Friday, March 27, 2015

A Narrow Path

"Wilderness Trail"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

I begin each day in my meditation garden, often using a passage of scripture, a prayer or a mantra to help focus my Quiet Time. Today I reflected upon one of my favorite prayers from the Islamic Sufi tradition - so simple, so beautiful, and so full of wisdom:

Give me O God
Deep thoughts
High dreams
Few words
Much silence 
The narrow path
The wide outlook
The end in Peace

As I sat with these words, I was very struck with the phrase: "a narrow path and a broad outlook." At first it may seem somewhat odd to be praying that I might walk on a narrow path in life.  Isn't  a narrow path restrictive, myopic and limiting?  Don't narrow-minded people walk on a narrow path? How is it possible that traveling on narrow path in life might give me a broad outlook? 

And yet this is indeed the great paradox of a spiritual journey - it does point to a pathway that is winding and narrow, and that's exactly why it is often a road less travelled. 

The Buddha referred to the "way" to which he pointed as a narrow path, so did Jesus who said:

Enter though the narrow gate.
For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction,
 and many enter through it.
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life,
and only a few find it.

Not far from my desert home there is a vast and expansive California super highway. In some places this highway can be as wide as eight lanes,  and at any given moment of every single day there are thousands upon thousands of cars traveling on it. It's the main road connecting this part of California and everyone takes it - the quick and easy way to get from one place to another. Just pack up all your stuff, get into the car, turn on some tunes, set the GPS, and drive along a well-marked highway until you reach your destination. 

Just outside our "Desert Retreat House" there are many little winding narrow trails making their way through the wilderness. You have to travel lightly on these trails - you can't weigh yourself down with stuff when you walk in the hot desert sun along a twisting path that is not readily marked, sometimes hard to find and not always easy to follow. And yet traveling a wilderness path is far more beautiful than driving inside a car on a busy and chaotic superhighway

The spiritual journey is like walking a narrow wilderness trail, winding your way through the beauty that life has to offer as opposed to locking yourself up behind tons of fast moving steel and mindlessly driving from one place to another.

The narrow path is a way that is so radically different from the broad road in life. 

 On the broad road you weigh yourself down with more and more, bigger and better.  On a narrow path, you travel lightly and live simply. On a broad road the focus of your vision is inward, on self-gratification; however, on the narrow way the vision is outward, connecting with a world outside you, connected to others who walk with you on the way, connected to a world of nature. On the broad road, the goal is to reach the destination, on the narrow path the purpose of the journey is to enjoy each moment along the way.  

The narrow path leads to life but it is harder to travel, that's why more people choose to take the easy highway. 

Paradoxically, the narrow path cannot be travelled by narrow-minded people- and it always opens up a vision to the broad outlook.

So, that's my prayer as I begin yet another day struggling to find my way along the narrow path with that broad outlook. I pray for deep thoughts, high dreams, few words, much silence and Peace at the end. 

Listen to my podcast: "Desert Wisdom"

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