Sunday, March 22, 2015

Observations on the Path

"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. 


  1. I've noticed this phenomenon sometimes when I go out with my camera. Last week I went out deliberately to take photographs of the Sea Lions that have commandeered the mooring basin. I got a lot of video and still shots but the one picture I took has moved me to no end.

    I met a man named Joseph. Joseph was living in what amounts to a dog house on wheels. I later learned that these little houses are built and given to the homeless to help them get out of the weather. Joseph shared his domicile with two cats. His little house had a thick foam pad.

    Providentially I had withdrawn $10 from my bank account to buy breakfast with. I had debated with myself whether or not to simply use my card to pay for it but decided it would be better to have something in my pocket as well. I spent $5 on a cup of overpriced coffee and a cranberry muffin which left me with $5.

    I saw a woman place two bags of food next to his little house as he was inside sleeping. I went to sit by the river and photograph the sea lions. When I returned Joseph was sitting in the opening of his little house. I spoke to him and we talked a little bit. He was a pleasant man I can't begin to guess his age, but he was not old and he was not young. I remembered the $5 I had and gave it to him. I asked if I could take his picture and he readily agreed. I have it on my desktop now and it moves me to tears every time I turn the computer on.

    I had a similar experience earlier in the week at the bus stop. I wrote about that in my blog in a post titled "Ye Have Done It Unto Me". It can be read here.

    These two experiences have focused my attention and my plan now is to see what can be done to help the homeless and transients.

    1. so many wonderful revelations along the way