"Branches in the Moonlight"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
It’s always hot out here in the desert where I live but currently the entire West Coast is experiencing a “heat wave” and so it is much hotter than usual in this desert region. Yesterday the afternoon temperature got up to a record-breaking 126 degrees and “excessive heat warning” was issued telling us we should all find a cool place and stay inside. So that’s exactly what I have been doing - for the most part I am staying inside the four walls of my climate-controlled, air-conditioned house.
The thing about all this staying inside is that I am beginning to feel like I’m a prisoner, trapped inside my own house. Normally I spend most of my time outdoors and so it feels very confining to sit indoors all day long.
Last night after dark, the temperature “cooled down” to a brisk 100 degrees, so I ventured outdoors. The full, bright, solstice-moon in the vast star-studded cosmos was so bright that it almost seemed like daylight and I was struck by how good it felt to get outside my walls and feel part of that wonderfully expansive cosmos.
As I gazed up into the “starry-starry night,” I also realized that “staying inside” may well represent the very essence of the spiritual problem that inflicts so many of us in the culture today. We lock ourselves up within the neat little confines of our own private egos, we surround ourselves with like-minded others to whom we tell our own myopic stories about what is real and what is true, and in doing so we are trapped inside walls of our own making. Trapped within our myopia, we block our vision of the transcendent.
I am reminded of an article I read a while back in the New York Times:
We spend our lives confined to a tiny narrow strip on earth’s surface
and so we tend to think of the cosmos as a lofty inaccessible realm
far beyond reach and relevance.
We forget that only a thin layer of atmosphere
separates us from the entire universe.
We are cosmic beings.
It’s a wonderful mystery how each of us is but a tiny speck in the larger scope of things and yet we all belong to the entire universe. We “are” a complex, massive web of dynamic interconnection and only a thin veil separates us. A thin layer of skin separates us from one another and from the world of nature, “a thin layer of atmosphere separates us from the entire universe”.
Even though I am spending a lot of time “staying inside” in these sizzling days of excessive heat, my life in the desert has really helped me to understand something of the bigger picture outside these walls. Unlike almost any other place on earth, the desert environment is a very fragile dynamic ecosystem. In the desert everything totally depends on everything else or the entire system falls apart - trees, shrubs, cacti, plants, animals, insects, birds, snakes and creatures of all sorts, along with billions of invisible micro-organisms all live together in a dynamic balance, each contributing to the life and existence of the other, no one more important, no one less important, all the many are the ONE.
The famed environmentalist, John Muir (who spent a great deal of time in this desert region where I currently live) once offered this powerful piece of wisdom:
When we try to pick out anything by itself we find
it is attached to a thousand invisible chords that cannot be broken,
attached to everything in the universe.
As I sit inside the four walls of my “climate controlled’ little house on yet another scorching hot day, I think about that far bigger picture outside my walls, that vast fragile dynamically interdependent desert ecosystem. I also think about all my neighbors also confined within the walls of their climate-controlled houses and I realize that we are all just as dynamically interdependent as this desert ecosystem in which we live.
We may have to stay inside to avoid the heat of the day but that shouldn’t prevent any of us from realizing that we are all cosmic beings.
The Sufi poet Rumi said;
The whole universe exists inside you.
God writes spiritual mysteries on our heart where they wait silently for discovery.