Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Fragile Ecosystem

"Hostile to the Ego"

I just finished reading an article about how a desert (like the one where my wife and I live) is a fragile ecosystem, and I was struck by a flash of insight that perhaps this is why the desert is considered by many to be such a spiritual place.

Environmental scientists tell us that in a fragile ecosystem, even the smallest changes in temperature, amounts of water, sunshine, wind velocity, and a host of other environmental factors have a significant impact on the entire system.  This is true because, in a fragile ecosystem, everything in the system is profoundly interdependent. Everything belongs together - no one single element stands out in importance, every single element is as important as the other.

We have lived our here in a desert for around three years now and every day I come to realize more and more that I live in a deeply spiritual environment- a place that constantly teaches me something of the wonderful interdependent frailty of all life.

When you walk out into a desert, at first glance it seems like there is nothing here but endless horizons of dry sand and piles of rocks; and yet this is a place that is literally teeming with life, most of which is hidden from and practically invisible to the first glance of the naked eye.

The desert is replete with living creatures of every sort and type- roadrunners and rabbits, hummingbirds and bats, snakes, bees and lizards; and yes, there are people here also.  The desert floor is covered with seeds and tiny flowers, bushes, trees and cacti that will blossom overnight with just a sprinkling of rain. The morning sun, the blazing skies of night, the wind howling through the canyons- everything swings and sways together in a vast and breathtakingly beautiful cosmic dance.  

One of the books I’ve read on desert spirituality explains something of why a desert is such a spiritual place:

Deserts confront us with a vast horizontal edge,
a horizon of emptiness in which we find ourselves absorbed and lost.
The desert is intrinsically hostile to the ego.

This is indeed the spiritual lesson the desert teaches – it is a place that is hostile to the ego.   
This fragile ecosystem teaches an enduring spiritual truth: nothing and no one stands out as being more important or more valuable than anyone or anything else- life is sustained and thrives only in a climate of mutual interdependence.

It seems to me that the entire cosmos is indeed a fragile ecosystem.

The author and poet, Akko Bush, has suggested that the spiritual journey is a process of learning how to become invisible:

Becoming invisible doesn’t mean that we deny creative individuality,
nor does it mean that we must relinquish any of the qualities
that make us unique, original, singular.
Rather becoming invisible is an insight that we are of a larger world,
giving us fuller appreciation for our place in the greater scheme of things.

The desert is a place where I am learning how to become more and more invisible – such an important lesson to learn in these later years of my life. I am learning that I don’t have to stand out to find happiness, I don’t have to prove my importance in order to experience esteem, I don’t need to perform every day as if I am an actor on a stage seeking the applause of the audience.

The more invisible I become the more do I realize just how valuable I really am.


  1. Beautifully put. And I guess it brings such equanimity. I'm only just beginning to realise some of this...noticing when my ego is getting involved. Like when it gets puffed up with praise, knocked down by criticism, or wanting my opinions or ideas to be right or first or unique. All to boost my ego and feelings of self worth. Whereas echoing what you are saying (I think?) we can take the ego out of it, we are already valuable. Thank you xx