Just outside our front door lies a beautiful desert wilderness –untamed, uninhabited and uncharted; yet if I get in my car and drive a relatively short distance I can be in an area of this region that is dotted with man-made golf courses and gated communities with manicured lawns and sprawling million-dollar mansions.
I drive by these gated communities almost every day. They are mighty fortresses, surrounded by high walls and protected by guards at the gates to keep out the “riff-raff” - a monumental tribute to having achieved the “American Dream,” a testimony to upward mobility.
The curious thing about these million dollar estates is that, in many ways the high walls and guards at the gate often make these gated communities appear more like a prison than a resort; and whenever I drive by these estates I am constantly reminded about the prisons in which so many of us choose to keep ourselves locked away, trapped within our obsessive desire for upward mobility in today’s popular culture.
Many people find themselves prisoners within the walls of their own protected egos, surrounded by like-minded people who all tell one another that we will find perfect freedom through our ambitious efforts at climbing the proverbial ladder of success, and that the secret to happiness is to acquire and cling to as much as you can in this life.
Unfortunately this path toward upward mobility is often a very slippery slope, usually leading to a dead-end in life.
It’s not at all surprising to me that virtually every spiritual journey leads people in an opposite direction to the path of upward mobility - away from the guarded gates of life and into the wilderness places. True freedom is found when we don’t cling so tightly or guard our lives too selfishly. We find our true self when we give our self away for the good of others.
Priest and author, Richard Rohr observes a great paradox on the spiritual journey: In his provocatively titled book, Falling Upward, Rohr provides an iconic image of the spiritual journey. On this journey we fall rather than climb, we walk in a direction of downward mobility in order to ascend higher on the path: Rohr writes:
Authentic spirituality on some level and in some ways
always involves letting go.
Once we see what is trapping us and keeping us from freedom,
we should see the need to let it go.
But in a consumer society most of us have had no training in that direction.
We are told, instead, that more is supposed to be better.
True liberation is letting go of our false self, letting go of our cultural biases.
Freedom is letting go of obsessively wanting more and better things,
and letting go of our fear of loss and death.
Freedom is letting go of our need to control and manipulate God and others,
it is even letting go of our need to always be right.
As I reflect on this path of Falling Upward I am also reminded of a very similar teaching of the Dalai Lama who laments the suffering we human beings bring upon ourselves by keeping ourselves locked up and trapped within the prisons of our compulsion toward upward mobility:
Human beings sacrifice their health in order to make money.
Then they sacrifice money to recuperate their health.
And then they are so anxious about the future
that they do not enjoy the present.
The result being that they do not live in the present or the future;
they live as if they are never going to die,
and then die having never really lived.
This morning as a new day and a new week begin out here in the wilderness, I am thinking about all those infamous gated communities not that far from where I live. I choose to stay here in the wilderness. I pray every day that I may be given the grace of falling upward.