Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Spirituality of Playfulness

"Fluttering Wings"
-in my meditation garden-

For the past year, the Desert Retreat House has been a "virtual reality" - an online place for people to visit and spend a few moments of reflection and meditation by reading a daily blogpost and sometimes making comments.  

I will continue to write the blog "online," but now I am trying to discern how to expand the Desert Retreat House beyond the social media, into a real-life community of people who gather together face-to-face. 

My hope is that here in the midst of this fiercely beautiful desert we might be able to form some sort of contemplative community grounded in a "desert spirituality" - informed by the teaching of the ancient desert monastics, rooted in the Christian (Anglican/ Episcopal) ethos, deeply sensitive to the wisdom of other religious traditions especially Buddhism.  Interested folks might gather together on some sort of regular basis here in a desert setting for silence, meditation, teaching, praying together, sharing our stories. 

I have been "playing" with this idea of a desert contemplative community for some time now, and more recently I have expanded my thinking to seek the advice of others and to garner the support of the local bishop. The responses of friends, colleagues and local authorities have been wonderfully surprising to me. Not only have I been encouraged to pursue this, but a common theme has been sounded by everyone whom I have approached about this project.  

They have all  counseled me to be "playful" -"try a bunch of stuff, see what works, and learn from what doesn't work" - seek out some creative meeting spaces like gardens and patios that look out at the mountains, shady spots along the wilderness trails. Be flexible on days and times for gatherings, don't be too heavily program-oriented. - "try a bunch of stuff; see what works; and learn from what doesn't work."

This encouragement and permission to be "playful" has really struck a chord with me. 

Like many people in organizational structures, most of my life in previous days was spent on developing carefully planned strategies (especially in proposing new projects).  My head spins when I think about the number of long-range and short-range strategic planning committees I have sat on for the churches and schools I have served over the years. 

There was a five-year plan, a ten-year plan, a business plan, a contingency budget, long lists of goals, mission statements, and expected outcomes. Sometimes these strategies were helpful, most of the time, after five years I would look back at the five-year plan and discover that little if anything of our careful strategies and proposed outcomes ever really came to fruition - it sounded good on paper.  

As I look back at it now, I wonder why we were so afraid of being "playful" - so fearful of trying a bunch of stuff and just seeing what bubbled up. I think maybe it's because no one (myself very much included) wanted to fail or make mistakes.  Failure would be a flaw. Failure would be taken as a sign of incompetency, and so there was little room for playfulness.

Priest and author Richard Rohr wisely observes:

We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right

I think there is a great truth in this. When I am playful and "try a bunch of stuff," there will be lots of failures -many things that won't work. This teaches me that I am not in control - no matter how important I may think I am, I can't make things happen just because "I" want them to happen.  

The more my ego shrinks the farther along I am on the road to enlightenment.

We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right

So I'm in a very playful mood nowadays - scattering lots of seeds on the rich and rocky desert ground out here, then sitting back and seeing what may or may not take root. 

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