“We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them: we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good." ~ Thomas Merton
Reflections from the Desert
by SSP Leader Naomi
Photos by author & O. Andrew Schreiber
My intentions for taking this trek to the desert were involved. To my surprise the clarity I had upon arrival transformed into something a bit different after sitting in Council with our guides. The intentions I came with were as follows: First, that this be the year that I really, enter the darkness within myself. I am currently in a Depth Psychology Master’s degree program and I have been doing much deep diving into my own “shadow stuff.” But my vision showed me that this year would be different somehow. Second, I wanted to face the parts of myself that are afraid of nature, even now. The final reason for going was because of Stepping Stones Project. As a leader with SSP, I am being initiated as a guide for adolescents in their time of rite of passage. For me to do this work with integrity and to the very best of my abilities I have to walk my talk. It felt important for me to go to the desert not just for myself, but for my community.
Ultimately, I want to be doing work that is in the service of people and the health and wholeness of all beings. I want to be coming from a place of love, of my truth and of experience. I am a complex human being with a huge range of emotions, experiences, gifts and ways of being in the world - and so too, is everybody else. I want to hold space for myself to fully express this range so that others may feel free to be who they so brightly are. So, after working with these intentions the clarity of my ultimate intention was distilled down into a simple phrase, ‘ALL WAYS, ALWAYS’.
Then the moment came. This phrase ringing in my ears like a mantra, I walked out to the ceremonial circle in silence. My four day vision fast had begun. I entered the circle where our guides were ready. I was excited with anticipation and emotion. My body, still warm with our ceremonial feast the night before was invigorated and energized. I breathed in the smoke and the prayers that our guides offered to me and offered to the spirits of the land. Then, as the smoke faded and became part of the air, so did I. I vanished, like a ghost and made my way to the area I had found to house my emptying body for the four days and four nights. I began to sing, I said hello to the rocks, the cactus and the trees in my area. I told them why I was there. I set up my camp which wasn’t much; water, a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and a tarp. Then I sat. Then, I tried to meditate. Then, I got bored and I thought, “Oh shit, four full days of this?”
There is too much to share of what actually happened to me during the time of my fast. I will say that the days were full of the mundane and the sacred, as life so often is. Upon our return to the ceremonial circle my fasting companions and I re-entered the world of the living. Upon our first bites of food on our break fast morning the integration process began and as our guides later put it, the real ceremony had finally begun. The ceremony continues.
We go to the desert not for ourselves, and not to hoard an individual experience. We go to the desert to discover, to integrate, to heal, and to transform. We go to the desert to understand and to bring back to our communities and to our people the gifts that were revealed there. I am still uncovering what this looks like in my life and for my community. To the people of Stepping Stones Project, the youth, the leaders, the parents, the elders, and the organization as a whole I offer this: may we Always be All Ways.
In love and light,