There are many landscapes which evoke for me the longing that I feel subcutaneous, just under my skin, just out of reach. The evergreen fields of Ireland, squared off by ancient stone walls; the basined and ranged deserts of Nevada, sweeping and endless; the oceanic Sand Hills of the Great Plains, recently visited, essentially treeless for hundreds of miles, pale green and haunting. Spain, in every part.

I long for the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, though I know little of them. The endless boreal forests of Canada and Siberia stir my imagination. The formidable Sawtooth Mountains of central Idaho hold a tenacious resonance for me.

We all have these places I think. They are ancient to us, perhaps part of our genetic code: the moors of my Irish, Scotch and English ancestors, the flat farmscapes of my great grandparents in Denmark, the endless sweep of familial Nebraska.

That they evoke this longing is curious to me. How the desert abbas and ammas knew to flee metropolitan Alexandria into the desert, how Benedict knew to remove himself to the mountains, how monasteries are mostly located in regions remote, they share a common knowing of landscape and spiritual availability.

Their remoteness suggests what seeks is not so available where everyone is so busy. In a desert landscape, you must really scratch the surface to find life, even microbial. And to find water, well, you will be drilling pretty deep. The refreshment of community is not next door, nor even nearby. The solace of companionship is dear for being elusive. Trinkets are not so available, though our capacity to covet fool’s gold remains large.

Remoteness itself does not qualify one for anything. But it does offer possibility.

I am plotted on a couple of acres in Sonoma County Califonia, with my spouse Scott, and our Airedale, Maude. A black beauty we have named Clementine lives next door. Ex-urban, semi-rural, out in the county. No longer suburban or city dwellers, which we have been. While far from remote, it is remoter. While not isolated, it is at a distance.

For many reasons, we moved here four years ago, but primary for me was the need to spend more time alone.

I am cusping a decade as I write. The world of my earlier years, so involved in so much, so many good works, if I might, productive and beneficial and active and engaged and very appreciated, too, seems no longer exactly what I am to do. And yet, I am afraid not to. Who would I be?

I cannot explain this being alone to anyone, let alone myself. I sense it somewhat misunderstood, in a culture which so values busy. I know it in my heart, not hardly anywhere in my head. And I do it not so well.

But something, some one, some how calls me out.

It is not saying more. It is not saying why. It is not comforting. Nor illuminating. Nor fecund.

It is silent. On some days, more silence than seems bearable. But it is unmoved. Silent it remains.

I distract, and act as if busyness matters. I tidy things up, get productive, still pretend perfection is not a trap, tend to my business, make plans, act as if.

That to which I have bowed and made my ablutions for the past six decades is unmoved. And, I might add, perhaps I am finally knowing why. My bowing and ablutions have been carefully designed, in the main, to keep me in charge. But I am discovering I am, in the profoundest of ways, not.

I cannot justify my existence. I cannot truly earn my keep. I cannot create an equation in which I am owed a thing. I cannot pretend the work of my life qualifies me for anything more than the breath I take as I write these words. It is all a gift. It is all a grace.

I cannot save others, nor can I save myself. And God knows I have tried. But it is not my, nor our, work to do.

I cannot bribe nor cajole nor psych out nor manipulate nor shade nor sleight-of-hand nor justify myself in the presence of that which I am so aware cannot be named. Though name we must try. Doris Grumbach says it best by my lights: The One Whose I Am. About that One I know actually very little. But, if I too grow silent, about that One I will know all that I need.

My ego, the busy center, adept at planning and managing and protecting me from harm and justifying me in every situation of my life on this planet, is pained. Silence is not in its interest. Not knowing is certainly not in its interest. Surrendering, the ultimate gifted task, is most certainly in violation of all that for which it stands.

James Carse says that marginalizing the ego is precisely the work of the soul. What a blow!

The therapist in me, and the client, and the seeker, all know the ego is beyond durable. The author of that humbling work, The World Without Us, notes that after we have passed, what will remain is plastic, glass, and highly-fired bathroom tiles. I have a hunch disembodied egos will be in the detritus as well.

These past few months have been a desert. And a desert they remain. I cannot see my way out. But the desert offers many clues, and one who dwells therein learns to operate on the desert’s terms, not one’s own.

Moses went alone to the mountain in the harsh Sinai. He experienced a theophany seemingly too great to bear. But from that singular moment our spiritual patrimony has been shaped.

It perhaps is not so peculiar that our longing is indeed met in these harsh places, those of the earth and those of the soul.

Perhaps it is only there, in the seemingly barren landscape, really fecund beyond reckoning, where we must scratch below the surface to find life, and if, in addition, water is sought, to drill deep within.

Silence is the map and the journey’s end, too.

Surrender. Submit. Release. Un-grip. Cease. Sit. Stay.

Stop. Still. Breathe. Listen. Hear. See. Sense. Feel.


These are the initial entries in my new Dictionary of Ego-Antithetical Words.

I have sensed a need for this dictionary for some time.