- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
There is a “trailhead” right across the street from our Desert Retreat House – an entranceway to one of the many paths that lead out into the wilderness. The unique thing about this particular trail entrance is that, while it is always available and never locked, it is also unmarked and somewhat hard to find. You literally have to bend down and squeeze through a bunch of bended trees and bramble bushes in order to get onto the trail. You certainly can’t drive onto it, you can’t even ride a bike onto it. In fact you can barely carry anything other than yourself and maybe a backpack when you use that particular gateway to the wilderness.
I love walking into the wilderness through this path because, once I manage to squeeze through the narrow entrance, I am always rewarded with such a spectacular sight. I get through the entranceway and suddenly find myself in the middle of wilderness paradise- boundless desert terrain, blooming cacti and flowering bushes, purple-stone mountains towering in the distance.
Almost every day I walk through that narrow entrance – it serves as a constant reminder of a core teaching inherent in most of the great wisdom traditions: The way to wisdom, the road into the ‘Kingdom of God, ”is always open to everyone but the entrance to the path is through a narrow gate.
In the Christian Gospels, Jesus teaches his disciples about how to enter “the Kingdom of God,” how to walk through life following his “way” of compassion and generous living. He tells them:
Strive to enter through the narrow gate.
Actually this advice doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you know something about how the city of Jerusalem was built back in the times when Jesus lived.
Back then, there were two entranceways into the city- one was through the main gate through which most everyone traveled. Every day huge crowds would enter the vast metropolis of the Holy City - soldiers on horses clad with armor and weapons of war, temple priests adorned in royal garb, merchants with carts laden down with their wares to be sold in the marketplace.
But there was another entrance into the city, a little-used tiny entranceway. It was always open but kind of obscure and not readily found. This gate was so narrow that only one person at a time could barely squeeze through it, no horses, no armor, no carts full of stuff or purses full of things – all that had to be left behind.
So it is that one enters onto the path of Jesus - by walking through the narrow gate, leaving behind the old bloated self, shedding all the attachments to things and ideas, all the selfish desires for personal grandeur and ambition, all left at the narrow gate.
And when you manage to squeeze through to the other side, having left your old “bloated ego” self behind, you find your new, true self - a self that belongs to everything and to everyone. Greater truth and deeper peace lie on the other side of this entranceway.
The Buddha taught the very same thing to his disciples. He told them that the spiritual path is always available but it is a narrow path that is not often traveled because it means giving up all that the popular culture seems to cherish so dearly. He taught his disciples to unburden themselves of the cravings and desires for the bigger and better, leave behind the need for social status, abandon those obsessive desires for always having the right answers. He taught his disciples to live in the moment, detached from memories of the past, freed from desires for the future.
When you enter though this narrow entrance, you walk through a gateway to enlightenment.
Later on this morning, I will walk out into the wilderness, and once again I will squeeze through that narrow little “trailhead” just outside my house. As I do so I will, as usual, recite a favorite Sufi prayer I have memorized:
The narrow path
The wide outlook
The end in peace!