Monday, April 27, 2015

A Necessary Virtue

"Silence of the Stars-
- night in the desert- 

I spent the weekend making a rather feeble attempt at honing my photography skills by attending a workshop on taking pictures of the nighttime desert skies.  For me, this experience was a genuine lesson in humility - not just because it made me realize just how little I know about photographic art and how much I have yet to learn, but primarily because it gave me a new appreciation of just exactly what it means to be "humble" on a spiritual journey.

Many people avoid the word "humility" when describing necessary virtues for a spiritual path. The word "humility" is often misunderstood to mean "humiliation."  It is supposed that a humble person is one who thinks of himself as being inferior to others, less than others, and why would anyone want to feel that way about themselves? Perhaps this is why "humility" is one of those spiritual virtues rarely talked about and certainly not desired.

But humility is not the same thing as humiliation. The word "humility" comes from the Latin word "humus," meaning "earth." Some people say that a humble person is "down to earth," actually I think it means more than that. A humble person knows that she is "one-with the earth," a humble person knows that he belongs to the universe. Humility is indeed a necessary virtue on the spiritual path. 

The Buddha taught that the idea of a separated, isolated ego is nothing more than an illusion. All being is "inter-being." and everything (including every single person) is woven together in a dynamic web of interaction. A humble person is one who is enlightened about this eternal truth.

Last weekend, I learned a lesson about humility under the night skies in the desert - there is perhaps no better place on earth to feel so small and yet connected to something so big. I can't imagine how one can stand under the desert stars and feel either self-important or isolated and alone. 

Our photography workshop was conducted in a very remote location in the High Desert region of Joshua Tree National Park. I am already quite familiar with the silence and with the brilliance of the  desert skies at night because I live in a desert, and yet this experience was even more intense over the past weekend. The thundering silence of the night was even more deafening and the brightness of the stars was even more brilliant - breathtaking, transporting and transcendent. 

As I stood in reverential awe under those night skies, I immediately called to mind one of my favorite quotes from the British adventurer, D.H. Lawrence, who spent time exploring the desert wilderness and described his experience of the skies at night:

Stained by the dew, we were shamed into pettiness by the
innumerable silence of the stars.

What a wonderfully apt description of what it feels like to be in the midst of such a vast and uncontrollable wilderness and stand beneath the glowing planets, the stars without number, the infinite array of galaxies all swaying and circling in a cosmic dance.  It really does "shame you into pettiness." For me, the experience was hardly humiliating, but it certainly was humbling. I was such a little speck of dust in the vast scope of it all and yet unimaginably I was also part of it, intimately connected to it. 

Interestingly enough, humility is a virtue that opens the door of greatness to us. 

As I stood out there in that starry-starry night,  I thought about how Jesus always talked about "losing your self in order to find your self."  I was losing my "self" in that desert night and in doing so I was indeed finding myself.

Priest and author, Anthony DeMello says:

To lose the self is to suddenly realize that you are something other
than what you thought you were.
You thought you were the center,
you thought you were the dancer
you now experience yourself as the dance.

None of us is a dancer, we are all the great cosmic dance -  and the name of that dance is "God."

Listen to my podcast" 'Desert Wisdom"

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