Excerpt from Wilderness Experience: Beyond Linguistic Measure June, 2011

The Solo

“At the time I did not realize I was seeking death. That is, I was not seeking to die, but to reap the fruit of death, to reenter the womb of things, the matrix of unknowing, and to be born anew, severed from old distractions and limitation, to induce, by sheer force of will, Self-transformation” (Foster & Little, 1992). 

As we gathered the next morning around the threshold circle we were asked to step into the circle to mark the transition and our readiness to depart. This was an intimate ceremony, to be honored and humbled by the presence from our vital guide and group. Steven Foster and Meredith Little (1987) address an essential question before leaving for such a journey, “Am I ready to begin this, the most perilous of vision guests? Ask your heart” (pg. 107). Stepping into the threshold circle is remembered as the greatest high I have experience. I stepped in, honored to take the path that many have taken before me.  

The site that chose me was an open valley with a small hill surrounded by trees. It was visible that someone had been there recently as it still maintained ceremonial creations (circles, barriers, alter). The comfort from past visitors left me speechless and rooted. The valley was fully exposed to the sun during the day so I placed my tent there knowing the heat would lead me to explore more of the nature world.  The wind was significant the first day and it moved the pines with a strong force. This created doubt in their stability but they simply swayed in repose, while shining a light on the mirror of my being.

Early that first evening I decided to go lay down in my tent while it was still light outside. The sun was setting and the temperature was cool. As I was resting I became acutely aware of my heighten senses. My hearing amplified and everything intrigued me. I heard a turkey call, and was surprised to see it walking by. I heard birds and squirrels thrashing in the trees, and flies buzzing around the tent. Then I heard silence for a brief moment before noticing a much larger sound, which felt relatively close. I sat up in my mesh, fully-exposed tent looked to my right, and there was a bear, a very large bear.  

My demeanor was calm and curious, much like the bear appeared. I growled at the bear using what felt like an inviting “hello”. Not big or loud like we were trained back at base camp but calm. The bear then mouthed back what appeared to be a growl but with no sound and a peaceful expression.  The beautiful brown animal and I connected eyes momentarily before I quickly moved towards my harmonica. The unfamiliarity of the situation now lead me to fear and I figured the sound of the harmonica would send the bear on its way and so I began to play.

The bear ran to the small hill I had been visiting for most of the day. I observed it for a few minutes and then it was gone. Out of sight but forever imprinted on my heart. I stayed in my tent and was very still. By this point I was wondering if what I saw was real. There was so much “bear talk” back at base camp that I must have imagined the silent growl of the bear. I feel asleep in this thought.

That first night was the most terrifying night of my entire life. At times I had to convince myself that the footsteps outside of my tent were merely my heartbeat. As I process that night in the wilderness I am reluctant to include many details, but it feels valuable and significant to the experience to at least be mentioned.

The next morning I woke up to an eagle soaring over the grass valley. I quickly jumped up and out of my tent to view the big glorious creature. It went around the grass valley three times and then soared off. I felt a transformation begin to happen at that moment. My journal became a main companion that day. As I go back and read through my words there is a shift in perception and presence that is evident from day one to day two.

The rest of my time was spent increasing my communication with nature, listening deeply, and speaking when asked. I noticed the many iridescent colors of the flies and the amazing insects I had never seen before. My journal is filled with lines that imply hunger but psychologically the fast didn't feel too intense. With awareness of the physical feeling of hunger, I consciously understood that I would survive without it. Fasting at 7,000 feet was a significant challenge but proved to be possible. Foster and Little (1987) explain fasting as being observed in all belief systems and is described as a rising of “spiritual hunger” (pg. 97). A connection is formed between your struggle and the struggle of many seekers before you. This connection was experienced as I felt a rise of mental clarity and awareness move through the pain of hunger.  Waking up on the final day felt invigorating.  I was motivated by the excitement to return, see my friends and to eat! As I woke up I felt the urge to pack my things, make my site disappear, and head back to base camp. Instead, I waited. I waited for the sun to peak over the trees, for the warmth to move into my being and for the birds to sing a special song when it was time.  I couldn't stop smiling on my walk back to base camp. The re-connections were breath taking, and the stories were fully embodied by the mirroring we received. As I reflect back on my experience at Stillpoint, I carry a deep, weighted feeling in my heart and I rest into the process that is unfolding.

Coming home

Integration was a transformation on its own. The ability to watch myself interact with my environment has enabled me respond accordingly. I became overstimulated, overwhelmed, and quickly noticed the speed of my feet. When I returned home I was ready to start where I left off; ready to work and get things done. My psyche took another direction. My body began to shut down and I slept for two days. I’m settling into these dimensions once again and reminding myself, constantly, the concepts of self-love. My experiences bring awareness to my inner strengths. The concept of the “Self” changed forever in meeting the bear and soaring with the eagle. I found a Deep-Self from our interaction and I am grateful for their presence.  I feel whole, yet with parts still missing and longing for more time in the forest, on the mountain.

As waves of emotion, motivation, and gratitude move through me I begin to recognize the wounds that remain open and the healing that continues to happen.  My intention for coming home was to be a better community member, friend, and partner. I am inspired to move forward and share my gifts of peace and love with a larger community and essentially the world.