Buddhism often compares the perfect mind state to a desert. The term sunyata, or the emptiness of emptiness, is a state in which no thoughts exist, no time exists, and the mind is empty completely in order to receive what the universe has to offer. The Chinese believe that before you can be complete within yourself, you must first empty your cup in order to be filled with true wisdom.
Being in the desert forces us to accept silence and vastness. We find ourselves suddenly flashing back to our past, to the mistakes we have made, to the things we regret doing, to the things we wanted to do. The desert is a powerful mirror of what we don’t usually allow ourselves to see and come in contact with. For me, the desert is a very masculine force, a force of great strength and power and discipline. This force can push us to action if we allow it to.
I have always been an ocean person, but being in the desert forced me to re-think about sunyata and about how it is necessary to achieve a proper balance between the yin-yan force within us before achieving true enlightenment. The ocean is often referred to as Mother Ocean, because the ocean is enveloping, soothing and calming. The desert for me resonates with the masculine force because after being in its power for some time, you are subtly pushed to action. Out of your reflections in the desert comes a need for action, a need to burst through layers that you never before wanted to burst through.
The Joshua Tree, found in the Mojave desert, is a powerful symbol of this masculine force. It stands erect and proud, stretching its branches up to the heavens. When the Mormons first crossed the Mojave desert in the mid-nineteenth century, and saw the famous yucca brevifolia, they thought that the tree reminded them of a biblical story in which Joshua stretches out his hands to pray to the heavens. Living for up to one thousand years old, the Joshua Tree has a power that shakes us to the very core.
For those lucky enough to visit with the desert, keep in mind that it is the perfect time to empty your minds in order to receive new wisdom. One of my spiritual teachers speaks of the desert as the perfect place to consciously root ourselves in our bodies. In the desert, she explained, the soul returns with great force into our bodies to allow us to put to action our thoughts that have been simmering for so long.