My first backpacking experience was at 18, and it blew my mind. I didn’t grow up with camping or other experiences in nature – I lived in a poor and violent neighborhood. While it may sound odd to some, for me, being in the wilderness was also one of the first times I remember feeling…safe. Out in the middle of nowhere, I wasn’t at risk of someone shooting or mugging me. Sure, there were bears and rock climbs, but to me, they felt way less scary than the urban violence I was at risk of.
From then on, I spent every minute I could learning about how to rock climb, mountaineer, and take care of myself and others in the wilderness.
Since that first backpacking trip into the High Sierra, I’ve spent countless hours decades guiding people into the wilderness all over the globe: in the US, Mexico, Nepal, India, the Philippines, and more.
I found that not only was guiding people on adventures a lot of fun, but that wilderness transformed and healed me. I also discovered that this wasn’t unique to me. In fact, many people I guided had the same insights and revelations.
These days, I intentionally commit to holding my retreats with clients in nature, and ideally in actual wilderness, because of the power of place in our healing, growth, and development as whole human beings is very real. I also incorporate nature into the online courses I teach. These adventures are crafted to facilitate, as Bill Plotkin calls it, “the descent to soul.”
Time alone in nature, when approached in a certain way, can be a lot like the time we spend meditating or doing yoga in terms of the mindfulness and insights it brings to us. It can also provide us insights in the same way that plant medicine and other entheogens can, especially when combined with fasting, solitude, and silence.
For example, the Adventure Mastermind is designed to help people uncover their greatest gift – not only in terms of what is most unique about them, but also of what they can offer to their people. The container of immersion in nature helps facilitate this because it helps us tap into a deep knowing that we all have (and have grown distanced from in modern industrialized society).
We all need to periodically remove ourselves from our community and move beyond the “group consciousness” that forms in a community to find the thing that we uniquely contribute, and that doesn’t exist yet in that group. Even if some of us hate camping or getting dirty, we need this ongoing dialogue between the wild and the civilized in our lives to help facilitate this more effectively.
Many of my clients with free and adventurous spirits that travels the world, blown about by the winds of synchronicity like a feather, wonder how what they’re doing contributes to the world and to their people.
I believe this is an area of huge disconnect in modern industrialized society… and in Western psychotherapy which is often all about “fixing” ourselves in some way and being obsessed with our own personal development when really, we have a longing to be of service.
But if we just focus on personal growth out of the context of what we bring to our people, we lose out on our own dharma – our personal duty – and how we serve our people and our planet.
This discovery of our purpose and our place in this wild new world is something very different than deciding what we want for our next career. It’s more about asking, “What was I born to be (not do)?” And not “be” in the sense of a specific job, but BE in terms of a human BEing vs a human DOing. The answer to that becomes more clear when we connect to nature.
It can take weeks, months, or years to get clarity about what we see, but that doesn’t mean we should wait that long to take action. After all, as I’ve said before, clarity often comes through action.
Some people may hear this or look at the things we do on the Adventure Mastermind, like spending time connecting to the natural environment and non-human beings, and think it’s kind of whacked (especially when we’re sober!). But for nature-based communities it’s more the norm than the exception to be in communication with the surrounding environment because everything is seen as living, breathing, communicating and connecting with us.
At this point I’ve guided hundreds of people on wilderness fasts and altered states retreats in nature and many other ceremonies, and I’ve noticed that for many people these outings are their first visceral experience of the world as fully alive.
These inner adventures are often said to involve a descent and a “death.” So people often wonder, “Why would the ego risk its own death?”
It’s important to remember that the part that dies is the part that is actually holding us back. We’re willing to risk our ego because a part of us knows that no matter how much we love the life we have now, it’s so… flat compared to what’s possible if we were willing to let go of our ego as it currently is. Just like we’re willing to risk life as we know it when we fall in love.
I’ve found, in my own journey, that when we leave the Soul aspect aside, we miss out on truly being present with the entirety of the human experience and with this one precious life we’re all given. The journey of the soul is often what’s missing in modern industrialized society, and it’s often also an intentional omission. This makes sense, since when we awaken to our true purpose, we often realize that consumer-based society is empty and we stop contributing to its continuation with the same earnest …and we no longer buy into its bullsh*t.
What can help us counter the things that try to keep us separated from our true calling? Other adults that have gone through the process are important to have access to, as are guides —people in our lives who can say, “Oh I see what’s going on here. They’re not going crazy – they’ve just heard the call!” They can see ah yes, this is an existential crisis or existential anxiety…nothing has gone wrong here. We are awakening to what IS wrong. I dive deeply into this in Episode 108 about Existential Anxiety.
But one of the main things we can do is reconnect to nature and discover how we fit into the bigger picture of our community, because when we are present and connected to the wild outside of us, we are shown the wild within us, the part of us that knows its purpose without the stories of modern industrialized society that we are not enough and need to DO more. When we are disconnected from nature, we forget the simplicity of this miraculous life.
Often in Western psychology, just as people start to awaken, they are shut down and “treated” with the goal that they are able to “function” and conform and behave again. But as Krishnamurti said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
In actuality, the only thing we “need” to do is be authentically us – and discovering what that is, who we authentically are, is the Soul journey. If enough of us can find and offer our own gift, the world will change.
Listen to the pod for some simple practices you can start right away to connect to nature – and your purpose. What is a simple way you can move a little closer towards that wild animal body of yours and its relationship to the wild outside of us?
You will learn:
// How nature helps us reconnect to our WHOLE selves
// Why it’s important to take time away from our community and civilization and head into the wild
// Why modern industrialized systems want to keep us disconnected from purpose
// Where plant medicine and guides can fit into our reconnecting with nature
// One simple practice we can use to shift towards Soul and reconnect with nature on a daily basis
// Episode 71: How to Find Your Purpose
// Episode 96: Unplugging in an Uncertain World
// Episode 105: Soul vs Spirit
// Episode 134: What You’re Meant to BE
// Wild Mind, a book by Bill Plotkin about exploring nature and the human psyche
// If you’re new to the squad, grab the Rebel Buddhist Toolkit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll also get access to the Rebel Buddhist private group, and tune in every Wednesday as I go live with new inspiration and topics.
// Cultivating our connection to nature and therefore our true selves is a key part of the Adventure Mastermind. If you want to dive into this work in this container, learn more and apply at AdventureMastermind.com. Our next cohort starts at the end of February!
// Want something more self-paced with access to weekly group support? Check out Freedom School – the community for ALL things related to freedom, inside and out. Learn more at JoinFreedomSchool.com. I can’t wait to see you there!