- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
A few weeks ago I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered a beautiful labyrinth constructed out of stones and rocks in a wide open wilderness area not far from where we live. Yesterday my wife and I made our way out to that labyrinth where once again we received another wonderful surprise. Five or six people were walking on the labyrinth silently meditating and each of them carried with them a wooden flute. At various times one or the other would stop and play a melody on his or her flute – the haunting, ethereal sounds pierced the desert silence and echoed off the neighboring canyons. It was a powerfully uplifting experience that fed some very deep part of my spirit. In fact both my wife and I stood there in tears as we allowed the mystical sounds of those flutes wash over us - such a wonderful surprising and unexpected gift!
I am reminded of a phrase that I have spoken thousands of times in church services that I conducted. As the Christian celebration of holy Communion begins, the pastor turns to the congregation and says to the people: “Lift up your hearts!” Yesterday as I stood in the wilderness and listened to the uplifting sound of those mystical flutes, it was as if the whole universe was speaking to me and inviting me to lift up my heart.
It seems to me as if lots of people nowadays feel sort of “down in the dumps.” Some are troubled by the political chaos of these difficult times, others may feel depressed and empty because of what they perceive to be meaningless work, still others are “bogged down” by financial, health or relationship problems. And yet it seems to me that each and every one of us is constantly being invited out of the dumps. The entire universe is always calling out “Lift up your hearts!” The problem is that we are often so distracted that we do not pay attention to the call.
When people are ill or when they want to improve their health one of the first things they do is to look at their diet and determine if they eating healthy foods or if they are being poisoned by a steady diet of unhealthy junk food. It seems to me that we might all ask the same question when we feel spiritually “down in the dumps” or if we want to be more spiritually healthy. Are we eating good “soul food” or does our spiritual diet primarily consists of the “junk food” so readily available nowadays?
I know plenty of people who never go outside except to travel from one place to the other, they never sit in silence as the sun rises or take a moment to breathe in the new air of this springtime season, they rarely read a poem or listen to beautiful music. Instead they spend the vast majority of their time on their computers or iPhones, browsing through the endless streams of Twitter and Facebook feeds and ingesting all sort of poisonous messages of hatred and bigotry. Many folks clutter their everyday thoughts by brooding over their problems or by plotting their future agendas. And all along, in every single present moment of every single day the “Universe” is calling out “Lift up your hearts!” But many people don’t hear this invitation because they aren’t paying attention. Every day our life offers us all the most wonderful soul food but we choose to gorge on the junk food instead.
I am reminded of a well known and often-quoted Native American story - a piece of wisdom passed on by a grandfather to his inquiring young grandson:
Grandfather, I have two wolves fighting in my heart.
One is vengeful, fearful, envious, resentful, deceitful,
The other wolf is loving, compassionate, generous, truthful and serene.
Which wolf will win the fight?
The grandfather answered:
‘The one you feed.’
All day long yesterday those haunting sounds of mystical flutes echoing in the desert struck with me, their melody was gently playing in all the events of my ordinary life. My soul had been fed and my spirit uplifted and it made a difference in everything I did. It reminded me of one of my favorite Zen sayings:
I play with flowers and their fragrance clings to my clothes.
If you want a healthy spirit, eat good soul food and not poisonous junk food. Instead of wallowing “down in the dumps,” go play with some flowers. Listen to the call of the universe:
Lift up your hearts!