- At the Desert Retreat House-
The desert where I live is a place that is always full of surprises. Yesterday was an unusually gray and even rainy sort of day, there were even a few thunderstorms in the air; and so I basically stayed indoors. But, as the evening shadows lengthened and the skies got darker my house was suddenly filled with a radiant, even a bit frightening “other-worldly” light. I felt compelled to go outside and see what was going on.
As I stood outside and looked out onto the desert wilderness, the dark clouds in the evening skies looked as if they had caught on fire, brilliant with the crimson gold rays of a setting sun – the whole cosmos was ablaze and I along with everything else around me belonged to it all. It was an awesome experience of transcendence.
A while back, the New York Times featured a wonderfully insightful article about how each and every single one of us is deeply and intimately connected to the universe, a connection so profound that it goes beyond the scope of our limited minds, even beyond our wildest imaginations:
The iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones and the oxygen we breathe
are the physical remains, the ashes, the dust of stars
that lived and died long ago.
Since most of us are confined to a narrow strip near earth’s surface,
we tend to think of the cosmos as a lofty inaccessible realm
far beyond reach and relevance.
We forget that only a thin sliver of atmosphere
separates us from the entire universe.
As I stood beneath those flaming desert skies last evening I was separated from the entire cosmos by the thinnest of veils.
Our early human ancestors looked up at the skies and were “humble” enough to surrender to the mystery of it all, allowing themselves to be transported into transcendence, to experience themselves as greater than their own isolated individual self. In our contemporary and supposedly sophisticated culture we try to explain the mystery rather than experience it.
The word humility carries a rather negative connotation in today’s popular culture, humility is often confused with humiliation. But as I see it, humility is a necessary virtue on any spiritual path. Humble people understand that they are little more than a tiny speck in the cosmos and at the same time they intimately belong to the entire universe.
Jesus often talks about losing one’s false self in order to find one’s true self. The Buddha teaches a similar wisdom when he says that the individual, separated ego is nothing more than a false illusion, it is a false self because all being is interbeing - everything and everyone is a dynamic web of interconnection.
Jesuit priest and author, Anthony DeMello, puts it this way:
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.
Yesterday evening I went outside to observe what was happening thinking I was the dancer and I suddenly discovered I was the dance.
Many may think that you need to live in a wonderfully mystical place like a desert to participate in such an awesome, transcendent experience as what happened to me last evening. But the truth is that each and every one us is constantly being pulled out of our isolation, pulled into transcendence, pulled into the awareness that none of us are dancers, we are all the dance.
It’s just a matter of letting go of our tight grip on life and then letting all the surprises happen.
The Sufi poet, Rumi, writes this:
The whole universe exists inside you.
God writes spiritual mysteries on our heart,
where they wait silently for discovery.