I recently found myself feeling very upset about a particular situation, and very certain that I was right about my point of view. But then I found myself reminded of a lesson I had learned several years ago, while staying at a friend's ranch, deep in the heart of South Texas ...
BEYOND THE SILENCE
It's a vast spread, with thousands of acres of rolling hills, covered with mesquite trees and cactus. The main house is located at the end of a long, dusty driveway, several miles from the nearest road, perched on a bluff overlooking a clear, deep swimming hole in the Nueces River below. But the best part of being on this huge ranch is the rare opportunity to experience total immersion in nature. After walking just a few hundred yards from the house, there's not a single artifact to be seen, not a humanly generated sound to be heard. No people, no cars, no utility wires or airplanes overhead, nothing but the sound of my own footsteps in an otherwise silent landscape. Or so it seems. But once I stop in my tracks and listen deeply for a few moments, it's clear that this seemingly barren landscape is actually filled with a fascinating variety of sounds, all of which were previously being drowned out by my monkey-mind, chattering on and on with its endless stream of memories, fantasies and judgments.
However, the simple act of noticing this fact reduces the inner noise level and enables me to attune to the rich chorus of voices all around: wild turkeys gobbling, crows cawing, cicadas drumming, leaves fluttering, deer snorting and small critters skittering through the underbrush. Odd. Just a few steps ago, this landscape seemed totally silent, but now it's filled with a majestic symphony. What a humbling reminder of how much I'm unaware of in my surroundings...
BEYOND THE DARKNESS
As stimulating as this landscape is during the day, it's even more engaging after dark. Since the nearest city lights are many miles away, the conditions for stargazing are ideal out here, where a mere sliver of fingernail moon hangs just over the vast horizon, surrounded by a gazillion stars. Standing slack-jawed, awed by the magnificent sight of all those twinkling lights above, I suddenly remember a fascinating fact I heard on National Public Radio recently: it might seem like I'm seeing millions of stars on a night like this, but actually, the human eye can only discern about 6,000 distinct, celestial objects from any given vantage point. Moreover, most of what we can see with the naked eye is actually located within the boundaries of our own small galaxy, the Milky Way, which contains over 400 billion stars, but is only one of at least 100 billion galaxies (and possibly as many as 500 billion galaxies) thought to exist in the observable universe. In short, there's so much more to see than what I'm looking at!
In attempting to cope with the bigness of this thought, my monkey mind is suddenly stunned wide open by the sheer force of this visceral insight: that whatever I perceive is but a small fraction of what there is to perceive. In any given situation, whether I'm out here in this relaxing, wide-open space or zooming around in high gear at my Big City pace, it's important to be aware that whatever I see is just a small proportion of what there is to see. What I hear is but a small slice of what there is to hear. And by extension, whatever I think I know represents just a fraction of what I don't know. Which, in turn, pales in comparison to everything I don't know that I don't know!
It's as if the stars above and the symphony of nature sounds surrounding me have conspired to teach me the importance of staying humble and keeping an open mind in the face of the Great Mystery which is unfolding within and around us every moment, every day, everywhere. Asking us, again and again: Are you willing to let go of the known and embrace a willingness to be shown how much more is available, how much more possible now? And now... And now...