- along a wilderness trail -
This morning I have been thinking about the complicated lives most people lead in today's culture of busyness and constant activity. They get up in the morning - so many tasks to be accomplished as they get ready for the coming day. Then it's off to work or to school where they multi-task all day long while also thinking about the problems they left behind at home, and when they get back home all they can think about is what yet needs to be done at work.
Some people turn to the practice of some sort of spiritual discipline in order to settle down, to calm themselves from the stress of daily living. However, at times, even spiritual practices turn into busy complicated and even stressful activities - get to church or temple, do the complex rituals, lots of thinking and pondering, theological reading, daily prayers or Bible reading that you have to "get in" as part of the discipline. Some people even make a simple task like meditating into a complicated ritual.
In his new book, Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story of a woman who came to him burdened by the problem that no matter how hard she tried, she was unable to mindfully meditate. First of all it was hard to block out a daily period for a time of quiet meditation in her very busy schedule. But more than that, she found it too hard to quietly sit in one place even for 15 minutes, and the fact that she was forcing herself to sit quietly made her anxious. She also confessed that when she attempted to focus on her breathing she found it hard to breathe and the more she tried to "stop thinking," the more thoughts would come to her.
In response, Master Hanh told the woman that maybe she was trying too hard and advised her that instead of forcing herself into practicing a meditation ritual, she might just go for a little walk once in a while and pay attention to what she saw along the way. He suggested that she might look at the flowers, pay attention to how bright the snow is or how green the grass, listen to the sound and experience the sensations of each of your steps as they touch the earth - do this and you are meditating. It's just that simple.
I couldn't agree more.
The older I get the more I come to believe that when it comes to the spiritual journey, "less is more."
I sometimes go to church, occasionally I do some theological reading, sometimes I actually say some formal prayers, but more often than not I just sit quietly or I do a lot of walking every day out here in my desert home.
When I walk along a wilderness trail I don't force anything to happen, I "simply" pay attention to what is happening, and beauty always reveals itself to me, wisdom visits me, a Holy Presence envelops me - in the sights and the sounds and the silence, in the fragrance in the air, in the awareness of my feet touching the earth. It's just that simple.
Henry David Thoreau once said:
Our life is frittered away by detail.
Amen to that!