A spiritual union – mountain and desert
August 28, 2011 by Bill
In the Coachella Valley, where I live, there exists what could be one of the most powerful energy fields on the planet, with Mt. San Jacinto at near 11,000 feet hovering over, protecting, watching, loving the desert of the eternal valley called Coachella, the result of an ancient lake that covered the entire valley and long ago receded to the ocean.
The sun, like a jealous lover, hovers over the desert in a protective manner, unique and unknown to rain forests and the endless waters of the ocean.
The desert reduces everything to essentials, to the basics of whitened bone. The desert, perhaps more than any other place on earth, speaks of silence, simplicity and solitude. The desert calls to men and women who being wasted away by the stress, confusion and anxieties of city life, yearn for a spiritual retreat, an escape from the demon time, the clock and the calendar that that so enslave us.
All great spiritual traditions began, from a desert or a mountain, with the vision quest of one lone, single individual who, in solitude and silence, saw through the veil of the superficial into those realms and dimensions of reality that were of the timeless and eternal.
As their vision spread, it often descended lower and lower, like rivers rushing down hill, by those who understood it not, or used it for corrupt ends. Born in a lonely place of solitude and silence, in an exalted and inspired state of mind, the vision of Jesus, Buddha, or Lao Tzu became polluted as it entered cities where masses of human beings prostituted the vision for their own ends and vested interests.
Many sensitive people today, aware of the corruption of the spiritual vision, retire to the desert or the mountain top overlooking the desert, to seek in silence the vision, to again return their lives to the source, to the Mystery that has been so corrupted by the masses. The desert, eternally, has called to such individuals.
It is no accident that monotheism was born in the desert. A mosque is a stylized Oasis. The Bedouins found the desert visions of one God their own experience of the austere and the sublime. In the desert, a concept of one God has no competition as is found in rain forests and lands of lush vegetation where many gods compete for loyalty and allegiance. Likewise, it is recorded that Jesus retired to the desert for solitude and meditation.
Everything in the universe is composed of complimentary opposites. Yin and Yang, as the Buddhist and Taoist traditions remind us. We see this so beautifully illustrated in the symbol of the Tai Chi disc. When you are doing Tai Chi, you are moving to the rhythms of complimentary opposites. A desert sunrise as seen from Mt. Sinai, or that same sunrise as seen from Mt. San Jacinto in the first blush of dawn light reminds me that we live in the dazzling, daily reality of the truth and beauty of complimentary opposites, the Tai Chi disc of Yin and Yang.
It is the mountain and the desert, wedded in cosmic harmony, that create the powerful spiritual energy I experience in the Coachella Valley.
Mountains are sacred. All native people have known that, as well as many more sophisticated cultures. And when you combine, in a complimentary relationship, a sacred mountain with an eternal desert, there is a spiritual force, a dynamic energy and a cosmic power present that influences everything in its radius.
D.H. Lawrence described it in these words: “In the oldest religions, everything was alive, not supernaturally, but naturally alive. There were only deeper and deeper streams of life, vibrations of life more and more vast. So rocks were alive. A mountain had a deeper, vaster life than a single rock. A person needed to bring his spirit or his energy into contact with the life of a mountain.”
Rocks and mountains have been sacred in almost every spiritual tradition. Mt. Sinai and the Temple of Mount Jerusalem, the “black stone” in the Kaaba shrine at Mecca, for the Lakota, the Sioux in the plains, it was Mt. Harney in the Black Hills. “Inyan the rocks are holy” said Lame Deer. The chants of the Pebble Society of the Omaha tribe praised “the mountains and the rocks.” The Rock of Ishi in Japan is perhaps the purest example in any religion of the spiritual presence of a rock. The Rock of Ishi represents creative divinity. The rock reminds us that we, as humans, are a part of the universe and one with universal divinity. Rocks are the central focus of meditation in Zen gardens. Mount Kailus is considered the throne of the god Shiva, and has been called “the spiritual heart of the world.” It is the center of the universe for Hindus and Buddhists and forms the hub of China and India. Mt. Rainier was called “Tachoma” or “the mountain that was God” by the Indians of our Northwest. The Taos Pueblo of New Mexico is bounded by four sacred mountains and the San Francisco peaks are sacred to the Hopi as well as the Navajo. For our own desert people known as the Cahuilla, there were the Santa Rosa Mountains, as well as Mt. San Jacinto.
Our sense of the sacred is awakened when we use the mountain as the focus of our meditations. The rise of a peak in the morning mist. The glint of moonlight on an icy ridge. The gold of sunlight on a distant summit can awaken the fact we live in a world of glorious beauty and mystery, absorbed with all of our senses awakened. We respond with awe and wonder and a sound of joy pours forth from our throat that we cannot hold back. “Ah” we say, and it is in that “Ah” that the depth of our spirit comes forth and we are awake as we sanctify the moment and the place where we are.