Journey into the Wilderness of Yourself
During my senior year in college, I was excited about the idea of living on my own after graduation. It would be the first time I would have a space completely to myself without needing to share with my sister or a roommate. I had so much joy the day I moved into my first apartment! It was fun to unpack the boxes and begin decorating to my own taste with real pictures on the walls instead of just the posters of my dorm room days.
The first night I was in my apartment, though, was very hard. The silence of the night was deafening. I realized without the hubbub of the activity and people around me, I was scared to be alone. After lying in the dark for about an hour without being able to sleep, I turned on the television just to keep me company. I was finally able to drift off to sleep.
This incident began my awareness of how difficult it was for me to be totally by myself. It wasn’t about being lonely, but rather the fear of being fully present with myself. There was also a part of me scared to find out what lurked in the deep recesses of my own psyche. My fear was that if I journeyed into these dark places, I would find some horrible truth buried deep within, which would make me unlovable.
In the years to come, I realized that the journey I feared the most was exactly the journey I had to take to be truly comfortable in my own skin. When my curiosity to discover the truth about what I was hiding from myself finally outweighed my fear of what I would find, I knew I was ready to embark on that journey. As difficult as this inner exploration was, especially the first time I stepped into the darkness, there was also a sense of excitement about venturing into this unknown territory.
In many Native American and spiritual traditions, a Vision Quest is undertaken as a rite of passage for a person to get in touch with their spirit and inner direction in life. It often involves going into the wilderness in solitude for several days to fast, meditate and sit in silence. It is an opportunity for reflection, a chance to pay attention to dreams, synchronicities and inner whisperings, all of which point the way to clarity, wisdom and peace of mind.
I know personally how powerful a Vision Quest can be. At one point after some major life changes, I spent three months camping out by myself in wilderness areas near Sedona and Flagstaff Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and the Four Corners area. I admit that I was scared for the first few days being all alone in the wilderness, especially since I had never even camped much before except a few times with my family. My internal critic was VERY vocal:
“What were you thinking coming out here by yourself?”
“What if you encounter a stranger who is intent on hurting you?”
“What if a wild animal decides to eat you?”
” What if you break an ankle?”
” What if the battery on your car goes dead?”
” What if …..?”
After a few days of its incessant harangue, my internal critic calmed down. I got into a new rhythm and felt a sense of peace and wonder about the beauty of my surroundings. I encountered wild animals, including a herd of wild moose, who were just as curious about me as I was about them. I encountered many strangers, who showed great kindness and provided me with wonderful insights. I wandered trails trusting my instinct to lead me where I needed to go.
Ultimately, the experience was one of the best gifts I’ve ever given myself! I had the opportunity to get in sync with nature, get in touch with my intuition, listen to the callings of my spirit, cleanse my past, and contemplate the course I wanted to set for my future. Since then I have never had the fear that other people sometimes express about losing everything or being homeless. I know from living with so little that it doesn’t take much to survive and be happy.
“We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness, which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.”
—Marcel Proust (1871-1922), French novelist
I highly recommend Vision Quests. But, while physically going into the wilderness can be an amazing experience, we don’t have to go away to find ourselves. From a heroic journey perspective, every day experiences become our Virtual Vision Quest. Through dedication to mindfulness in our daily tasks and awareness during our encounters with other people, we have the opportunity to venture into the dark and untamed places within ourselves, so we can discover the truth of who we are. Once we come face-to -face with ourselves (the good, the bad and the ugly), we can then take the action steps needed to adjust our perception, thoughts and behaviors to better reflect our evolving character. By repeating this process, experience by experience, we strengthen our “consciousness muscles” and develop a clearer sense of self.
Evidence you have a clear sense of self includes:
You trust yourself – The direct experience of being in nature is a very different experience than vicariously hearing about it from someone else who has been there. When you trust yourself, no matter where you are, you rely on your direct experience rather than looking to family, friends, or society to tell you how you should think or feel. This doesn’t mean you stop receiving input from others. But, it does mean that once you get it, you turn to yourself to determine whether that input reflects your own perspective and what we want to do with it.
You courageously act as directed from within – In the wilderness, especially when you are by yourself, it is sometimes necessary to make quick decisions that are guided from within. In these split second decisions, it can make the difference between life and death. This same courage is also required in other parts of your life. Whether it is in your work, your parenting or in your relationships, when you trust yourself, it becomes easier to act upon your inner wisdom. While others may spend energy fretting about the right decision, you confidently move forward knowing that your decisions reflect your internal sense of direction.
You embody your values – When you are in touch with nature, you tend to value the earth and base your actions on aligning to its rules and rhythms. When you are in touch with your personal values, they are not just concepts to you. They guide your actions and are what you live on a daily basis. You actively look for situations that allow you to more closely align what you say you believe with your actual behavior.
You have a strong moral compass – In nature, it is important to have a compass, so you can check your direction in case you get off course. The same is true for your internal sense of direction. When your true values are clear, you have a powerful inner navigational system that guides your actions in the most difficult of circumstances. As a result, you may be the one that others look to as the holder of integrity.
You radiate self-confidence and quiet strength – There is nothing like being outside to know the power of the sun’s radiance. It affects everything, including our very existence. The same is true for you when you have a clear sense of self. While others may need to draw attention to themselves from a place of trying to fill an internal emptiness, when you are self-confident, you naturally exude a peaceful, yet powerful presence and way of being in the world. Your presence generates a strong “attractor field,” which others sense, even if they may not consciously know why they feel so calm and safe to be with you.
Having a clear sense of self helps you love and appreciate who you are – flaws and all. It gives you an internal sense of safety, knowing that even when you venture again into the murkiness of yourself, you are never alone, since you have yourself as your most trusted ally. This self-knowledge gives you a better appreciation for the rich complexities that make you the unique person that you are! It also allows you to genuinely love your own company, perhaps for the first time in your life.