Poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote “your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths.”

To spend time alone is a precious way to reset and resource.  To have solo time in nature, is even more transformative. For our energy, wellbeing, perspective and creativity. As well as our inspiration, connection and belonging.

Yet many of us don’t do it.  We even avoid being on our own. And busy our time with activities and perhaps drama.  As poet David Whyte recognizes “the first step in spending time alone is to admit how afraid of it we are”.  

We are social creatures – our survival depends on connection with fellow human beings. So, it is no wonder we fear being alone.

And as beautifully observed by French philosopher Pascal “all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” He pointed out how we fear the silence of existence. How we dread boredom and instead choose aimless distraction. And how we can’t help but run from the problems of our emotions into the false comforts of the mind. If it is scary enough to be alone in a room, it can be even scarier to be alone in the wilds of nature.   Particularly with an increasingly urbanized technologically focused world with a socio-economic system that further disconnects us from nature.

A real fear

And I would say a certain amount of fear of being solo in nature is a healthy approach. Mother Nature and particularly wilder remote nature is to be respected for the fear it can evoke.  As beautiful and life-nurturing it is, as dangerous and life-destroying it is.    As a collective, us humans on the earth now, are more disconnected from wider nature than we have been in our history. And at an individual level, depending on our culture, background, disposition and life experiences we will perceive and behave in nature differently.  And the wider natural world can be a particular source of trauma for many and therefore feel a very hostile place.

Writing about the systemic racism in the US and the relationship between black people and the outdoors with wider applicability throughout the world, Karlee Jewel writes,

“The outdoors is seen as a refuge, an idyllic playground but that has only ever rung true when centering a white privileged experience. For people of color, it has legacy of violence, racism and discrimination”. 

The likes of Faith E.Briggs as represented in the short film This Land are going out to nature and tackling this head-on to ensure that public lands are welcome to all.

From my own personal experience as a woman, I know how scared I have been by myself in the mountains, or forest or desert.  How many times I have felt threatened.  It’s usually not the animals or exposure to the elements, the danger of getting lost but the fear of coming across people who may harm me.  And I balance that with the actual reality I have never been harmed.  And I guess I am more at risk in the city than ever in nature.

So yes, there are perceived and real risks.  My friend has a heightened sense of danger of being in nature, by growing up how she did in Australia. Which is known for its more dangerous collection of animals. As opposed to me growing up in New Zealand.  Where, for example our national icon, is one which perceived no threats, so gave up its ability to fly!.  The gorgeous kiwi bird.  My friend is also a solo mum of twins. Her going out solo is not only logistically more complicated but also has more at stake.

So everyone’s starting point on going out solo in nature is different. Your starting point is your starting point. Wider nature itself does not discriminate, it is not racist. But pure. Source. And part of us all. Going out solo in nature is a way to see ourselves, to heal, connect, integrate and therefore worth doing.

In the words of motivational author Susan Jeffers,  “we feel the fear and do it anyway”.

Starting Point

Solo time, of various lengths is an integral part of coaching and leadership offerings at Earth Converse.

And everybody’s starting points can be different.

To start from yours, might just be practising being alone. In a room, to Pascal’s point. Not even outdoors.   To draw on the ancient wisdom and practice of just pausing and sitting with the feelings that arise in that alone moment.  And then practising spending more time alone. Observing yourself, and reflecting on what that time alone evokes in you and means for you.

And then bit by bit venturing outside.

A safety-first message. In whatever scenario, most importantly tell people where you are going and when you are expected back.  Take whatever helps you to feel safe and prepared, extra clothing, first aid kit, water, phone etc.  But nothing that will distract you.  Including the dog.

Depending on your starting point venturing out to the wider word may involve sitting under a nearby tree, even a patch of grass. It may be a walk in a local park.  And as your confidence grows, then increasingly you will want to venture out to a wilder area.  A more remote area perhaps.  It doesn’t even have to be a long time.

As Steven Foster and Meredith Little, founders of vision fast organisation, School of Lost Borders drawing on the Hermetic axiom ‘within everything is the seed of everything’, wrote, “to know that a single hour spent in Nature contains the gem of a life story”.

Solo Together

At Earth Converse, to help people get a taste for solo time as individuals, paradoxically we offer a group experience.  We call it the Solo Together experience, where we invite people to be part of a facilitated process. A guided micro vision quest. Where we meet altogether to set the scene and intentions, hike up to a spot, and then we go off on our own for say 2 hours without phones, watches and distractions. A pen and journal at most. And then we reconvene to share and hear back the stories.

People appreciate the guidance and feel safe in the knowledge others are far but close. They get a sense of belonging and connection.  It is a simple and profound process, that you may even want to do with a group of friends.  Go for a walk in nature, and at some point agree to go off solo. Afterwards reconvene and share your experiences.

People always return with gifts.  Whether that is about feeling more peaceful, rested, or inspired.

Transformative with Leaders

I first understood how profound, even a short time in solitude can be, for leaders, through my partnership with Impact International. World leaders in providing experiential leadership programmes. This was a particular 7 month programme with senior executives across Europe, and involved 3 days in the Lakes District.   It is fair to say that dedicated solo time was one of the most appreciated and transformative aspects of that programme.

We tended to keep it as a surprise. When we disclosed to the participants that they will be spending 2 hours alone on a hill side, it was met with trepidation. Sometimes intrigue. Or resistance. On the odd occasion there was a plea of “can we have more time?”.  For this particular executive programme, the participants were asked to reflect on their leadership in solitude, in nature, without distractions of watches or phones.  It was a simple action or rather non-action, which proves to be a turning point for many.  Most of them had never been alone, dedicated time alone in nature in this way.

It was a privilege to hear the stories from the experience.  I remember one senior executive realised he felt guilty for taking time out for himself. He came away with the insight that “If I don’t care for myself, I can’t care for others”. The experience completely changed his philosophies and leadership practice.

Another senior manager came up with his own motto and a commitment, which he named “888”. This meant no work before 8am, no work after 8pm and aim for 8 hours sleep. One described how her mission “just came to me while I was sitting there”.  One tenderly reported back it was the first time he had sat and grieved for his father who had recently passed away.  Until then he had kept himself busy.  Others simply and profoundly realise how important it is to have time to think.

This solitude is a felt experience that always stays with the participants long after they have left their spot on the hillside. Long after they return back to the office.  In the experience, they remind themselves that stillness, solitude, silence is accessible at any time, and creativity will emerge, if they are prepared to make space for it.

Creativity, Innovation and Soul

In a largely extroverted world, we see creativity, whether that be new ideas for the business, innovation in the organisation, new perspectives on our personal or professional lives as needing to happen as a result of sparks and connections with others. But even the most creative wisest person will tell you it is crucial for recharging, reflection and restoration. And digging deeper, we know that change must come from within. We know it like all sages of the ages have. We need the support of our own solitude to be able to listen to that inner wisdom.  And nature with its purity and non filter holds us to do that.

It does seem that through parental and societal programming we have conditioned ourselves to prioritise answers, advice and direction from others. Which is to the detriment of our own growth and path. I love what James Hollis wrote, “to recover our own personal authority is a daily task imposed upon all of us by the soul”. 

So go out to nature solo and see how that helps with the task.

Sources:                                                  

  • Foster, S. and Little, M (1997), The Roaring of the Sacred River, Lost Borders Press, p. 55
  • Jeffers, S (2005), The Feel The Fear Guide to Lasting Love, Vermilion.  http://www.susanjeffers.com/home/index.cfm
  • Karlee Jewell: via Instagram post 26 August 2020 @hikeclerb and @karleejewell https://www.instagram.com/p/CEW42vlH3Nl/
  • Rilke, R.M, 1934, Letters to a Young Poet, New York: Norton
  • THIS LAND is a story about land access told through a journey of inclusion and empowerment. https://www.thislanddoc.com
  • Whyte, D. (2016) Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words”, Many Rivers Press, USA
  • Photo by Pablo Orcaray on Unsplash
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