The parellels that can be drawn between full self discovery and the desert are endless. Self discovery comes through depriving the self of the body’s usual nourishments. Not to a dangerous extent, but to a useful extent. What has been found is that those who deny their body’s usual sustenance bring forward the life of their metaphysical being, their soul. Depriving the body and nourishing the soul through meditation, spirit walks and the likes is an old tradition of sajes, prophets and wise men. When we ingest food for the soul instead of food for the body, we become more in touch with our truest self.
How does this relate to the desert, one might ask? The desert is where these said sajes, prophets and wise men are known to go in order to deprive themselves because it is a physically deprived place. The desert does not have water to spare. Most days of the year, it is as dry as a bone. This basic element essential to natural life is hardly present. Similarly, the provision of food, shade and shelter is also extremely limited. One goes into the desert expecting to navigate the harshest of conditions. Therefore, the philosophy of depriving the body in order to engage the spirit naturally goes hand in hand with the environment of the desert.
This blogger is by no means recommending that people should wander in the desert without water or provisions. This has been known to take the lives of many people. This article merely points out the value of entering the desert in order to seek growth for that part of our identities that is not of this earth. One should be very physically and mentally prepared for an excursion of this nature. Do not attempt anything like this without mental and physical training. However, if one can properly equip themselves to deal with the hardships of the desert, immersing one’s self within it for the purpose of self discovery can be highly rewarding.
There are many types of deserts around the world that are different types of ecosystems. Here in North America, the term “desert” usually draws to mind images of the Southwestern states in America, such as Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California and New Mexico. Here, deserts such as the Sonoran and Mojave stretch for many hundreds of miles in some of the most widely recognized desert landscapes in the world. The desert is a natural environment unlike any other. There is an incredible draw and appeal to the desert that brings in travelers from around the world, but just what features make the desert so distinct?
The arid weather of the desert is responsible for the familiar plant life of the desert. Plants such as cactus, palo verde trees and creosote are adapted to grow in climates that have very little water. The Saguaro Cactus and the Prickly Pear Cactus are known for retaining water so efficiently that someone lost in the desert can survive by cutting them open and drinking their fluids. Vegetation in the desert is very sparse and the plants that do grow there are very recognizably associated with the desert of the Southwest.
Monsoon season is the time of year that replenishes the desert’s water table. The desert of the Southwest is frequently without rain, but when it does get rain, it comes in deluges. Desert monsoons have a huge impact on the environment and the landscape. The Southwestern desert is known for its red rock sandstone formations, which are created entirely by the movement of water through the desert. Monsoon season is one of the most photographed seasons of the desert due to the dramatic lighting and color that black clouds and bright sunlight create over the desert landscape.
The wildlife of the Southwestern desert is also very iconic. Its well known inhabitants range greatly, all the way from small insects to large game. When exploring the desert, it is important to keep an eye on the ground for dangerous creatures such as scorpions and rattlesnakes. A number of bird species, such as quail, roadrunner and cactus wren call the desert home. Medium sized desert mammals include the ringtail cat, jackrabbit and desert tortoise, while large sized desert mammals include the coyote, antelope, bobcat and mountain lion.
It is a long held tradition of mankind to seek meditation in the desert in order to cleanse one’s self of afflictions. This has been done through out time in ancient societies, religious orders and by sages and mystics of all spiritualities. Even Christ spent time in the desert as a meditative trial. A common theme for meditation in the desert is battling one’s demons. Historically, meditation in the desert has been a test of sorts, either a test of survival, of inner strength or of character. Now, in modern times, this concept is applied on a new level. It is desirable to spend time in the desert meditating in order to heal addiction, mental unhealthiness and other similar afflictions. There are even substance abuse recovery centers and spas located in the deserts of the Southwest United States which operate under these philosophies.
First of all, the concept of meditation is a universal inner peace tactic used by virtually every spiritual sect and tradition. Meditating has been found to improve mental health, increase brain function, expand self-awareness and create peace within the person exercising it. The pace of the world we live in contradicts the spirit of meditation, making it difficult for most people to find the time, but those who do find it to be an exceedingly beneficial practice. Meditation is basically settling into silence and stillness in order to empty one’s mind of overcrowding thoughts. This allows the free flow of ideas and revelations to the person meditating, making them relaxed and open to possibilities.
Because we now know that thought patterns actually influence the chemistry of the brain, the idea of ritualistic mental relaxation is a valuable tool to a person’s physical and mental health. Stopping the rampant flow of thoughts in order to soothe the mind is useful in healing mental disorders, coping with negative emotions and ending addiction through meditation. The more inner reflection a person has, the more self-awareness they gain, which inspires them to make better decisions about their life choices.
Meditation is beneficial on many levels, and is an underused resource for serenity in a world that badly needs help finding peace. Meditation is the process of silencing the mind and acknowledging the whole of life without the rampant flow of thoughts. The typical practice of meditation is accompanied by a quiet, serene environment, a seated position and sometimes light music or incense. For a certain amount of time, the person meditating will focus on silencing their thoughts and receiving the world around them in a purely intuitive way. Meditation is both a sensory and a mental process, and has been found to possess an incredible amount of healing.
Many people use meditation as a tool for soothing negative states of mind, such as stress, confusion and racing thoughts. There have been many psychological studies that would indicate that people have a tendency of taking on too much. The burdens we carry often result in stressful emotions and thoughts, and the heavier they become, the more difficult it is to turn them off. When we allow our negative thinking to run rampant, it can have detrimental effects on our lives. Because the primary goal of meditation is to silence the flow of thoughts, it has been found to be incredibly stress-reducing when practiced regularly. Knowing how to end negative thought patterns and replace them with stillness of the mind is more than meditation; it is a life skill.
For individuals who struggle with a mental disorder, mental illness or addiction, meditation can literally be life saving. Practicing it regularly can be difficult to start as people with these mental hardships are prone to more extreme negative thought patterns. However, with a certain degree of hard work and determination, meditation can become a regular part of life for a person with mental hardships. Those recovering from addiction and disorder will find that meditation and treatment for their condition will go hand-in-hand, often influencing one another.
There are certain environments that simply promote deep, meditative thinking, and the desert is definitely one of them. The desert is a place of stark natural beauty with an incredible amount of space and open sky. The isolation of the desert is what makes it ideal for meditation. Meditation requires extended silence, which can typically only be found in nature. Other natural areas can be popular destinations for hikers, campers and outdoor enthusiasts, but because the desert is a more harsh natural environment, fewer animals, people and even forms of vegetation are found there. The desert is a place of widespread silence; ideal conditions for moving the self far from the reality of the manmade world and back to the reality of the natural world.
The beauty of nature puts one into a meditative state, and it would seem that the landscape of the desert is especially strong for this quality. There is something about the other-worldly rock formations of sandstone, the horizon line of cactus and the unusual, drought resistant plant life that make us feel like we have walked into a different plane of existence. Psychologically, it seems there is something about the wide open space of the desert that gives us the feeling of broad scope. Compared to the looming high canopies of the Pacific Northwest that inhibit vision of the nearest hills and mountains, the open sky of the desert comes with a feeling of wide reaching vision, which enhances the meditative journey.
Because the desert is so stark, it also serves as an environment largely free from distractions. The colors, variations and shapes of the desert are largey subdued compared to a tropical or garden environment. This freedom from things that steal one’s attention help to aid deep meditation. The practice of stopping the flow of thoughts can be quite difficult, especially for beginners, so the more isolated the meditation environment, the more naturally one will go deep inside themselves to experience the world intuitively instead of attempting to break it down into disjointed thoughts.
“To the desert go prophets and hermits; through the desert go pilgrims and exiles. Here the leaders of the great religions have sought the therapeutic and spiritual values of retreat, not to escape but to find reality.”
This is a quote by writer Paul Shepard, borrowed by journalist Jon Krakauer in the book Into the Wild. Both authors were fascinated by the human spiritual tendency of retreating into the desert to seek solace and revelation. There have been many people throughout history who have been drawn to the isolation of the desert for clarity of mind, both ancient and modern. There are many biblical characters who spent time wandering in the desert, none more well known than Jesus Christ. Jesus went into the desert willingly in order to grapple with his demons, quite literally, as the biblical telling states that Satan himself confronted Jesus while he was in the desert and attempted to win him over.
A group called the Desert Fathers of the third century A.D. were a group of nomadic Christian prophets and monks who willingly took up residency in the deserts outside of Egypt and created a tradition of spirituality that thrives in hermit-like behavior. The Desert Fathers are still cited today and studied for their contributions to the monastic tradition. In more modern times, figures such as Jim Morrison of The Doors are known for pushing their understanding of reality by taking hallucinogenic drugs and going to places such as the Mojave Desert to see reality differently. This is obviously a different tradition from the prophets and monks of past centuries, but a connection is still drawn. Jon Krakauer’s novel subject Chris McCandless is also a somewhat well-known desert dwelling individual who left a life of priviledge to live rootlessly on the road of North America entirely for spiritual, soulful reasons.