Open Desert, Open Mind: A Wilderness Program for Contemplatives


Oct 17th, 2020 - Oct 25th, 2020 | Eureka Valley | Scott Eberle, Silvia Talavera | Living the Practices

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

Eureka Valley is a vast open space that stretches on for miles. Here the scale of desolate earth and expansive sky is something to behold. “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 Eureka 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.

Program information: Enrollment is limited to 12. We will rendezvous on Saturday, October 17th, at 11 a.m. in Big Pine, California, moving from there to our base-camp in the backcountry. We anticipate camping together the entire week, finishing by mid-morning on Sunday, October 25th. 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 schedule: The program will include a regular meditation schedule, beginning with an optional sunrise sit, then group sits to start the morning and afternoon sessions, and an optional evening sit to close the day. Please bring whatever you prefer for your own sitting practice-be it a cushion, bench or chair.


TUITION: $950 - $1,675

Sliding Scale: To honor the vast difference of financial resources among us, all of our program tuition is based on a sliding scale. We set forth no criteria and ask that you pay what is appropriate for your circumstances and access to financial resources. You can see recommendations on using the sliding scale here. If the low end of the sliding scale is still too much, scholarship assistance is available , please reach out to the office for more info.

Cancellations: Cancellations are hard on the participant, the School, and the guides. We respect the unpredictability of life, and we are diligent about running an organization sustainably.

-If you cancel 60 or more days prior to the start date of your program, you will receive a full refund of any tuition paid, minus any deposits.

-If you cancel 59 days or less prior to the start date of your program, and we can fill your spot, then you will receive a full refund of any tuition paid, minus any deposits.

-If we cannot fill your spot, and you cancel within 59 days of the start of your program, then we hold you accountable for paying the tuition at the lowest end of the sliding scale.

Submit enrollment form

 Please fill out and submit the enrollment form and then pay the program deposit below. Before you pay the deposit, please read deposit section below, all deposits are non-refundable and non-transferable. After your enrollment form is complete, please submit all health and liability forms.

Pay program deposit

Deposits: This deposit signifies your commitment to the program and is deducted from the tuition balance. All deposits are non-refundable and non-transferable. They cover the work of the specific course you signed up for, including all communication involved as well as the fee that guides pay to the school administration for the course accounting. 

Additional Deposit: Some programs require a second deposit to help us affirm commitments. Last minute cancellations make it hard to fill openings and incur a loss of income to the School and the guides.

Tuition Balance: Balance of tuition can be paid before or upon arrival. Simply deduct any deposits made from the amount you’ve chosen on the sliding scale.

Submit Waitlist form

This program is full; however, you may add your name to the Waitlist by clicking the Waitlist button below.

Additional course details & Materials


You will be responsible for bringing your own food and equipment, though we can provide some gear if needed. We ask everyone to come prepared to live self-sufficiently. You will need to bring shelter and clothing suitable for a full range of inclement weather. 

All participants must submit the required health questionnaire and liability form.

If you have questions about the enrollment process contact us at [email protected] or call 760-938-3333.

To learn more about our commitment to regenerative relationships please visit Cultural Relations.