Most people enjoy contact with nature – by which is meant, perhaps, Life not obviously modified by humanity. A walk in the woods, a bike ride through the mountains or a kayak paddle in a quiet bay all give us something. We come home refreshed, in a more peaceful condition.
Generally speaking, there are two different approaches to this contact, with infinite variations stretched between them. At one end of the spectrum, there is the picnic; at the other end, the dervish. The picnic is a pleasant outing, for which we come equipped, brining food, drink, games for the children, music, a blanket to sit on – everything. We recreate our home, but with grass, leaves, bird song and ants. The way of the dervish, although it is always risky trying to generalise about dervishes, is the opposite; this seeker walks away from ‘home’ with very little – perhaps a staff, a cloak, a bowl, but sometimes not even that. Most importantly, the dervish doesn’t have expectations, nor a particular plan about when or even if he or she will return, whereas the picnicker usually is running on some sort of schedule – to be home in time for the children’s football practice, or before the traffic gets heavy, or before it gets dark, and so on.
These two extremes are also images of the way we approach our practices and prayers. At one end of the scale there is the person who brings everything along, replicating daily life but now in the context of the meditation hall or the prayer chapel. It is the usual menu of ‘my’ thoughts, ‘my’ attitudes, ‘my’ interests, just as for the picnic we bring along ‘my’ sandwiches, ‘my’ potato salad, ‘my’ beer, but in both cases all is elevated to a certain extent by the setting. Such a spiritual picnicker will certainly derive something from the experience, some moments of peace and inspiration, but it will be momentary; a day or two later, the effect with have faded and vanished. The way of the dervish, on the other hand, is to forget, as much as possible, all that is ‘mine,’ in the hope of experiencing Truth directly, without any intervening veils of context or point of view, and with no wish to return to the daily ‘normal.’
If we are on this spiritual path it is probable that we have a longing within us to go beyond the stage of the spiritual picnic, but to do that we have to make an effort. Our habits – our visits to Divine Nature – should be regular, and most importantly, we should come empty handed. We must surrender completely, and accept whatever we are offered. The Divine is infinite; when we come with our own agenda, with expectations of what we should experience, we only attempt to limit that which is beyond all limitation.