Have you ever been to the desert?
You'll know what I'm talking about, if you have.
The desert is a place that makes no sense.
The desert is random and chaotic.
The desert is a place where you ask questions like:
The desert is a baron wasteland. No one comes for you. God doesn't come to save you. Satan doesn't come to tempt you.
You are just being beaten by winds and sands alone and seemingly forgotten.
This is suffering.
The Buddhists think about this a lot. The have the 4 Noble Truths to deal with this very issue. The First Truth is that all life is suffering, pain, and misery. They go on to say: This is especially true for poor people.
The desert is well known in all spiritual teachings.
The desert is the place where you ask things like:
These are the "impossible" questions that get glossed over with phrases like: "God has a plan."
When I think about people being taken to the desert it feels like a personal weather system to me. Some people get blasted with wind and sand most of their lives. And some people barely ever feel anything.
Sadly, there is a shield that can help some times. That shield is money. Money will keep you from starving. Money will keep you from being pushed around by governments that aren't interested in you. Money will buy you a trip to the Bahamas. Money will buy you therapy.
But money isn't always a guarantee. Rich people suffer too. Their children die from disease and cancer and random accidents. They succumb to drug overdoeses trying to cover up a sadness and depression that no amount of money in the world can wash away.
The question is: WHY?
Why is this happening to us?
Do we deserve it? Are we being punished?
I believe that it is not a punishment and we don't deserve it.
We aren't thrown into the world of suffering because of something we have done. God isn't punishing us. I don't even think God is actively doing this. It is just part of life.
The desert exists and that's the way it is.
But I do believe the desert has a purpose. I believe the desert, while not fair and brutally painful, gives us something.
Or rather, the desert takes something from us.
The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are stated in simple terms as:
Buddhists believe that we suffer because we expect something different.
Desire is suffering.
I'm not a Buddhist. In fact, the Dalai Lama often tells us Westerners to look to our own Western faiths for salvation. They were made for us in our particular struggles.
But I like thinking about the Four Noble Truths because they help me in times of suffering better than a lot of words that come from Christianity.
In the West we are so fortunate and wealthy that I don't think it is necessary to get rid of all desire. We are incredibly lucky.
Desire is a wish. I wish for a better life. I wish for a cure for cancer. I wish for a house in the Hamptons.
In the West, sometimes these wishes can come true.
The Dalai Lama is often speaking with people where no wishes come true. Desire leads to nothing other than more pain.
Often times, especially in the West, our trips to the desert are momentary and fleeting. We come back to lush, green lives soon enough. In fact, I think sometimes people can go their whole lives and never truly see the desert.
I feel both happy for these people and, truthfully, a little sad for them as well.
The desert is a classroom. ...if we choose to hear the lesson.
The desert strips us away. It is a sandblasting.
It blows your ego right off.
You realize that the dry winds of existence are bigger than you. The dry winds of pain and suffering are massive and you are tiny. You are no match for the winds of pain and suffering. You can do nothing other than just take it.
You are blown this way and that way. Your pain creates more pain. Your suffering envelops you like a wind storm with no end and no beginning. There is no satellite view of when the storm will end. Maybe the storm will end. Maybe it will never end.
Your life could be storm after storm after storm.
And yet you still stand.
You still walk.
You still smile when you see a friend.
You enjoy a $0.79 Polar Pop.
You relax with a cigarette and a cup of coffee. ...all while storms blast you with endless pain and suffering.
"You" are being stripped away so that the immortal "You" is the only thing that is left.
The desert blasts away the false you. The you that is the car your drive, the education you have, the crimes you've committed, the money in your wallet.
The desert strips that away so there is nothing left other than raw metal. There is nothing left other than you and God.
The lesson is to let go. Don't hold on. Accept the winds. Let them take you.
Holding on just make it worse. Holding on is like refusing to take off your Halloween custom as your mom insists that you must take it off.
The things you are holding onto are temporary and not real.
When you let go you are connecting with permanence and truth.
You can find peace in the desert. And that is the lesson of the desert. Let go and the suffering will stop. You will find peace and salvation amidst incredible suffering.
When people come to us from the woods asking for shelter in our tent community they often come to us completely stripped down to the bare metal.
They don't care about the fact that they lost all their worldly possessions. They don't care about the way they look. In fact, they don't even care if we are full and we have to turn them away. They just move on. There is no resentment. There is no sense of indignation and lack of justice. They have been completely washed in the sands of the desert.
A homeless person like that is the closest person to God you will ever meet. They are the modern day ascetics. They have been stripped of food, clothing and all worldly possessions. They have been returned to God right here on earth.
I think sometimes God likes to watch how we treat these people to see if we're "ready." I don't know exactly "ready" for what. But that's the feeling I get. Have we learned ANY of the messages God has sent to us from countless spiritual guides?
If you are in the desert right now: may you let go, may you find peace. Peace be with you. I love you.