The Oasis in the Desert: Self-care in a Busy World

The Oasis

We all need a place to rejuvenate. With ever newer technology, we have both improved our ability to communicate with one another and to gather information. This has resulted in real and sometimes deep connections with people that would have been much more difficult to establish in other ways, especially with people from afar. We have also, however, paid a price for the luxury of this technology which has made our days busier and our time even more precious. As a result of this busyness in our lives, we are often missing the opportunity to stop, “smell the roses,” and renew ourselves.

I was reminded of this recently on a drive across the American West. My partner and I were driving on a busy freeway when we passed a spot along a river that bordered the freeway. I had noticed this specific spot many times on this particular route, but had never taken the time to stop. This trip was different.

It was a hot, scorching summer day as we drove across the great desert of the American West. Once again we drove by this intriguing spot by the road. Today, however, we decided to finally stop and see what was there on the other side of the ridge by the side of the road.

We marked the mile marker on the freeway as we drove by, found a place to turn around and backtracked, slowing down on the road as we approached once again the abrupt exit off of the freeway. After parking, we climbed up a massive mound of boulders and peered over the edge of a large rock outcropping. To our delight, below was a serene and magical swimming hole hidden from the busy freeway and without another sole in sight.

With our dog, we climbed down a narrow path between the rocks, pushed our way through thick willow branches, and came to the water’s edge. We dipped our hot, dusty feet into the cool desert river waters. It was an absolute delight. It was a magical oasis indeed. We swam and played with the dog in the blue, clear and beautiful water for over an hour. The busy freeway above, less than 100 yards away, was over the ridge and out of sight.  The cool waters were a balm for the soul, and a rejuvenating oasis in the desert.

Self-care in a busy world is necessary for the soul. Most of us forget about feeding our soul in our busyness. We work ten, twelve hour days, and barely find the time to think about such a thing as “feeding our soul.” We work two jobs and moonlight at night to keep up with the demands of living in this down economy and recession. We cling to the quality of life that we have known for ourselves and our children. We make sacrifices every day.

In spite of these things, we need to continue to both make and take the time for self-care. Our deeper Self knows how busy we are. It knows that the economy is struggling. It knows that we are struggling. Yet, the Self also knows that we must continue to live our lives in a way that also cares for the soul.

In my psychology practice I regularly see clients struggling with this topic. It is not uncommon for clients’ dreams to bring up the topic of nourishing the soul when they are neglecting to do so. In spite of this, however, sometime clients still feel guilty if they take precious time or money away from their busy lives to nourish the soul. The irony is that these can be the precise times when self-care and feeding the soul is even more necessary for your overall well-being and mental health. Like the oasis in the desert, there is a symbolic “living water” in your desert.

This symbolic “living water” or soul water is necessary to keep you connected to your life and its deeper rhythm. It is in these depths that you can be provided with nourishment, hope and healing.

Carlo Carretto, the inspiring Catholic activist, heard a “voice” while he was in the middle of living a busy life.  This “voice” said to him, “Leave everything, come with me into the desert. I don’t want your action any longer, I want your prayer, your love.” As a result of listening to and following this voice, he left his prominent role in society and went deep into the desert where he discovered profound spiritual truths.  This life in the desert resulted in his classic spiritual text Letters from the Desert, that has inspired numerous readers over the years, of which I am one of them.

Carretto learned to love the darkness, and the night while in the desert. It became his friend, rather than something to shun. He was opened up to a part of himself and a deeper process that he would have never found or had a chance to embrace if not for following this inner “voice” and guidance.

The point is that things of great substance can be found in your own symbolic oasis in the desert. But entering this oasis will mean being okay with and choosing to leave the busyness behind, even if only for an hour at a time. You do not need to abandon all things societal like Carretto did in his literal move into the desert. There are opportunities for you to re-connect with your soul and care for the self even right off to the side of your busy day and life. The “living water” of your own oasis in the desert is waiting for you.


© 2012, Dr. Jeff Howlin. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Dreams, Editorial, Nature, Psychotherapy, Self, Soul, Spirituality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Oasis in the Desert: Self-care in a Busy World

  1. Seth Mullins says:

    Hi Jeff,

    While reading this I was reminded of dreamwork sessions from years ago where I would be stressing/obsessing about some circumstance in my waking life and meanwhile having dreams about children, playful dogs, horses, etc. Of course I would react – “What the hell has this got to do with my problems?!” – and it took me a long time to appreciate the value of those dreams. Like you say here, it was actually the *best* time for my consciousness to be turned elsewhere, inward towards a nurturing place.

  2. Dr. Howlin says:

    Thank you for your comments Seth. The unconscious does seem to know what we need, and when. Providing nourishment for the soul seems to be expected of us even in times of chaos. Your example is a nice illustration of this.


  3. Thank you for this beautiful post and reminder. I too have been inspired by the writings of Carlo Carretto and your post is a reminder to pick them up again. Living in Dubai, a city built in the middle of the desert, the importance of water has been brought home to me. The “living water” in the desert of the individual calls out to be noticed and cherished and you have illustrated this so beautifully by sharing your experience.

  4. Dr. Jeff Howlin says:

    Hi Linda,

    I have never been to Dubai, but I imagine how living in such a place can drive home the importance of both real, fresh water, and the symbolic “living water” within. I read Carlo Carretto for the first time many years ago, and only recently picked him up again. I too was reminded of how much I appreciate his writings, especially his own experiences in the desert. Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by my post and to leave a comment.


  5. Jeff,

    This post is more meaningful than words will allow me to describe; but I will try anyway because today was the exact day I needed to see it. It has been a gift to me.

    It was a “voice” from within that brought me to the desert 6 months ago; and it is here that I have begun the process of settling into my newly discovered Self. After spending 2 years on the shores of my beloved ocean, letting the waves wash over the pain of the past and the warm sun soothe my soul, I often find myself feeling uncomfortable in this dry land (especially now that the cold winter has begun). Knowing that I am exactly where I need to be, for now, has not made being away from the ocean any easier.

    Thankfully, I too have found the wellspring of the living water that resides within. Your post reminded me of the gratitude I have for that living body of water; and that all the comfort I need is right here, right now on the shores of my heart . . . here in the desert and everywhere I am.

    Thank you, sincerely, for sharing this post.


    • Dr. Howlin says:

      Hi Sloan,

      I am so glad that you stopped by my blog and took the time to comment on this post. I also lived in the desert for awhile, and though I have lived by the ocean for some time, my time in the desert was particularly meaningful. I hope that the desert serves as a catalyst for connecting to your own “living waters.”


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