Most of us have had them—those “before and after” moments that become turning points in our lives. Sometimes we recognize them as they happen; other times not until later. Either way, they are moments when how we look at life transforms. Going forward, we can never not have experienced that moment. It’s burned into our cells. That’s how it was in my turning point moment with the Star of the East, also known as the Bethlehem Star.
It was dawn on an early January morning in 2008. I was in the Western Desert of Egypt. More precisely, I was in the area known as the White Desert, a vast, flat, other-worldly region scattered with larger-than-life white sandstone monolithic rock formations. The monoliths had been eroded into fantastical shapes by the wind. It was like no place I had ever been, and I felt more alive than I could ever remember.
A few days before, Johnathon and I had landed in Cairo for what would become a ten-day odyssey of discovery and awakening. Filled with anticipation, I knew that this would be unlike any other trip I had ever taken, yet I had no idea what to expect. Looking back, it stands out as one of a handful of “before and after” experiences of my life. There was “before Egypt” and “after Egypt.”
From the moment we arrived in Cairo, my sense of time and space began shifting. The present moment—right here, right now—was becoming more expansive and multi-dimensional than I had ever experienced before. That awareness became even more intense while visiting the Sphinx. I had never felt such a profound sense of ancient wisdom and healing. All of time—past, present, and future—felt held within the capsule of the present moment. This was new territory for me.
On the road to the Western Desert
The next day, we left Cairo in a small van headed towards the Western Desert. My friend Rita from The Netherlands was our guide. She had been leading small-group personalized tours of Egypt for more than 20 years. Our driver was Hamdi, a gentle wise Egyptian man who would become a deep heart friend. He and Rita had been working together for many years, making for a warm and cozy feeling with the four of us together.
We drove for four hours across a vast, empty, brown land, interrupted only by government security checkpoints. It would have been easy to fall asleep or get lost in a book to pass the time. Yet an inner voice was insistent in its summons:
Stay awake; look out the window.
The empty view will open your vision for new understanding.
A new world awaits.
Staring out the window into the empty brown vastness, I began to sense an unknown inner landscape deep within the heart of my being. Again, new territory.
In the late afternoon, we arrived in Bahariya, an oasis village where we would spend the night. Rita, Johnathon, and I walked the narrow dirt streets of the village before dinner. Women were cooking the evening meal on fires in front of their houses while children laughed and played all around. The men had gathered on the main street, a wider dirt thoroughfare, talking and smoking as they sat in small groups. As we walked, some of the local Bedouin people called out to greet Rita. They seemed happy to see her again.
It was indeed a new world. My Western judging mind said, “These people have nothing; they live in squalor. It must be so hard.” Yet my newly discovered inner landscape said, “Pay attention, these people and this place have a lot to teach you about life, about time, about what is real, about what truly matters.”
Going off road—the Black Desert, Crystal Desert, and the White Desert
Early the next morning, the four of us were joined by Taher who would be our Bedouin guide for the next 24 hours. We drove a short distance from the village on the only road going south before he took us off road to drive overland in the open desert. Taher knew this land like the back of his hand. Within a few minutes, we entered the Black Desert, traveled on through the Crystal Desert, and then arrived in the White Desert where we could camp overnight.
Each of these three vast areas of desert has its own unique mystical powers. Together, they can take you on a deeply personal transformative journey. The topography is wide open; there are no places to hide or find protection from the sun or the wind. Nor are there places to hide from the shadows of your inner world. Linear time as we know it doesn’t seem to exist here; perceptions of reality become skewed.
If there is anything unsettled in your life, the Black Desert will stir it up without apology. This stark land of cone-shaped basalt rock mountains challenged my beliefs about who I was, why I was here, and where I thought I was going in my life. My breath felt caught and shallow.
The Crystal Desert cleanses and purifies. There are quartz crystals everywhere embedded in rock formations and scattered in the sand. As we wandered and explored, I could breathe deeply again. My whole system felt like it was recalibrating and rebalancing.
Arriving in the White Desert, I felt embraced by wisdom and healing. The life I lived back in the U.S. felt very far away, and that distance felt liberating. An awakening was happening within me, and I knew there was more to come.
In the late afternoon, Taher found a perfect overnight spot for us. After setting up camp, he and Hamdi built a fire and began preparing our dinner of roasted chicken, rice, and vegetables. Johnathon and I explored the landscape and sandstone monoliths while Rita sat quietly taking in the silence of the desert.
As dusk settled and light faded, the monoliths seemed to magically come to life. Each one had its own personality, its own healing power and wisdom. Soon, a vast canopy of stars began to emerge; night had come to the desert. Things were happening inside of me that I didn’t understand—an immense sense of anticipation of stepping further into a new unknown.
We sat around the fire drinking tea and reflecting on the day. As we said goodnight, Taher recommended that we put our shoes under our sleeping bags to form a makeshift pillow. He said that would also keep the desert foxes from stealing them as we slept!
Snuggled in my sleeping bag under the open sky, I lay awake most of the night gazing at the most spectacular starscape I had ever witnessed. The stars, the silence, the vast openness yet intimate healing embrace of the desert—it was overwhelming in the most incredible ways. My heart—no, my whole being—was breaking open. I was completely at peace.
A desert fox did, in fact, pay us a visit. She was delicate and skittish yet fearlessly bold, and she had the most beautiful long bushy tail. She posed no threat as she quickly scavenged for scraps of food around the dying fire. Yet she also felt like a mystical visitor entering our camp, doing her magic, and then silently departing.
The Turning Point Moment
At the first hint of light, I silently unzipped my sleeping bag, grateful that everyone else was still asleep and that I could be alone with the sunrise. As I tied my shoes, I was also grateful that the fox hadn’t gotten them! I slipped away from the camp to sit at the base of a nearby monolith that had been speaking to me through the night.
As the golden orb of the sun crept over the eastern horizon, the stars quickly began to fade. However, there was one bright shining star in the eastern sky that refused to disappear. I had never seen a star continue to shine so brightly even as the sky filled with daylight.
Suddenly, I remembered the Christmas story, and wondered out loud, “What if that is the Star of the East—the star that led the Wise Men to the Christ child in Bethlehem?”
Every cell in my being was tingling. I was giddy with excitement and, at the same time, incredibly still and completely lost in the moment. Once again, as at the Sphinx, all of time felt held in that present moment. There was nothing but me and the desert and the star and the rising sun. I felt a primal connection to Life and the Present and the Earth like never before. It was like I had come home to the universe—a feeling of the infinite nature of being, a time-full yet time-less reality for which there are no words.
The Christmas story says that the Star of the East led the Wise Men to Jesus. Yet the Star of the East led me to a profound place of oneness with all of creation—all that has ever been and will ever be—deep in the heart of my being.
As I walked slowly back to our camp, the others were stirring quietly. Tea was brewing over the fire. The desert silence was still holding all of us in its magic and mystery. It seemed that each of us had our own unique experiences through the night.
Looking for the Light
This year, as the Winter Solstice approaches and various traditions prepare to celebrate the Light in its many forms, my turning point moment with the Star of the East looms large in my awareness. We continue to live in unsettled times; the Great Breaking Open goes on. Collectively, we face enormous challenges as well as incredible opportunities, mirrored in different ways for each of us in our own lives, in our own countries, and in the signs of strain and stress on our planet.
Sometimes it’s hard to know how any one of us can make a difference. However, the Canadian poet and singer Leonard Cohen gave us some simple yet powerful guidance in his song “Anthem”:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
And then there is the guiding mantra of Transformational Presence:
Stand tall, be love, shine your light.
Keep it simple. Do something good today. Whether it’s big or small doesn’t matter. And then do something good again tomorrow. Don’t worry about whether it’s perfect. It’s what you can offer at that moment. Just do it.
As the structures and systems of our world keep breaking open, there are cracks everywhere. Through some of those cracks, light pours in. If we choose, we can see those cracks as a kind of Star of the East. They can show us the openings where we can stand tall, be love, and shine our light.
Like all stars, the Star of the East is not always visible; it fades in the light of day, yet it’s always there.
Sometimes it feels like the light in our lives has faded, yet it’s also still there somewhere.
Look for the crack. Look for the light. And ring the bells that still can ring.
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Related Blog Posts:
- Time, Creativity, and the Deep Stillness Within—Lessons from the Thai Jungle
- The Wilderness Between Our Heartbeats—Lessons in Presence from the South African Bush
- And the World Goes ‘Round—Three Simple Truths that Can Help You Stay Centered and Grounded No Matter What
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