Landscape: the desert

Snow in the Arizona desert

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.20150103_120318

Terry Tempest Williams is speaking at the Boulder Library on Friday 29th August 2016

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.


1 thought on “Landscape: the desert”

  1. Hello,

    Here are my thoughts on the desert:

    What is the desert for me…
    At first glance it is unpleasing to the eye and soul
    Geographically it offers little character and even less solace
    The aridness of it makes life seem difficult, if not miraculous that anything survives
    For water is needed to sustain life, along with the nature that also inhabits the planet
    Metaphorically, people live in the desert at times, when their life is not flourishing
    And they are merely trying to withstand the harshness of their life’s reality
    The desert represents those trials, when respite from hurt, anger, or any other painful emotion is nowhere in sight
    The dryness is the bitterness that starts forming within one’s spirit; eliminating one’s tenderness
    Yet, as the poet touches upon, the desert is a place where no one can hide
    In order to find ourselves, we sometimes need to be lost first
    The desert offers bare surroundings, so that one comes face to face with themselves
    There is room to wrestle with oneself, and for me, with God
    It is a necessary place because staying in the dark only feeds my inner demons
    And an unexamined life leaves little room for healing
    For it is the unforgiving conditions that reveal beauty to the life that exists within this landscape
    And for those who travel to it from time to time

    The desert wants to say to me…
    When you visit, do so with a purpose
    It is easy to lose sight of one’s dreams and sense of purpose
    And retreat into a place of unhealthy comfort
    When you find yourself wandering through the sand of my dry earth
    Work on discovering why you are here
    So you can return to the fresh streams you were meant to drink from

    Marissa Meyer


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