"Before the Bloom"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
The other day I had a conversation with someone who told me that for the past 20 years he has been meditating every day and he has never before felt as spiritually dry as he does now. Every day he sits quietly, mindfully meditates, sometimes tries to pray, but he feels nothing- only boredom and dryness. He asked me if I had any thoughts about his predicament and my immediate response was, "Maybe you are at the threshold of some new spiritual growth in your life - just keep at it."
In his book, Bread for the Journey, Priest and author, Henri Nouwen, once offered this wise piece of advice:
It is a great grace to experience God's presence,
but when we don't experience this presence it doesn't mean that God is absent.
It often means that we are being called to go deeper in our spiritual life.
It is precisely in times of dryness that we must hold onto our spiritual discipline
so that we can grow into new intimacy with God.
We live in a culture of "instant gratification." We take a pill and expect the sickness to go away, press a button on a computer and all the answers are there, so my guess is that we may expect the same thing to happen on a spiritual quest in our lives. We expect that times of prayer, meditation or solitude should yield instant results - noble feelings, mystical experiences of transcendence into thin places. And while this does happen from time to time, there are many times when we may feel more absence than presence along the "way."
So I think Henri Nouwen gives some wise advice when he suggests that in times of dryness just keep doing what you have been doing. Keep on mediating, keep praying, keep going to church or a mosque or a temple or whatever it is that you do as a spiritual discipline. The dry times are often holy times when we are at a threshold of new growth and new life.
The desert in which I live is a great place to learn something about spiritual dryness - endless miles of dry sand and rocky stone and rarely a rainy day. I look out onto the dry parched land and wonder how it is even possible for palm trees to grow there or bushes to blossom. And yet just beneath the surface of this arid desert land, a great underground aquifer flows, springs of life-giving water flow.
Every once in a while, especially in springtime, I will walk out onto the desert floor and to my delight discover that the parched wilderness has gone into bloom overnight - spring flowers bursting out everywhere, blossoms on trees that seemed long-dead. When that happens, of course, it's a mystical moment, a thin place moment filled with a sense of Holy Presence.
But, of course, the desert doesn't bloom every day. In fact for the most part it's all pretty dry. So I just learn to embrace the dryness knowing that I am standing on a stream of living water.
Almost every day I recite one of my favorite Buddha teachings as a mantra to begin my day:
Meditate. Live purely. Be quiet.
Do your work with mastery.
Wise advice for the good times as well as the bad times, the lush times as well as the dry times.
So I just "keep on keepin' on."