"To feel that we belong to the World, we must be deserted."
Ellen Meloy, reporting on a conversation with a contemplative Jesuit friend
A large part of the interior desert experience is a realization that - except for a handful of friends and family members - we really have very few people who are truly "there" for us. This may not be true for young college-age folks, who rely quite heavily on friendships for a sense of identity. But once people enter a career and have a family, wider communication generally diminishes significantly. This is especially true in the postmodern world, where everyone is incredibly busy and where cultural ADD reigns supreme.
This desert of real communication is strikingly true in the social media arena. People may initiate a conversation, but then drop away when we ask deeper questions in response, or request that they explain further a point that they've made. A lot of this has to do, I believe, with the fact that a large percentage of social media users communicate via texting, Instagram chat, or Facebook chat, where conversations necessarily remain brief because of the difficulty involved in spelling out long messages via smartphone or tablet.
In any case, this manner of communication often leads to a heightened sense of alienation, especially because much of the socializing that used to occur face to face now has been replaced by cellphone and text messages. In this connection, my wife often talks about lunch time at her office, where she walks in on a whole breakroom full of people, busily occupied with texting rather than with talking to each other.
Even with the friendships each of us has developed outside social media - through face-to-face communication in an actual physical location - many of us seem to have less time these days to schedule coffee or lunch appointments, especially as the pace of life becomes more hectic for everyone.
What can we learn from this situation? First, we need to nurture more carefully the relationships we have with the people with whom we feel mutual love and caring. Second, we can reduce our expectations for deep communication via social media, and adopt an attitude of gratefulness for the deep friendships, however rare, we ARE able to develop there. But third, and most importantly, we can use this societal interpersonal desert to develop our relationship and union with our Source - with the God and Goddess aspects of the Divine Beloved who, as St. Augustine and St. Bernard of Clairvaux remind us so exquisitely, are "closer to us than we are to ourselves." In fact, from a cosmic perspective, relational disappointments seem intended to DRIVE us toward a deeper communion with our Source. In fact, intense longing for and union with The Beloved would most likely never occur without the heightened desert experience that is activated by our disappointments over less-than-fulfilling human interactions and relationships :)
Photo: Ponderosa Pine and ruddy cliffs, Red Mountain Open Space, Larimer County, CO, October 24, 2015
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.