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Opinion: How to live more intentionally by finding your own ‘desert’

In my studies of those who have dedicated their lives to discovering their identity, I have found keys to create the peace and abundant life we all seek

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Jervis McEntee via Wikimedia Commons

I have written much about suicide ideation since the passing of my dear son in August 2020. Mental health is a topic that should be front and center in all our minds and hearts, not just for those who know loved ones and friends who have succumbed to the demons of the day. 

Since Skyler’s passing, I have doubled down on my mantra of “doing some good every day” and my desire to live life more intentionally. This was his mantra as well, and I would like to expand on his vision as I outline suggestions for modern day peace.

In my studies of monks and those who have dedicated their lives to discovering their identity, I have found keys to create the peace and abundant life we all seek. These keys apply to everyone, whether you consider yourself to be spiritual, religious, nonspiritual, nonreligious, secular or atheist. All can benefit. 

In his book “Letters from the Desert,” the late Carlo Carretto, an Italian Catholic and Jesuit youth advocate, was very busy doing wonderful things. Still, he felt he hadn’t really made the connection with God he desired. So, in his mid 40s he left for the desert to find his center. He left his entire life and friends behind and spent 10 years in the desert of northern Africa with a few of his “Little Brothers,” living as monks, to discover answers to his deepest questions. 

For Carretto to leave his busy and seemingly fulfilling life behind in this way is an inspiration to me and has made me desire to go to my own “desert” to gain answers to my own questions. I have also discovered that this process is ongoing, not a “one and done” event. In this way, as we find the rituals and rhythms that elevate our souls, peace and purpose expand in our daily lives.

Experiencing peace begins with finding our sacred space. For Carretto, it was the desert in northern Africa. For us, it will be wherever we decide. This becomes our symbolic desert. For example, I have two spaces that invite the meditation and reflection needed to grow my peace and focus my purpose. One is my one-hour walk in the hills of my town each morning, and one is my office, where I am surrounding by many friends — my books. These spaces are symbolic of my own monastery, a place set apart. 

In their monasteries, the monks prepare questions that invoke deep thought and meditation. These questions are answered over time as we invoke our own monastic routines. Let’s consider questions we might ask in three phases of our lives. Your questions may be vastly different, but you will get the idea.

Phase one

  • Who am I?
  • What will I do with my life?
  • Who loves me?
  • Who will marry me?
  • Where should I live?
  • What should I do?

These questions are foundational to establishing a life of purpose, but as we mature in years, there are other questions:

Phase two

  • How will I remain true to who I am?
  • How do I sustain myself in the commitments I have made?
  • How do I turn my focus outwardly to bless the lives of others?

And then, if you are in the phase of life I am in (retirement age), you might ask:

Phase three

  • What legacy will I leave?
  • How will my passing be a blessing for my loved ones?

In all of these questions and processes, we can learn to live our lives more intentionally and find peace in the process as we discover and rediscover our purpose. If you are a person of faith, then finding this purpose may include discovering what God’s purpose is for you also.

Ponder where your “desert” might be and the discoveries you will make as you go there. In part two of this discovery of finding modern day peace, we will explore shaping our own domestic monastery (building out own pillars of peace) as we listen for the ringing of the bells.

Steve Hitz is a co-founder of Launching Leaders Worldwide, a nonprofit organization that provides young adults with tools for personal leadership and faith. He is the author of “Launching Leaders: An Empowering Journey for a New Generation, and Entrepreneurial Foundations for Twenty and Thirty-Somethings.”