Choosing to live immersed in nature when you’ve spent your entire life living in the modern world can be an adventure in and of itself. Never mind the howling wolves at night or the potential for a bear encounter in the woods; it is often the lack of distraction modern technology provides that makes living in the wild difficult for those who are just beginning their nature immersion experience. Without a smart phone at their fingertips and familial and cultural expectations crowding their mind, a person has no choice but to deal with their unresolved emotions and fears. Couple this with the discomfort that comes from giving up modern day conveniences, and what often results is a human scarier than any bear you’d meet in the wild. This response is so common that we’ve given it a name, the Four Thresholds to Wilderness Attunement. You can read more about this in a prior blog post here .
Given all of the above, why would anyone choose to live immersed in the wild? Of course, the love of nature itself is a big reason. Beyond this, some come because the frenzied pace our culture has left them yearning for a more balanced and Eco-friendly way of life. They are drawn toward having a deeper relationship with nature, believing it will transform their lives for the better. Others feel called to live close to the Earth as their ancestors once did, and are passionate about learning primitive skills. Still others choose to come because they want to see if they can rise to the challenge of living for 11 months in the Northwoods wilderness, where the mosquitoes are your most faithful companions throughout the green season and the winters are cold enough to freeze spit before it hits the ground. For some, it’s some combination or all of the above, and for all, a desire to know themselves more deeply.
The Nature Immersion Experience
Take a moment to imagine that for 11 months, you are awakened by the dawn instead of an alarm clock. Then imagine not living with a clock at all. When time is a factor, it is told according to how long it takes to crack nuts or cook an egg near the coals of a fire. There are no weekends in the wild, just days without a name, which are referred to as suns. Months are called moons to reflect the Earth’s natural cycle. The calendar is no longer a blueprint for the seasons. Experience is now your guide, revealing time through the stars, moon cycles, the coolness of the air, the turning of the leaves, the snowshoe hares and ermines’ fur changing color to match the onset of the white season.
Instead of following your boss’s or family’s to-do lists, your days are filled with tasks that need to get done in order to eat, live and sleep more comfortably, and prepare for the upcoming change of seasons. Everyday, you gather firewood, visit the lakes for water, fish and forage for food, among other things. To stay dry, you learn to read the weather by paying attention to cloud cover, wind direction, and speed. To know what to do if someone gets injured, you learn which plants can heal and prevent infection. Knowing that you have the skills to make fire by friction builds confidence, so you build a relationship with fire by learning how to coax the Power of the Sun with your bow drill. Living with other program participants (Seekers) as a clan helps you face your personal fears in relationships and in speaking your truth. You learn what it means to depend on others for survival and to have others depend on you.
Imagine having time to watch the sun set, relaxing during moments in between gathering wood and water, no longer having the urge to reach for your smart phone. Imagine the peace of wild things, hearing the echo of Loons in the distance, feeling astonished by seeing an Eagle looking down from the upper branch of a White Pine, discovering wolf tracks in the mud, and watching Dragonflies zip across a still lake which holds the perfect mirror reflection of the most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen, even though you were sure yesterday’s sunset was unbeatable.
Now imagine that it’s the last day of the 11 month immersion. You say goodbye to the land you’ve come to know so intimately and may never see again. Then you hike back with the other Seekers to Nadmadiwining, the School’s support camp.
Reintegration Back Into Society
Upon learning that the last moon is upon them, many Seekers report feeling a combination of excitement at seeing their friends and families again, a deep sadness over what they’ll be leaving behind, and apprehension regarding how to integrate what they’ve learned into their lives. To help with this, the wilderness guides start the reintegration process during the last moon; first, by closing the camp to visitors so that all energy is devoted to reintegration preparation. Second, by gathering a list of topics that are important to the Seekers. This past year, the Seekers chose to discuss how to simplify their lifestyle in order to maintain a pace in life that would allow them to pursue their interests and build upon what they’ve learned in the wild. They also wanted to find ways to continue building their relationship and their skills with fire.
During their last moon in the wild, the guides met often with the Seekers to share how they could find support once they were back home. In addition to having the guides as a resource, Teaching Drum offers an e-group support forum that is available to all graduates of our programs where past graduates can help new ones as they acclimate to their return to modern culture. The guides reminded them to not forget that they will continue to be their best support resource for one another since they spent the last 11 months together. Lastly, the guides emphasized the importance of having a Welcome Home Ceremony put on by their family and friends. This would serve as a welcoming back and also a time for them to share stories and to ask for the kind of support they feel they will need.
As the months progress, we’ll be checking in with last year’s Seekers to see how their transition is going.