Desert Disposition: The Holiness of Enough

How do you meet the desert? Your approach matters. I have lived most my life in the desert, and this environment has formed my affinity to space, quiet, and the hours of morning before the relentless sun slows my thinking. I am still learning to enjoy the slow pace the sun demands by midday in the summer months--releasing movement into stillness. But it will always be the cool mornings that have my full attention; afternoons will have my surrender.

I misunderstood the desert until I was a woman in my early twenties. I was surprised at how gentle and subtle she approached me with her bare skin. This was not the plain or uninteresting garb of nothing, but rather a delicate force, strong in her body. I had thought that a place so bare and, at times, so hot, had nothing to offer me but suffering. And, yet, it has offered me something infinitely healing: enough.

Bare is enough. Exposure, when approached with acceptance, will soften through the armor you have been wearing all these years. I am oftentimes still afraid of the desert. She can be fierce in her floods, draining in her droughts. To know the desert is to know when enough is enough.

The desert showed me that bare is best, that my subtle existence is enough, and that space is where the strongest of the living dwell. Exposure is the desert’s soul--it cannot do or be anything else. As I make the daily attempt of living a deliberate life, a holy life, it is the desert landscape that reminds me of the vastness of the ocean. My desert landscape was once an ocean, now aged and dried, yet still creating though ever more subtly.

My disposition towards these desert landscapes has evolved from tolerant attendance to listening attention--I meet her paradoxes with all the softness and calm I can conjure. Breaths of incantation relax every muscle that wants to tense up in her elements. Of course, the high desert also brings biting cold in arctic fashion. Just when you settle into one sensation, she moves you forward across the next threshold.

My desert disposition. How do you order and manage your relationship with a climate that is unpredictable, ever-evolving, and often harsh? Disposition in the desert must be more of an inclination--you lean into her with a listening heart and a steady pulse; you breathe, deeply. You’ll know when enough is enough.

Our disposition to this world, as Ian McGilchrist writes, is our grave responsibility:

“I believe there is something that exists apart from ourselves, but that we play a vital part in bringing it into being...the importance of our disposition towards the world and one another, as being fundamental in grounding what it is that we come to have a relationship with, rather than the other way round. The kind of attention we pay actually alters the world: we are, literally, partners in creation. This means we have a grave responsibility, a word that captures the reciprocal nature of the dialogue we have with whatever it is that exists apart from ourselves.”

McGilchrist reminds us that we play a vital role in an ongoing creation--our attention matters, not because we are separate from things in this world, but because we are all one in the same, made of the same essence. Our disposition--how we order, manage, and incline ourselves--matters. When we face our environment straight on, face-to-face, and accept it for what it is, we will know that we have enough and we are enough because it will face us square and reveal to us who we are and who we are becoming.

There is a holiness in enough. We accept that most of our existence is space and thresholds--the in between places where we are suspended in our essence. Our desert disposition will reveal whether we imagine a lack of sustenance or believe in the generosity of enough. This is desert disposition: the holiness of enough. It is already the relief and healing we need. We see a landscape, unobstructed; we hear the birdsong liturgies; we smell the earth in the wind.

Ann Whittaker