pp. 235-236

On the sixth night, Carl's soul leads him away from mankind into the desert - into his interior self. He finds a wasteland. With no goal in sight, not knowing how long the journey will last, Carl wonders why his self is a desert, why he has been avoiding himself, and why he has not been dear to himself; why has his soul not been dear to him.

Carl realizes that all this time he has been living outside of himself, avoiding the place of his soul through involvement with people and affairs of the world. Even when he stops identifying with life in the world, Carl finds he is still lost from his soul. To his chagrin, he realizes that it is not enough to give up the world for he discovers that he has become his thoughts and now he must also also give up trusting them.

He wonders what he should do in this desert, and asks his soul. His soul responds, "Wait."

Carl realizes that he has cultivated himself in the outer world, but neglected his interior world and the spirit of the depths that is of that world. He is beginning to understand that the soul has a world of its own, and that no cultivation through his mind will make a garden of his neglected interior world.

He also realizes that to enter this world he must become completely himself, letting go of his attachments to the world and the thoughts of his thinking mind. Yet, he is still a captive of his thoughts.

When at last he is able to turn his desire away from his thoughts, he finds himself in an endlessly infertile desert absent of the creative force of his desire. The spirit of the depths encourages Carl, reminding him that when he turned his creative thought to the world, how things grew and thrived. So too, the spirit of the depths tells him, will this place of the soul thrive, become green and bear fruit, if he brings his creative force to it.

And so Carl waits and it torments him. He understands that most people will turn back here, running to the world, to people and possessions, to their minds and thoughts. And once they have run from the torment of waiting, they will forever be the slave of that to which they have run.

But the ancients showed us not to run, Carl tells us. They teach us by example. They went into the desert to show us that the place where we will find our souls is as lonely as the desert. Yet it is in this solitude that we will find visions and the fruit and flowers of the soul. The ancients lived their images, showing us the way of what is to come. Everything is foretold in their symbols, if we know how to interpret them. They went into the solitude of the desert to teach us.

Carl implores us to be aware of what the ancients said in their images – that the word is a creative act. If we say the place of the soul is dead, then it is, and if we say the place of the soul is alive, then that is so. Our words have power. In the beginning was the Word.

Carl’s soul leads him into the desert because he is giving up the world, giving up meaning, giving up his ideas. No more imagination, no more chicanery of thought.

Only life is true, and only life leads me into the desert, truly not my thinking, that would like to return to thoughts, to men and events, since it feels uncanny in the desert. (p. 141 LRB)

Going into the desert means following a fleeting dream in which there is something to feel, a feeling that leads away from the world. Here, at the beginning of the work which we experience as a desert, we are asked to descend into our personal feelings. Not emotions, not thoughts, not the things that make sense, but the true feelings that make no sense.

It feels like a desert to us because we have no understanding of what we are feeling. But there is always something to the desert; the desert is full of life. It is our attitude that makes it meaningless and seem like a wasteland. 

Should I also make a garden out of the desert? Should I people a desolate land? Should I open the airy magic garden of the wilderness? …. My soul, what am I to do here? But my soul spoke to me and said, “Wait.” I heard the cruel word. Torment belongs to the desert. (p.141 LRB)

Carl falls into doubt, worrying, can he really not trust his thoughts? Is he lying to himself when he says he cannot trust his thoughts?

What he finds is torment.

What is torment? Torment is feeling. Any feeling that is not known to us can be felt as torment, even joy or love or ecstatic fulfillment. At the moment we feel the unknown, it will be felt as a desert, as torment.

Carl speaks about the great difficulty of going into the desert because it does feel difficult. For those who follow their dreams as Carl did, it does indeed feel incredibly difficult. The feeling of descent that we experience as torment is really giving up the life of the consciousness of the self we have created. This is why we must go into the desert. We need to just be there, to just wait, as the soul tells Carl; just ferment.

Being in the desert is learning to give up the self, the persona. Being in the desert prepares us for the deeper descent and the process of dying to self.

Torment belongs to us when we have not yet given up our thoughts and personas. Giving up our thoughts and personas can give ourselves a way to enter the underworld; this is why the soul says, “Wait” because we have not understood this.  We believe that the desert is a horrible place because we do not want to give up who we are.

The true torment is not the desert. It is simply the absence of, or separation from our soul and, even the separation from our trauma. It is paradoxical to feel that our trauma is not torment, but it is not. True torment is when we live in the state of being separated from the journey to our soul. Even trauma is more enlivening than the torment of this separation, for, when we are feeling the feelings of our trauma, we are feeling. When we feel, the trauma can begin to be healed.

When we are in the absence of soul, we are in the torment of being outside of ourselves. When we have trauma, feeling our way into and through it is all about the recovery of the soul. Trauma is just one of the experiences of the soul; and it is still our experience. Just like all of our experiences, we can feel our way through it.

Trauma, in fact, can be a way through to the soul. When we have a traumatic event, most of us separate from ourselves in some way – big or little – in order to survive that trauma. In that separation, we lose a part of our soul. To move through trauma, through the feelings we shut off in the traumatic event, is a way to recover the part of our soul that we lost.

In this way, trauma is more enlivening – more about coming into  our soul lives – than the torment of being in the desert where we are completely separated from our souls.

Most of us live outside of our selves in this way, believing it is okay. Then, when we begin to break open to feeling the separation, we realize that we have been in torment all the time, living little lives when really we have incredibly big souls.

There is a tipping point here. On one side, we believe that we are in torment because we are giving up who we are. On the other side, we can begin to realize that who we believe we are or who we have been is the true torment, the true desert. We think that the desert is the problem, but we are the problem. We are a desert, but we do not recognize it.

Until we move past that tipping point, we need to stay in the desert to understand that our torment is not so much that we are in the desert; it is that we do not know about the deeper feelings and believe those feelings are our enemies. Feeling those deeper feelings is, in this way, our way of coming alive. It is all about perception. Once we have been to the underworld, our perception changes and we can finally see the old self and the old life as a desert that it is.

From the standpoint of the desert, we dip a toe into the great ocean of feeling and then pull away, not ready to wake up to ourselves because it seems so overwhelming, even impossible. But from the other side of the tipping point, it is not overwhelming to be in the ocean, in the ebb and flow of the feeling life. Once we are there, opening to our feelings, open to seeing the true desert of how we have lived our lives, we discover that the descent is not so difficult.

But at what point do we realize this? Carl, in this chapter, speaks from the far side of the tipping point, standing in the impossibility of the journey.

Through giving my soul all I could give, I came to the place of the soul and found that this place was a hot desert, desolate and unfruitful. . . . The soul has its own peculiar world. Only the self enters in there, or the man who has completely become his self, he who is neither in events, nor in men, nor in his thoughts. Through the turning of my desire from things and men, I turned my self away from things and men, but that is precisely how I became the secure prey of my thoughts, yes, I wholly became my thoughts. (p. 236)

Once we are aware of the desert experience, our consciousness is merely an array of thinking. We did not know this; we thought we were right, noble, the hero. But then we learn that all of our consciousness has been just thoughts. Just talk. Thoughts that want us to believe that they are true, incessantly talking.

Suddenly, we hear our egos whereas before we thought we were being something else, perhaps something noble. This can be a crushing realization, especially when we cannot stop the thoughts. But it is still an incredible revelation to know that they are just thoughts and that there is no real truth in them. They are just words.

Once we are in the desert, we do not believe the words anymore; we learn they are just thoughts. This is the lesson of the desert; it washes away the beliefs we think are our lives.

It is like this: the desert experience sand blasts the lie out of us.

Then, everything archetypal, everything of Narnia, of the Tolkien realm with all of the true battles that await us, all of this can begin to move toward us. It is this battle that Carl is quickly moving into, the battle that begins after we are washed of our old identities.

I have worked for decades with people who have never left the desert, whereas others walked right out in a few months, ready for the deeper descent. The desert is where we are until we are ready to descend into the real battle. The desert is not the battle; it is merely the preparation.

The desert washes away that in us which would interpret the battle. When we interpret the battle, there can be no alchemy. Alchemy cannot occur in the head; it must occur in the heart.

I also had to detach myself from my thoughts through turning my desire away from them. And at once, I noticed that my self became a desert, where only the sun of unquiet desire burned. (p. 236)

This is the point: to turn our desires away from ideas and thoughts because we know they are just thoughts. The realization of the desert is that all the things that our thoughts say, all the things our thoughts  imbue with desire, are really lies.

Carl is understanding that the desire  he has projected onto things and objects is a lie, and he is discovering cannot find solace in them anymore, even though he turns to them again and again. Nor can we find solace in our thoughts – our ideas, goals, ideologies, in doing the right thing, in raising children, in saving the world from whatever we think we need to save the world from – communism or terrorism or technology. Suddenly, all that we have believed in is gone. All that has driven us that we believed was our passion —gone.

Most psychiatrists or psychologists would say that without meaning, we are left with “depression.” Carl says we must be willing to be “depressed,” to be without meaning. This does not mean to go into the nihilism or into depression, but to be open to letting go of the meaning we have believed in, in order to be open to what the soul believes. To go deeper so that we can find the truth within us.

This is a very difficult step. If we take this step, then we are ready for the work of descent and Alchemy.

Even if something could have thrived there, the creative power of desire was still absent. . . . But do not forget to wait. Did you not see that when your creative force turned to the world, how the dead things moved under it and through it, how they grew and prospered, and how your thoughts flowed in rich rivers? If your creative force now turns to the place of the soul, you will see how your soul becomes green and how its field bears wonderful fruit. (p. 236)

We live in an entrepreneurial age; we have goals, things we desire – wealth or whatever – and we use our creative energy to achieve our goals. With this creative energy we are able to produce many wonderful things in the world. We build rockets and skyscrapers, discover innovations in medicine, build a better economy, better bridges and roads; we produce every kind of artistic expression. Creative power, creative desire as Carl puts it, is what we call libido; the love and passion of the soul, which through its connection to the Divine is the source of this energy that creates all of this.

Carl asks; What would happen if we took all of that creative energy and, instead of building more roads and more ideals, we turned it toward the soul? For the force of this desire comes from the soul, and we have somehow co-opted it, taken ownership of it.

Carl says, give it back to the soul.

Nobody can spare themselves of the waiting and most will be unable to bear this torment, but will throw themselves with greed back at men, things, and thoughts, whose slaves they will become from then on. (p. 236)

The waiting opens something we do not like to feel. Perhaps the word torment to Carl means pain. But it is not really tormenting to feel our pain; it is the ego that says it is. If we taste this in the desert and then run away from it, back to the world of thought, the world of men, we will probably never return to the desert.  

. . . to find their soul, the ancients went into the desert. This is an image. The ancients lived their symbols, since the world had not yet become real for them. Thus they went into the solitude of the desert to teach us that the place of the soul is a lonely desert. There they found the abundance of visions . . . (p. 236)

In the desert, visions and dreams come. We can say that we have always had dreams, which is true, but mostly they are dream before the desert. These kinds of dreams are about our lives, about how we believe the lies and the thoughts. These dreams, which we call Stage One dreams, lead us to the desert.

To have dreams about the Archetypal world, about Narnia and how to get there, we have to go into the desert.  When we are willing to pay the price of being in the desert, we have such dreams.

. . . the fruits of the desert, the wondrous flowers of the soul. Think diligently about the images that the ancients have left behind. They show the way of what is to come. . . . But who knows how to interpret it?

When you say that the place of the soul is not, then it is not. But if you say that it is, then it is. Notice what the ancients said in images: the word is a creative act. The ancients said: in the beginning was the Word. Consider this and think upon it. (p. 236)

This struggle between the true visions, the truth of the soul, our real feelings, and our attachment to our thoughts and ideas is the struggle Carl calls oscillating between nonsense and supreme meaning. Nonsense is believing that our thoughts have meaning.

The words that oscillate between nonsense and supreme meaning are the oldest and truest. (p. 236)

When we transcend the belief that thoughts have meaning and arrive at thoughts as nonsense, then we can enter into the struggle between knowing when we are lost in our own nonsense and when we are open to the supreme meaning. This is the beginning of alchemical work.

In other words, we may feel into the depth of truth, but not be living it. We may be conscious enough to know that everything we think has meaning is nonsense, but this does not mean we are suddenly enlightened, suddenly walking in grace, with God. It does not mean that we are yet able to be our soul selves.

It means that our personas have been broken down enough that we are left in a place of great confusion.

At this point we may think, “I have sat in that desert, I have given up things of the world, now, where is God? Where am I to go now? Why am I going through this same issue over and over again?”

In the desert, the solution is not yet offered. For this moment, the solution is to be in the desert, to stay with the confusion.



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