Isn't it great when you're just cruising along in life, the wind is at your back, all the lights are green and all systems are "Go?" In times like this, it feels as though you've tapped into some kind of magical force, as every choice you make, every action you take manifests at a level even beyond your own expectations.
Life seems effortless, like you've finally learned the steps to the great cosmic dance of the universe. No more doubt and hesitation, no more confusion and uncertainty, just clear skies and smooth sailing ahead. Your relationships feel full and nourishing, creative ideas flow, work is satisfying, opportunities abound. Your cup is filled to the brim and overflowing. Life doesn't get any better.
In times like these, you might even start feeling a bit cocky and take one hand off the wheel, ease up on the gas, put the top down and let the wind blow through your hair. You might even put your life on cruise control, knowing that you're in the "groove" and your momentum will carry you to wherever you're going.
Life seems almost too good to be true. Maybe that thought even crosses your mind. As in, "Wow, I wonder how long this can possibly last?" But you dismiss that thought as life's goodness just keeps coming and you're enjoying the ride.
And then, so imperceptibly that you hardly even notice, some subtle shifts occur. That new client you thought you'd landed becomes hesitant, the payment you were expecting is delayed, your significant other starts getting cranky, those creative juices start to dry up and new opportunities seem a bit out of reach.
You hardly notice, that while the wind was blowing through your hair and you were on cruise control kicking back enjoying the ride, your life went into neutral and your forward momentum began to slow. Even as you lose momentum, you have a set of good stories and excuses to entertain and distract your mind and for awhile, you don't even notice the change. From where you're looking, everything still seems to be moving in the right direction.
You failed to see that you'd taken your foot off the gas. You got so distracted by the beautiful scenery you forgot to be present, in the moment, aware of the "dance" and how to move in it. Perhaps you became so seduced by the trance of comfort and ease you stopped paying attention to the subtle guidance that got you out on the dance floor in the first place, rivaling Fred Astaire or Ginger Rodgers with your stellar moves.
Ever so gradually, those green lights turn yellow, your momentum slows down, and one day, the yellow lights turn red and you come to a dead stop. You find yourself deposited at the doorstep of what seems like a vast desert.
You might not even notice your arrival here at first. The mind, in its infinite capacity to escape reality, still holds on to the fantasy that everything is still working, all systems are still go. Perhaps your body is the canary in the coalmine that eventually lets you know all is not well. Insomnia, digestion or elimination problems might be the first clues that something is off.
You become aware that you feel empty and dry. Your veil of denial is rudely ripped away. Your attention is finally engaged and you realize that one more time, you've fallen asleep, a humbling awareness.
Welcome to the spiritual desert, this vast interior terrain that at first glance, appears to be foreboding territory. This isn't the first time you've found yourself here. You're familiar with this place. The last time you visited, you probably resisted being here. After all, on the surface, it doesn't exactly look like the most exciting place to be.
No welcome mat is spread. No juice bars in sight. No cool, shady places to stop and rest. And furthermore, it looks like you're out here in the wilderness alone and completely unprepared for the journey. You have no rain gear, no camping equipment, nothing to sit on or keep you warm. You left your GPS behind, and there are no familiar landmarks. Where's a Starbuck's when you need one?
You look for something, anything, to give you a sense of direction, but there are no signposts. The sun has set, the sky is dark, devoid of stars. You might as well be on the moon and wonder if perhaps you are. No doubt about it. You are seriously off track.
I think you get the picture. Let me be the first to admit that I've traveled this road many, many times in my 68 years on the planet. Each time I finally come to my senses and realize where I am, and manage to do the work that is being required of me to cross the desert and find my way back to the main road, I vow this time will be the last.
But such a vow is a foolish denial of the human journey and the spiritual work we're all required to do. Even Christ spent time in the wilderness. Who am I, who is any of us to believe we could avoid a similar fate? If we are here to evolve, if we are here to deepen and expand our idea of who we are, if we are here to contribute to the transformation of our collective human experience, we must be willing to do the work that is required of us.
Namely, we must be willing to shed the old skins and let go of our limiting beliefs about who we are and why we're here. To do that, life requires that we periodically "take ourselves to the wood shed" and do some remedial work.
When the ego gets a bit too big for its britches and we loose our humility, life has a way of serving up just the right remedy. Not like punishment. Not like we're bad or wrong. Just off track. And if you've committed yourself to being a servant of truth, the truth will ultimately set you free. You just need to be willing to undo the chains that bind you to whatever false notion of truth brought you to the desert to get your attention.
Which brings me to the soul. As I've written in previous posts about soul process and the soul's agenda, the soul will ultimately have its way with us. The great scholar and psychiatrist, Dr. James Hillman, has written extensively about the soul and its "code, " a kind of imprint, it must fulfill. According the Hillman, the soul has no preference as to how we unfold its agenda, only that we do. We might strike out on a certain path and travel it for eons and if we loose our way, we'll eventually end up in the desert, one of the soul's favorite places for doing its fine-tuning.
The soul feels right at home in the desert. Its nature is descent. Soul work is best done in the deep, quiet, dark places within, far from the noise and distraction of daily life. So if you find yourself in the desert, here are some things to remember:
1) Know you are in an important soul process. Trust it. The soul doesn't mess around. You will be allowed to return to the main road when you've done your work. So get busy.
2) Surrender. You might as well. Resisting will only prolong your stay. Stop resisting and give yourself permission to be right where you are. You're here, aren't you? If you were supposed to be elsewhere, you would be. Accept your fate and invite your ego to join you.
3) Get still. Become silent and listen. Set aside all your agenda, let go of your strategies and game plans and open yourself to receive guidance from a higher source. Don't force it. In the silence will come the guidance you need.
4) Pay attention to your dreams. Dreams are the language of the soul. Put pen and paper next to your bed and before turning out the light, ask for a dream that will help you know what to do next. Be sure to record your dreams upon awakening. Look at your dream as a story in which you are all the characters. What do the various parts of the dream suggest to you about your journey?
5) Keep a journal. Record your process. Give your subconscious mind a chance to download its content and step back. This is a goldmine of information to explore. You'll find clues for how to make your way through the darkness.
6) Look for the edges where growth is possible. Making even one small change in the system changes the entire system. What one, small change can you make?
7) Do it. Take action in the direction of your higher wisdom and guidance. This one action will itself cause another shift in the system. Keep taking new actions, even if you can't see the outcome yet.
8) Trust the process. Suddenly you'll realize you're wide awake! That's the point! Now you can begin to see a path through the desert and beyond. You might see many paths leading to new territories beyond.
9) Choose one and begin the next part of your journey.
10) Enjoy the ride! But remember, going on cruise control can lull you back to sleep pretty quickly, so maybe you should consider keeping your hands on the wheel and foot on the gas and put your life on "Conscious Steering" instead.
Finally, don't be surprised if you find yourself back in the desert sometime in the future. Get over it! Desert happens! Don't waste time fretting about being there. It's part of the process. The sooner you accept your fate, the sooner you can begin to evolve yourself beyond.
I don't mean to suggest that navigating the desert is as simple as 1-2-3. It can take years to make one trip to and through. In my lifetime, I've spent as many as nine consecutive years in my own spiritual desert. Looking back on that period of my life, I now see it as having been an absolutely necessary part of my process. Without the learning that came out of the experience, I would not be the person I am today. It was extremely painful, but the pain I experienced taught me much about my own humanity. It taught me to accept my vulnerability, it taught me compassion and humility. It taught me my own value and worthiness. It taught me about love. I look back on that time as the time when I became an adult.
The soul will surely have its way with us. When it takes you to the desert, sit up straight and pay attention. The teacher has arrived and class is about to begin. And take notes.
I welcome your thoughts and comments about your own experiences in the spiritual desert of your life, what you learned and how you made it through. Please leave your comments here or on my personal blog and website Rx For The Soul.
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Blessings on the path.