The facts of silence and emptiness are traditionally the symbols of divine imminence—but not, of course, for everyone, and not in all circumstances. “Until one has crossed a barren desert, without food or water, under a burning tropical sun, at three miles per hour, one can form no conception of what misery is.” These are the words of a gold-seeker, who took the Southern route to California in 1849. Even when one is crossing it at seventy miles an hour on a four-lane highway, the desert can seem formidable enough....the desert’s emptiness and the desert’s silence reveal what we may call their spiritual meanings only to those who enjoy some measure of physiological security…
But even for those who enjoy security against the assaults of the environment, the desert does not always or inevitably reveal its spiritual meanings….Be still, and know that I am God; be still and know that you are the delinquent imbecile who snarls and gibbers in the basement of every human mind. The desert can drive men mad, but it can also help them to become supremely sane.
The enormous draughts of emptiness and silence prescribed by the eremites are safe medicine only for a few exceptional souls. By the majority the desert should be taken either dilute or, if at full strength, in small doses. Used in this way, it acts as a spiritual restorative, as an anti-hallucinant, as a de-tensioner and alternative.