Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Frantic Pace of Life

"Savoring the Moment"
- Stunning Sunset at the Desert Retreat House -

The desert where I live is usually one of the most peaceful and tranquil places on earth. In fact, that's the reason so many people come here - to engage the silence and the solitude of a desert landscape. The problem is that,  at this time of year,  there isn't much silence and not a lot of tranquility to be found out here. 

The entire Coachella Valley desert is a beehive of activity in these months of the "vacation season."  Our population more than doubles with tourists who come here to  "get away from it all," and to escape the harsh winter snow and bitter cold of the places where they live. And this is one of the busiest weekends of the season with more than 10 different fairs or festivals for people to attend- art festivals, a county fair, a bicycle race- so many things to do, so many places for a tourist to visit while here on vacation.  

Usually I am not all that affected by the number of tourists in town; however, yesterday I found the frantic pace of frenetic activity to be kind of oppressive. Everywhere I went people seemed to be rushing around -  I sat in a coffee house and the couples at the table next to me were busily studying brochures and making lists of the events they planned on attending this weekend. At the supermarket people were asking the cashier for advice about what they should go to see while staying out here. The local highways were crammed with stop-and-go  traffic, and at times I thought I was back in L.A.

My wife and I decided to go to one of our favorite restaurants for lunch yesterday - a very pleasant  outdoor cafe with tables set under the shade of tall magnificent date palm trees. When we almost couldn't find a place to park we knew we were in trouble but it got worse as we walked up to the entranceway of the restaurant and were almost pushed out of the way by a mom tugging at her daughter and urging her to "hurry up" so that they could be at the head of the line of people waiting for a table. 

Needless to say we decided to find some other place for lunch - an "out of the way" place we knew would be well off the tourist grid,  and when we got to the restaurant we both looked at each other and breathed a collective sigh of relief - so glad to be out of the hectic pace, far away from all those frantic people on vacation. 

It was then I was struck by the irony of it all. Don't people come out here to change the pace of life, to rest and relax, to escape from the "rat race?"  I learned an important lesson - finding peace and rest may be helped by geography, but certainly isn't guaranteed by it. 

It made me wonder if all those people who came here to escape from the "rat race" didn't in fact bring the "rat race" along with them? You can go on a vacation and escape from the ice and cold back home, but you can never escape from your mind.. 

In his book, Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

We are always running, running, running, even in our sleep we are running...we cannot enjoy life if we spend all our time and energy worrying about what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow.

In everyday life we are always looking for the 'right' conditions that we don't yet have to make us happy and we ignore what is happening right in front of us. We wait and hope for that magical moment - always sometime in the future -when everything will be as we want it to be, forgetting that life is available only in the present moment.

After lunch yesterday my wife and I made our way back home, sat quietly in the shade and read a book. Then as evening approached we went out onto our patio, sipped a glass of wine, and reverently watched a stunning sunset - the desert sky was painted in glorious shades of amber, purple and rose and the entire valley glowed in a mystic light. 

Life is available only in the present moment 









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