan..what a wonderfully insightful response. So glad you read my writings.