Deserts and consciousness   [locations: Tunisia]

The Eye of the World -- Excerpt


.....  It was rough, bumpy, and slow going; all the time we just tried to stay heading west. Erik had had a lot of coffee for breakfast, and he had to stop and get out of the truck regularly to pee. I got out, too, and that’s when the anvil dropped, in the middle of that maw of silence. The silence was so deep that the idling truck didn’t even penetrate it or distract from it. Normally I would want to turn the engine off to immerse myself in the silence, but we didn’t want to risk not being able to start it again, and it didn’t matter anyway … the engine could affect the silence no more than an ant could make a dent in the trunk of a redwood tree.

It wasn’t that the scenery suddenly seemed pretty, but all those phrases about beauty being inherent in the barrenness, in the vision of raw vastness, now made sense … that glimpse of eternity. It’s like a physical manifestation of a state of meditation. “Clear your mind,” they say. “Thoughts are only bubbles that float away back out, never meshing into the mind but passing through without footprints.” Like the way the sand immediately swallows yours and the breeze blows over, and you’re hard-pressed to prove you ever were there. The desert enforces the present – the past is immediately erased and the future can’t be ascertained in the shifting sands.

In the mountains you contemplate God for majesty, for the color, shape and complexity around you; in the desert you contemplate God for pure magnitude, something more cosmic, as in of the universe rather than of the earth. Or perhaps you contemplate the possibility of his absence, mulling over the phrase “god-forsaken land.” Previously, I’ve thought of the desert as crushing the earth’s spirit with its barren sterility, but in fact it has freed it.

This part of the earth is only just waking up, wiping the sleep from its eye and yawning, stretching, thereby freeing the other half to dream. For there to be dreams, there must be wakefulness; it’s the contrast that gives them definition. But we the dream inevitably fall into the abyss of consciousness. To live in the desert is to live under a cold acknowledgement, to be perceived with calculation rather than imagination. Think of how you wake up from your own dreams in the morning. You’ve been somewhere rich with imagery, symbolism and metaphor, possibly somewhere fantastical or in an improbable plot filled with intrigue, in which you have amazing powers of transportation from one location, scene or reality into another. You wake up and open your eyes to look around your bedroom, where you see furniture, ceiling, motionless objects held together by laws of chemistry and physics, which are not fantastical or improbable, but rather the most likely things to exist given the present conditions and laws of the universe. You know approximately the number that your clock will indicate as the amount of time that has passed since you last looked at it. You know approximately what you will see when you look out the window. You know approximately what you will do next as you swing your feet onto the ground. This is the sterility of waking life – when we’ve used up the imagination of sleep. When the earth has used up green and yellow and trumpeting pink, when it can no longer conjure tails or legs or ears, it must open its eye to the spare latticework of element and force, acknowledging the geological certainty of desert sand – the surface currency of Earth’s entropy.

The earth is just an egg laid by God. Huge cosmic chickens rule the universe, you see, and they run around laying planets for eggs. The atmosphere is like our eggshell, protecting us while we develop and grow inside, beneath the cusp of consciousness. It’s our destiny as a developing embryo to consume all the natural resources of our mother earth and to destroy our atmosphere, so rather than dying out we just hatch out of our atmospheric shell and we’ll be free to go wander the universe at large. Mars was indeed once inhabited, like Earth. All its canals and pyramids and technology are now sand; the planet awoke and its people left long ago. Its eye gazes at us with nostalgia while it remains in orbit, the discarded eggshell of a civilization that has hatched.

Slowly, slowly, consciousness creeps over us.

..... end excerpt


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