Lessons I Learned Meditating in the Sahara Desert

by Alexander Heyne · 2 comments

“Make no small plans, for they have no power to stir the soul.”

-Niccolo Machiavelli

Meditating in the Sahara Desert

Christmas time 2009.

I skipped out on two weeks of my senior year, last semester college classes to head into the Sahara desert for three weeks. In the middle of the trip, I was left in a cave to fast for 5 days with no food, and was left alone in desert with a gasoline container filled with gallons of water.

The rest was just me, heaven and earth.

A Childhood Dream

Every since I was little I have been fascinated by the old legends and stories — not necessarily of magic and witchcraft, but rather of people who ended up passing on the legacy of the old wise man.

The shamans, priests, holy men and hermits that still existed from the BC era until now had always captured my attention. I read old tracts of stories, journals, and supposed notebooks that had been passed down through the generations.

I was totally hooked, and around age 12 began teaching myself to meditate. I had started to acquire a serious library on all things religious, mystical, and philosophy related which eventually devoured my closet by the end of high school.

As I write this, I’m building a third extra library out of cinder blocks and wood right next to my desk. Books I have a hard time getting rid of.

A Culture Missing Something

There’s a peculiar thing in modern society — actually, a lack of something.  Modern man doesn’t have many rites of passage like those that existed in pre-modern times.

Natives all over the world had rites of coming-of-age, manhood, womanhood, etc. that were clear indicators that a person was now a full member of society.  Not many exist in the modern world anymore.

I, like most modern humans, had a feeling that something “more” was out there greater than myself.

I had the privilege of being born into a family that didn’t have to worry about the necessities, and thus had the blessing of questioning that “other” feeling.

I had to have more; it wasn’t an option.

Fast forward ten years: The Opportunity

Senior year of college. Things worked out the way they mysteriously do, and an ecology professor mentioned a book called Sahara, encouraging students to read it.

That night, I was clearing out my computer’s memory because it was getting slow after four years. Going through my saved internet websites, I noticed a link for retreats in the sahara desert that caught my eye.

Eerily Alive

That's me.

I’ve been to a lot of places internationally, but I have to say that the Sahara has an extremely eerie feel about it.

I’ve never been to a place that outwardly seemed so devoid of life, but inwardly felt eerily alive. On multiple occasions I woke up in the middle of the night, with the feeling that the large stones nearby were watching me.

Quiet time is crucial

I always wanted to have a time in my life where I could totally escape to the solitude for a period of time. I finally got the opportunity for total immersion into solitude, and it was definitely worth the wait. I think this is one of those virtues of the modern era that we are in short supply of: people who can thrive (or even exist) in solitude.

I find that it’s extremely unusual to find people these days who are comfortable when it’s quiet. Try it yourself. The car with no music. The shower without talking to yourself. No TV in the background when you’re home alone.

It’s very telling of someone’s character when solitude doesn’t bother them.

Self-Inquiry as the basis of a good life

Many people that I know have this idea of changing the world and then somehow changing themselves. I’ll agree that it’s possible. However, I disagree that it’s a good or even straightforward way of understanding how change occurs.

Since my interest began with meditation, naturally I’ve gravitated towards inspecting how things change from the inside out.

I think that this is one of the fundamental principles of change — it first occurs within. Self-inquiry should be a fundamental, regular practice whereby you critically evaluate all close-held beliefs, thoughts and practices. It takes a seriously cultivated individual with a lot of self-awareness to fully and objectively criticize oneself.

Do it. It’s worth it. Because just like how I’ve talked about the top 1% (that actualizing group), that 1% of people tend to possess remarkable powers of both self-awareness and other-awareness. These are the foundation of an evolved individual.

Improve your sphere of influence

Here’s all I’m trying to say. You first improve yourself, and the sphere around you that you interact with automatically improves.

People talk about being more generous or being more this or more that. How about inducing a small change that produces concentric circles, and it doesn’t require forcing anything or going out of your way.


Find that still time.  Think about that.  Still time. I began talking a little bit about that here and have some book recommendations, but I’ll go into detail more on future posts.

It means being spontaneous – deciding to seize a beautiful friday to go hiking, and work on saturday instead.

It means being aware enough to really pay attention to people when they talk to you.  That also goes for kids – really listening, not tuning them out.

Finally, it means slowing down enough to remember that for every positive or negative response, you always produce immediate changes in the air around you.

Next time you’re going to react to what someone says, think about the concentric circles you’ll produce.  Often that’s enough to remind you how powerful you actually are.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Cuboid August 20, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Hi Alex

Great blog and I love this post. Thanks for sharing and giving us a glimpse of your trip to the Sahara. I absolutely agree, change within and self-inquiry are essential and powerful tools that can transform your life into a life that is truly worth-living. I’ve started to realise that I am the ‘Creator’ of my life and that my mind/thoughts are what make me perceive the world around me.

I’ve started to look into meditation and know that there are different types and techniques. However, which one(s) works best for you?! Which one would you recommend? I’m confused as to which one I should choose/try out/incorporate within my life. I know transcendental meditation is quite popular especially among celebrities; however I’ve also heard that it’s a rip-off and its main objective is profits!!! I’ve also come across kundalini meditation and that people have experienced ‘Kundalini awakenings’ which have been so overwhelming and powerful that they haven’t been able to cope with the symptoms/experiences.
I am hoping that meditation will help me with inner peace, clarity of mind, mental strength and deeper self-realisation. I suffer from constant negative emotions, anxiety, laziness, bouts of depression etc.

Im looking forward to hearing from you and any advice will be very much appreciated.

Many Thanks



Alexander Heyne August 21, 2014 at 10:11 am

Cheers Cuboid! To be honest, try them all – see which one works best for you.


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