- Dawn at the Desert Retreat House -
As I sat outside this morning looking up into the desert skies, it seemed as if the sky had caught on fire - brilliantly arrayed in shades of crimson and gold just at the break of dawn. 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.
This morning I was separated from the entire universe by the thinnest of veils.
Our early human ancestors looked up at the skies and they 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. I rarely see the word used because humility is so often confused with humiliation. Many people think of a humble person as someone with a poor self-image. But as I see it, humility is a necessary virtue on any spiritual path. The paradox of the practice of humility is that when I am truly humble, I recognize that I am infinitesimally small and yet enormously important both at the same time. 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 delusion because 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.
A humble person knows he or she is the dance and not the dancer.
People may think that you need to be in a desert at dawn in order to be transported into places of mystical, transcendent experiences; but as I see it, all we ever need do is to let go of our tight grip on life and then look for all the surprises to 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.