The Power Of The Desert


History is full of stories about men who were called to the desert and who later returned after gaining great wisdom and insight. Moses spent time wondering around the desert before returning to Egypt to free the Israelites. Jesus himself spent 40 days in the desert fasting while being tempted by Satan. And when Don Juan Matus was instructing Carlos Canteneda in the ways of the Toltecs it was also in the desert.

I have always wondered what makes the desert such a powerful place for personal transformation.

I love the desert and to be honest it I really don’t know why. I think of myself as someone who prefers mountains and forests of green. Still… Something about the desert I find enchanting and alluring.

Is there really something that powerful, mystical, magical, and especially transformative about the desert? I think so, yes.

On the surface, nearly every desert appears empty of life, desolate and bleak, but if you look past that you will see the opposite is true and that the desert is teeming with life. Every life form in the desert is especially adapted to live in that environment, from the plants, to the insects, snakes, and even the warm-blooded animals. They are probably the heartiest of creatures on this planet to survive in such meager conditions having mastered living with only the bare necessities and requirements to sustain life. Life in the desert may be hard, but at the same time it is also very uncomplicated.

In 2006, I spent ten days living in the remote desert in Texas just a stones throw from the Mexican border close to a town called Sierra Blanca. I slept on a cot in an old barn at night but during the day I would wander around the ranch property. Most afternoons I would find a spot in an arroyo, get comfortable, write and even mediate. It was in those ten days that I got a glimpse of the healing powers of the desert and gained insights that I carry with me to this day.

Life became a very simple affair those days. Sleep, drink enough water and eat. Past that, there were no other distractions in life. My mind was unencumbered by the outside world. There was no internet, no television, and not even a radio. During my walks and on my outings there was only the desert and me. Every night I read or wrote for hours using only the light from my headlamp.

Through that forced simplicity, my mind was free to think, conceptualize, and even wander around itself. That period of my life was one of my most challenging times and even after returning from the desert, things were difficult, but everything that I learned and experienced there made me stronger and provided valuable insights and knowledge that I believe eventually enabled me to master my own life as much as I was capable of at the time.

“I believe that the desert has the power to kill but it also has the power to heal.” – Andy Wooten, 2006

But what if you cannot go to the desert and experience that means of purification and transformation for yourself? Don’t worry… Life has its own way of presenting scenarios, situations, and events that can force you the bare necessities without even leaving your zip code.

Every major life challenge lends the potential to explore the desert or the wilderness within you. Divorce, death of a loved one, loss of a job, financial ruin… all of these situations are guaranteed to force you to live life in the simplest of terms by trying to just get by and survive day to day. Just like living in the desert, these types of life events force you to focus on the important things in life while the unimportant and trivial matters dissolve and fall away. And it is through these personally bleak, desolate, and barren times that we become stronger, grow wiser, learn, and grow the most in life.

Welcome your time in the desert in your life regardless of it’s situational or an actual desert experience. Allow it to strip away the all of the extras in life that in the end do not matter and take the opportunity to focus on what really matters not only to you but to the world you live in. The deserts of life certainly have the capacity to take away and threaten life, but if you look more closely you will see the power that the desert has to give to sustain, enhance, and even give life is far greater.

Do you believe that the desert can be a place of healing or growth?  Do you have an desert experiences that you would like to share?

Andy Wooten M.A. Counseling – Certified Life Coach – Aspen, Colorado

Photo Credit Andy Wooten – 2006

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