I find deserts to be such evocative and magical, power places, that it’s hardly surprising that so many people have had profound spiritual experiences in the midst of those shifting, whispering sands and solitary spaces. Take a journey with me…
Here’s a snapshot from my pre-television days – taken in 1994 along the border between India and Pakistan in the Thar Desert, during a fashion shoot for a glossy women’s magazine. Deserts make me all broody and introspective and I had been dreamily gazing at the sunset for what felt like an eternity, so when the British journalist who was documenting the shoot (I can’t recall his name) asked me to look over my shoulder at the precise moment this picture was taken, I was dazed and lost in thought – which might explain the poker-face!
I’ve always maintained that photographs are a form of time-travel and when I look at this snap I’m transported back to a time in my youth when nothing but exciting possibilities and prospects lay beyond the horizon. If you had told me then that I’d be living the life I’m living now – that is to say, being happy, sated, established in my career but not enslaved by it, in a loving committed relationship, connected to nature and spiritually tuned-in – I would have wondered if you left out a really big, important part. I’d probably be like, “Where’s the bit where I become this huge success and earn a fortune, where I’m widely admired and wildly popular and my achievements are acknowledged and lauded? Where’s all that stuff?”
Like so many young people I too had big plans and fantasies – but today, when I recall the things I so desperately coveted back then, I realise how mislead I was to think that they (however pleasant) were going to magically and automatically deliver me to a place called ‘happy’. Because really, that’s all I actually wanted at the end of the day. To be happy. Isn’t this true of everybody?
Eventually I came to understand that so many of my aspirations and dreams were less about self-actualisation and personal development or growth and more about the need for acceptance and approval – to fill the void of insecurity I felt inside. I think that if most people (particularly those in narcissistic careers) were really honest with themselves, they’d probably admit to something similar.
It’s been my experience that success doesn’t necessarily lead to fulfillment. I’ll resist throwing in the ol’ “money can’t buy you happiness” cliche, but I will add that history is littered with tragic tales of successful people who were miserable and lonely not in spite of their wealth and prosperity but often because of it. Success, fame, popularity – these are nice to be sure, but, the pursuit of such mutable things can become a dangerous addiction where there is no concept of ‘enough’, only more, more and more. Much like a gambler on a lucky streak, it’s crucial that you know when to walk away from the game, count your ‘winnings’ and remind yourself of what’s really important in life.
Several years ago I had the good sense to simplify my life so I could have more time to enjoy my life – and I discovered that I could make do without all the things I thought I needed. We don’t actually need as much as we think we do…
Of course, the intense, ambitious young man in this picture didn’t know this. In fact, there’s a lot he didn’t know. And no, sadly he wasn’t on the brink of some blinding revelation in the desert that day, but was instead on the verge of starting his own business and entering into his first long term relationship – both of which he was hopelessly underprepared for!
“For age is opportunity no less than youth itself, though in another dress, and as the evening twilight fades away, the sky is filled with stars, invisible by day” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow