Rewilding the Soul

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.

Frederick Buechner, writer and theologian

What would possess you to go alone into the wilderness without food or formal shelter, to do so at the scorching height of summer, and to pay perfectly good money for the dubious privilege?

GeoffPilgrimage299I’ve been asked that question more than once, enjoying the incredulity that invariably greets the idea of voluntarily going without food for four days and four nights, and invariably sleeping only fitfully between a rock and a hard place.

But the essence of a modern-day vision quest, or wilderness fast, is to leave the trappings of so-called civilised life behind and become totally immersed in the womb of nature while seeking a new way of being in the world. It’s a death and rebirth. And for a while it’s goodbye to watches, smart phones, computers, TV, jobs, deadlines and comforts we take for granted like hot water and flush toilets.

Instead it is an opportunity to discover that alone can become ‘all-one’ when we rediscover our identity within the natural world and experience the interconnectedness of all life. It’s a place of magic and mystery where time slows down, life is simple and, if we are lucky, we meet our true selves.

GeoffPilgrimage300Author and poet JRR Tolkien famously observed that not all those who wander are lost, with solo wanderings into the wild heart of nature often providing our most profound insights and visions. And of course the concept isn’t new, time apart from the everyday ignited the spark of inspiration for the leaders of the major religions. Jesus found his true calling after 40 days in the wilderness, Muhammed in a cave outside Mecca, Moses on Mount Sinai and Buddha beneath a bodhi tree.

This is my fourth quest in six years so I’m excited and well prepared for my re-entry into wild nature where I’m most at home and at peace. The trio of earlier wilderness fasts revealed clues to my soul purpose and propelled me towards Findhorn, where I knew that I’d find more answers and perhaps begin to ask better questions. Why are we here, what’s my part in it, why is Spaceship Earth in the mess that it is, and how do I find true happiness?

This time around I’m more at peace, but want confirmation that I’m on target with my plans to immerse myself in Findhorn Foundation co-worker development opportunities during 2015, also participating in a pilgrimage in California to raise global awareness around issues of the sanctity and preciousness of water. It’s called Walking Water, and in the company of Native American elders and other role players, a small group of us will walk from the source of the water in the parched Owens Valley to the thirsty county of Los Angeles, that is home to 10 million souls.

My guides on this latest journey to the core of my being are Capetonians Judy Bekker and Valerie Morris, who trained with the American School of Lost Borders, and in more than two decades have not lost a quester to terminal injury or illness, a lethal snake bite or deadly scorpion sting.

So what’s it all about?

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Home was a rock overhang visited by bats

Author Bill Plotkin, a veteran wilderness guide, writes in his book Soulcraft: “The soul is like an acorn. Just as the acorn gives instructions to the oak about how to grow and what to become, the human soul – a type of spiritual blueprint – carries an image or vision that shows us how to grow, what gift we carry for others, the nature of our true life.”

He argues that at least once in our lives we are likely to experience emptiness and a sense that something important is missing and that our lives don’t make sense, having somehow disconnected from our soul purpose. It can be terrifying and disorientating.

For some a vision quest is a way to meet and understand our true selves.

“There’s so much more to who you are than you know right now. You are, indeed, something mysterious and someone magnificent,” he writes. “You hold within you – secreted for safekeeping in your heart – a great gift for this world.

“Although you might sometimes feel like a cog in a huge machine, and that you don’t really matter in the great scheme of things, the truth is that you are fully eligible for a meaningful life, a mystical life, a life of the greatest fulfilment and service.

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The view from my 'cave' in the wilds

“To enter that life, you do not need to join a tribal culture or renounce your religious values. You do not necessarily need to quit your job, sell or give away your home, or learn to only eat vegetables. You do, however, need to undertake a journey as joyous and gratifying as it is long and difficult.”

He adds: “The gift you carry for others is not an attempt to save the world but to fully belong to it. You need to find what is genuinely yours to offer the world before you can make it a better place. Discovering your unique gift to bring to your community is your greatest opportunity and challenge. The offering of that gift – your true self – is the most you can do to love and serve the world. And it is all the world needs.”

Sitting in a circle after our solo time, the faces are tanned, hair tousled and eyes clear-eyed, each of us radiating gratitude for nature’s gifts and harbouring a fresh resolve to forge ahead for a date with our individual destinies. We’re not the same people we were only days before, each having undertaken an inner and outer journey and seen some of the inspiring qualities of nature reflected within ourselves.

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Enjoying a natural shower

I’ve shared a rock overhang with bats and largely banished my claustrophobia around confined spaces, also better understanding the gift of rain as a heavy downpour fills dry streams and creates waterfalls, transforming the landscape into a celebration of wondrous new life and possibility.

I stand naked and exhilarated on a rock as the water sluices over my body, feeling deliciously and gratefully alive. I’ve let go of many things that no longer serve me and am ready for whatever comes next. Yay!

Geoff Dalglish

Geoff also writes for Odyssey Magazine as their Earth Pilgrim At Large.

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