After my ethereal experiences in the alternative world I searched for a more natural experience that would keep me anchored to this world and this time. I found myself walking along King’s Road in Chelsea, and felt ‘drawn towards’ as the mystics would say, a certain shop window. It was adorned with the usual spiritual knick-knacks of crystals, tarot cards, incense sticks and Hindu statues carried back in packed suitcases by the more financially astute spiritual people. A sign said: ‘We have a more extensive library of spiritual books in the back.’
I entered the shop as if entering into an Aladdin’s cave. My eyes flicked passed the usual classics, ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’, ‘The Alchemist’ and ‘I Am’ by Sri Nisargadatta and then settled on a single word in thick block letters:
by Roger Housden
I pulled out the book which had been tightly packed into the row. As I flicked through the pages I could see all manner of retreats from every religion in the world; Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Sufism. On the final page I was struck by this image of a man standing alone in the desert looking out into the distance. I wanted to be that man. I paid for the book and headed home.
The word retreat as defined in the book is ‘an opportunity to remove oneself from the everyday world, seeking silence and solace; allowing you to connect back to the divine.’ I flipped through the pages of the book looking at the variety of retreats on offer and the many ways in which one could seek silence. Ashrams in India. Orthodox churches in the Greek mountains. A Tibetan retreat on a Scottish Island. And that silent retreat through the Sahara Desert.
The desert conjured up romantic images of me in flowing white robes. The sand swirling around my feet. I imagined myself as Lawrence of Arabia. One man on his own struggling across the desert through the most inhospitable conditions. I quickly paid for the book and headed home. I was starting to feel the kind of excitement I used to get when high on drugs.
‘Chris. You don’t have to go to the Desert to find yourself. It’s right here in your heart.’ Mara was dubious about my desert trek. She just saw it as one giant ego trip.
‘Surely you need to be removed from your surroundings and these modern-day trappings to allow the heart to truly flourish?’ She looked at me suspiciously. ‘Was that a direct quote from my Ram Dass book?’I looked away, ‘Maybe. Maybe not.It’ll be fun. All you have to do is just walk and don’t talk for a few days and they do all the cooking. It’s like going on holiday with your parents.’
It appeared it wouldn’t cost too much for me to have my dream and I quickly reached for modern man’s saviour during times of frustration. The credit card. Within a few clicks I was booked onto a retreat which would take me to the largest desert on the earth. The Sahara.
I was flipping through the pages of my newly purchased Desert Survival Guide deciding on which gadgets to buy. Mara looked closely at me.
‘A silent retreat can be quite emotionally intense. Are you sure this is your thing, Chris?’
‘How can silence be an intense thing? It’s just shutting up for a few days. What’s difficult about that?’