Thursday, March 12, 2015

An Enduring Truth

- At the Desert Retreat House -

This morning's New York Times featured an article about Slab City, California. Before I moved out here to the desert I had no idea what this place was all about, now I am quite familiar with it. Located only about an hour from where I live, Slab City is probably one of the most desolate places on earth and yet it brims with life. 

Almost 1000 people make their home at Slab City, setting up tents, rolling up there RV's or trailers onto stone concrete slabs-all that remains of an abandoned WWII military training ground.  No city or town is remotely close to this desolate desert wasteland, no permanent homes, no electric lines, no sewers, no taxes and no rules other than the golden rule - treat others like you would like to be treated yourself. 

This place is about as far off the grid as you can get, and the people who live there want it to stay that way since most of the residents have all moved out there in order to escape from a society they left behind.

Some might think of the residents of Slab City as a bunch of losers and misfits - some are drug addicts, some have moved there because they were evicted from their homes or they lost their jobs or suffered a divorce. Many people who live there have pretty much "hit rock bottom" in their lives; yet the people who live there have somehow tapped into a deeper and more enduring truth about life: they seemed to have found one another. 

Since most of the people who live on the slabs have little or nothing to hold onto in life, no one is out to prove themselves - to outdo one another in importance. Everyone seems to take care of one another, no one ever goes hungry, lots of shared meals and common gatherings. Maybe those folks aren't such losers after all. 

In this morning's paper a resident who had moved out to Slab City from Chicago five years ago after having lost her home and job told the New York Times: 

This is the only place I have ever lived where I feel like I belong

It seems to me that this woman may have lost everything but found the hidden treasure that life has to offer: all that really counts in life is to be in a place where you feel like you belong  -  this is an enduring truth.

The priest and author Richard Rohr once observed:

Before 800 BC,  the thinking on the whole planet, no matter the continent,
was invariably tribal, cosmic, mythic.
Simply by watching the sky, birds, and trees, the seasons, darkness and light,
people knew they belonged.
They lived in an inherently enchanted universe where everything belonged
including themselves.

I have often said that maybe those primitive peoples weren't so primitive after all- maybe they had discovered something in life that we, in our sophistication, might all yet hope to find. 

It seems to me that the existential dilemma faced by so many people living within the confines and norms of today's contemporary culture is that they have lost that ultimate sense of belonging. Many people hardly even go outdoors except to drive to work, to school or to go inside a mall.  How can they possibly feel that they are connected to and belong to a cosmic world of nature?  Many live within the confines of their own world of self-centered needs, struggling up the ladder of success, often stepping on one another in the process, while clinging to all the stuff they have accumulated. 

Lots of people "have it all," except they don't have each other, and belonging to one another is all that really counts.

I don't suspect my wife and I have any thought of moving out to Slab City some day, but life out on the slabs sure does teach me one of those "meaning of life" lessons: In the end true happiness comes from being in a place in life where you are vulnerable enough to be pulled out of your own protective ego and you feel like you belong - this is an enduring truth. 

Listen to my podcast; "Desert Wisdom"

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