What I learned from the desert
Depending on where you are reading this from, the snow is likely blanketing your streets and cars, or the nipping cold may be sneaking its way through the smallest of door frame slits. Thick socks and heavy sweaters are donned and your nose never gets quite warm.
Some people may be silently yearning for warmer days ahead or wish to immediately transport to a hot and arid climate for reprieve.
Perhaps an inconspicuous teacher, the desert is one that is distinct and purposeful. One that encourages us to recalibrate, clarify, and pare down.
The most visible yet still striking characteristic of the desert is its ability to envelope one in its vastness. It serves as a harsh reality to recalibrate our place in the world. To remind us that our accomplishments will likely be insignificant in 5 or 10 years time, that few people actually care where you attended university, and while you may be proud of your large home or expensive car, that in reality you only occupy a very small place in this world. But the desert's vastness also gives us a gentle, more tender nudge. A reminder that that argument with your loved one should have never happened, that you were just tired or that your ego got in the way on that late evening. Or maybe you realize that the subtle nuisances of your partner that typically irritate you in your normal day are, actually, what you find the most endearing about them. Or maybe you become aware that you want to be known less for your work accomplishments and more for how you spend time with your family and friends.
Apart from the whipping winds or the occasional furtive scuttle of a small reptile, the desert also offers an element that we are rarely gifted in our normal lives - silence. With fewer distractions, our minds are left to wander, not unlike the sparse moments of staring out the window on a long drive or watching the drifting cloud formations from a sprawled out picnic blanket. The desert offers the opportunity to listen for the quieter suggestions and perspectives that are normally drowned out by the loudness of our lives. In a society that values productivity over daydreaming, our deeper selves rarely get the opportunity to surface. Rare are the moments where quiet reigns supreme and the creative aspect of our minds are given permission to take the lead.
When we have successfully given our minds some headspace, we can begin to appreciate that the desert provokes simplicity. Notice the smooth, rolling hills of sand, the sharp lines of peaks carefully designed by the wind - not cluttered, marred, or rearranged by man. Observe the towering stone structures, where persistent water and winds have been diligently sculpting for years. We, too, should be persistently carving away, to gain knowledge of our stripped down inner selves. With our tendency to overcomplicate, the desert provides a lesson in paring down, a prod to clarify our perspective. Like the best design work, we should be asking ourselves not what should be added, but what should be taken away.
While the warmth of the desert may provide an extrinsic lure to such a unique place, it is in the awareness of the stark contrasts that the desert presents to our daily lives, that we can further delve into the unexplored self.