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I ♥ The Desert

July 31, 2009

I love the desert – absolutely, unequivocally love it. And that’s why I chose it as the picture for the header of this project. I wanted something to symbolize what the project of enlightenment has been for me. I didn’t want to get cute, or woo-woo mystical, or clever. And of these the desert is most definitely not, although, at times, it can contain cute, mystical, and clever. The same goes for enlightenment.

The desert is awe-inspiring but spend too much time in awe and you will die of thirst, or wander in circles, or get run over by the bedouin in his pick-up truck full of tourists on a day trip. The desert is uncompromising – no bullshit, no manipulation, no sympathy. You don’t tread into the desert mildly or on a whim. You go there. Period. And when you leave you are different. Just like enlightenment. You don’t linger in the desert and become one with it though many have tried. Or snap some photos and say “Look at me, I’m in the desert.”  You go there, and if you take the first step, courageous and afraid, the desert changes you. Forever. But you have to keep going.

Remember this – what you see might very well be an illusion. That oasis of safety, comfort, peace, nothing more than a trick of seduction. Don’t stop there, because there’s nothing there. Go further.

Enlightenment will change you. Forever. It can’t not. It is not about some awe-filled, mystical experience of blissed-out God-knows-whateness. It’s not about espousing some philosophical treatise, or the ether, or getting anything – be it salvation or a cookie. It’s not about what you know, how many hours of meditation you’ve done, or a vegan diet. And the project is more about what it is not, than what it is. Completion – true, honest to God, enlightenment – is what is, indivisible, non-duality, one, because two ain’t true.

Dr. Otto Meinardus, in his book Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1992) wrote that

[The desert] in Egypt…is still considered by many a blessing of God. The desert has provided, from time immemorial, a testing ground of the souls of men. Go to the desert for food and drink and you will find barren waste. Go there to listen for the voice of God and you will receive insight, understanding and wisdom. The desert is silent, apart, different. It conveys a picture, waterless and featureless, yet overwhelming to the senses.

And did I mention it can be absolutely brutal?

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