Desert Muse: Harvesting Inspiration from Earth and Sky

Throughout history, and even in present day, people go to the desert to reflect, search for meaning, be initiated into a new stage of life, and seek visions. Perhaps it’s the arid and demanding environment with its radical temperature changes and minimal vegetation. Maybe it’s the quiet and solitude offered from the stillness. Whatever the case, humans go to the desert for inspiration and for miracles to happen.

A precious and life-enhancing experience happened to me in such a setting. My spiritual retreat happened to be shared with 60,000 others, but that did not change the power and the magnitude of desert life out on the Playa at Black Rock City near Gerlach, NV.

I’ve always held that the real magic of Burning Man is, in fact, the tribal lands it’s held on. There is an incredible power within the dried up alkaline lake bed. Little life exists that is visible to the eye, but if there is a wild and unpredictable rain, a sudden bloom appears, creating a virtual sea of green that has a fleeting and explosive life. Temperatures vary wildly between day and night, up to 40-50 degrees of difference, challenging one’s physical body and stamina.  Dust storms can occur at any moment in the day, creating whiteouts that rival any winter storm I’ve experienced. However, sometimes at night, the weather can be so perfect, with a mid-summer feel and a sky filled with gulps of planets and stars. Out on the playa, I pay as much attention to the land and weather as I do the people, art, and festivities.

A couple years back, I was in need of some deeper guidance. I had a restless heart and a driving desire for something I could not yet articulate. An invitation to go out to Burning Man for a week came along and I took it. One night at the event, I set out with the intention of feeding my creative side and, of course, one gets what one asks for.

That particular evening, the invitation was to go out into what Burners call the “deep playa”. It’s a place about a mile or so away from the temporary lit up city. No installed art or housing is out there, only mobile art and sound cars (called mutant vehicles), pop up bars, and people ready to play – some of them pretty hard. The music provided by the Space Cowboys camp suited my needs perfectly. I danced for endless hours and was just about ready to call it a night when I noticed the graduation of blues in the night sky. It had to be close to 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. Curiosity gave me a second wind and I decided to wait it out until sunrise. That decision triggered a whole series of wonderments that began to address my original desire and quest.

First two planets showed up in the sky; Venus, the planet of love, and Saturn, the planet of discernment and applied discipline. I noted them with reverence and took them in as potential guiding principles. As dawn approached, people started taking seats on the desert floor, as if in a movie theater, and it started getting quiet. The music was winding up and voices dropped, a certain reverence began. Then, within minutes, all the magic of creation seemed to unfold. The colors, clarity, and utter purity of light that came over the horizon was awe-inspiring. I had such an incredible sense of joy, connection, and oneness. Tears came to my eyes. Somehow I understood beauty in a manner I never had before.

After the sun rose, I took time to ingest the experience and slowly made my way back into our temporary civilization and my camp. Crossing the dusty desert floor, stirred by all I had sense and felt that night, one thought was clear: I wanted to create an opportunity for people to connect and feel seen and heard with the same reverence I just experienced. That encounter later became the catalyst for Letters to the Universe.

Letters is a social art/community benefit project that invites participants to write a letter to the Universe as they know it. Set up as an engaging, almost fantasy-like experience (the mailbox is theatrically constructed, we wear costumes and wings and I get to be Postmaster to the Universe), people tend to get playful and engage with real, earnest curiosity. They are invited and witnessed in the writing of a letter and then post their letters in the magical mailbox with full intent. There is a simple elegance to the act of writing and the project that has profound aspects of connection with self, others, and a greater whole.

Letters has been running now for over 4 years and we’ve gathered over 5,000 pieces of mail from many different and diverse events. There is even a teenage crew of 12 trained in mindfulness and compassionate response that facilitate the mailbox at several of the venues. One of the impressive aspects of the project is the intimate experience people have when writing and posting the letters. The other is the actual letters themselves, which articulate the journey of the human heart.

Each time I go back to the desert, the dream gets bigger and more beautiful. I’m incredibly grateful for that precious land and sky that offer me such inspiration, guidance, and motivation. My wish is that you too will experience the wonders this wild and precious planet to your heart’s delight.

Please comment below or contact me to discuss the wonders you have experienced.