At the beginning of 2015, I made a bold and somewhat naive declaration. It was only to myself and my husband… and the cosmos… but I said with full intent that I wanted this year to bring me total personal freedom. By the end of this year, I wanted to feel completely liberated in all life areas. And so began one of the most intense, painful, helpful, and enlightening years of my life so far. Granted, I’m only 33 and feel as though there is still so much more ahead of me, but this year has been very different from all the others — and the one thing that acted as the main catalyst for so much change was my trip to the desert.

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Shortly after making that declaration, I began to feel a pull. It was subtle at first. I would see a movie or TV show with a desert scene in it and feel mildly drawn. Or, I would be online and someone would post a picture of sand and red rocks, and an energy current would stir within me. I really didn’t pay much attention to this initially and went about minimizing my physical belongings in my first steps towards personal freedom. I got rid of 80% of my wardrobe, almost all of my books, most knick-knacks, and now have just the essentials and a few treasured items in my home. But, as I cleaned out, as I simplified… and then minimized my budget and expenditures… the pull, the stir within me from the desert, kept on calling.

One day near the start of the spring season, the call had blossomed into a full-blown ache, a longing, as I stumbled across an image of Cathedral Rock online. I stopped my mental wanderings. I stared fixated at the image. Finally I turned to my husband and said, “Here. This place. I have to go here, now.” And I knew I had to go alone, even though I’d never traveled solo in my life before, and certainly not to a new place with no one there waiting for me.

Despite the initial fear, I booked my round-trip airfare, made reservations at a local motel, selected a cheap rental car, and within a few short weeks I found myself in Sedona, Arizona.

While there’s a lot of information out there about the incredible scenery and the healing vibrational qualities of Sedona, I want to take time to say that I believe all deserts hold a key to personal liberation. They are just so much more transformative than any other landscape. Although, I will confess to also believing Sedona to be absolutely exceptional. Deserts, in essence, strip you bare. There is no room for a false veneer or the unnecessary in the dry, open lands.

My time there was certainly transformational and the scenery was indeed beautiful, but it was by no means an easy trip for me. I was nervous on the plane, scared on the drive out there from Phoenix, and exhausted when I arrived at my destination. But, I was there… alone. I’d entered the chrysalis as my caterpillar self and had no choice but to undergo the change to butterfly. And, along the way to my own freedom, the desert taught me a few valuable lessons that aid me in my continued journey to this day, and I’d like to offer them up to others in a spirit of sharing.

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1. Letting Go

People talk and write about this concept a lot. It is really huge these days, but I find that few people actually do shed their burdens completely. My first 24 hours in the desert were painful. I cried more often than not. I felt overwhelmed by guilt that I’d left my family and friends to do without me. I felt terrible that I’d abandoned my responsibilities to take a week-long break and go on this journey. But beyond the guilt was resentment that I’d carried it in the first place. Why did I always have to be the caretaker of others? My resentment kept throwing that question up in my mind until finally it was satisfied that I had no good answer. Coupled with that resentment, I soon found, was repressed rage. I was shocked! I typically thought of myself as a happy, healthy, laid-back person. And yet, these feelings had been there all along. I had to let go. I had to stay in the desert, continue my time there, and let the feelings bleed into the earth until they were no longer a part of me, until there were no more tears to be shed. I’d let go of personal possessions and an overstuffed budget. Now it was time for me to let go of old mental patterns and bottled up feelings.

My advice… Take some time every day in a natural setting where no one can bother you or want anything from you, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Breathe in fresh perspective, and bleed out old guilt and resentments. Mindfulness and meditation are vitally important in our daily lives for personal wellbeing, proper perspective, and true freedom to occur.

NOTE: I took to stacking stones while in Sedona and found that to be a very good way to clear my mind and open my heart.

2. There Are Too Many Voices Influencing Your Life

Take a moment and ask yourself, how many voices are there giving you advice and even criticism about your life? Keep in mind these voices may come from external sources like friends, family, and coworkers. But there are also a great many internal voices that come from varying aspects and facets of your own diverse personality. Take some quiet time. Contemplate all the external voices. Then listen for the internal ones. How many different perspectives and/or voices do you encounter? For me, there were far too many… I don’t remember the exact number now, but I recall being surprised and overwhelmed by it.

Then the desert spoke to me in that soft way that the spirits of places have a tendency to do. The wisdom came. “Listen only for one voice,” the desert revealed. “You will know it when you sense it. Listen for the voice of your higher self.” Some people might call the higher self a “spirit” or “guide” or the “true self.” The point is, listen for the one voice. That is the only voice you really need to hear.

3. Don’t Be Afraid To Go Off Trail

Even though I always started out my daily walks in the desert on a trail, all of the best views I found were off-trail. This concept applies to life in general. If you want to see and do something amazing and different and genuine, don’t be afraid to go off the proverbial trail on your life’s journey.

4. We, As Humans, Are No Greater Or Lesser Than Any Other Aspect Of Nature

This is immediately true when you view the amazing feat of trees growing sideways out of a patch of dirt wedged between giant rocks. Gaze long and hard at the beauty and elegance of a lizard sunning itself and see your own happiness and release gazing back at you. We are no greater and no lesser than any other being because we are all connected one to another. We are not separate. We are each the universe, the cosmos, expressing itself, doing what is natural for our perceived expression. Just like that sideways growing tree, be true to yourself, and grow in the manner in which you need to grow, while respecting all other beings.

5. The Cosmos Is Within You

Most of us have heard the saying, “as above, so below; as within, so without,” but nowhere is this more experientially true than when you are laying in the desert at night, your back to the earth and your eyes gazing upwards into the night sky. With unobstructed views, you see the great expanse, countless stars, galaxies, majesty. If you lay there long enough, you can feel yourself become one with the earth, which is Mother to us all. Stay there for a good amount of time and you begin to see your origins in the stars, in the beginning, where all energy and matter burst outwards forming the known universe we can perceive of today… and then some. All that original matter and energy is within you. You are the cosmos and it is you. There is no need to seek elsewhere. All of your answers and destinations, and all of your longings and journeys, begin and end with yourself. Deeply knowing this, you are free!

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