- at the Desert Retreat House -
Almost every evening I watch our local TV news, not so much for the information or the weather report, but because I find the commercials aired at that time to be so entertaining.
There is a significant “aging” population living out here in these desert communities, and so many of the local TV commercials feature various local physicians advertising assorted “age-reducing” pills, elixirs or cosmetic surgeries. Yesterday as I watched TV I heard one particular physician inviting the TV audience to seek out his “expert advice.” He went on to say, “I guarantee we will make you look 10 years younger.”
Unfortunately, I have seen many people who have sought out various forms of “expert advice” from some of these cosmetic surgeons – some came out of it looking pretty good, some came out looking even older, and for others, their faces were so distorted that they didn’t even look like themselves after the surgery. In any case there are certainly never any “guarantees.”
I’ve been thinking about the fallacy as well as the inherent danger in relying too heavily upon “expert advice.” In my own experience, some of the most unproductive meetings I have ever attended were those in which various “experts” gathered together to solve problems—meetings of university faculty, conventions of ordained clergy and religious leaders, all experts in their own right. In many cases in these meetings of “experts,” each person was quite sure that, because of their may years of education and experience, they were on the “right” track and had found the “right” way.
Interestingly enough, in the Buddhist literature, the goal of the path of wisdom is to become a “beginner” rather than an “expert.” A characteristic of mature wisdom is a “Beginner’s Mind.”
One Zen master put it this way:
If your mind is empty it is always ready for anything.
It is open to everything.
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities,
but in the expert’s mind there are few.
In many ways I think Jesus was a Zen-style teacher. He sat little children on his knee and told his followers that, if they wanted to find deeper truth and greater wisdom, they should become like these innocent little ones – wide open hearts and uncluttered minds that aren’t already “made up.”
Throughout most of my life I was the “expert” - an expert in theology, an expert in the meaning of the Bible, an expert in all things having to do with church or religion. But, in a very real sense my expertise limited me, it gave me a rather narrow understanding of the bigger picture – blinders to seriously considering other paths of truth.
It wasn’t until the later years of my life that I realized I didn’t want to be an expert anymore, and when I did this, the world seemed to get a lot bigger for me.
Nowadays I often find myself reading a book or a poem or a passage of a scripture that I may I have read many times before and it is as if I am seeing it again for the first time. Or I sit out in my garden in the same place every morning - the same chair, looking at that same fountain, the same palm trees, the same sun rising over those same mountains, and I have a sudden “flash of insight.” I am seeing it all fresh and new, seeing it for the first time.
If anything, the spiritual journey is paradoxical. In order to be further along the path of wisdom you have to become a beginner again. When you follow a spiritual path, the more mature you are, the more you must become like a little child, and the higher up you go on the ladder of wisdom, the less you know. Every day, the journey begins anew, every moment filled with the fresh new possibilities and surprises each moment has to offer.
As I sit in my garden yet again this day on yet another morning in the desert, one more Zen saying comes to mind:
Treat each moment as your last.
It is not a preparation for something else.