Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Totally Unexpected

"Black with Clouds"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

Yesterday morning as I sat at my desk, a rather "apocalyptic" event took place out here in the desert. Most of the time it's blue skies and brilliant sun, but yesterday in a matter of minutes those skies filled up with ominous black clouds - so dark that it felt like night had descended. And then just as suddenly, the skies opened up drenching the dry desert earth in a torrential downpour that went on for about an hour. 

The emergency broadcast systems kicked in warning people of an imminent flash-flood, advising everyone to keep clear of the rushing waters - people were stranded in their cars, roads were impassable and homes were flooded.

At first I must admit that I was frightened by what was going on. "This isn't supposed to happen," I thought to myself.  The barren dry desert had suddenly turned into a rushing river and this was so totally unexpected that it was scary. Everything felt so "out of control" as the flood waters got dangerously close to my front door and a leak began to develop in my roof.  I felt like closing my eyes and sort of wishing it all away, hoping things would all just get back to normal -the beautiful skies and brilliant sun once again.

Then it came to me - life is like that. You can never predict what is going to happen in the future and nothing is ever "under control. "In fact, the more I thought about it, I realized that every single moment of every single day is always "totally unexpected." One day may look the same as the other but it never is. 

I think the Buddhists are right when they talk about the "impermanence" of life. Everything IS constant change, everything and everyone always "becoming" something else. When you expect the things of everyday ordinary life to stay the same, you always miss what "is." 

Something Eckart Tolle once said comes to mind:

Always say yes to the present moment.
What could be more futile, more insane than to create inner resistance to what already is?
Say yes to life and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.

As the heavens opened up yesterday and the skies turned black, I was reminded of my spiritual ancestors, those 4th century Desert Mothers and Fathers who lived their everyday lives intentionally grounded in the present moment. They lived every day guided by the principle of "paying attention" to what is rather than looking for what they expected. They told one another:

When you are alone praying or meditating, pay attention. When you are working in the fields, pay attention. When you are sharing meals with your fellow monks or welcoming guests, pay attention.  When you feel strong and healthy, pay attention. When the heat of the desert day bakes you to the bone, pay attention. When the morning sun is brilliant and the stars of night blind you with their blazing light, and when the skies turn black with clouds, thunder rolls, rain is pelting the earth and mud is sliding off the mountains, pay attention.

When we pay attention to what is rather than what we expect it to be, life is always filled with surprises.  

Yesterday after the rains subsided, people in the neighborhood began to emerge from their homes, many, like me, walking out onto desert trails to see what a flash-flood looks like in a dry barren wilderness.  It was actually a wonder to behold. 

The rains brought a refreshing coolness to the late summer air, everything just smelled so fresh.  Even  the dried-out desert trees and bushes looked green and renewed. A stream of rushing water was flowing through a gulch; and people with children in hand and dogs at their sides were kidding each other, laughing and snapping pictures of this "totally unexpected" phenomenon of a river flowing in the wilderness. 

Say yes to life and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you. 







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