A Sabbatical in the Desert
If the tragedy of 9/11 hadn’t been earth-shattering enough, the COVID-19 virus claimed even more of Magdelene’s clients. The intervening years were a search for meaning and personal obligation as a human and an American.
Although our views on faith are vastly different, Magdelene quickly became someone whom I greatly admire. In the depths of despair, clearing the trash from Coachella’s beautiful landscape became a mission. The emptiness was filled with purpose: bringing others to the awareness that we aren’t doing the best that we can with this planet in our care.
Here’s what else Magdelene had to share:
Jenn: How did you decide on the Coachella Desert as the site for your sabbatical? (Here is where I admit that I didn’t know that “Coachella” was the actual name of a desert and not just a festival!)
Magdelene: I lived in the Coachella Valley briefly when I was very young. It left an impression on me, more so than any other place that I’ve lived. It is surprisingly mountainous and beautiful. I thought it would be a good place to test the “Dark Night of the Soul” phenomenon while the Covid-19 pandemic is still in play.
J: Did you have an inkling that this sabbatical would turn into a book?
M: Not at all. I anticipated writing a bit of poetry from my thoughts or maybe a research paper.
J: I love that cleaning the desert (literally) became such a symbol of healing. Do you know if the work still continues today?
M: Yes. The situation in the Coachella Valley is more dire than people realize. The sheer volume of trash in the desert since Covid began is staggering. Without intervention, the life here will eventually die. Desert regions get left out of the conservation conversation. I hope my work can help change that.
J: What do you hope readers will come away with from your story?
M: I’d like them to be motivated to take better care of our Earth and each other, for one.
Two, I hope that my experience as a 9/11 survivor trying to grapple with the political reality of our country for the last twenty years will make others pause before accepting dangerous ideologies. Terrorism, both domestic and foreign, and hate speech have created enough victims.
Third, I want people to know that meditation practice with a proper teacher really works. I have overcome so many personal hardships in my life by cultivating the stillness of the mind.
J: Would you embark on a second sabbatical like this one? If so, what would be your dream location?
M: My next choice for a sabbatical was the Antarctic Artists & Writer’s Program, but this project was closed due to drastic climate change in the region and Covid. I am always looking for other opportunities to explore the natural world.
J: Do you have any advice for someone considering a sabbatical in the “wilderness?”
M: Safety, first and foremost. Unless you have a survivalist background of some type already, any sabbatical should be made with a partner trained in the terrain you’ve chosen. Interactions with wildlife and extreme conditions can also be hazardous. Use common sense and read up on the dangers of the area before doing any sabbatical.
J: Do you have any advice for individuals who are considering documenting their life experiences?
M: Just write it. Nobody knows your story better than you do. But if you are seriously having misgivings about your writing ability, work with a ghostwriter.
J: What projects are you working on currently?
M: I am teaching a 3-week course at the University of California San Bernardino, “Meditation & the Western Mind.” I am also an active UN volunteer and create international nonprofit publicity content for nonprofits in the developing world. My next work of meditative poetry is “7 Words,” a companion to “The Hourglass” that explains one of the meditation mantras I used in the desert during my sabbatical.
J: What are you reading now?
M: I actually read several books at once: Abandoned in Death by J.D. Robb, Infinite Stars edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Kundalini Tantra by Swami Satyananda Saraswati & Manual of Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki.