Rendering the Desert Just Deserts

For text to speech version click here

Life begins the other side of despair. 

                                                                        --Jean-Paul Sartre

The trouble with "the world," in the bad sense which the Gospel condemns, is that it is a complete and systematic sham, and he who follows it ends not by living but by pretending he is alive, and justifying his pretense by an appeal to the general conspiracy of all the others to do the same.It is this pretense that must be vomited out in the desert.

                                                             --Thomas Merton   

To get to the other side of despair, where life begins, one must first vomit out all the mere pretense at living with which the global scam so dominant today fills all of our everyday days.

To do that, we must first seek out some desolate place where we can dump all that vomitus. We must go into the desert of solitude.

There, in that desert, we can finally vomit out all the pretenses of life and living with which we have been filled--and overfilled, till we can hold no more and it all begins to come back up on us.

Having thus voided ourselves in that desert, we can at last remember our names again, to adapt a line from an old song.

* * *

Our names are what we are called by. They call us.

When we forget the names that call us, we literally forget ourselves. In forgetting our names, we can no longer hear who we are called to be. We lose ourselves among all the detritus of consumption that surrounds us. We lose ourselves in the desert of distraction with which we are so surrounded today.

The desert of distraction, of meaninglessness and compulsive consumption, is exemplified by such glittering places as the Las Vegas Strip--or the shelves of the nearest Walmart, or network news shows, or Facebook, or untold other places of exchange. To escape such glittering, showy deserts, we must go into a different sort of desert.

To escape the desert where only still animate corpses can be found, we must go into the desert where we can no longer escape ourselves. We must withdraw into the desert of solitude, wherein alone we can at last hear ourselves called again by name.

* * *

I am content. But the right kind of contentment is a perfect solitude. When one is more or less content with the "nothing" that is at hand, one finds in it everything. I do not mean "nothing" in a tragic, austere sense, but the plain nothing which is the something of every day. 

                                                                                    --Thomas Merton

But what is useless can still--and all the more--be a power.

                                                                        --Martin Heidegger

Some three decades ago, I discovered that one good desert to go into so that one might at last again hear one's name, is a busy airport terminal. In the same way, generations of monks in Buddhist monasteries have regularly withdrawn into deep desert solitude while meditating on mats in rooms crowded tight with other monks doing the same thing on their own mats all around them. 

The desert of solitude into which we must withdraw--to vomit out all the mindless, life-crushing drivel with which the desert of distraction from which we must withdraw to find ourselves for the first time again at last--is no geographical point on the map. It is, rather, everywhere and nowhere--wherever we can, in whatever fashion, draw apart for a moment, however brief, and pay attention

The noise of a busy airport--or, for that matter, of the Vegas Strip at the busiest time of day and year--can provide us the same sort of "white noise" that the humming of an air-conditioner in a motel room can provide the sleeper. When such sleepers enter sleep in the midst of such all-surrounding background noise, they withdraw from the desert of public distractions into the desert of solitary dreams, where they can once again find themselves. 

However, to find themselves in their dreams, they must first be opened to receive the messages that their dreams deliver to them. They can again at last, and always with the freshness and inexhaustibility of the very first time, find themselves in their dreams--if they have already been given the eyes to see and the ears to hear. 

* * *

May we all be given such eyes and such ears! And may we all then diligently practice regular withdrawal into whatever deserts of solitude surround us, so we may at last come back to ourselves!

Only then will we render both deserts--the glittering, noisy desert of distraction and conglomeration, and the silent, empty desert of solitude and community--their just deserts.    


Ghost-ranch desert bluff.jpeg