Navigating the Desert

Jordan Peterson vividly describes how we often find ourselves in the desert as we traverse the road to better versions of ourselves. He says when we kick out the scaffolding of the things that keep us chained to a bad life–reactionary habits, unfulfilling jobs, abusive relationships, frittering away time–this doesn’t catapult us into a joyous existence. We’re likely going to end up lost in the dunes, disoriented, and doing new things badly for quite a long time. And we can feel ripped off, like it should be better than this. In the desert, we progress by hunkering down and orienting around principles and values. We pay attention to the things that interest us. And we understand we must first be the fool and blunder around making mistakes and missteps before we can attain mastery.

I am in a desert right now. I have done the work of busting down the walls that were imprisoning me. I have no job, and don’t need one. I left the chaos and emptiness of the States and entered new cultures. I invited disruption into my life. I grew. I became quieter inside. And I look around and see a desert. I’m taking stock of values, interests, and possibilities.

The integral community (whatever that is, but let’s say this website right here) is part of the same desert. I look around to see what vibrancy exists, and see nothing. It loops back to me. Am I creating something stunningly original and inspiring? What’s here, within and without, is a big heap of principles and maps and pointing out instructions. Tools of creation. Ideas. Abstractions. That’s a good start, but it ain’t no circus I’m drawn to.

What would a a better version of an Integral world be, as expressed through my own uniqueness and also through a community? What would I be saying and doing with others? What would it be like if the principles and “instructions” for an integral life no longer had to be constantly reiterated, and everybody was busy expressing the fruits of these ideas?

Much of the vibrancy and drama and excitement of life requires conflict and contrast. The pursuit of unity consciousness includes a long phase of letting go of drama and striving. Finally, there is a period of settling down. But what emerges out of this? What is truly evolutionary, not just rehashing a new and different conflict?

I don’t know what an integral community really looks like. Perhaps temporary communities that spring up once a year, like the Oregon Country Fair, are the best examples we have.

For now, sitting in the desert of “No Thing,” I appreciate the quiet, the absence of meaningless chafing, and the possibility of something emerging that is ripe and juicy and life affirming.


I really like JBP, and although I sense you have more globe-trotting miles under your belt, I can really share the desert feeling.

I won’t bore everyone with the meandering trail but I went from being an active conservative, to open liberal, then took a head dive into a lot of mystic traditions, fire walks, hanged on hooks kind of stuff. I spent a lot of time meditating, journaling, shadow work, therapy busting down the layers of my ego. Lots of drugs too.

Clean and sober now, celibate, and focused on my spiritual journey. Whatever that means. Daily struggle to price that together.

I really enjoyed life more living at lower meme altitudes. It was warm, reassuring, confident. I really like how Jordan Peterson distils a lot of what is great in western society/philosophy for the purpose of living. Honestly integrating his work and lectures has had a WAY greater positive impact on my life that Integral has. Integral has certainly exposed me to higher altitudes and give me some great road maps to follow.

But the “everyone was is a at least a little right” is misleading. Because some things more right than others and some are completely terrible, stupidly wrong. I like JP for putting value hierarchies in a healthy discussion. And not just saying it, actually putting out values to live by that are helpful to ordinary people. I can finish an integral study/book and feel pretty smart but it isn’t doing much for me on a day to day basis.

Have you read the book the Alchemist by Paulo Cohelo? It is one of my favourites, I have listened to the audio version perhaps 300 times now over the past 10 years. It’s less than 5 hrs long and I listen to it whenever I am feeling a little off my path. I highly recommend it.

In it the character finds himself traveling through the desert twice. There are some deep esoteric lines in the story regarding this journey and time which I relate to heavily.

I lost my job last December and have invested all my life savings in opening a Cannabis Retail here in Canada. It’s slow going, the government legislation is slow and I cannot rely on becoming open. If I am successful I will be very grateful, if for some reason I fail I will lose everything I have gained, Declare bankruptcy and start over. I feel like I am in a desert of unknowning and it could have ruined me. But I found myself in the desert. It strengthened me. If my house is reposessed and I become homeless I have learned I can go four days without food and still be happy and contentful in life. I have found some great places in public parks I can sleep. I have gone to shelters and met people I enjoyed spending time with. I learned to depen my yoga practice to all day and found greater peace in my meditation.

“The desert is the best teacher” -The Alchemist.

I wish you great hardship and discovery on your venture. :wink:

The journey you’re on and what happens to you with opening the dispensary would be a good book. People are curious about what is going on up there. I just read “The Zahir” by Cohelo, and was a little disappointed. Currently digging into A Course of Love, and it’s a good map for me as far as trusting, surrendering, and learning to orient from the heart.

Thanks for connecting. I resonate with a lot you said. I never hung from the hooks, just intense sweat lodges :wink:

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Love the Alchemist but it’s a longtime since I read it…now you mention it I guess that was one of the instigators of my integral journey although it’s been slow. Literally living in the desert (i live in the MEast) means there is less access to the edges of learning but there is more space for the inner calling to show up, less noise from the outside world, and I have been able to notice my own ebb and flow with age. I arrived here 25yrs ago from UK and have never thought to go back…I feel liberated here from not having to adhere to the rules I grew up with…here I make my own rules and that’s given me the space to explore. The desert (whether real or metaphorical) is a place of deep beautiful were you get to see more of who you really are. It’s also harsh and empty of distractions so a perfect place to be on the journey!

Thank you for the book suggestion, re: A Course or Love. Looks right up my alley.

Yeah, Paulo hit it out of the park with the Alchemist. I have read many of us other books (not Zahir) but he never attains the level of the Alchemist again. So a very fair criticism in my estimation.

I love a good sweat and reciprocate the good vibes. Thank you for the well wishes.

That is very interesting. Thank you for posting. I have thought that perhaps I have romanticized the desert but it is good to hear your thoughts. Thank you.

This may sound inappropriate for this thread or arrogant as a ignorant westerner: but is it possible for tourists such as myself to travel the desert where you are? I think your profile says Dubai? I have long wanted to do a 2-3 or more day travel by camel in the desert. I have no idea how realistic that is, your input very welcome if you know anything on the topic.

Happy to offer ideas Jeb. Travel has always been way for me to expand my understanding of self and others, and the Middle East is such a place that would surely alter your perspective on the world. To answer your Q with an integral frame, myself and a small group of ‘Next Levellers’ do a 4day quest into the Empty Qtr every Nov fasting from food. It is always a challenging and magical experience as the harsh elements mean you must go inside yourself. Less extreme options are freely available all around the UAE. I fully recommend to check them out.

When I read this Reflection, withiniswithout, the first thing that came to mind was the “Six Impossible Things to Believe In Before Breakfast” theme in the “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” stories. I’ll come back to that.

And I’m actually responding here to not just your post, but comments by others on this topic as well.

I too have read Paulo Cohelo’s “The Alchemist” (as well as “The Zahir”). What I came away with as the main themes or ‘lessons’ of “The Alchemist” is that conviction that a treasure exists and can be found is what spurs and forwards the journey/the trek, and that the treasure was/is right at our doorstep, already, all along, even before one begins the trek, (but of course, one doesn’t know that, so has to go in search of).

I too have lived in the physical desert and found the silence, the stillness, the spaciousness, the aridity, and the harshness to be great aids on the spiritual path; terrains we live in do affect and help shape our consciousness, or the contents of our consciousness, as some of you are pointing out. I too spent a lot of time in sweat lodges, and in hiking, both alone and with others, in 100+ degree heat, and sitting in the waters of hot springs, all of which was at-oneing with and adding to the heat. And since the desert is austere, I found it a great place to do austerity practice, which in Eastern traditions is called tapasya, from the root word tapas, meaning “heat.”

Tapasya essentially means to choose what is beneficial to the self’s growth/evolution, versus choosing what is pleasant. Austerity practice gets rid of what is “loose” and untidy about the self; it rids us of a lot of self-indulgence, whether that indulgence is in food/drink/substances or in self-pity and cynicism and such, or in thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes unsupportive and even antagonistic to development, It also applies to the exteriors, and in my experience, certain behaviors, activities, and even relationships begin to fall away; I remember working on my socializer-self, by refusing to go out, go anywhere, without a clearly defined purpose that was in alignment with my intent to grow. My ‘mantra’ during this time was “what’s necessary and sufficient,” which really curbed both excesses and helped me address the ‘not-enoughs’ in many areas of life.

By engaging in conscious austerity practice, not only did my life become “tighter” and tidier, more focused on essentials, but so did I. I return to it again and again, am in fact 5 mos. into a fast from television.

Some of you commenting here appear to be or have been engaged in certain austerity practices: going without food, giving up the comforts of a typical lifestyle, getting rid of ‘meaningless chafe,’ etc. Again in my experience, when austerity practice is very consciously tied to the conviction that “a treasure exists,” then an inner heat is created, a heat that is the result of the friction-of-conflict-and-contrast that arises when one is constantly in the position of needing to choose between what is beneficial to growth, and what is merely pleasant. And that heat can be found in Eros, in kundalini shakti, in the evolutionary impulse itself.

As to the Integral community and/or the “integral desert,” I think remnants from green consciousness, and/or an unhealthy green, partially account for the sense of no community as green consciousness, with its focus on an individualistic self, can take us into realms of isolation and alienation. Integralism to me is far from being a desert. One way I look at Integralism is as something to live up to, so there is the constant heat/pressure to grow, develop, evolve on multiple levels, in multiple ways. And interactions on this very site aid and abet that process, as well as fulfilling some needs for not just respectful or authentic community, but loving community as well.

As to the metaphorical desert experience, withiniswithout mentioned A Course of Love and its usefulness in “learning to orient from the heart,” and that, orienting to the heart, strikes me as a really on-point step for the aridity of the desert experience. When I left the physical desert, I headed for the ocean, knowing I needed the vastness and depth and buoyancy of feeling those waters provide in order to connect more to the heart. (although from today’s vantage point, a bird bath works just as well, and even no water at all.)

And another thought about the metaphorical desert experience. While just “being with” without judgment has its benefits, sometimes it’s also helpful to do as Alice did, and find “six impossible things to believe in before breakfast.” Which takes us back to conviction again…

And finally, I haven’t read Jordan Peterson, nor have I listened to these podcasts that I’m going to cite here, but I intend to (listen to the podcasts; not sure about the reading). There might be something useful that helps connect Peterson’s views with Integral, I don’t know, and perhaps you’ve already listened to it. “What Jordan Peterson (and his fans and foes) Can Learn from Integral Theory, Parts 1 and 2.”

Another interesting topic at the Integral Life forum…will they never end?? Thanks, ya-all, for the desert memories, and everything else.

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