The defining experience of my life occurred when I was 12. At the time I didn't understand what had happened, but I’ve spent most of my life trying to figure it out…
My father took me on a five day trek through Imfolozi Park – the oldest nature reserve in Africa. I thought I was familiar with what wild life was – I had been on safaris and camping trips and generally spent a lot of time outdoors. But on this trek there were no tents or campsites, we slept on the ground and were completely exposed to the elements. The idea was that the hikers were supposed to experience life in the wild as opposed to just being a voyeur.
After five days in the bush we were picked up by a truck. I remember seeing the truck, which was a metallic blue color. After so much time in the wilderness the sight of such a foreign color shocked me into an altered state of consciousness. When I got into the truck the vehicle around me disappeared. In this timeless moment, I knew my place in the universe and felt connected to all forms of life. As the truck coursed down the road all I could see was nature all around me. It was like I was flying through the air – I had to grab the seat in front of me to confirm what I knew to be real, material.
Afterwards there was immediate devastation. I felt a heart-breaking isolation in the disconnection I experienced. I looked to my brother and father – thinking they must have experienced the same thing – but they hadn’t. I realized this was my experience alone and I kept it private for the next 14 years.
During those 14 years I plodded along a seemingly normal life, but I was always trying to find my way back to that feeling of absolute connection. After completing school I moved to India for six months. I found holy men in caves. I lived in monasteries. I meditated. I explored hallucinogenic drugs. But I wasn’t really looking for any of these things – my soul was longing for intimacy and connection with all forms of life. I wish there had been some presence in my life to recognize what had happened and explain what I had experienced.
When I was separated from the wilderness and cast into urban life, it caused a schism in me. It’s been my personal journey integrating the two ways of life – for myself and others – ever since. In 2010 I founded ‘The Purely Wild Foundation’ which designs and facilitates wilderness-based transformational experiences for individuals and organizations.
My approach has been inspired by many mentors. Dr. Ian Player was one of them. He was a South African conservationist who helped save the white rhino in the 1950’s, studied Carl Jung and used the wilderness to explore the ‘collective unconscious’ of humanity. He was convinced that the wilderness literally mirrors what occurs in peoples unconscious minds.
For example, on a recent trail I led, we were walking along a rhino trail when a bull elephant came out of reeds. The elephant turned its ears back and offered a challenge to the woman behind me.
I looked at the woman and said, “This is for you.”
Her jaw dropped, “Two days ago I had a dream about meeting a bull elephant.”
Hours later she confided that her husband was an extremely dominant person in her life who prevented her from going down her own life path. The elephant was mirroring her subconscious.
When you’re out in the wilderness and you experience real danger, you know that your body’s primal response to danger is far more powerful than anything you can consciously think. Our unconscious mind makes up about 95% of what we do. Animals are by definition unconscious – the language of the unconscious is the language of animals – and the way wildlife behaves and interacts is the way our unconscious minds behave.
So when you listen to wildlife, by participating in the complex relationships within an ecosystem, you learn the dynamics of the unconscious. You learn how everything is connected and where power really lies.
Most people feel overwhelmed because a small fraction of their conscious mind tries to digest a world far beyond its comprehension. But if you experience an environment that operates in this unconscious fashion, you learn to better understand the interplay between the conscious and unconscious forces in your life, and you can operate in a place of complete flow.
Goose Chronicles Outtakes:
“I’ve always wished I had some cathartic experience that gave my life an undoubtable purpose.”
“Careful what you ask for. Don't ask for too much because it’ll come, and it'll come in a brutal way.”
“What advice would you give to someone trying to make drastic changes in their life?”
“If the change doesn't involve risk it's not worth doing. If you’re not risking yourself you won’t have real change. Figure out where your vulnerabilities are or your weakest point or what you’re most afraid to lose and move towards that.”
“It’s like the Zen proverb, ‘Jump and the net will appear.’”
“Yes but that’s not good enough. You have to jump knowing the net may appear. Or it may not. Jump knowing the net may not open but do it anyway. That's when the change will happen.”
“Are you scared when you’re among all these wild animals without any weapons?”
“I’ve had more experience with death than most people. Anyone who isn't shit scared of death is completely conning themselves. They are denying a part of themselves if they’re denying the fear of death.”
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