Leaving the Desert with These Thoughts

I did not take home with me any new goals or resolutions. But I did leave the desert with some thoughts — “things I think” — some of which are new, some of which are simply clearer or less contingent than they were before my time alone in the desert. Here are a few:

  • It’s not enough. I’m not enough. Those are my demons. That’s not new; I knew that before going to the desert. I also knew, from what I see in the world around me, those demons are everywhere; they are not mine alone. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. Demons can be defeated. But I’m realizing they cannot be defeated with knowledge or willpower. They can be defeated only by removing the false ideas that protect and nourish them. And by wresting control of thoughts from them. Through awareness. Acceptance. Truth (reality). Seizing control of my mind.
  • The meaning I sought does not exist. The meaning that is available is that which I create; or perhaps more accurately, allow to be created.
  • Nothing is dependent upon anything eternal; nothing and no one outside of me needs to change. The world cannot be fixed. But I can change. And with that change, the sun can be brighter; the sky, bluer. Yet I cannot seek change or try to will it because such efforts would fail; they always have. If change is to come, it will come with awareness and mindfulness. And perhaps from things and in ways I don’t and never will fully understand.
  • Removal of the things that distort the lens through which I see and experience life — the barriers and obstructions, the false ideas, illusions, delusions, and unrealistic expectations — is essential. Deconstruction. Removal. Awareness. This I can do.
  • Finding and being mindful of the root causes of suffering is essential. Suffering should be considered an alarm; it should alert me to distortions in my lens.
  • Cede power to no one. Nor to any idea, action, or delusion. Care not about what anyone else thinks. About anything. But care about the person.
  • Be totally truthful in all things. Don’t lie (not even little white lies or lies intended to spare someone else’s feelings). Similarly, welcome the truthfulness of others; take no offense or hurt. Take no offense at their lies either, for surely many will come. They know not what they do.
  • Do not complain. It distorts the lens and misleads me into thinking my well-being is dependent upon something or someone.
  • Do not think about what I don’t have or what I haven’t done or achieved. If I think it matters, look up (when the moon is new and where there is little or no light pollution).
  • Desire nothing. Expect nothing. Instead of asking, why me? Ask, why not me?
  • Relish the gifts and wonder. They are everywhere. If I fail to see them, it is not because they aren’t there; it is because my lens is cloudy.
  • Be still. My mind needs time without distractions — not only external ones, but also (and more especially) the internal ones. Meditate. Return to the desert if necessary. Or to other places of solitude.
  • Be mindful and present, no matter how trivial or insignificant the activity or interaction seems.
  • Observe myself, too. I am not my thoughts. Step outside of my mind. Refuse to be hostage to my thoughts.

In sum:

Peace, contentment, happiness, and meaning lie in wait within; our natural state is happiness and contentment. They are mine provided I do not allow any illusion, fear, or belief to hold them hostage. Free them. But seek not these things; rather, focus on ridding myself of the things that obscure and imprison them.

Those were some my thoughts. As I departed …

the desert.

(See these prior posts for more on my time in the desert. Leaving and Days One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven.)

Notes from the Desert Day Six

Day Six (Links to Days One, Two, Three, Four, and Five)

I began my day early (before sunrise and before the tourists arrived) in meditation at Mission San Xavier del Bac, just south of Tucson. The mission was founded in 1692, and the current building was completed in 1797. The mission is located on the reservation of the Tohono O’odham Nation. The mission is a beautiful edifice with history and stories seeping from its walls and icons.

I thought of the natives who walked these lands and whose lives were transformed by undocumented (illegal?) immigrants conquerors from Europe, who allowed the natives to keep a small portion of the barren desert that had no value to the white men.

There is a lot of history in the desert. Much blood has been spilled here. But many celebrations have occurred here, too. Not just in the desert. But in this mission. It was a good place to start the day.

Later I checked out the photography portraits of the late Richard Avedon at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. I used to take a lot of photographs but stopped because I didn’t think I was very good at it and it had become a hassle. I might resume some day now that I have more free time.

Avedon was very good at his craft. Some people think the key to taking great portraits is being able to capture the essence of the subject. But that’s not how Avedon saw it.

Avedon said,

“My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph.”

It reminded me of the quote from Anaïs Nin I had read earlier in the week:

“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”

Reality is objective, but it affects each of us differently; we interpret and react and respond to it differently. Of course, we’re not always mindful of this and, therefore, we tend to project onto others our expectations and demands, and sometimes react emotionally in self-harmful ways when reality collides with our illusions, delusions, and dreams. We delude ourselves into thinking our experiences and understandings are universal or objective. Or that things are either right or wrong, imposing judgments at every turn. When I do that, it creates angst and perhaps other problems or life-depleting conditions. For me. Only me. What is the purpose in that?

When we fail to handle situations well — and by well, I mean in a way that is life-enhancing — then we tend to blame others, criticize, complain, sulk, get angry, resentful, or depressed, or turn on ourselves with blame and self-hatred.

I am becoming convinced that one of the keys to well-being — to a sense of meaning and satisfaction — is seeing reality clearly and accepting it for what it is. In other words, seeing and experiencing life through a lens that isn’t distorted by expectations, desires, and a host of other ideas and forces that can lodge in our minds with counter-productive effects and cause us to pine for a reality that simply does not exist. Easier said than done!

The failure to do so, however, means my life is less than it can be, for seeing life through a distorted lens is not a pleasing experience. Indeed, disappointment and despair are inevitable.

So what does my view of reality tell me about myself?

How can I change that view so life may become more beautiful and satisfying?

How can I react and respond to reality in ways that enhance rather than undermine my well-being?

How can I seize control of my own thoughts?

These are some of the questions on my mind …

In the desert.

Notes from the Desert Day Two

Day Two (Link to Day One)

I awoke early. Very early. I gave a shot at meditation this morning. It’s been quite a few years, 20 or so, since I managed to meditate with some regularity. Since then, I haven’t managed to consciously still my mind for anything more than passing moments. This time I decided to try the technique outlined by Andy Puddicombe in his book The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness. Time will tell.

Thoughts have a mind of their own. They are incessant. And random — or at least seemingly so. It is as if I’m hostage to them. It’s easy to think we are our thoughts, yet nothing could be further from the truth. We should never allow our thoughts to define us. Or control us. Or sap the beauty from life.

It would be nice if I had more control over my thoughts and the feelings they elicit — the negative ones, that is. The ones from which feelings of worry, loneliness, irrelevancy, insignificance, emptiness, and discontent emerge. These things, after all, are not part of reality; rather, they are merely my mind’s reaction and response, rooted in fear, false beliefs, and human-designed concepts. There is nothing inherently true or of value in many of these concepts and, indeed, there is much harmful. They distort reality.

As Anaïs Nin put it,

“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”

That’s the crux of the matter: changing whom I am. Not by force. Nor by will. Rather, by awareness. Insight. And identifying and removing all the things that stand in the way.

So that life can be even better than it is.

In the desert.

Leaving the Desert

I left the desert yesterday. To this. Snow clouds. Not far from home. Two days ago I was walking alone through the desert. This morning I awoke to falling snow and the prospect of having to shovel today. The desert certainly has its advantages!

Aside from the obvious benefit of not having to shovel, was my time in the desert worth it?

At first I was suppressing the question because I wanted to avoid assessing or judging the experience and instead just wanted to accept it for what it was. But last evening, after arriving home and having a wonderful time with my wife, at dinner at Bluebeard and later at home, I couldn’t avoid the obvious answer: the decision to go to the desert was a good one.

I’ll be posting some contemporaneous reflections starting tomorrow — some journal notes from last week, culminating with some final thoughts with a posting a week hence.

For now, suffice it to say that, at least in my experience, the decision to spend some time alone and away, in the desert, separated from my normal daily routine, unconnected entirely from work and career demands (the first time since 1983!), in semi-solitude, meditation, and contemplation, was a good one.

Was it life-changing? That remains to be seen. At the very least, though, it was life-enhancing.

More to come.

Update: After shoveling the walk with my hurting back, I decided this was for the birds and walked the two blocks to Ace Hardware and purchased a snow blower. One alternative was to return to Arizona. The other alternative was to hide in the basement meditating while my wife shoveled the driveway, but thus far I haven’t managed not to feel guilty about such behaviors.

Update 1/13/19: We ended up with 7 inches of snow. Thank god for snow blowers!

Desert Time

One of my resolutions for 2018 was to take a solo silent retreat. I’m a bit late, but better late than never. This morning I left for the desert. For a week. Alone. Off the grid. No work, conference calls, client contacts, appointments, emails, internet, television, newspapers, blogs, Twitter, phone calls, or stock trades. No intentional or voluntary distractions. None.

I’ve never done this. It’s appealing theoretically; however, I really have no idea what it will be like in reality. It could turn out to be a really bad idea. I hope not.

I have no goals for the week. It was tempting (I seem to need goals, which is part of the problem), but I thought better of it. I decided it would be best to relinquish control and leave my goals and expectations behind. And to focus on mindfulness, meditation, and reflection. With no distractions or preconceptions.

I suppose this trip to the desert is part of my quest for greater awareness and acceptance of reality, freedom, unshakable contentment, and unconditional happiness.

Put differently, I want to be as well as possible. For that to happen, I believe I need to break the spell of being distracted by mindless, uncontrollable thoughts, senseless concerns and worries, and false perspectives. In short, I seek greater freedom and deeper contentment. In order to flourish.

What freedom do I desire? To be free from expectations. Demands. Biases. Prejudices. Judgments. Falsehoods. Illusions. Delusions. Disappointments. Worry. Frustration. Desires. Guilt. Despair. Projections. Labels. Attachments. Insecurities. Fear. Uncontrollable thoughts. Boredom. Rumination. Resentments. Insomnia. Compulsive eating. Stress. Dark thoughts. And suffering.

I’ve come to understand that, for that to happen, I have much to unlearn and many insights to gain into how and why I think and feel the way I do. I need to become more aware and see reality more clearly. And not be a slave to my mind.

“Time spent undistracted and alone, in self-examination, journaling, meditation, resolves the unresolved and takes us from mentally fat to fit,” according to Naval Ravikant.

Stillness is the word that comes to mind. Not doing. Just being.

Will a week alone in the desert help?

I guess I’ll find out.