- At the Desert Retreat House -
Every day for the past three months the afternoon temperatures in the desert where we live have climbed up to well over 100 degrees (sometimes as much as 120), and it never rained even once - it was virtually impossible to spend much time outdoors. So this morning when the weather service predicted that the temperatures will finally drop into the double-digits this week and some rain may even be in the horizon, my wife and I jokingly suggested that we may have to break out the sweaters and jackets.
This morning we actually sat outdoors to eat breakfast and I noticed all that I had missed during the long, hot days of a pretty brutal summer. I was struck by the brightness of all the desert flowers blooming around my house even in these dry desert days. I also noticed sprouts of green peaking up from dormant bushes, the sky seemed so blue, the rising sun so brilliant, the air smelled clean and fresh. I walked to the back of my house and noticed that the lime and pomegranate trees were laden with fruit - I hadn’t been back there in weeks and so I didn’t even know this had happened.
All summer long I was sitting inside or shuffling off to my air-conditioned car and into climate-controlled buildings, paying little or no any attention to all the beauty surrounding me. My senses had been dulled because of my lack of awareness.
This morning helped me to refocus my attention, and it was as if I was seeing the wonder of creation in my own back yard for the very first time. I realized that I was being taught yet another spiritual lesson about the importance of staying focused, alert and awake in my routine everyday life, even when life is dry and I may think there isn’t much beauty to be seen.
I am reminded of the life and teachings of the 4th century ancient Christian desert monks who lived in a wilderness like the region where I live. These ancient mothers and fathers had one primary rule that governed every aspect of their common life together: Keep Focused!
Lots of people today talk about the importance of mindfulness in everyday living. Although the desert monks didn’t use the word “mindfulness,” they practiced “mindfulness” as the core discipline of their spiritual life. One of my books about desert spirituality describes this ancient monastic practice of keeping focused:
Always keep focused, no matter how arduous or unproductive this may seem.
When you are alone, praying or meditating, keep your focus.
When you share meals with your fellow monks or welcome guests, keep focused.
When you feel strong and healthy, keep focused.
When the heat of the desert bakes you to the bone, stay focused.
When the morning sun is brilliant and the stars of night blind you
with their blazing light, and when the sky turns black with clouds,
As I have reflected upon my own spiritual life and my struggles with practicing mindfulness in my daily life, I have come to the conclusion that perhaps my basic problem with keeping focused is my lack of patience.
We live in a fast-paced world of instant results – a “Google” search and a click of the computer key and all the answers are there at our fingertips. At some subtle level I think this fast-paced, instant-answer world seriously impacts the way I approach my spiritual journey. I am willing to clear my mind, open my heart and pay “mindful” attention in the moment, but I expect results from doing all this, and so when everyday life seems boring or the long days of summer seem bone-dry, I tend to lose my focus.
The renowned spiritual teacher and author, Henri Nouwen, once put it this way:
The word patience means the willingness to stay where you are
and to live the situation to the full
in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.
Over the long, hot summer months, it’s not that the world wasn’t teeming with Holy Presence, it’s not as if I was no longer immersed in an ocean of excruciating beauty, it’s just that I didn’t have the patience to “stay with it,” to watch and wait and focus. Now that autumn is on it’s way I hope to wake up once again.
I wonder what will manifest itself to me today?