Finding Life In The Desert

by Patrick Liew on January 3, 2018

All around me, it was almost pitch black.

Flickering flames from a dying campfire were casting shadowy lights on my family, our guide, and me.

It was the night of Thursday, 21 December 2017.

The day before I was told that we would be camping at a remote place in the Sahara Desert.

“It will be a wonderful camping experience,” our guide had told us.

That experience might have been wonderful if I had been better prepared for the cold desert.

As an old man from the tropics, I had never known that harsh desert winds could blow right through my bones.

At the least, that was how I felt as the chilly winds slowly froze the core of my being.

Deep into that night, I felt like the dying flames and the millions of stars above me were whispering messages to my heart.

Sharing age-old wisdom from the vast desert and hills in the horizon.

That night, as I gazed into the dark boundless infinity, the clarity of desert silence began to illuminate my mind.

In times past, the desert has often been used to depict the drama of life.

Its undulating sand dunes were used as metaphors to portray passages of struggles for both survival and fulfillment.

Between the desert and hills, the sun laid a spiritual convergence of space, time and history.

That was why many philosophers, prophets, pilgrims and poets have gone deep into the mysterious desert in search of enlightenment.

Some have found their solace in the desert; their inspirations and guiding stars in the barren land.

A pilgrimage into the desert can be a pilgrimage to find the wisdom of life.

As pilgrims journey through a seemingly endless carpet of sands, they can find a creed of the desert.

The same creed that humanity should subscribe to in order to find life.

To every earnest pilgrim, the desert unveils a unique message – a message that he needs to hear for himself and to have a breakthrough to move forward.

But he needs to listen to the messages and not just hear them.

Listen long, deep and hard and with all his five senses.

And also listen to lessons from the sands, the clouds, the stars, the winds, the waters, the shrubs, the coyotes, and all the other teachers and story-tellers in the desert.

Many pilgrims pursue silence in the desert to find the forgotten silence that resides within themselves.

That inner silence had almost disappeared or had been drowned by noises of modern life.

In contemplative solitude and stillness, there is nowhere to go to with all fads and fancies gone.

When there is an absence of meaningless sounds, they find the presence of timeless wisdom.

In their searching, struggling and striving for truths, they touch their own souls.

As they prepare their hearts and minds, silence will speak to them.

While seeking the unknown and the unknowable, they lose themselves.

And in losing themselves, they find their true selves.

If they seek intently, they will come across different metaphorical maps, mirrors and mirages in the desert.

These are riddles that are waiting to be solved by the pilgrims.

In doing so, they can find out who they thought they were and who they really are.

Eventually, when they look upwards, they can discover who they should be and should become.

While meditating about life and about themselves, they will find their true callings and a sense of hope.

When there are no other unnecessary desire and expectation, they will find the ways out of their spiritual deserts.

The potentials and possibilities within them will bloom like dormant flowers in a hot and dry desert.

They will also become more in touch with realities and more sensitive to the people and the environments around them.

To press on towards the stars of their dreams, they must be prepared to face perceptions of a heartless sun, mindless sand dunes, and lifeless winds and sandstorms.

However, they can take a leaf from the desert.

The desert has hardly any rain or water in sight and yet, it can create beauty with whatever it has.

Therefore, in their struggles for breakthroughs, pilgrims can still thrive through pursuits of their stars.

Come alive through purpose of their labours.

And be enlivened by the progress of their performances and passion of their partners.

When they learn to irrigate a desolate ground in the desert, they can produce milk and honey to bring forth life.

Many have said that there is nothing much to see and own in the desert.

For true pilgrims who live long enough in a desert, they will realize that they do not need to possess many things.

They oftentimes carry too many things on their backs when all they need are essentials such as water.

Sometimes, they need to go to the desert to truly appreciate the beauty and values of those essentials.

Just as importantly, they will be awakened by the need to constantly fill themselves with riches of wisdom.

When wisdom dawns upon them, the desert can no longer be a vast wasteland.

They can find beauty in every corner.

Savour every flora and fauna; be in awe and wonder with every blade of grass, every leaf and flower.

An ordinary desert can support a wider variety of plants than many gardens, wetlands, prairies or forests.

In simplicity, pilgrims can flourish and reach a higher plane.

If they can survive and succeed in a desert, they can be better prepared and positioned to reach the worthwhile stars of their dreams.

However, if they only serve their self-pride and self-interests, they are like draining a desert of precious water, producing no fruit for others and eventually, creating a wilderness in their souls.

That wilderness can be more frightening than the wilderness of a desert.

In the desert, the sun can be eclipsed by the moon.

The moon has to give way for a new day.

In the same way, when people cling on to meaningless pursuits, they are like standing on shifting sands.

Devoting their lives to pursuing mirages in a desert and morning dews.

Their spirits will eventually become a spiritually-barren desert.

Past accolades, awards and achievements that serve no purpose will come to no avail.

Soon, all their rewards and recognitions will be blown away like footprints on desert sands.

Some will take life into their own hands and think that they are bigger than what they really are.

The desert of life will find a way to remind them that they are but a speck in a vast land.

They can run on and on, but they will only get thirstier and thirstier.

Whatever possessions they have can be easily taken away from them.

Their lives may come to an end in an uninhabited desert.

If they thirst for wisdom as much as they struggle to quench their deep thirsts, they will find an oasis of wisdom.

Wisdom that will quench their physical thirsts and other kinds of healthy thirsts in their lives.

In the desert, humility prevails.

Those who think they know it all can be destroyed by sandstorms and be damaged by other dangers lurking in the desert.

Humility is the first lesson to be learned before learning other lessons.

Without humility and a thirst for progress, the human spirit is an expanding desert waste of fear, ignorance and apathy.

In moments of thirst and hunger, they should learn to look up and trust our Creator or they will die.

In the depths of their struggles, He can help them uncover a spring of fresh water even in the vast wasteland.

He can cause a little shrub to bloom in their hearts and produce a sweet fragrance for them and to their surroundings.

For every sunset in the desert, the sun will rise again for another day of restoration and renewal.

Back to my story, that night I fell asleep with ions of wisdom floating through and around my mind.

The wisdom that has existed since the beginning of time cannot simply be put into words.

In my heart of hearts, I know that whenever I am ready, our Creator will prepare a desert for me.

Whenever I need a desert, the desert will always be there for me.


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

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