Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Transient Spirituality

"Footprints in the Sand'
 -Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Yesterday my wife and I had lunch in a favorite local restaurant. During the “cooler” tourist season it’s often hard to find a table in this place; but yesterday we were practically the only people there because throughout the “dog days of summer” very few people stay out here in the desert where we live.

Lots of desert residents only live here part time, they rent homes when the weather is cooler and then get out of town when summer comes around. Even for those of us who do live here “permanently," many spend the month of August traveling out to more temperate climates in an effort to escape the triple-digit heat.

Yesterday as we sat alone in an almost-abandoned restaurant, I thought a lot about what it means to  live in a place with so many “transient” neighbors, and I realized that one of the reasons I like it here is because it helps me put some perspective on the impermanent nature of life and it reminds me that all of us are always on a journey.

My wife and I live in the desert throughout the year but in a sense this is not our permanent address - none of us ever has a “permanent address." Even if we were born and raised in a particular place and have lived in the same house all our lives, this is never our permanent address. All of us are transients and nomads as we make our way through the wilderness of life. 

I am reminded of a wisdom saying from Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh:

With every step I arrive at my destination.
Home is where your feet are.

There are many places in my life that I have called “home.” I still think of my birthplace in Buffalo, New York as “home,” and since my family had spent so many years living in Central New York, that’s also home for me. We’ve also lived in Los Angeles and so that has been my “home,”  and now the Southern California desert is “home base,” but none of these places is a “permanent address.”

The Buddhists wisely teach that all life is impermanent - from moment to moment everything changes, always becoming something else, and our time on earth eventually runs out for us all.  We find our deepest peace and greatest joy when we are able to embrace the place where we stand in the moment because life always happens in the moment.

I truly believe that “home is where your feet are.” And so I am always at home and yet always on a journey—such is the nature of life.

I came across something Episcopal priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor once said. It’s a good piece of “wilderness wisdom” for a hot August day:

Most of us spend so much time thinking about
where we have been or where we are supposed to go
that we have a hard time recognizing where we actually are.
When someone asks us where we want to be in our lives,
the last thing that occurs to us is to look down at our feet and say,
‘Here, I guess, since this is where I am.’

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