Wintering in the California desert has brought home some valuable life lessons. Of course, the desert has likely been a place of spiritual renewal since before recorded time.
In life, there are physical deserts and there are spiritual deserts. Beautiful things grow in both. For some, the desert is a vast and lonely place. For others, it offers peace, serenity and a spiritual awakening.
After spending much of the past year cooped up in my home office writing and rewriting, I was more than ready for both physical and spiritual renewal. Our first-time road trip in our new-to-us RV has brought many rewards, including the following reminders:
The vastness of the desert makes you totally aware of your place in the universe. The desert reveals the contours of the bald earth. The ancient mountains, the badlands, the sand dunes, the canyons, the washes and the ruins remind you that nature is in charge – not us.
It is surprising to realize that it is water that defines the desert – moving water. It is water that has created the canyons, arroyos and washes and continues to evolve its transmutations. When you walk the desert – know that water was there first. Water shapes the desert in the same way experience shapes our lives.
The desert allows you to see further and more clearly – the colours are more intense. It provides miles and miles of uninterrupted views. This is truly ‘big picture’ country. It offers a chance to really see the dramatic sunrise, sunset, the moon and the stars against the unbelievably dark night skies, as if for the first time. From our front porch, we could, if we wished, remain in one spot and celebrate both the dawn and the dusk of each new day.
The starkness has my eyes wide open. There is such beauty in the timeless open spaces and simplicity of these vistas. The expansive desert is framed by barren, ancient cliffs and miles of emptiness. Simplicity provides both peace and beauty. The desert helps you appreciate the beauty of simplicity.
The contrasts are startling. Salt deposits are everywhere on the cracked brown earth while a few feet away is an oasis of palm trees around a small lake fed by a hot spring. It is surprisingly filled with fish jumping in the stream of life that feeds it.
The warm, dry climate is therapeutic for the body and encourages desert walks and dips in the pool and hot tub. These pleasures give a new appreciation of having a physical body.
The desert is so silent you can hear your own thoughts. I remind myself to let them float away as I meditate on the peacefulness around me. Serenity is ever present here. Such peace, such quiet, invites contemplation.
Salvation Mountain is one man’s gift to the world with its simple message: God is Love. (SalvationMountain.org ) It reminds me that the desert has historically attracted visionaries who felt that materialism and urban practices often detract us from spiritual development.
If you travel long enough in the desert – you will likely come across your own footprints. Who were you when you made those tracks? You’re different now.
And oh, the light! I have never seen such light before – as it dances across the Chocolate Mountains and the Salton Sea. The quality of sunlight seems much more radiant than the light at sea level. It invites a spiritual awakening.
While sitting in the desert, I read a book about Georgia O’Keeffe, the artist who lived and painted in the New Mexico desert for almost 30 years. She said of her desert home: “It’s something that’s in the air, it’s different. The sky is different, the wind is different.” She was exhilarated by the vast scale of the remote mountains, the deep silence of the land and the empty arc of the infinite sky – offering endless possibilities. This is my hope for you – that you will contemplate your endless possibilities.
Omens and rumours are constant in the desert. Fear of the unknown abounds. Danger lies in rattlesnakes, coyotes and cactus needles. O’Keeffe also said: “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” Don’t allow fear to hold you back either.