Why sit alone in nature for 48 hours?
“Why would you want to do that?” This was often the response I received when I explained to people what I would be getting up to in Sweden in the last two weeks of October.
A group of ten of us would be in one solitary spot in the wilds for 48 hours. There would be no distractions, no books, no journals and very little, if any, food. The intention would be to just sit still and see what emerged.
So why would you do that? Why sit alone in nature for 48 hours? My answer to this question would normally be to explain that it was a modern day vision quest, a long tradition from indigenous peoples from around the world of spending extended solitary time in the wilderness.
Traditionally, this has helped to provide guidance and openness to spirit. Plants and animals would be seen as great teachers and life would be felt as whole, interconnected and sacred. Yet what would our experience be?
I had been invited to Sweden to run a one week retreat by Land in Curiosity. This inspiring and intrepid group have come together from all over Europe for a 2 month wild immersion with the common purpose of deepening their relationship with the natural world. It is a new and revolutionary model for learning which is peer lead (through workshops, group inquiry, journaling, mentoring and mutual support) combined with a focus on rooting awareness in direct experience. They roam the land as a nomadic classroom and community, splitting their time between walking, learning and living.
Sweden is the perfect place to be wanderers. By law, it gives all people the right to roam free in nature and sleep out on mountaintops or quiet forests. Yet my first introduction to this wild adventure was a 9 hour bus journey from Stockholm to Malmo and rogue camping in the central city park. By the next night, after resting, drying and warming all morning in the library, we only made it as far as a golf course on the city outskirts. This was stretching Sweden's generous freedom to roam laws to their limit!
Despite longing for less greys and more greens, I found that these urban beginnings were just as “wild” as the remote pine forests we were heading towards. It felt that I had been welcomed into a merry band of modern day outlaws who were fleeing from cosseted creature comforts to live without walls and surviving on £6 a day in one of the most expensive countries in Europe. In many ways, we were earth pilgrims, exchanging our stories, inspirations and learnings for hitching rides and the material gifts of locals.
This sense of camaraderie helped to forge deep bonds within the group. We were a vagabond community, supporting each other, and putting the needs of the tribe above our own. The main focus of living was about providing our most basic needs; shelter, food, water, warmth and companionship. Rather than a struggle, I found there was immense joy in this simplicity.
When we finally made it into the golden autumnal realms of the native forests, it was not long before we found the perfect place to settle for a week. There was an open wooden hut by an ancient spring in close proximity to a number of diverse habitats, from mossy spruce forests to open clearings by rivers and lakes. We then started to open our selves and our senses through ancient energy cultivation and awareness practices. Intentions were spoken, fears were expressed and fires were sparked before the tribe disbanded and our solo journeys began.
In many ways, the 48 hours is the ultimate exercise in being not just with nature but yourself. I found that my exhausted mind was racing from the off and then slowly started to settle and resonate with the natural rhythms all around. Colours became more vibrant, different shapes emerged, curiosities surfaced, the winds made different whispers in the swaying trees and the elements theatrically shifted. The sun was a hopelessly inaccurate time dial but time itself was irrelevant. Some times it crawled, other times it sprinted. Nothing was ever the same. Everything was in constant flux.
After two still nights and with the sun at its highest point on the third day, we were ready to return and feast. And I found that the coming back together as a group, in reverence and ceremony, to honour our earth and what it is to be human, was just as profound as the solitary experience. In the same breadth, we felt both insignificant and powerful. We felt free. And we felt united by our songs, stories and prayers.
So why sit on your own in nature for 48 hours? This is not something to be reasoned or worked out in the mind. The only answer that truly matters comes from the experience itself. As one of the tribe shared; “I have never felt so much awe and gratitude and connectedness to the earth beneath my feet (or hands or back!)” It really is that simple.