Three days and nights alone in the desert is an archetypal and transforming experience. With tent, sleeping bag, water and fasting solution, you have everything you need to ensure that your physical needs are met. Once you have found a site where there is some shade from the desert sun and enough flat ground to pitch a tent, you can make camp. There are no distractions that you will permit to interrupt your purpose: food, cell phones, books, ipods, laptop computers, video games or other entertainments are sacrifices on the alter of solitude. You are alone on the land, present with the silence. You sit…and watch…and wait.
It’s hard to tell when your consciousness changes. Maybe it happens right away when you first step on the land. Maybe it’s when you get over the nervousness of that first night, when every twig snapping and every rustle in the underbrush crashes through you like an explosion. Maybe it’s when you befriend the night sky in all its dynamic brilliance. Maybe it’s when you awaken from a narcoleptic sleep that has carried you to an unfathomable depth to deposit you on the shoreline of consciousness some 18 hours later. Somewhere, the incessant chatter of the mind has been replaced by the slow, hypnotic rhythm of timelessness.
That’s when the visitations come: the memories, dreams, visions. What has evaded decipher suddenly reveals the meanings that have been hidden from understanding while in plain site. This retreat in nature is less about the outer landscape and more about the geography of the inner world, a place of solace and silence.
As the chattering mind recedes, a more ancient way of knowing that resides in the bones and organs attunes you to inner and outer realities. Body wisdom makes possible knowledge that cannot be attained through the mind.
Scents on the wind that would never be recognized arrive like advance notice of a guest. Prickly pear brings a sweet melon scent. The white bursage bush emits the licorice of tarragon and sage and the creosote bush provides a pungent, tarry sweetness to the air. Somewhere down the arroyo, an acrid scent signals the coming of two scruffy, snorting havelenas looking for a dinner of favorite desert plants.
Drink before you are thirsty, sleep before you are tired, ride boredom like a slow desert wind carrying you ever inward, deeper into the ancient, ancestoral memories carried from your soul by your blood. Sitting alone in this spirited place, perhaps it is possible to recover what is described in the old Zen koans as “that face that you had before you were born.”
© Patrick O’Neill 2011. All rights reserved.