Being in the Desert

Recent­ly, I was read­ing a beau­ti­ful doc­u­ment by Karen Tse, describ­ing the basis for her work, and I was struck again by the image of the desert which she ref­er­ences, about the neces­si­ty of “going to the desert” in order to “dis­cov­er what it means to draw upon the vast well of our spir­i­tu­al resources and wis­dom” and to con­nect “our out­er work with our inner lives.” Her words refer specif­i­cal­ly to human rights work, but they could as well refer to many kinds of lead­er­ship chal­lenges. I found her words par­tic­u­lar­ly help­ful because right now, metaphor­i­cal­ly speak­ing, many of us are in the desert and for any num­ber of rea­sons, but par­tic­u­lar­ly because times are hard finan­cial­ly. Whether it is a ques­tion of being out of work, or work­ing very, very hard in order to main­tain posi­tion or just hang­ing on in the most basic ways to make ends meet, the pres­sure can­not be under­es­ti­mat­ed, and it dri­ves us down into the search for inner resources and inner con­nec­tions to out­er realities.

We usu­al­ly don’t have to hunt for the desert. It just comes to us, and often unbid­den, per­haps a nec­es­sary part of a search for mean­ing in our work and our lives, but dif­fi­cult nev­er­the­less. The desert is here, right here in front of us. And it can be felt as an empti­ness, just space, just time, dry and hot, or dry and cold, and we can be wan­der­ers search­ing for the knowl­edge of what we should do and how to do it; how, in effect, to go on. 

It is good to remem­ber that there are many who have been here before us, and who have found a home. It is an ancient part of being human. Yes­ter­day, I vis­it­ed Aco­ma, a pueblo atop a mesa west of Albu­querque, New Mex­i­co, and lis­tened to the sto­ry of the ances­tors who migrat­ed to this remark­able desert place, who would know home when they found it because of the echo that would come back to them, because it was a place that had been pre­pared for them. In fact, that is what their name, Haak’u, means. Aco­ma is an angli­cized ver­sion of the word for a place pre­pared or made ready.

There is an obvi­ous sym­bol­ism to be found in the notion of find­ing one’s home in an echo and know­ing this place as the one des­tined. There is an obvi­ous sym­bol­ism in the desert itself, and how it turns out to be a place of abun­dance, not scarci­ty. What is abun­dant about the desert is life itself, real life, real mean­ing, as opposed to an abun­dance of out­er things. This is not to say there is no pain, no dry­ness, no sense of what is parched and needs water. It is just that this is also the place of visions, dreams, and appre­ci­a­tion for the stun­ning myth­ic shapes of a land­scape, out­er and inner, that are so much larg­er that our minds must bend and bow to receive that land­scape as it is. Then, it shows up through our hands as art, as music, paint­ing, writ­ing, as images and sto­ries, as a path, as a place to call home.

There is suf­fer­ing in the desert, but there is also space that is with­out dimen­sion, and time with­out dimen­sion, and these qual­i­ties lead us to think, reflect, and pre­pare, to fol­low a greater Self, to both find the cen­ter and care­ful­ly con­sid­er the periph­eries of con­scious­ness and what they tell us. Things behind us come for­ward into know­ing. In a desert time, peo­ple find each oth­er and learn to stick togeth­er. We learn to respect every­one’s tal­ents and right to a life, inner and out­er. In the desert, we learn about being, more than just surviving.

In terms of cor­po­rate life, I think it means we dis­cov­er that lead­ing is some­thing much larg­er than our orga­ni­za­tions, our “house­holds.” There is so much non­sense out there right now about lead­er­ship and lead­er­ship devel­op­ment that is divorced from the soul; an arti­fi­cial, ratio­nal­ized form of pro­gram­ming peo­ple that is sim­ply designed to serve cor­po­ra­tions and oth­er kinds of insti­tu­tions. Lead­ing to serve some­thing but that some­thing may not be good for peo­ple in the end at all; lead­ing to serve, for exam­ple, the right of stake­hold­ers or stock hold­ers to make mon­ey, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly to ben­e­fit the com­mu­ni­ty of humankind. We have for­got­ten, per­haps, that orga­ni­za­tions of all kinds are only projects of a true lead­er’s heart and val­ues and desires for pos­i­tive change and the sus­te­nance of com­mu­ni­ty over time. In the desert, it seems to me, it is very clear that fol­low­ing Self is premised on find­ing a des­tined home out­side of the false promis­es and illu­sions of safe­ty that our tra­di­tion­al cor­po­rate cul­tures seem to offer. 

I don’t need to tell you where to look in the news for good or bad exam­ples. You already know. All I am say­ing is that out­side of our fan­tasies, a desert waits, and with­in that mag­nif­i­cent desert, under the sun and moon and stars and clouds, free of servi­tude to a false self, so does your own vision and your own most telling wisdom. 

And, well, I think at last it also comes back full cir­cle to Karen Tse, repeat­ing the words of her own spir­i­tu­al teach­ers, remind­ing us “that what­ev­er you focus on will grow.”

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  • Patty Neil wrote:

    Dis­cus­sion of what type of per­son it takes to be a CEO of a large cor­po­ra­tion in the recent “Fol­low­ing Self” work­shop, trou­bled me. 

    Dan’s com­ment in this blog post sheds light on this …
    “We have for­got­ten, per­haps, that orga­ni­za­tions of all kinds are only projects of a true leader’s heart and val­ues and desires for pos­i­tive change and the sus­te­nance of com­mu­ni­ty over time,” brings us back full cir­cle to the under­stand­ing that it needs to be about the heart first. 

    When my chil­dren were young, I told them that they need­ed to decide in their own hearts what they believed, not accept some­one else’s def­i­n­i­tion of faith. A belief that was actu­al­ly their own, would be the only belief that would sur­vive in the face of difficulty.

  • Thank you, Pat­ty. I love what you told your chil­dren, and I agree total­ly. It is inter­est­ing, isn’t it, how what we tell our chil­dren can reflect the best of our own char­ac­ter by show­ing them how to fol­low Self on their own.

  • […] You can see this post as a writ­ten doc­u­ment with embed­ded pho­tographs and rel­e­vant links at this location. […]

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