For psychiatrist Carl G. Jung, the desert was a metaphor for his subconscious (aka unconscious). Jung’s desert was in his dreams. My desert, also a metaphor for my subconscious, is physical. It lies in the far reaches of southwest Texas in the high desert mountains along the Rio Grande River and the Big Bend area. The desert’s wildness is a metaphor for the untamed mind. Its great stillness, a reflection of reality’s underlying stillness.
Having grown up in the desert, my journeys into it represent returns to my childhood and its issues. These journeys lead to encounters with my subconscious, the untamed, and the stillness—and are part of my spiritual practice. Through this practice, I seek to confront the Shadow demons of my childhood as part of my subconscious and make peace with them. The desert’s wildness lies within its stillness. My path leads through the desert/mind’s wildness into its stillness.
A recent article in the New York Times reported on a teen (14) and his stepdad (31) that died in Big Bend National Park while hiking in 119° heat. They were attempting to hike one of the Park’s more desolate trails in the heat of the day. No self-respecting lizard would have been out in that heat! Even in ‘normal’ times, you must respect the wildness of the desert. In these times of extremes caused by climate change, we must take such heat seriously.
Desert stillness is vast—and can kill you. It wasn’t the great stillness that killed them. Rather it was part of its wildness, Mother Nature’s henchman, Natural Selection. Humans stave off her henchman with our technology—sometimes. However, Natural Selection is alive and doing well. Like a rattlesnake ready to strike, the desert stillness through its wildness is deadly and can strike before you can blink. It can act quickly on rampant stupidity. The Desert’s stillness is breathtaking, life-taking, and beautiful, all at the same time.
As a metaphor for my subconscious, it houses my Holy Grail in one of its deep caves. That Grail holds both my angels and demons: the great inner truths of my life. Chaos, the Dragon, guards that cave and, thereby, the Grail. I must either kill her, get around her, or dance with her to get to my Grail.
The desert’s breathtaking beauty, vastness, wildness and stillness are its angels. Its demons are its harshness and extremes, which are also part of its wildness. The desert’s darkness is a Jungian Shadow-land, wherein lives my inner demons: the fears, loneliness, and insecurities of my Inner Child; Unresolved psychic issues and traumas from my childhood and family of origin; Those rejected parts of myself I shed to fit in to be accepted. These dwell deep in my subconscious, in its darkness below my consciousness. Metaphorically, I go to the desert to bring them out of their darkness into the daylight of my consciousness. To dance with them in that light, to reintegrate and resolve those issues, and let them live.
Underneath the violence and extremes of the desert is its vast stillness. Sometime called ‘God’ by mystics through the ages, it is Zen’s ineffable emptiness, a place of no-thingness. It is the Tao or the quantum-physics reality that underlies all thingness. To become one with that stillness is to open the doors of Heaven or Nirvana and to step into them: a place of no-self, no-thingness, and the eternal. The origin of all things to which all things return. To which we return when we die.
I have touched this sacred place one time so far in my life so far. To live your daily life with all its trials, turmoil, tears—and joy—grounded in this great stillness, is a gift beyond measure. Like the mythic Hero’s Journey to find the Holy Grail, it is a journey well worth all its wildness and challenges.