6 Days Solo in the Wilderness
‘Returning to the Source is Stillness, which is the Way of Nature. The Way of Nature is unchanging’. Lao Tsu
I can hear them before I can see them. They don’t realise how loud they are being, but they cut through the silence of the mountains and the stillness within me. Thirty school kids on an outing in the Austrian Alps and they have decided to come past my spot. My spot, where I am spending six days solo as part of an experience with The Way of Nature, a global community dedicated to deepening people’s connection with the natural world.
I deliberately chose a place surrounded by boulders and away from any trails so I would not be disturbed. But they have come off the trail and now they can see my pitched tent and are curious to know more. Their teacher has lost control and now boulder after boulder they come, bounding towards me. I pick them off in my mind like a sniper, willing them to fatigue and lose patience. But a stubborn little fella wearing a red jacket keeps coming and I’m about to get up and tell him to p**s off, when their teacher calls them back. I breathe a sigh of relief.
I reflect on what just happened for a moment and realise my 3 days of solitude haven’t made me as relaxed or compassionate as I would have liked! There is still time, I tell myself.
The social, economic and ecological crises that we are facing in the world today are reflections of our own inner psyches. What the world needs is for human beings to have an inner shift. John P. Milton founded Way of Nature on this premise and has guided thousands of people into the wilderness since the 1950s. His purpose is to deepen people’s connection to what he calls inner nature, outer nature and true nature. True nature, he describes, is the fundamental state of being; that part of you that is not distracted, or trapped to grasping and aversion, and realizes its connection to all things.
This particular process is called a Sacred Passage and it is the first John has run in Europe. It involves six days alone in the wilderness. An experiential process, rather than a philosophical one, it is essentially a path of de-domestication. We are encouraged to stay in one spot with no food, no books or writing material and no technology. The less we take, the more awaits us; we are assured.
We spend 3 days with John in the mountain town of Lech in Austria, before we head out into the mountains. John has condensed several decades of his work studying ancient nature based traditions into what he calls ‘The Twelve Principles of Natural Liberation’.
At the core of these principles is the importance of relaxation and presence. He encourages us to let go of contractions and tensions in our body, emotions and mind and surrender to our unfolding life. There is alchemy, he explains, between relaxation and presence. Too much presence on its own can become too tense, too much relaxation on its own can result in falling asleep. But when combined you can deepen the journey of inner unblocking and cultivate your life force.
So, armed with this information, some meditations and some basic Tai Chi and Chi Gong exercises, we head up into the mountains in search of a spot that draws us.
We are told if we pick a place that challenges us, we will find an opportunity for growth. So I choose a spot that is surrounded by boulders and away from any trails. It is difficult to get to and has limited access to water. Following a harsh winter some snow remains lying in the shadows of the bigger boulders, enough for me to melt and sustain myself for the week.
I introduce myself to the place and pace out 54 meters north, south, east and west, mentally marking the edge of my area. Then I find the biggest flat bit of ground within the circle, it is barely big enough to fit my body and I pitch my tent rather awkwardly over it.
With nothing more to ‘do’, the enormity of what’s in front of me sinks in. I tell myself that’s its good for me; that I’ve chosen to be here, but in reality I’m full of self-doubt and I am feeling vulnerable.
Taking off my shoes, I wonder around my spot. I then help myself to some lunch – a splash of maple syrup, squeezed lemon and cayenne pepper, which I add to my water. I have a liter of it for the duration of the retreat, and cannot quite believe it’s the only ‘food’ I have.
Much of our modern culture is about excessive will and so I’m not surprised when I begin with willing for something to emerge, despite John’s warnings.
I want to connect to my true nature or what John also refers to as Source Awareness. But attaching myself to an outcome like this and willing it into creation will only lead to deep frustration. The process is anything but linear, and who am I to think I am in control? The door can only be opened from the other side. I must recognise that everything is connected and there is a larger system at play here. In order to go through the door I have to completely let go of there being a door in the first place. I must first set an intention, truly let go of that intention and trust that whatever comes will emerge on its own accord.
Otto Scharmer, the leadership specialist, puts it another way by asking us to have an open mind, open heart and open will, which leads to what he calls presencing, rather than absencing.
I manage to let go and trust, just a little, and what emerges is a little more presence and relaxation. I learn to wait, without waiting for anything.
Over the first few days I notice myself ‘doing’ the exercises as part of a routine that I must follow. However, with time I let go of doing and what emerges is a way of being. I become deeply curious about every little detail of my area. I stop labeling a bee as a bee or an ant as an ant, and instead, look at them through fresh eyes. I watch them for hours and in delight, as they go about their work. The swirling motion of the clouds holds my full attention as I lie on my back, as does a flower swaying in the breeze. The resident marmots get used to my presence and allow me to get closer and closer. Herds of Ibex chill out in the shade just below my tent. I stare at nothing, and yet at everything.
I let go of my deeply human centric perspective of ‘spending time alone with nature.’ What emerges is a deep sense of connection and opening to the family of beings around me and of course, to myself. The more respect and appreciation I give the beings around me, the more they give back and the more I feel I belong to this place.
I let go of my skepticism about Tai Chi and Chi Gong and the awkwardness of waving my arms around in thin air, ‘gathering energy’. I trust and what emerges is a strong bubbling energy rising up from below my stomach all the way to my throat. I have energy, not to run a marathon, but a vital energy I do not experience back home.
I let go of my anxiety about not eating and only then do I stop thinking about food and realise I’m not hungry - for anything. Not eating has stripped me bare, opened me up and allowed me to receive what I need.
When my days are up I head down the mountain to catch the lift back to Lech. I can see a mirror image of the way I feel in all the other participants - big smiles; presence; eyes lit up; soft, slow, smooth, deep breathing.
‘Why do I feel so great?’ someone asks John. ‘Nature is in perfect harmony and balance with herself,’ John explains. ‘She has invited you to bring more of that into yourself, and you have taken that on.’
This was a process of setting an intention, letting go and trusting that something will emerge. I found an inner stillness that resonated with the silence of the mountains. It took me beyond my habituated patterns of thinking and distraction that keep me comfortable, yet numb. What emerged from the stillness was an indescribable feeling of joy and tranquility. I highly recommend you give it a go.