The very transparent, unfixed, yet alive quality of consciousness is its nature, a bit like air around us. If you relax and allow this experience of unfixed knowing, you will discover what Buddhists writers call the clear open sky of awareness. It is empty like space, but unlike space it is sentient; it knows experience. In its true state, consciousness is simply this knowing—clear, open, awake, without color or form, containing all things, yet not limited by them. —Jack Kornfield, The Wise Heart
Death Valley is the lowest, hottest, driest place in all of North America. The low point, Badwater, lies at 282 feet below sea level, and yet looming nearby is towering Telescope Peak at 11,049 feet. Here the scale of desolate earth and expansive sky is unlike anywhere in this continent. “Clear, open, awake, without color or form, containing all things, yet not limited by them,” writes Jack Kornfield. What better container, what better mirror, for an expansive state of mind than the vast open space of Death Valley?
“Open Desert, Open Mind” draws upon the wilderness-based tradition of the School of Lost Borders and the spiritual practice of sitting meditation to create a unique program for desert contemplatives. This is neither a typical SOLB program nor a typical meditation retreat, but a blend of the two. The usual SOLB program invites participants to spend time alone on the land to access a deeper telling of their own story (while a wide-open desert setting naturally encourages an inner stillness that supports this deeper telling). A meditation retreat usually invites participants to move beyond the telling of stories in search of inner stillness (though often a deeper knowing of one’s own story is a gift found within that stillness). Here we will draw on both traditions.
While this program draws some from Buddhist teachings, no particular religious orientation or spiritual affiliation is asked of participants – nor is any excluded. That said, comfort with a regular meditation schedule is recommended. During the first four days together, we will weave together a tapestry of inner and outer exploration. Mornings will be a mix of sitting practice and council time for stories about what is coming up while sitting, with each successive morning becoming more silent than those before. Afternoons will start with several hours alone on the land to invite clear open awareness, inside and out. Late afternoons and evening will again be a mix of sitting and council, including time to have our stories mirrored by others. The morning of the fifth day, participants will be smudged out for a 24-hour solo fast in the desert. After a day of reentry, we’ll then spend two full days hearing everyone’s story, inviting a mirror of each story from both the desert expanse and the two guides.
“Open Sky, Open Mind,” a sister-program to “Open Desert” also co-led by Cazeaux and Scott, offers a similar combination of contemplative practices in a year-long, longitudinal format based in the Northern California Bay Area. For more background, visit Scott’s article on “The Red Thread.”
Program information: Enrollment is limited to 12. We will rendezvous on Saturday, November 1st, at 12 noon at the Furnace Creek Visitors Center in Death Valley, moving from there to our base-camp in the backcountry. We anticipate camping together the entire week, finishing by noon on Sunday, Nov. 9th. We will provide dinner the first night and the break-fast after the solo time. Otherwise we ask everyone to come prepared to live self-sufficiently, which means bringing your own camping equipment and food for the week. More detailed logistical information will be sent out prior to the program’s start.
A note to people with limited wilderness experience: Though we will be camping out for the entire week, activities undertaken will be non-strenuous and our emphasis will always be “safety first.” We will provide a list of personal equipment that each participant should bring and we will also provide some group equipment for our base-camp. We may be able to loan limited personal equipment as needed and if we are unable, we can provide advice about what to purchase or rent.
Meditation equipment: As the program will include a regular meditation schedule, we encourage you to bring whatever you prefer for your own sitting practice—be it a cushion, bench or chair.