The Tradition of Meditating in the Desert

desert meditation tradition

“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.