- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
Every evening around dinner time, one of our TV stations regularly airs a commercial that never ceases to bring a smile to my face. It is an advertisement by a local doctor promising to help you get rid of all those unwanted pounds by using some newly developed laser surgery techniques - no dieting and no exercise necessary. The commercial features testimony from some satisfied (and now-slim) clients who claim to have gone to the doctor, then just sat back and "watched the pounds melt away."
I suppose this might offer a nice alternative to the hard work of going to a gym every day or watching out for all those extra carbs and calories - the problem is of course that life is rarely that easy and all those extra pounds never simply melt away.
I find this commercial quite entertaining because it is so very iconic of the culture of "instant gratification" in which we live. Take a pill, press a key on the computer, Google an answer, and "presto" you get what you need - "no muss, no fuss."
In today's culture it comes as no surprise to me that so many people also approach the spiritual journey with the same mindset as someone who goes to a doctor, sits back, watches and then expects the extra pounds to melt away. Many people go to church, say a few prayers, meditate on a mat, read a few books, engage in some random acts of kindness, and then sit back and expect enlightenment and awakening, truth and wisdom to happen. But, like all the rest of life, it is never that easy.
Jesus compares the spiritual path to a "hard to travel," narrow road that goes against the grain of popular culture, the Buddha talks about the many stages of awareness on a long road of enlightenment, mystics and poets like St John of the Cross liken the spiritual journey to an arduous climb up a long ladder- the higher up you get, the less you know what you are doing and where you are going.
The road to deeper peace and greater truth is a road in the wilderness - a wonderful adventure along an unmarked and often bumpy path.
I am reminded of something the Psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck, once said:
Life is difficult...
and once we try know that life is difficult, life is no longer difficult.
Life becomes a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.
For me, there are some days when I feel like I have made some great progress along the winding road of wisdom, days when I feel like the distance between my humanity and abiding divinity is as thin as a mere veil - and there are other days when the space is very thick. There are some days when I feel I have been drawn out of myself, connected, and belonging, while there are other days when I feel alone and locked inside my ego. There are some days when I am kind and generous and there are other days when I am selfish and sullen.
On my journey there are times when I feel like I have taken two steps forward on this winding path, and then the next day it's a step backward; and yet, now in my later years of life I have come to see that all of this is OK.
Since I know that life is difficult, it doesn't actually seem that difficult. My spiritual journey is not a task to be accomplished, not a problem to be solved. It is a mystery to be lived - so I just go with the flow.
I love the homespun wit and humor Anne Lamott brings to her understanding of the wilderness path:
The road to enlightenment is long and difficult
so you should try not to forget to bring snacks and magazines.
The way to truth is never quick and easy but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy it along the way.
Listen to my podcast:"Desert Wisdom"