People have been asking me, “When are you going to tell us about your Wilderness Quest experience in the desert?” I have assured people that words will probably come at some point, but that the experience was so profound that my body feels it more than my head can process it.
Quite honestly, I think it will take weeks, if not months, to really grasp the profundity of the experience of soloing in Death Valley. For 84 hours I was invited into a period of fasting and prayer almost completely free of distractions.
There’s so little I still know about this experience, but one aspect of it, I can share. I had an absolute explosion of creativity. And, I mean, explosion!
One of the things that I discovered is that I didn’t realize how much of my life was consumed by eating. Every day there is shopping, cooking, preparing, eating, and cleaning. That doesn’t include the handful of times I scrounge through my cupboards looking for some sweet morsel to satisfy my emotional cravings.
In the desert, I had only four things to attend to every day:
- Getting dressed as the sun came up and I emerged from the cocoon of my down sleeping bag;
- Getting undressed as the sun went down and I nestled back into my warm sleeping bag;
- Drinking plenty of water (remember, we were in the dry, arid desert), and;
- Going pee a lot! (technically called cold-induced diuresis)
With almost no distractions and no agenda except for the above-mentioned, I literally exploded with creativity. In the 84 hours of the solo experience, I wrote 37 poems and 2 songs!
First, as I have said, that almost complete removal of all distractions allowed a deeper part of myself to emerge. Without the worry about the next meal to fix or the email to return or the leak to plug up or the leaves to pick up or the bill to pay or the clothes to wash or the friends to call or the article to read or the mess to mop up or the toilet to repair or the errand to run, I could allow my soul to expand.
Second, however, was something else I didn’t expect. Generally, if I have an experience I am often sharing it with another person as a way of processing. “How was your day?” is often the prompt to ponder aloud and process the ongoing string of experiences that make up a day.
But soloing in the desert left me no one to share my experience with except a few uninterested grasshoppers, some curious Joshua Trees (cacti), a museum worth of spirited rocks and God Herself!
Every experience literally turned into a poem. It simply became my way of giving expression to the other-worldly reality that made up those 84 hours. With nothing to distract me and no one to talk to, I turned to the pen and paper.
I think the experience shifted me. It seems like our world is often begging for more creativity, more presence and more soul. But we often try to honor those needs by cramming more in rather than making more room. Creativity exploded from my body and soul not when I tried to add more to my life, but actually when I removed almost everything from the agenda of my day.
The trip took nearly three months of preparation—having gear for the desert, journaling about my hopes and fears as it neared, having Zoom meetings with the two guides and six participants, and a load of logistical planning. In order to fully remove distractions from my life it was important I prayed and planned my way to the experience.
We are in the sacred season of Advent and Christmas. I wonder if this experience mirrors the very heart, soul and spirit of this season. We plan, pray, and prepare not to add more to our already overburdened and overly scheduled lives. We plan, pray and prepare so that on Christmas morning there are NO distractions so that God can explode into our lives. We plan, pray and prepare so that God has room to show up.
For 84 hours in the desert, I became a poet.
I went into the desert with a plan for almost complete deprivation. I emerged from the desert completely sated with God’s presence and an explosion of creativity.
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”
This Christmas I pray for less, so that God can be more.
By Rev. Brian Heron
spiritual pilgrim and religious innovator