"Along a Wilderness Trail"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
As we move toward the hot summer months, the tourist season is coming to an end out here in the desert and so it’s starting to get wonderfully quiet and peaceful. Yesterday as I took my daily walk on one of the many wilderness trails around our house, I noticed that I was about the only person there along with a scattering of a few others, most of whom were sitting on a rock or under a tree, eyes closed, resting, perhaps engaged in some sort of personal introspection.
Lots of people come out into the wilderness to do some serious soul-searching, to spend time trying to find themselves, trying to discover who they really are, maybe trying to figure out what they yet want to do with their lives – sometimes religious folks come out to the desert to discern what it is that “God” is calling them to do.
I was just talking to a friend of mine who told me he is coming out here next week to spend some reflective time alone. I told him that when he gets here and goes off into the wilderness to ask those deeper identity questions, he should keep his eyes open rather than closed. As I see it, most of us get confused about the direction of introspection - in order to look inward, you have to look outward.
A while back I came across this enlightening passage from Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh:
When you ask the question, 'Who am I?' -- if you have enough time and concentration, you may find some surprising answers.
You may see that you are a continuation of your ancestors who are fully present in every cell of your body.
If you remove your ancestors and your parents there is no 'you' left.
You may also see that you are made of elements like water.
If you remove the water from you, there is no 'you' left.
You are also made of earth.
If you remove the element of earth from you, there is no 'you' left.
You are made of air - you need air desperately; without air you cannot survive.
So if you remove the element of air from you, there is no 'you.'
And then there is the element of heat and light in you.
You know that you are made of light, without sunlight nothing can grow on earth.
And you know that the earth, as well as yourself, is made of stars.
On a clear night you can look up and you can see that you are the stars above.
You don't have a separate self.
You're not just the tiny body you normally may think of as 'yourself.'
Lots of times when people ask the "who am I?" question they close their eyes and come up with some pretty small and often myopic answers. They focus on their "tiny body" and see themselves as isolated individuals - defining themselves by their jobs, careers, or roles they play in life. Some imagine that "God" has singled them out for a special vocation in life. But as I see it, in order to truly answer the "who am I?" question you need to open your eyes.
Jesus and the Buddha both taught that in order to find yourself you have to lose yourself. If you want to find your true self you have to turn away from your false, separated, isolated ego self. In order to find yourself you have to open your eyes and look outward not inward
The answer to the question, "Who am I?" is far more than that one little story we may tell ourselves about who we really are - the answer to that question is cosmic.
I am my relationships.
I am my ancestors. I am water. I am earth. I am the air I breathe. I am sunlight and I am stars.
I am you and you are me.