"Shadows and Light"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
The National Weather Service has issued an “Extreme Heat Warning” for the desert where I live. For the next few days the afternoon temperature is supposed to get up to almost 120 degrees, and if that isn’t bad enough, we have also been warned that rattlesnakes are far more likely to come out onto the trails when the heat gets so intense.
Extreme heat and rattlesnakes? I am often asked why on earth my wife and I choose to live in a place like this. I live here because the desert is a constant reminder of what a spiritual journey is all about - extreme heat and rattlesnakes are all part of the package.
If the wilderness was only populated by hummingbirds and butterflies fluttering about in the cooling breezes of the dawning day, the desert would be a “nice” or even a “beautiful” place in which to live, but not a deeply spiritual place. Instead, here in the desert, the rising sun is glorious and bright colored flowers adorn the cacti but its also a place of extreme heat and dry soil, coyotes howl in the the night, bats fly in the midnight sky and rattlesnakes slither along wilderness paths.
As I see it, this is indeed an iconic description of the very essence of what walking a spiritual path is all about. We walk in the light and we also live in the dark. There are times when we feel refreshed and other times when we feel dry, plagued by the extreme heat. We live with our better angels of compassion and kindness but our darker demons also walk with us along the way. As I see it, the path to deeper truth and greater wisdom always engages our brighter angels and also acknowledges our darker demons.
The spiritual journey is a beautiful struggle.
I am reminded of something priest and author, Richard Rohr, once observed about the spiritual journey:
I suppose there is no more counterintuitive idea than that of
using and integrating what we fear, avoid, deny and deem unworthy
as necessary to our growth and maturity in the spiritual life.
We sometimes think that religious believers or people on any sort of spiritual path aren’t supposed to be haunted by the demons of our human condition. Spiritual people aren’t supposed to have doubts, fears, anxieties, moments of despair, lust or addiction, they aren’t supposed to be prone to laziness or cheating. Spiritual people are supposed to walk in the light and avoid the darkness. I think the opposite is true.
We all have our demons and so rather than pretend these demons don’t exist or continually try to fight them and kill them off, we need to acknowledge them and name them. When we do that we lean how to live with the demons. Without giving in to their allure, we even need to listen to what the demons may actually be teaching us about our lives.
When we are able to name our demons we become vulnerable enough to enter into deeper relationships. We break away from the grip of a self-sufficient, isolated ego and reach out to others or to a “Higher Power” for healing, wisdom, counsel and guidance. Naming our demons is, in fact, an essential discipline for any spiritual path.
The Psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck once put it this way:
The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur
when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy or unfulfilled.
For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort,
that we are likely to step out of our ruts
and start searching for different ways or truer answers.
There is an extreme heat warning for the desert today and rattlesnakes may be on the path. I’ll drink lots of water and I’m glad to know about the snakes because I’ll be extra cautious if I walk along a trail. You have to be resilient living here in the desert - that’s why it’s such a deeply spiritual place.