- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
A couple days ago it rained in the desert. So when I went out for my regular "wilderness walk" yesterday, to my great delight I discovered that the rain woke the desert up. The bushes were turning green and the first blossoms of spring were appearing - it was such a pristine and exhilarating sight.
As I walked along the trail taking in the fresh smells of early spring, I saw a young man in the distance - quietly sitting alone on top of a rock looking out at the vast wilderness. Lots of people come out into the wilderness to sit on rocks, to do some serious soul searching, to find themselves, to discover who they really are. In my heart I wished that young man well in his soul-searching quest.
When I got back to my house yesterday I came across this enlightening passage from Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh's, new book, Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise:
When you ask the question, 'Who am I?' -- if you have enough time and concentration, you may find some surprising answers. You may see that you are a continuation of your ancestors who are fully present in every cell of your body. If you remove your ancestors and your parents there is no 'you' left.
You may also see that you are made of elements like water. If you remove the water from you, there is no 'you' left. You are also made of earth. If you remove the element of earth from you, there is no 'you' left. You are made of air - you need air desperately; without air you cannot survive. So if you remove the element of air from you, there is no 'you.' And then there is the element of heat and light in you. You know that you are made of light, without sunlight nothing can grow on earth. And you know that the earth, as well as yourself, is made of stars. On a clear night you can look up and you can see that you are the stars above.
You don't have a separate self. You're not just the tiny body you normally may think of as 'yourself.'
As I read and re-read this wonderful piece of wisdom, I thought about that young man sitting on the rock out in the wilderness, perhaps asking that question, "Who am I?" I half thought about making a copy of this passage and taking it to him.
Lots of times when people ask the "who am I?" question they come up with some pretty small and often myopic answers. They focus on their tiny body or see themselves as isolated individuals - defining themselves by their jobs, careers, or roles they play in life. Sometimes they answer the question by thinking about their inmost thoughts or deepest secrets.
But the answer to the question, "Who am I?" is far more than that one little story we may tell ourselves about who we really are - the answer to that question is cosmic.
I am my relationships. I am water. I am earth. I am the air I breathe. I am sunlight and I am stars.
This is who I really am.