Ah… summertime is here, and where I live, here in the northeastern part of the good old U.S.A., summertime means that nature has finally come back to life. For me that means that along with all the other green growth, my meditation practice can blossom too. You see, I love to meditate outside surrounded by nature. I love to sit in the wilderness—in every sense of the expression.
When we’re sitting outside in a beautiful place surrounded by greenery with a delicious soundtrack provided by singing birds, and perhaps the sound of rustling leaves and moving water, it’s a whole lot easier to experience sensations of transcendent unity, isn’t it? Surrounded by verdant serenity, and that congenial chit-chat with Mother Nature, it’s easy to free our mind from the stodgy demands of serial thought and simply experience the peace beneath it all. Our social and material concerns fall aside, and we can perceive the thinness of that membrane that only seems to separate us from the Divine. We are that too.
“Sitting in the wilderness” has always had a metaphoric power as well, for a meditator like me, because two of my most important spiritual inspirations personified, the Buddha and Jesus, each sat in the wilderness as a means to overcoming that delusion of separateness; and it’s their experience of overcoming the obstacles presented by everyday life (and the machinations of my human intellect) that I reenact, in a way, every time I sit outside on my rock.
Each of them, out there alone in nature, were met by three tenacious challenges that arose the instant they realized they were not really alone, that there was a whole different person out there (and in here) with them—an antagonistic aspect of their own inner natures. For the Buddha, he was called Mara, the tempter; and for Jesus, of course, it was good old, bad old Satan.
In our present-day psychological mythology, it’s no great metaphorical stretch to realize that these two bad actors are personifications of what we may call our “ego mind”—the mental interface of expectations, desires and fears that obscure our natural view of the divine—and those happen to be the very three obstacles, the three “temptations” presented to our spiritual heroes, and so, to each of us too.
First, Mara pointed out to Buddha that he should really be “the King” of the realm, just as the devil offered Jesus dominion over all. And wouldn’t any of us love that, the kind of complete control over our world we may often expect? To be granted the ability to exercise our will to make reality conform to our wishes, and feed our prideful sense of entitlement. But our two good guys recognized the nasty ego in the offer and humbly refused, because they knew that there were much greater forces at work in their lives that were eternally in charge in a way they could never be. Forces that were always directing their lives, that only karma—the cause and effect of the actions we take and the choices we make—could help determine.
I don’t know about you, but it’d be nice to be compared to Buddha and Jesus, good for my ego, you know, and that’s how sitting in the wilderness works—it helps develop a natural, healthier ego. For example, next (like me, too) they were tempted by the crazy idea that sensory gratification—luxurious surroundings, extravagant meals, hot sexual encounters, et cetera—could bring me some kind of peace and happiness; but even I have learned that a paunchy, jaded camel with a lot of bling can’t fit through the eye of that needle, or easily enter “the Kingdom” of transcendent unity. Sensory satisfactions are far too tenuous and easily overlooked to affect any real fulfillment.
Our heroes knew that craving empty promises only made it more difficult to find peace, so when Mara offered the Buddha his delightful daughters, Buddha said they’re lovely—but thanks anyways; and when the devil pointed out that Jesus could change a rock into fresh bread, and so eat anything he wanted, anytime, he famously replied, it isn’t only bread that really gives us life.
The last underlying default of that nasty ego-foe that assaults us while we’re trying to sit peacefully under the tree of our true nature, or in the desert of ignorance that this world can be, is simply fear. Fear of consequences. Fear of unfulfilled desires. Fear of death. Mara sent an army of vicious warriors (I think it was about “a million and thirty-six,” or something crazy like that), and they hurled a barrage of pointy weapons at Gautama as he sat beneath the bodhi tree. The devil took Jesus up to the top of the temple and said, I’m gonna throw you off your most important pinnacle, and see if you bounce!
Of course, Jesus just said, we don’t even need to test the fact that God has a net; and when Gautama just smiled at the attack, the spears and arrows turned to a flurry of fluttering flowers, and he became the Buddha.
You are taken care of. Fear is not real, unless you give it that power. Death is just part of growing through Life.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you can become Christ, or the Buddha, but I don’t think they’d mind at all if you followed their examples when you head out into the wilderness this summer, to sit on a rock by the river, or on a misty mountain top, or on a backyard patch of green, growing grass. In a wilderness where human unconsciousness is the most terrifying force known, knowing the shape of our ego temptations—the tenacious tendencies to revert to thoughts of self-importance, sensory desires, or unnecessary anxieties and fears—is the first step to lifting the veil that separates us from the potential of Love.
Out on my rock in the summer mornings, I often see fish jumping out of the water and snapping up breakfast, and I realize that we’re just like that ourselves—we have to occasionally escape the medium of our submerged lives, and jump free for the thing that really nourishes us, that’s always right there, with a little effort. Out there in the wilderness it’s easy to break the surface, and let the light come pouring through everything around you.
Just mind the bears… I think that’s when fear just might be real.