Into the WILDERNESS
I have been drawn to the wilderness and desert places from when I lived in East Africa. My heroes were the game wardens, Masai warriors and Bushmen and women of the Kalahari desert.
As a teenager I was then haunted by the words from Isaiah 11:6, ‘The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them’ (KJV). The compelling idea was that there was a connection between the wilderness and humanity.
Ecotherapy argues that all of us feel the loss of connection with the wild, and suffer from ecoalienation which makes us ill. Since then I have become interested in the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness and the ways in which we can follow that – drawing on his example to make ourselves well and whole again. Mark’s gospel has a very short account which includes the enigmatic phrase (1:13), ‘He was with the wild animals.’ Some scholars believe this is in the sense that there was a primal connection between Jesus and the wild animals, going back to the idea of the harmony between man and beast in the Garden of Eden.
Certainly this experience in the desert included silence and solitude and a deepening of his attention and awareness – which is then seen in his life and ministry when he returned from the desert. In mindfulness attention and awareness has been returned centre stage in our cultural life.
As someone trained in secular psychology who is also a Baptist minister I have found a deep connection between secular mindfulness and the watchfulness that is practised by Jesus, and commended by him in Mark’s gospel.
It was a period of ill-health, a different wilderness, where I was stressed, anxious and close to burnout that led me to this insight. What I have learnt is that mindful awareness or meditative practices, whether secular or spiritual are deeply transformative, enabling us to cultivate a deeper attention to reality as it is. They also heal our fractured, distracted attention that is captivated and enslaved by our virtual world.
I also want to affirm that through them we come to our senses, for mindfulness as our universal human capacity for awareness and attention, is embodied awareness. As I imagine this trail you are following in Manchester I see it as a breathing space, enabling a window of silence and solitude. Ordinary things we do automatically and often out of conscious awareness, can come back into our awareness: we can walk mindfully, pause mindfully, read mindfully, look mindfully, breathe mindfully.
What I have also found is that instead of looking at life from my small self, I find a larger more spacious self within. As Origen, one of the early Church Fathers puts it, ‘Understand that you are another universe, a universe in miniature; that in you there are sun, moon, and stars too.’
That sense of wonder then seems to naturally envelop the world of nature, other people, and for me God as well. Out of stillness comes new life and creativity – our bodies, minds and souls hum and glow with life, life in all its fullness. It is in the bare desert, where all is stripped down and away, that our greening begins again.
Shaun Lambert is a trained counsellor & psychotherapist, Baptist Minister and author.