Sunday, January 10, 2016

Looking for the Way

"Snow in the Mountains"
- At the Desert Retreat House-

This morning when I woke up I thought about the millions of people all across the globe who will be out looking for “God” this weekend – off to churches, synagogues, temples and mosques, searching for meaning, looking for truth, trying to find a “way” in the confusion and chaos of life.  

Because I live in a desert I regularly come across people who are looking for a “way.” The desert, after all, is a spiritual place and so lots of people come out here to find a path to “God.” People come here for various sorts of spiritual retreats, they sometimes come here to be alone, to spend time in solitude, prayer and meditation.  More often than not they come armed with books and journals, say all sorts of prayers, they fill their minds with ideas and develop plans about how they will conduct their soul-searching quest – looking for “God” is hard work and serious business.

But the lesson of the desert is that you rarely find wisdom by looking for it -  you go into a desert and wait for wisdom to come to you. The paradoxical spiritual lesson of the desert is that instead of looking for the “way,” you simply sit quietly and wait until the “way” comes to you.

I am regularly reminded of this desert wisdom. 

Every morning I go out into my garden for a daily period of quiet time and I have found that my best prayer is to just wait and see what happens. If I sit there long enough I notice a ray of morning sun hit the leaf of a tree and light it up with tender beauty. If I sit quietly the little desert birds hiding in the trees in my garden suddenly make their appearance and hummingbirds come out to the feeder and the fountain. If I walk along a wilderness trail and find a quiet place to sit, invariably some sort of little creature will show its head - a desert squirrel or a roadrunner.

At first blush the desert seems empty and lifeless but if you just watch and wait with an open and uncluttered mind you see very quickly that it is teeming with life and hidden beauty.

The Quaker teacher and author, Parker Palmer, once observed:

The human soul is essentially shy – just like a wild animal,
it will flee from the crowd and seek safety in the underbrush.
If we want to see a wild animal we know that the last thing we should do
is to go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out.
But if we walk quietly into the wilderness and sit at the base of a tree,
breathing with the earth and fading into our surroundings,
the wild creature we seek will eventually show up.

Lots of people are engaged in some sort of soul-searching journey on this weekend. Perhaps they think of their “spiritual quest” as some sort of game of “Hide and Seek” in which “God” is hiding and the soul is seeking.  But the wisdom of the desert turns this upside down. On a spiritual quest, the soul is hiding in the underbrush of life and “God” is the one who is doing the seeking.  

On his quest for enlightenment, the Buddha did nothing but sit under a tree, waiting for 40 days.  When his mind was emptied and his heart open, wisdom came to him and he was enlightened by truth. Jesus did the same thing when he went out into the wilderness for 40 days. He just sat there and waited in silence until truth came to him and he heard the voice of “God.”

Soul searching is indeed a “hide and seek” experience. “God” searches for the hiding soul and hidden spirit.

I am reminded of a wonderful Zen saying that seems quite appropriate for a soul-searching weekend:

When you look for the ‘way,’ you become far from it.
When you seek the ‘way’ you turn away from it all the more.


  1. This reminds me of a recent experience. I wanted to search out that 'spiritual feeling' so went along to my local church one Sunday hoping to 'feel something'. But the church was closed! So instead I went for a walk round the pond where I noticed how calming it felt and how spiritually enriching. I came home feeling alive and nourished. It was all there, and I called it my Church of Nature. As always, thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom xxx

    1. As always I also thank you for sharing your wisdom.