Writing about landscape and place, real and metaphorical, is a way back to the self. Different landscapes connect us with different aspects of our self and experience. The desert is one landscape which evokes strong internal responses in people, whether they have real experience of it or not. It’s a place where survival becomes real, it’s an environment in which people find themselves, confront themselves, meet themselves. Mystics and aboriginals have always ventured into the desert to deepen their mental, spiritual and physical encounters.
What is your experience of the desert?
In her book Refuge: an unnatural history of family and place, Terry Tempest Williams writes:
I believe in walking in a landscape of mirages
because you learn humility.
I believe in living in a land of little water,
because life is drawn together.
And I believe in the gathering of bones
as a testament to spirits that have moved on.
If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place
that allows us to remember the sacred.
Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert
is a pilgrimage to the self.
There is no place to hide and so we are found.
I’ve used this piece with groups with some profound results. Some people initially recoil from the idea of desert landscapes saying they seem arid, empty and full of snakes, others are drawn to them for the space and solitude they offer.
Journal prompt: What is the desert for you?
Ask yourself these questions:
What is the desert in me?
What does the desert want to say to me? Write a letter from the desert.
When you contemplate the desert, what do you truly see?
Notice what happens when you read your writing. Leave a comment or share your writing on this post.
There are many and varied responses – some people are surprised to find that when they answer these questions they find in the desert a more benevolent aspect, a place beyond their resistance and denial, a place where they begin to see themselves with a greater clarity.
Mary Reynolds Thompson and I are writing a chapter called Inner and outer landscapes: bringing writing into the therapeutic relationship through expressive writing for a new book, Environmental Expressive Therapies: Nature-Assisted Theory and Practice, in which we will explore how writing about place can be therapeutically significant.