They are dry and cruel, and merciless. They know no boundaries.

When I think of deserts, my mind fills with sand, stones, heat and hopes for survival. I picture snakes, scorpions and mirages, and my defenses instinctively go up. But at the same time, there is a deeper call that resonates through the scorching air: the call for open spaces, for immensity, for adventure, for solitude and peace.

However there’s no need to travel to Africa to find ourselves in a desert-like environment. Our everyday life is intrinsically webbed around the very principle of deserts. But we seem to have forgotten this, just like we have forgotten about dragons and angels.

Take our oceans, for instance. The sea is a desert, above and below, where sand is replaced by water, and heat by moisture. If careless, one will die there just as surely as in a desert, by drowning rather than heat exhaustion, but in the end does it really matter?

Yet the ocean yields the same qualities as a desert: it’s immense, endless, empty, moody, ever-changing and yet frozen in time. Set sails across the seas and you could find yourself, or loose yourself. But one thing is for sure: you’re alone out there, you feel like a grain of sand and finally there is no need for playing games and wearing masks. A desert sees right through you and so does the ocean.

But there are other deserts, one needs not live in Arizona, in Africa or by the ocean.

Space above us, after all, is a desert. Just look up at the sky on a starry night and no matter how many people are around you, you’ll instantly be transported up there, among a million stars that are so far apart they might as well not exist one for another. There, in the emptiness of space, your mind will face the same questions that arise when alone in the desert: Who am I? Why am I here? Is there a meaning to my presence in this place? Where am I going? Can I make it there? Will this kill me or make me stronger? And so the answer is yours, and yours alone.

Want something even closer to home? All right then, here’s the ultimate desert. We live in it, we thrive in it and yet we have completely forgotten it even exists. But as Neo found out, "The Matrix has us". Replace "Matrix" by "desert" and you’re in. What desert am I talking about? Society, of course!

I hear laughs, now. "OK, man, you’re pushing it a little far this time. Society is everything but a desert. It actually suffers from the opposite problem: it’s too crowded. Our world is overpopulated, we can never be alone and we are forever going with the flow. Not a desert at all."

But are you sure? Think about it for a moment. What defined our deserts?

Immensity. Society has no physical boundaries. We live in a world of communications and global travel. Walls and borders are falling. Cities are becoming giants. Cultures are melting together. We can get lost all right, and nobody really can help us find our way home but ourselves.

Harshness and ruthlessness. Need I say more about that? Our world is harsh and ruthless to say the least. Society has no pity for the weak. It’ll crush you if you flinch. Survival of the fittest.

Loneliness. Sure we live surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people, literally piled on top of each other. But therein lays the paradox. Never are we so alone as when we live in society. The masses and crowds have no consideration for individuals. Never better than in a crowd does one realize how truly alone he/she is. As people pass you by on the street, blank faces over lonely souls lost into their own deserts, you get to experience true isolation.

Whether around us are dunes or waves or galaxies or people, in the end, our path through life is mostly a lonely one. It’s a race for survival, it’s a test of patience, it’s a battle of every moment.

Yet once in a while, it seems, those who are lucky – or ready – enough meet another desert survivor and they walk alongside for the rest of their survival course. How many of us are following a mirage is hard to say.

But in the end, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. I love deserts in all their forms. The urban one doesn’t scare me. I feel at home here. But one thing is for sure: a smile from a stranger on a crowded street is better than a bottle of water in the heart of Sahara, it beats a life jacket in the middle of the Pacific and it even works better than a space station somewhere in an empty universe. It quenches, hydrates, cools, warms, buoys, shelters and propels at the same time. And who cares if it was a mirage…