yesterday afternoon, I packed up my camping gear and drove out to a sweet, familiar space in the desert. I’ve grown so fond of the southern end of anza-borrego that I daydream about it constantly– sometimes even retreating to it as if into a dreamworld, especially when citylife gets to be a bit much. each time, whether with friends or alone, I’ll sleep in a different spot, and yesterday it was june wash that called out to me, with its friendly chollas and darting jackrabbits and kangaroo rats (the cutest creatures in the whole world, that I’ve met anyway). the sun was setting over the laguna mountains to the west, and the eastern sky grew pinker each minute as I set up tent, sleeping bag, and blankets. usually I would have built a fire, but I knew that this night would be moonless so I wanted to enjoy the momentous grandeur of the night sky with only the intermittent light of a candle to guide the way through the growing dark.
it took me a little while, about twenty minutes, to adjust to my own presence in the wild world. the absolute silence of the desert can be deafening, and at first I’d hear a sound so loud I would look around startled, only to find that it was a gurgle coming from my own stomach, or my foot brushing against some tiny twig.
and it always takes me about that long to adjust to the overwhelming presence of the wild world itself– a tangible aliveness in the air, in the ground, in the plants and the thousands of animals that reveal & conceal themselves all around me– some magnetism that sets my heart to beating faster, opens my pupils and my ears wider, enhancing my sensory awareness remarkably. at first, sometimes, I mistake this extaordinary sensitivity for fear– but I know that I’m just familiarizing my senses with the world around me while it, in turn, adjusts to my own mysterious appearance.
yes, the spine-chilling awareness that I am being observed by other awarenesses.
but I settled in as the night settled in around me, the dark closing in around my blanket to embrace me as I took my seat on the dry earth still warm from the heat of the desert sun. I slipped into meditation. no, that’s not entirely true. I slipped into conversation.
as the milky way lit up the sky, a great arc of light like a fountain trailing sparks across the great dome of the sky from east to west, I found myself established in a profound dialogue with the everything.
rewind for a moment: the reason I’d come out here wasn’t just to ‘commune with nature’ as we so often do. I’d been going through what I now realize was an intense crisis of faith, the foundation of which had been deeply shaken in recent times. I hadn’t even practiced yoga– outside of planning flows for and demoing poses while teaching– in three weeks. my relationship was vacillating somewhere between hiatus and ultimatum, and I couldn’t even tell where I stood, let alone whether or not I could commit to it. I was so stressed out w/r/t my career that I wasn’t sleeping well, and when I did sleep it was one long series of anxiety dreams. I couldn’t tell the difference between my own intuition and the doubts and fears that had implanted themselves in my consciousness. the truth is that I didn’t even realize how far off course I was in my life except that I knew– every cell of my intuitive being was shouting at me– that I had to get out to the desert to get a hold of myself.
I’ll spare you the details of the conversation I had with myself, out there under the great forever maw of the void. but this I can share:
I let the tears flow. (they hadn’t come in so long.)
I allowed the impulse to cry out to overtake me, and this is what I said: why am I so hurt?
and, since I’m not the only one: why is there so much pain? why is the suffering in this world so great?
and: what is my (expletive) purpose here?
and: how can I be a healer when I’m so wounded I can’t even love people the right way?
when I’d raged long enough, I fell into silence. it was my turn to listen.
slowly, the tears grew cold on my cheeks, and I settled into a state of utter peace. here, I embraced my woundedness, again, and surrendered to what is sacred about it, how it fuels me and teaches me compassion. how healing doesn’t mean not feeling pain, but going inward to experience it fully, and coming out to talk about it, to share your battle scars with others so we know we’re still here, alive, even if it’s so raw we don’t know if we can stay here.
in that space, I remembered that I have to give myself love, too. I hadn’t been taking care of myself at all lately, and my centered self had retreated so far into the recesses that my life had yielded to complete chaos. but the moment I found her, I felt something at my core realign itself, and I knew I was back.
deep in this sweet silence, I watched the meteors, satellites, planets and stars in their dance around our galaxy until my eyelids grew heavy. I had not felt this calm in months.
when the coyotes’ chorus woke me up at daybreak, I felt more rested than I had in forever. the warmth of the early light was comforting after the moonless night.
she is risen—
and here was joy, again.
my heart returned to its true nature, again. at this appropriate moment, a visit from a hummingbird–
on the drive back to the coast, the fuzzy light of the chollas & the long alien spines of the ocotillos gave way to mountainsides of creosote & white sage, dotted with boulders light as bleached bones. the glory of the morning everywhere, even back at the shore. but the same woundedness I saw in myself last night I see everywhere in the world around me, today.
the brand-new eyesore of powerlines they’ve just built across our sacred desert, right next to the newest crop of wind turbines, both equally disruptive to the wildlife and devastating to the land. the city I live in, like all other cities, a vast laceration on the face of this wondrous earth. the heartbreak and suffering that we each carry, knowing this is the world we have inherited, and the darkness from which we must rise. the brutal truths, and the deep breaths we must take to speak them. the fierceness and the force we must cultivate to create fertile resistance in our hearts and our lives– and the compassion and kindness and radical self-love we must learn, practice and embody every day if we want to sustain it.
that last part I’d forgotten–
but I’m glad some part of me remembered, and took me home.