You are walking in the Atacama desert in Bolivia (see my pic) and have plenty of water and a decent hat. You notice that there is not much going on flora and fauna wise. It’s calm in the desert and if you don’t die of starvation you may die of boredom. But that’s what a desert is right? It has a certain beauty; the absence of things is beguiling and quite peaceful but the desert is a touch bland after about 20 minutes.
Magically you disappear and find yourself in the amazon jungle. What a difference — the diversity of life is tremendous. There is a hell of a lot going on. Nature is putting on an incredible show. The forest is difficult to walk through; everything is here to eat you, sting you, bite you and the humidity is oppressive. If only you could learn about the life in the forest you could relax and really appreciate it. The rainforest after all has incredible beauty.
After around 250,000 years of evolution, humanity has forged it’s own rainforest of diversity.
We have created incredible art and architecture. We have built tunnels under seas, tossed a few blokes to the moon and sent probes out into the cosmos.
We have people who believe the earth evolved over 4.5 billion years and others that say it was created by some cosmic dude in 7 days.
We have loopy people running the most powerful country on earth and loopy people running all the other countries.
There is rampant pollution, plastics, oil oozing into estuaries, forest destruction, glaciers melting, adults on drugs, kids on drugs, species extinction and Tottenham Hotspurs hasn’t won the league for over 50 years.
We can get avocados in Bristol, blue fin tuna sushi in Copenhagen, wagyu beef in Shanghai and matcha soy latte in Minneapolis.
We can rest in our own little abode, in a giant iron box and cruise the oceans gorging on food and wine with thousands of others, visiting cities in far off lands.
People love excitement and activity. There is a compulsion to it. That’s why we mostly live in cities and why in the half hour news there are nine disaster stories and one “kitten” story.
So we are surrounded by an extraordinary abundance of ideas, inventions and people. This diversity creates complexity which can shunt us around in our day to day lives. We seek peace from the overstimulation. We pine for simplicity — the desert — all the while being addicted to the activity and distractions.
But this rainforest of humanity we have created is the great feast of life. If we didn’t participate we would be trapped in the desert and die of boredom. For anyone who seeks the tranquility of a spiritual life this is a conundrum.
Even if you don’t adhere to notions of spirituality, how do you celebrate the diversity and not feel threatened by it, not let it wear you down?
We participate, even indulge in the feast, in the craving, and in doing so we get to understand it. By understanding it we get to release ourselves from the mess and stress of it. We get to bring a measure of control over what is presented to us in the rainforest. We understand what stings and what doesn’t. We understand what to eat and what not to eat. We understand direction and weather patterns.
Understanding is one part of participating, the other is for us to accept everything that is going on. This planet for all it’s splendor and all it’s madness is something to behold. It is magnificent is it not? But the feast includes delightful foods as well as revolting foods. We accept there is horrible food. We don’t dismiss it and elevate ourselves above it; we simply don’t eat it. We don’t partake of it.
And for those of you like me who see spirituality as the cornerstone of a fulfilled life then the feast can be a challenge for your sensibility. Way back when, to be spiritual you had to go to a mountain in Ladakh and Om your Oms for 40 years. These days we don’t need to do that. We can do spirituality right here, right now. But embracing a spiritual life is to be regularly disengaging from our rainforest world and spending time in the desert. The absence of things presents clarity. It’s the only way to maintain a level of spiritual freedom and sanity. It’s the only way. The desert is your sanctuary. It’s your oasis from the day to day pushing and shoving.
By disengaging I don’t mean not talking to people or to pass up joining the local surf club. What I do mean is that you’re not getting involved in trying to convert people or leaning towards them to convince them of anything. You don’t get sucked into the hype, the bling, the pernicious personalities. You have few opinions. You don’t have much of an opinion about global warming, the president, China or wagyu beef. You are just living your humble life in serenity and poise…and always taking the lowest place.
Or almost always. Nobody’s perfect.