Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Shedding Layers in the Desert

Leaving St. Louis last September, where another world, far, far away awaited us....  Guitars are not superfluous, right?

Last week we marked our six month anniversary of living in the Middle East. Sandstorms, prayer calls from minarets, and women with covered faces are now the normal in my daily routine.  Since I speak to many people from all over the world every day here, I can easily observe their expressions, mannerisms, looks, and language, and tell what country they come from. I can make myself understood in a surprising amount of situations when neither of us speaks the same language. Although I speak very minimal Arabic, I feel comfortable in a mosque or with my friends who wear abayas and burqas. 

But there is one thing that I have unexpectedly learned: as I have shed many possessions to come to this place, I have also chipped away at old fears and apprehensions. I now know I can do things I wasn't certain I could do, like driving with 500 cars on a round about and playing in an orchestra. Just like a desert snake sheds his skin periodically, abandoning it to decay in the sand, I too am stripping away layers that needed excavating, probing, removing. I came here with only what I could carry on the plane, and have found I want/need/require so very little. The most important things bubble to the surface here, and I am content without the extraneous. Put simply, Lao Tzu said, "Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you."


24 hours later: arriving last September at the Doha airport with E. I felt like I was "a long way from Kansas"--or Missouri. Ha! We carried all the essentials, and probably a lot more than needed....

Leo Lionni, the four-time Caldecott Honor winner, was one of my children's best-loved storytellers as they grew up.  We had a very tattered, wrinkled anthology of his stories, and The Biggest House in the World was one of my favorite tales to read to them. Ironically, as I told the story and explained the message, "my own house" that I was carrying around/living in was heavy and required a tremendous amount of surplus energy to manage. Unintentionally, I was leading a cluttered life that needed some restructuring and lightening.
The children's storyteller, Leo Lionni, magically tells the story of a snail who was wisely reminded not to accumulate too many possessions. His father teaches him that carrying everything around with you is cumbersome, and can prohibit your destiny and dreams.  

One of the splendid things about living in the desert is that you must shed possessions because you cannot carry too much as a sojourner. It is a hot, barren place--where you need to use your wits and wisdom. If you are to thrive in an arid place, it is quickly learned that accumulations slow the progress of the journey. To obtain the replenishment you seek, sometimes casting off unnecessary things is critical, even life saving. Although desert living is not perhaps luxurious at times, I am finding a simple elegance as I discard not only the superfluous in my possessions, but in my soul. The old residues or layers of fears and pretenses are beginning to blow away, just like the sand that breezes by me every day here.

Here is a quote from a mentor, Lowell Bennion, that exactly portrays the glorious simple life, a life that requires not carrying heavy things in your soul or on your back:

“Learn to like what doesn’t cost too much.
Learn to like reading, conversation, music.
Learn to like plain food, plain service, plain cooking.
Learn to like fields, trees, brooks, hiking, rowing, climbing hills.
Learn to like people, even though some of them may be different…different from you.
Learn to like to work and enjoy the satisfaction of doing your job as well as it can be done.
Learn to like the songs of birds, the companionship of dogs.
Learn to like gardening, puttering around the house, and fixing things.
Learn to like the sunrise and sunset, the beating of rain on the roof and windows, and the gentle fall of snow on a winter day.
Learn to keep your wants simple, and refuse to be controlled by the likes and dislikes of others.”
–Lowell B. Bennion

A painting by a friend, Steve Chamberlain, that conveys the simple life Lowell Bennion speaks about. I love the frame Steve made from aspen trees. Simply beautiful....