"A Living Desert"
A few days ago I came upon some recent scientific research that offered me a deep spiritual insight.
A whole new avenue of physiological research is now focusing on the science of "smell" in human beings. Until only a few years ago "smelling" was considered to be confined to olfactory receptors in the nose, but scientists now have discovered that human beings have olfactory receptors throughout our entire bodies. In fact we have almost 400 olfactory receptors - in the heart, the kidneys, brain, colon, all over every part of the skin.
Furthermore it has been determined that various fragrances can actually "heal" sicknesses in humans - researchers and physicians are exploring the use of various odors in the treatment and diagnosis of disease - prostate cancer in men has been arrested by smelling violets and roses.
Upon reading this very interesting new research I had a fresh new understanding of some of my heightened spiritual experiences when I walk the wilderness trails outside the Desert Retreat House.
One might not imagine a desert to be a very fragrant place - not so. Desert bushes, fragrant herbs, grasses, lavender and sage- the smells are quite abundant and also quite exotic. Yesterday, while walking one of the trails, I was overcome with the sweet smell of intoxicating fragrances - but it was more than odors my nose was smelling, my entire body was tingling with sensations and my spirit was uplifted. I think I may now understand why. Those fragrances of Mother Earth were flowing in and through all my hundreds of "olfactory receptors," heightening my awareness of the world of nature, teaching me that everything and everyone is web of relationship. All the many are the "One."
When I was growing up I was taught that my senses needed to be tamed or I would fall into sin. I was warned that the flesh was an obstacle to the spirit and an enemy of "God." But I have now come to see that the opposite is true.
A spiritual journey of any sort is always a journey of relationships - forming relationships, growing relationships, healing relationships. "God" is not a distant, separated, super-person in the sky; "God" is the energy flowing in and through everything that is. "God" is the "One" in the many. But, without our senses we cannot be in relationship. Our senses pull us out of our isolated selves- our senses are the threshold into "God."
We all breathe the same air; we feel another's presence when we are touched and embraced; we see the stars at night blazing in the cosmos and know that we are part of something bigger; we are connected to one another by tasting food while eating a common meal; and our entire body smells the fragrances of life, connecting us to all that "is."
The senses are not the enemy of the spirit- the senses are the vehicles of the spirit. All spirituality is deeply sensuous.
People often limit their understanding of spiritual practice to the time they may spend in church or while engaging in a period of mindful meditation. I think any practice of "paying attention" to what our senses are experiencing is, in fact, a spiritual practice.
The smell of coffee in the morning, the fragrance of a glass of wine at an evening meal or the scent of lavender while walking on a trail is as much a prayer as the words we might say in a church.