Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Relying on Each Other

"In the Heat of the Day"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Many visitors come out into the desert to enjoy the sunshine and dry air and to walk along the wilderness trails, but in these summer months we get very few visitors - it's usually too hot for most people to even venture outdoors let alone hike on a trail. Yet even in the excessive heat of summer I will occasionally see see hikers on the trails outside my house; and if you are brave enough to venture out, the local authorities are pretty clear about precautions you need to take.

First of all, summer wilderness hikers are told to carry a map and a compass with them at all times because not all the trails are marked and some are hard to follow. Hikers are also warned to be sure that they take plenty of water along with them, not just a little bottle - usually a gallon per person, depending upon how far you plan to go.  But the most important direction given to people who are planning to venture out is first and foremost to never hike alone, be sure to walk with at least one other person or in a group, and if you don’t know the trails, it is advisable to hire a guide.

Some summer visitors who come out here do not understand the importance of following these directives, but the fact is that if you aren’t careful and don’t take these precautions seriously, you may not only get lost but you may actually die along these trails in this “excessive heat.”

Unaware of the inherent dangers of summer in the desert, tourists sometimes come out here and think that they don’t need any help to do such a simple task as taking a hike on a trail. Many go out alone without a compass and adequate water and they get lost and disoriented, some are overcome by heatstroke and they have no one to help them – sometimes people even die out in the wilderness, baked in the summer heat of a late afternoon.

At least once a week I hear the sound of a helicopter flying over my house making its way out into the wilderness to rescue some hapless hiker who tried to “tough it out” by acting like a “lone ranger.” 

It seems to me that the guidelines and precautions for walking in the heat of the wilderness may actually offer some pretty good advice for any of us who walk on any spiritual path:  Be sure to keep hydrated and refreshed along the way, carry maps and a compass because life’s trails can get tricky at times, but most of all never walk alone, travel with others, rely on a guide.

The other day I came across the ceremony that is used for welcoming new members into the Buddhist tradition. The potential Buddhist pledges a readiness and willingness to take “refuge” as they walk in the wilderness of life:

I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the teachings (the Dharma).
I take refuge in the community of my fellows (the Sangha).

I really like the term “taking refuge” it seems to me to be a wonderful phrase that can apply to any single one of us on the path of any spiritual journey through the sometimes excessive heat of the wilderness of life.

I think of my own journey of faith. As a Christian, I rely on (take refuge in) the Christ and his teachings and in the wisdom of other spiritual traditions.  I also rely on (take refuge in) other people to help me along my way – the people I love, my teachers and guides, those who walk with me in the journey of faith. The spiritual journey is never traveled alone, it is not a path of self-reliance but a “way” that is always traveled by relying on one another as we make our way together through the baking heat of the day.

Paul Knitter, a contemporary theologian who calls himself a “Buddhist Christian, makes this astute observation:

Spirituality is what one does to stay connected.
If we are unable to move beyond our own limited individual sense of self
we’re going to have a hard time putting our lives together.

The triple digit heat of this day in the desert reminds me of just how important it really is to “stay connected if I hope to thrive and to survive along the “way.” 

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