The desert in Scripture is a place where the soul experiences need, and sees its need. It is expressed in terms of being parched and thirsty, and in a dry and barren land where there is no water. The blessing here is that one is given to see that apart from God all is a breath or loses its true meaning. Though humankind is now outside the garden due to the curse, there is much blessing from God's hand in creation. But trouble is part of the fabric of existence now on every side, both within and without, because redemption and reconciliation in Jesus are needed.
The desert involves having become surfeited on this world's goodies to the point where we've had enough. Or in facing one's own emptiness before God. In the desert one either grumbles and lives a miserable existence, or seeks God and finds their needs met. The desert is meant to be a "place" where we meet God on God's terms, not on our own. Where we strip ourselves of all we put on to hide from the Truth, and instead come to the Way, the Truth and the Life, just as we are.
The desert experience is not meant to be lived in complete isolation from others. There is a kind of isolation involved when a soul is seeking to meet God, but it is lived in and for this world, for God and for others, in the end finding one's own true unique life in God, in it. But it's not just a once for all experience, but ongoing. It is an attitude as well as a practice, a way of life- in Jesus for us all.
This is drawn out both from Scripture and from the fourth century Christian hermits of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine, the Desert Fathers and Mothers- from the book, Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another, by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. I'm halfway through that book, and this is my understanding of just part of what is said in it. And I find its basis in Jesus and in God's word.
What might you like to add to this? What does the desert mean in your life?