How to use the desert as a teacher: 4 questions to ask before you leave
Are you seeking to escape your current situation or to enhance it? The desert can help you answer this question before you leave home; why go now when you still have work to do here?
“Wherever you go, there you are.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn
The desert provides us with lessons we can observe in daily life, but the last thing I want is to send you running elsewhere in search of peace. The key to thriving during a desert vacation or life is to understand the preliminary lessons before you head out for adventure. Without doing your homework, a trip to the desert will provide a revolution that you will not understand. To search for the lessons in your everyday life, you can ask yourself a series of questions. The desert will ask questions you are afraid to ask, not the questions you are asking right now, so it is important to first realize what you are asking.
The voice in your head urging you to wonder is the same voice you will hear in the desert. It requires hard work before it stops asking questions and starts showing you answers. It will save a lot of time if you ask yourself the first few questions so you can dive deeper upon arrival. Writing down your answers will be beneficial, but you may also spend time wondering about or meditating on these.
4 Questions & Considerations for spending time in the desert
1. What are you avoiding?
Consider the places in your mind that make you feel uncomfortable. Why do they make you uncomfortable?
Consider grief that you never processed. Does doing so still bring up unwelcome memories, or have you made peace with these moments?
Consider the past or current experiences that you believe only time will heal. Will time heal them, or are you using time as a strategy for avoidance?
2. What are you clinging to?
Consider the pieces of your identity that you view as immutable. Why do you feel personally attacked when someone criticizes your spiritual choices, favorite food, even your favorite color?
Consider how you react when you feel your identity wavering. Do you get frustrated or does it make you feel stronger?
Consider moments of nostalgia. Do you ruminate on these memories or are you able to let them float away?
3. What are you angry about?
Consider the moments where you feel aggression rising in your body. Are you able to recognize and control this aggression, or does it control you?
Consider moments when your reaction is greater than the situation demands. Does this happen frequently, or is it more unusual?
Consider moments when you have interpreted a miscommunication as disagreement. Do you lose control of your reaction or are you able to take a step back and recognize the difference?
4. Why do you want to go?
Are you escaping any of the circumstances you considered above, or are you looking to dive deeper into the reality that you have glimpsed through this exercise?
After you have worked out each of these knots, you will have a better understanding of how the desert will challenge you. If you are up to the challenge, it is time to head out! If this exercise has made you hesitant or fearful, you may have more work to do before making the big decision.
When you reach a point where you feel ready to head out, you can move on. Sit in a canyon. Stare at the motionless landscape, changed only by the angle of the sun and its reflection cast across the mountains. Hear your breath, the wind, and nothing else. The dead quiet echoes your thoughts back to you, urging you to pay closer attention. Listen. “Take another look!” your mind demands. In the absence of sound, the desert shows you what you need to see. You cannot outrun yourself.
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