Soul Harmonics and Desert Stars

Outside in the darkness, listening to the nearly electric drone of crickets and insects, a hot breeze dances upon my skin like a lover’s breath, warming my soul. At nine-thirty, heat still radiates from the parched land after baking in the unrelenting sun all day—a sort of warmth at night I’ve not felt since living in southern Spain six years ago. Gazing upward, the tattered green fans of date palms wave gently against an inky black sky, the heavens nearly devoid of light on a new moon and not yet illuminated by stars.

Wearing shorts and a rumpled blue linen shirt, I walk a short distance away from my poolside room, heading towards the edge of the hotel’s property while casting senses wide to the darkness. Letting my eyes adjust to the lack of light and listening to the crunch crunch of sandals upon the hot gravely earth, at a certain point I halt, slip the well-worn flip-flops from my feet, and stand barefoot on toasted sand, allowing myself to finally “ground” after too many hours in a moving vehicle and an airplane the day previous. Closing my eyes, I visualize sending pale, tender roots from my soles into the depths as if seeking water, or at least an anchor to hold me here like some desert plant.

Though I’m struck by the blackness of the night and sky, I am distinctly more affected by the land itself—the very feel of it—a wordless hum reverberating in my bones, the dynamic quietude of sheer earthly power. Here is wild nature, intact and unimpeded, overshadowing the small and mostly insignificant imprint of man on an arid valley encircled by sun-bleached mountains. I am surrounded by a vast stretch of terrain without any power lines or fences, and beyond that by peaks devoid of trees or apparent vegetation, and though I didn’t fully realize it until this moment, such profound expansiveness of nature is exactly what I needed to draw me out of myself—back into communion with the larger story and Mystery. I was crying out for something more than the dear rosebush and camellias in my front garden, or even the venerable Grandmother Monterey Cypress who watches over the cottage; rather I yearned for a distant horizon with jagged silhouettes, and the endless reaches of a night sky above me.

Twilight, Anza-Borrego style

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For the past couple of months, my partner and I have been considering a move away from the fog zone of Carmel By The Sea, quaint as the town is, and despite its scenic, alluring coastline. Myriad factors present themselves to be weighed, but both of us are crossing into a new phase of life and work, and thus seeking the place(s) that might best support that new chapter.

Admittedly, as a self-professed Green Man, I wrestle a bit with the seeming un-sustainability of modern life in the desert: dependence on water pumped in from hundreds of miles away or underground aquifers; food similarly grown and transported from great distances; the vast energy consumption of air conditioners blasting all summer long.

And yet, since my childhood and an overnight trip to Joshua Tree National Monument, the desert has pulled with a curious draw, like a far off song. Twice in my life I’ve resided in New Mexico, and while that high plateau with its garb of piñon, juniper, and fragrant sagebrush is a very different character than the sparsely vegetated “low desert” of Arizona, Nevada, and California, something here feels curiously familiar and welcoming to me—almost like a house decorated in a minimal, uncluttered fashion. Lately, more and more do I feel a desert creature emerging, almost like something that has been hibernating for years and is just now waking up, creeping out from its familiar den to sniff the changing winds.

Much as this sun-drenched world calls me, I sometimes wonder if I can live away from my beloved trees and flowing water—or the soul-nourishing sea, accustomed as I am to living near it all these past years in California and Hawaii, and before that Spain, and even England with its chilly grey waters. Yet I do know there are many elements in my soul, each facet reflecting a different spark of light, and it is simply nature, unspoiled, that nourishes me on a deep, intrinsic level, whether that environment be the pastel-tone desert, a pine-scented mountainside, or the ocean’s wild shore.

I desperately needed to escape Carmel’s summer of fog and gloom; it is June, and I need to NOT wear a jacket and scarf when I walk the dogs, head bowed against the cool coastal winds. And after too long in a small space, I felt desperate to simply be free of the confines of our cramped cottage. I sought a place to neither think about nor weigh the choices before us, but simply feel—to walk into the warm arms of night beneath diamond stars and let my intuition whisper loudly in the echoing silence, or perhaps to sing to a silver moon in chorus with the ragged coyotes.

Buckthorn cholla cactus

I am here to withdraw and rest. Read. Write. It is time to clear the clutter of possibilities and lay them gently aside; to touch the stillpoint of potential and breathe softly into it, like blowing upon a coal or ember until it flares suddenly to flame. For I know that sometimes it is only by stepping beyond the normal confines of our life, however free and expansive such parameters may seem, that we illuminate the way to the heart and soul—one step at a time, much like the Hermit in the Tarot, with only his lantern’s light (or moon and stars) to guide him.

Throughout the past year, as I have deepened into a profound initiation and expansion in my role as a healer, an inner knowing has crystallized; that the path forward, wherever it leads, must be composed of actions which are in alignment with my highest integrity. This includes the work I do and the words I write, my personal relationships (human and other), and also where I reside. As if in support of such clarity and conviction, a healer friend of mine recently shared these serendipitous words with me in an email: “… that constantly aligning ourselves with the way of love, truth, power and wisdom is the way forward.” Yes, exactly. (Thanks, Marie, you wise and beautiful soul.)

For those of us committed to the highest and fullest expression of who we are and what we came here to do as part of the Larger Story, anything that does not fully support that mission—a role, a relationship, a job, a house even—will be “invited” to fall away so that the most authentic form can emerge. And I always hold this as my compass: if the true impulse of the Universe is creativity, our role as conscious beings is to align with that flow rather than ignore or constrict against it.

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Borrego Springs is a small community encircled by the massive Anza-Borrego Desert State Park—which at nearly 650,000 acres is the second largest state park in the contiguous United States, and nearly the size of Rhode Island. It’s barely a “town,” with just a few streets and pleasantly free of traffic lights. The arid Santa Rosa mountains block most of the light pollution from distant cities, with the result that the skies are exceptionally dark here. Indeed, this is one of just seven Dark Sky Communities in the world, as designated by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), and it’s the only one in California. Naturally, I’m expecting to see some amazing stars.

The area surrounding the town is also known for the remarkable desert bloom in spring, when winter has brought sufficient rainfall and the right conditions conspire; a vivid patchwork quilt of flowers extends for miles across the park regions, an area that seems generally inhospitable for such fragile, blossoming beauty. And on the human side, in recent years Borrego Springs has become home to dozens of unique, giant metal sculptures placed in the desert just outside of town; fantastic, larger-than-life art such as wild horses and broncos, elephants, eagles, sabertooth tigers, tyrannosaurus Rex, a scorpion and grasshopper, and more, including a fantastic 350-foot-long dragon-like serpent snaking through the pale sands.

Fantastic desert sculptures in Borrego Springs

At four o’clock, it is 115°F/46°C outside. The sky is Wedgwood blue without a single cloud, though I know from my earlier desert existence in New Mexico that even in such weather summer storms can miraculously appear with driving winds and hard rain, unleashing flash floods that sweep down through dry arroyos and washes. Temperatures can plummet 20 to 30 degrees (Fahrenheit), but as the squall passes, the deluge will disappear into a thirsty landscape and the bright summer day returns.

Stepping out from the cool, dark shelter of my room, with its tile floors and wooden shutters, is akin to the blast from a blazing furnace. I settle in the wicker chair on the shaded terrace, a cup of tea and a gluten-free shortbread cookie in hand (I travel prepared with such things), watching a couple of inflatable, red-white-and-blue beach balls drift aimlessly on the turquoise waters of the swimming pool. No one else is about. High summer is low season in the desert and the hotel is nearly empty, even on a weekend, despite that I am just 90 miles from San Diego and 81 miles from Palm Springs.

In the broiling afternoon, it feels like I have the place nearly to myself. Honestly, who in their right mind comes to the desert in the full force of summer—other than true “desert rats,” or this reluctant mystic driven by wanderlust and a damp chill in his bones, ever searching for home. From my chair, the drone of a nearby casita’s air conditioner is the sole violation of the tranquility; otherwise I hear only the wind dancing through the tall palms, the susurration of some lacy pale-green ironwoods, and the familiar cooing of doves.

Movement catches my peripheral vision and I turn to see a crested brown and white, female roadrunner—a member of the cuckoo family—quickly dart across an open expanse of pale earth, head bobbing, in search of insects or lizards for its next meal, and I can’t help but smile. Given the chance, I could probably spend most of my days birdwatching. Winged ones are an endless source of delight for me; lately, the crows have been the most entertaining show in town, and they seem as amused by their loud, raucous antics as I am.

Roadrunner (photo: Flickr Creative Commons, Pat Gaines)

Birds notwithstanding, I’m generally happiest when simply wandering on foot, seduced by living, growing things that catch my eye, particularly flowers of all kinds, even the tiniest of miniatures at my feet. The majority of desert plants are relatively pale and silver in colour to help reflect the bright sunlight, yet they are stunningly diverse, and the succulents and cacti are remarkable, I think. Indeed, I marvel here at all the creatures so perfectly adapted to their harsh, dry environment.

And while admittedly I am enjoying the sunshine, heat, and my surroundings, I don’t necessarily desire to be outdoors exploring the wonders of Anza-Borrego park right now. I’ll save such adventure for springtime, for I would dearly love to see this arid world aglow with its native flowers, like the delicate dune primrose and lavender verbena. Photos taken here in spring capture a sea of vibrant hues rather than dull sand, a remarkable transformation and testament to the resiliency of life—seeds and plants that might wait years to bloom.

Desert primrose (photo: Flickr Creative Commons, Nick Doty)

Yes, already I’m feeling the itch to explore more of this stunning landscape, in weather not so hot that allows me to spend long hours wandering in dusty arroyos as I once used to, collecting brittle bones and the worthless treasures washed down in floods. I would like some time communing with the aptly-named “Smoke trees” that look like wisps of rising smoke and have an almost ethereal energy; meandering amid the tall green wands of ocotillo, some of which still wear their bright pink or red blossoms, and the buckthorn cholla cacti dotting the flats, perhaps looking for the little cactus wren that makes its nests in the barbed spines of those thorny plants. Maybe if I am very lucky, I’ll see some larger desert wildlife on such ramblings, like my dear coyotes and eagles, or even rattlesnakes, maligned creatures that they are. I know that sly desert foxes dwell here (though mostly they prefer to be out hunting at night) and even cougars, but it would be far more likely (though still fortuitous) to spot the magnificent desert bighorn sheep; in the heat of summer, they congregate near the watering holes amid the palms, those oases that provide life for so many of the desert’s denizens.

Whenever and wherever I wander, I always feel that I am touching the ordinary sacred; bestowing the gift of my attention on what greets me, even if fleetingly, and receiving some sort of subtle blessing in return. For I recognize that there are spirits about, not only of the land and plants themselves, but ancient ones who resided and walked here. I can feel them still, hovering at the edges of my awareness—watching and wondering if any of us modern folk are “awake” to the Larger Story and its mysteries.

Wide sky à la Borrego (photo: Flickr Creative Commons, Kent Kanouse)

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For now, I am content to simply be doing almost nothing. Scribbling these words in a new, blank notebook with my trusty old fountain pen from Paris. Reading a book. Resting. Drinking tea. And savouring in my body the gentle, somatic relief—a sort of softening, a non-buzz—of being removed from the electromagnetic pollution that now saturates our societies. Here, the invisible but omnipresent effects of WiFi, of countless mobile phones sending and receiving signal, and the immeasurable grid of electric wires, all feels negligible; the matrix—the energetic blueprint of light and frequency that forms all life—is still intact and undistorted. As a man who is keenly sensitive to these things, being free of the distortions is a welcome shift; akin to stepping out of a crowded, hot and stuffy room into the fresh breeze of a mild, summer evening.

If one is hypersensitive to electromagnetic energy, or has a highly tuned perception of the body’s biofield (as some people do, especially healers), he or she can actually feel the disruption from high-powered devices, microwaves, fluorescent lights, or WiFi: a buzzy sort of vibration or interference that, if it continues long enough, feels like nerve discomfort and creates a low-level nausea (and often other symptoms as well, such as headache and extreme fatigue).

Yet the minute we escape from our manmade world and its acute disruptions—electrical, biochemical, mental, emotional, etc.—nature begins working upon us. And if we can immerse ourselves in a truly wild (or even semi-wild) locale, the bodysoul slips back into slower, more natural rhythms in synch with the land, weather, the sun and moon. Naturally, the longer we remain there, the more in tune we can become, and there is certainly healing in that.

Even within the cool refuge of my room shuttered against the bright light and searing heat, I can feel the land all around—inviting me to further drop my shields and open … and to then expand still further. To switch off the thinking mind and simply be; in tune and in harmony.

Everything is a frequency: the rate at which vibration occurs that constitutes a wave, either in a material (as in sound waves) or an electromagnetic field (such as radio waves and light). Personally, I believe that even our souls are actually a frequency of light and sound, and that both literally and metaphorically we are like tuning forks—subtly detecting whether or not we are in harmony with a place, person or thing, based upon its respective vibration. I feel too that, beyond our five senses, we actually perceive with the soul.

Ocotillo silhouette in Borrego (photo: Flickr Creative Commons, Allie Caulfield)

Dis-ease occurs when discord exists in our environment or we’re out of balance (the same as being out of tune), whether in the “bodymind” itself or our surroundings, from which we are never really separate. Healing, on the other hand, happens when we’re in harmony, particularly when we re-attune to nature’s frequencies.

Via the phenomenon called entrainment, found throughout the cosmos, a more powerful frequency or vibration raises the others it interacts with—as happens in a room full of clocks, where the largest pendulum entrains all the others to its cadence. Similarly, the heart produces the strongest electromagnetic field in the body, detectable several feet away, one that can entrain all the other body systems, including the brain (a phenomenon I’ve written about multiple times in posts for the Soul Artist Journal and also in the penultimate chapter of The Bones and Breath).

What I know being here, is that the power of this land raises my own vibration and creates a relaxed, slightly altered, very “coherent” and harmonic state. Harsh as the environment may seem, this desert place is profoundly healing and I am deeply in tune with it. Every molecule of my body and note of my soul hums in harmony, manifesting as supreme lightness, a sense of expansion, and crystalline clarity. It feels wonderful.

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Soul Artists know that life is movement and change. They understand that we cannot have growth and security both. Rather than cling to their familiar rock in the river for fear of being swept downstream, they let go and trust in the current, allowing it to carry them. They also realize that whatever they have envisioned for their lives is already too small, and our task is to continually open and say ‘yes’ to growth, even when it requires a leap of faith. Especially then.” (The Soul Artist Journal, 2015)

I am not one who clings to the safety of the known. I’m willing to risk pretty much everything for the sake of what my soul is here to do in this lifetime, and I’ve made enough leaps of faith to know that Spirit supports—in ways that defy all odds—each time we step out into the Void to offer something larger and more vulnerable of our truest selves.

So far, my partner and I haven’t found the ‘right’ place or even the next stop for our painted gypsy wagon; and while at moments this feels somewhat frustrating, I do trust that what is manifesting will fully support my/our work—most likely in an unforeseen manner that I did not expect. There are always mysterious forces shaping a much bigger picture, and mostly it’s a matter of patience.

On any journey, what do we seek? Speaking developmentally, and from both an archetypal and mythical perspective—transcending cultures and time periods—after a certain point of traversing the Wheel of Life, in the relationship of soul versus ego, what we pursue is something beyond those matters of the external world (riches, fame, even a home). Rather we search for what is ours to bring to the soul of the world itself, a unique contribution to community and the Larger Story—mankind’s evolution, even.

For me, such gift(s) arises directly from the place where I am, as well as all the physical manifestations of nature which enfold me. Thus I continue to seek a locale and home where I feel directly supported by the landscape and Nature itself. And while sometimes I wonder whether I am the Fool or the Seeker—or whether there is really a difference, for both are archetypes that lead us along the great journey—I know my task is simply to be present to the alluring, sensual gifts of each moment, and to open the heart ever wider in gratitude.

We must each find and welcome the blessings in life—even in the desert where, perhaps, like water, they seem even more precious.

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In the darkness, having walked away from electric lights of the hotel and outbuildings, I stand silently. Barefoot on the warm sand, connected to the healing earth’s frequency, I’m listening to the timeless symphony of crickets while the few trees sigh collectively in a hot breeze. In the far distance, the familiar yip of a coyote brings a smile to my face and heart, transporting me back to my dear Taos, New Mexico days, carrying me home.

As my eyes slowly adjust to the deep shadows, the sky that initially appeared totally dark becomes dotted with stars. Just a few at first, like pin pricks of light appearing through a black sheet. Then a few more. And yet more. After about ten minutes, the heavens have transformed into black velvet covered with countless glittering diamonds that continue to multiply, dazzling the mind and senses. How magnificent, I think, as my heart opens wider and chest expands with breath. And what I first perceived as a wisp of cloud in an otherwise clear sky, I realize is actually the Milky Way growing brighter.

We are, all of us, starlight. In a literal sense, we’re composed of the same atoms and carbon created when our galaxy appeared; in a more poetic and spiritual sense, we are the creativity of the Universe embodied, seeking only to experience the grandeur and wonder of Itself.

Gazing upwards, feeling small but full of that wonder and awe, my prayer is that in some meaningful way, I embody such crystalline luminosity. The world is very full of shadows, especially in the hearts of men, and we all need a bright star or beacon on the horizon to help us find our way through the dark, difficult passages. May I be just such a light.

My hope too is that on our respective journeys, each of us finds the place(s) where we may live and work in our highest integrity for the planet … and where the earth itself supports our deepest healing in return.

Go step outside, my friend, then look up and open your arms wide, whispering thanks to something much, much greater, both above you and below your feet.

Blessed be.

Milky Way from Borrego (photo: Flickr Creative Commons, nyrdc)

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