A couple of months back, one of my fellow goddesses and I set the intention to have our monthly Goddess Night for June coincide with my birthday. It didn’t hurt that the ab-tion packed movie “Magic Mike” opened that night. Not all of the goddesses were able to make the movie, but we all made dinner, honoring our 10-month-old tradition.
For me the night was significant for two reasons. I got to tell these four amazing women what they meant to me and how their friendship had impacted my life. I got to tell them to their faces, unrehearsed (which I always prefer, anyway) and with unguarded emotion. I shed tears and I didn’t care that I did so in a restaurant in Old Town Scottsdale, an area known for being seen rather than being seen crying.
It was also my last night living in Phoenix.
Five years ago I moved to the Sonoran Desert, intentionally arriving on my birthday. It took me many years longer than I’d wanted to do it, but I finally honored the quiet voice that kept telling me that I needed to go there. I had no idea why. I told myself and others that it was because of the stark beauty of the desert—it appealed to the artist in me.
Three months after arriving in Phoenix, I was able to verbalize my reason for coming to the desert. It sounded ridiculous, as if I really wasn’t saying those words but they were being spoken through me: “I came to the desert to die to an old way of living.”
I had only the slightest idea what those words would come to mean, though a force much larger than me already knew that. It was that same power that moved me to tell the man I loved tremendously but ultimately did not marry back in 2007 that I had “a soul need” to live in the Southwest.
I’ve said it before and it bears repeating. Living in the desert is not for the faint-hearted. As much of the United States learned last week, triple-digit temperatures are not only brutal, they can be deadly. Or as my stunningly gifted healer told me, “The desert is a harsh place. It has a way of breaking things down.”
Regardless of the time of year, the desert sun makes temperatures seem 10 degrees hotter due to its angle. It is full-exposure, full-on intensity. Summers aren’t three months long—they’re five in a seasonless landscape. One becomes acutely aware of minimal green and the taking-for-granted of bodies of water. The desert is indeed a great teacher, and not just from an environmental perspective.
In my case, it taught me more about how I had been living my life. It was the perfect mirror that reflected both my light and my darkness. It broke down my expectations of life, of relationships platonic and romantic, and of myself.
The glare and heat of the desert broke down my defenses. It cracked me open where I was hard to reveal what was softer inside. It gave me room for deeper compassion for myself and for others. It showed me that just like sitting outside in a hundred-and-stupid degrees without a glass of water, perfectionism is a form of needless torture.
The desert taught me patience. Rain came only a couple of time a year, and when it did, I felt deliriously happy, even if the wet respite lasted but for a few minutes. No matter your life circumstances, if you are patient and persistent, they will eventually change. And even small changes can elevate the spirit as quickly as a heavy drop of water is absorbed by the thirsty desert floor.
Perhaps one of the most important lessons the Sonoran imparted to me was surrender. I learned to let my head take a backseat to my heart. I took risks, none of which I regret. With experiences embodying the two most powerful emotions known to humankind, love and loss, the clarity of morning light in the desert revealed the differences between illusion and reality, as well as what to release and what to retain.
In her book Women Who Run With the Wolves, Jungian analyst, social activist and author Clarissa Pinkola Estes described life in the desert as “small but brilliant,” adding that one could go for a hundred miles or more before seeing the smallest bloom. When one did, though, it caught the eye completely.
My life is but a small expression in a vast universe. I don’t know if it’s brilliant. But I do know that five years in one of this country’s harshest environments softened me. My ways of pushing, planning, and achieving—my old ways of living—yielded to something far more satisfying: the unfolding Mystery in the song of a soul. In allowing this surrender, I opened and I bloomed. I became a woman.