"A Fragile Ecosystem"
My wife and I live in a desert, a place considered by many to be a spiritual environment. Many biblical stories take place in a desert setting and to this very day people go out into the desert wilderness to spend time away in personal reflection and meditation.
Every morning I hike along one of the many trails around our house that lead out into the deep wilderness, but yesterday I was suddenly struck with an awareness of exactly why a desert is indeed such a spiritual place, Yes, the vast wilderness and towering mountains elicit a sense of transcendent majesty and the silence is always profound, but what makes the wilderness particularly conducive to spiritual awareness lies in the fact that a desert is an extremely fragile ecosystem.
Environmental scientists tell us that in a fragile ecosystem, even the smallest changes in temperature, amounts of water, sunshine, wind velocity and a host of other environmental factors have a significant impact on the entire system. This is true because, in a fragile ecosystem, everything in the system is profoundly interdependent. Everything belongs together - no one single element stands out in importance, every single element is as important as the other.
When I hike out into the wilderness, it seems like there is nothing out there but endless horizons of dry sand and piles of rocks; and yet, this is a place that is literally teeming with life, most of which is hidden from and practically invisible to the undiscerning glance of the naked eye.
On my recent hike I became acutely aware that the desert was replete with living creatures of every sort and type - insects and ants, roadrunners and rabbits, hummingbirds and bats, snakes, bees and lizards; and yes, there are people here also. The desert floor is covered with seeds and bushes, trees and cacti that will blossom overnight with just a sprinkling of rain. The morning sun, the blazing skies of night, the wind howling through the canyons - everything swings and sways together in a vast and breathtakingly beautiful cosmic dance.
One of the books I’ve read on desert spirituality explains something of why a desert is such a spiritual place:
Deserts confront us with a vast horizontal edge,
a horizon of emptiness in which we find ourselves absorbed and lost.
The desert is intrinsically hostile to the ego.
This is indeed the spiritual lesson the desert teaches – it is a place for discerning the cosmic dance, a place that is hostile to the ego.
The fragile ecosystem of the wilderness teaches an enduring spiritual truth: nothing and no one stands out as being more important or more valuable than anyone or anything else - life is sustained and thrives only in a climate of mutual interdependence.
The author and poet, Akko Bush, has suggested that the spiritual journey is a process of learning how to become invisible:
Becoming invisible doesn’t mean that we deny creative individuality,
nor does it mean that we must relinquish any of the qualities
that make us unique, original, singular.
Rather becoming invisible is an insight
that we are of a larger world,
giving us fuller appreciation for our place
in the greater scheme of things.
Throughout most of my life I devoted myself to finding ways in which I might “stand out” and be noticed so as to make my way up the ladder of success. The desert is a place where I am now learning how to become more and more invisible. I am learning that I don’t have to stand out to find happiness, I don’t have to prove my importance in order to experience esteem, I don’t need to perform every day as if I am an actor on a stage seeking the applause of the audience.
The more I am able to shrink my ego, the more I find my true self. The more invisible I become the more I realize just how valuable I really am.