At least three world religions were born in the Desert.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam all owe their origins to the baking heat and sparse environs of the desert landscape. Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, Mohammed; they all had their greatest revelations when alone in desert (or at least very barren) landscapes. Depending on their leaning, the religously-minded would suggest that this is because communion with God is only possible either when Man divests himself of physical distractions and so can focus on spiritual matters, or when he undergoes sufficient physical and emotional turmoil to turn to God for salvation.
A secularist reading of the pattern would suggest that these individuals – already unusual or eccentric, and possibly predisposed to odd beliefs and experiences – sought out solitude because that predisposition led them to be dissatisfied with a mundane life. And then in that harsh environment, they became sufficiently physically distressed to become delirious, an experience they interpreted as spiritual in nature.
Whichever reading is true (and in the end, the answer that satisfies you most boils down to which interpretative model you have most faith in), wandering the desert has acquired symbolic significance as a rite of passage. Whether literal or metaphorical, the idea that Man has to separate himself from the rest of the world to achieve higher purpose is a theme common to both religion and mythology, as well as being present in several schools of philosophy.
My previous entry elicited an intriguing comment from Touch2Touch which tessellated elegantly with some of my own pre-existing thoughts, and inspired me to write a post on the theme of separation from others as a result of finding contentment, security and tranquillity in one’s own internal assessment of any given situation.
Social networks (using the term in its broadest sense, not the e-variety) can certainly help those who feel lost. They provide a means of temporarily laying off responsibility for one’s own actions, decision-making and emotional stability to others. Support systems can be vital in this context, but I always find myself cringing when people talk of supportive social networks in a longer-term sense. To me, this attitude belies the essential meaning of the word “support”. Before wanting support, the key question must surely be: “support to do what?”
I would suggest that the end goal is not to be permanently supported by others, constantly having to use friendships and acquaintances to buttress your own emotional and intellectual needs, but to feel strong and comfortable enough in one’s own skin to be independent of that need.
This requires uncommon clarity of thought and purpose, as well as an unusual degree of insight. It is also unlikely to result without a intense amount of self-confidence in the method by which these individuals assess the world. This will seem to border on arrogance, except that observers will notice the world bending around these individuals, moulding itself to their will, rather than hitting them head-on in a violent crash as inevitably happens to the genuinely arrogant.
Wandering the desert is not so painful for these individuals as it would be for others. They have an internal moral compass that generally points them in a direction they’re happy with, and seem to carry around a portable oasis that nourishes and refreshes them when need arises. They enjoy meeting fellow travellers; companionship and hospitality are good traditions and can bring fresh news. And sometimes they even travel together for a while with the more pleasant and wise of their fellow nomads. But eventually the call of the empty dune summons them back to a solitary journey.
The great unanswered question should be: “what lapse of thought called the prophets of world religion back from the desert to commune once more with an unwise and ungrateful population?”