Saturday, October 11, 2014


"On the Road to Wisdom"
-Outside the Desert Retreat House-

Now that the weather is cooling down a bit, I decided to spend yesterday morning out on some of the wilderness trails in the hope of taking some new pictures. So, camera in hand, I trekked along the desert floor, up into the mountains looking for that perfect picture I had in mind- an icon of wilderness beauty.  

Unfortunately I wasn't having much success on my picture-taking quest, hard as I tried, I just couldn't seem to find the scene that I was looking for; and the harder I tried the more that "perfect picture" evaded me. 

On the way home as I was walking on a street in my neighborhood, I looked up and noticed that I was standing directly in front of a "stop" sign near my house. It was as if the universe had somehow swooped down, stared me in the face, and reminded me of a lesson I thought I had already learned: you never find beauty by earnestly looking for it. All you need is an open mind and an open heart, awake in the moment, and beauty will come to you. 

On the way to wisdom, you simply "stop" on the road, watch and wait for whatever may come along.    

Lots of people come out into the silence of the desert for various kinds of spiritual retreats. Many people come out here to earnestly engage in some serious "soul-searching,"-  on a quest to find a deeper inner truth, a greater wisdom, looking for meaning in life, looking for "God." 

Oftentimes people will arrive here armed with books, filled with ideas about what they are looking for, ready to say lots of prayers. I am sometimes asked if I have any suggestions as to how this wilderness soul-searching task might best be accomplished, and I usually tell them to "go find a shady place and rest." 

The Quaker teacher and author, Parker Palmer, had this to say about the journey of the soul:

The human soul is essentially shy - just like a wild animal. It will flee from the crowd and seek safety in the deep underbrush.  If we want to see a wild animal we know that the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out!

But if we walk quietly into the wilderness and sit at the base of a tree, breathing with the earth and fading into our surroundings, the wild creature we seek will eventually show up.

The Buddha did nothing but sit and watch and wait under a Bodhi tree for 40 days, and he became enlightened. Jesus did the same thing by sitting in silence alone in the wilderness for 40 days. If we stop, watch and wait on the road to wisdom, the soul will eventually peak out of the deep underbrush where it's been hiding all along.  

Standing in front of a "stop"sign yesterday, I remembered one of my favorites Zen sayings:

When you look for the 'way,' you become further from it.
When you seek the 'way' you turn away from it all the more.

It's another "beauty-filled" Autumn day out here in the desert. I think I will take my camera and go out again into the wilderness. Only this time, I'm going to find a palm tree and just sit under it for a while, waiting and watching for whatever might show up.  

"Surprise me!" is my prayer.


  1. Paul, this is a big lesson to learn. the little brain often wants to tell the BIG BRAIN what it wants and how to do it. I'm discovering this lesson of yours day by day myself. I liked that picture too.

    1. Thans Dave--yes this really is at the crux of the pursuit of wisdom. That picture pretty much too itself

    2. Yup. The picture speaks. I liked it as soon as I saw it and your thoughts along with it were potent too.