"Along the Way"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
I have always considered myself to be somewhat of a "people watcher." I often go into a coffee shop or a mall or just sit on a park bench and observe, becoming something like an anthropologist who goes into a foreign country and watches the behaviors of the native inhabitants in order to understand their culture.
The other day I decided to do some serious people-watching while walking along one of the wilderness trails just outside my house. For me, these "observations on the path" are incredibly insightful about how we walk our everyday journey of life and travel along a path of faith and wisdom.
The first person I encountered along the way was a racing biker. He was speeding along so fast on his bicycle that he almost knocked me down as he whizzed by me. I noticed that he occasionally looked at his watch and it seemed obvious that he had some serious goals to meet - perhaps intending to set some kind of record time.
The next person to come along was a runner who also seemed very serious and pretty intense. She had earphones plugged into her ears, no doubt making the run a bit easier to endure. I imagined that she was listening to music or perhaps tuning into a lecture or maybe a work related memo or report. Anyhow, she took no notice of me whatsoever as she quickly passed me by.
Then there was the mom pushing a baby stroller, also equipped with earphones plugged into her iPhone endlessly chatting with someone on the other end of the call as she walked along the way. She was pretty loud and I heard all the intimate details about an upcoming lunch date.
And then the serious hikers came along, equipped with backpacks, water bottles strapped to their sides. One of the hikers was carrying a GPS device that demanded his sole attention as he plotted their hike, sure not to get lost on the path to their desired destination. Once again, they never even looked my way as they walked by.
Then at long last someone finally came by who actually seemed to be enjoying the stunningly beautiful spring day in the desert - no distracting devices, no maps demanding attention or speed challenges to attain, just a walk in the wilderness. As she passed me by, this latest traveler actually stopped and smiled, the first person to look at me, and she said "wow what a beautiful day- it all smells so fresh doesn't it?"
She was right - it was indeed "so beautiful" on that path, and it did smell so very fresh and so pristine - crystal blue skies, spring blossoms, scents of lavender and sage, a gentle breeze blowing off the mountains through the trees. But all the others had missed it - too many distractions, so many plans, so many goals to accomplish, so much to do that they had missed it all.
At one time or another in my life I have actually been all those people I observed along the path. I have set my eyes on my career and with eyes straight ahead set my life course toward accomplishing those goals that I had set for myself. I have been inordinately distracted by the busyness of my life. I have walked a spiritual journey armed with my books and my bibles and dressed in my vestments on a path earnestly pursuing the truth about God.
But now I realize that walking on a spiritual path is never a journey with a destination - rather it is a walk in the wilderness. In fact on a spiritual journey whatever destination you may have in mind almost always gets in the way of finding truth, wisdom, and Holy Presence - always revealed in the moment as you walk along the way.
In one simple sentence, my favorite Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, teaches me almost anything I ever need to hear about a journey through life and a path toward "God."
Walk as if your feet are kissing the earth
I have a library full of theology books and have pursued a lifelong career of living a life in the church; however to me, this one little sentence is really all I ever need to guide me on my way.
With each step I take I arrive at my destination, and wherever my feet come down is sacred space to be revered and holy ground to be reverenced with a kiss.