This week, I’ve been reading lots of articles about women in the wild. Adventurers, hikers, campers, who set out to the mountains and forests in solitude, setting up their camp at night and sleeping where they land.
In my mind, these women are intrepid and fearless. Their bodies, expanded and spent by the fullness of activity in their day, is fed at twilight and then they fall quietly asleep, their camp a peaceful pocket of rest as the busyness of nature surrounds them.
Except, this is not what happens at all.
The more common experience is that camping, sleeping alone at night away from lights, electricity and other people is anything but relaxing. It’s not even just ok. For many, it’s nights of wakefulness, of fear and of a mind that’s playing tricks.
Of tiny noises played to human ears at 100 x magnification. Of perhaps the ultimate concern (especially for a woman)- that what you hear is another human. Of your mind’s eye seeing your face on the front page of the newspaper, gone for 100 days.
We all know what it’s like for our mind to run away in the darkness of the night. And outside, alone, without the usual comforts or distractions, we are left only with ourselves.
The whole point, and simultaneously, what so many of us spend our days running away from.
Curiously, I found this reading, these other women’s stories, to be a fascination and a comfort. I crave solitude, love being alone in the wild, and yet when I do, for anything beyond and hour’s walk, it’s not a state that is relaxing. Quite the opposite: I am more switched on, more alert, the spikes and lows of adrenalin peaking and troughing with frequent regularity.
If we think of animals- not the domesticated kind, but those that are free- they are in a constant state of awareness. For the birds in my garden, I am the local dealer, half a dozen nectar feeders hanging in the tree. I watch them as I write. They land, sip on the feeders, but the spaces of feeding last only a second, never more. Their eyes are darting, looking round.
They feed, and notice, feed, and notice. They aren’t tuned out. They are tuned in.
Growing up, I had a pony that never missed a beat. My mother used to say, if we had to go bush, Minnie is the one we want to take with us. What she meant was she pays attention. And paying attention is the number one rule of survival. Of making it out the other side.
I wonder, at what point we decided that we had to remove all feeling that we labeled as discomfort in order to understand ourselves as being ok?
That as humans, we are entitled to a life of ease and comfort that sits separately to what the rest of the animal world experiences?
I wonder, if there’s a normal level of doubt, of anxiety, of even fear that as humans- as a human who is vital, connected, and alive- we are supposed to experience?
And in our domesticated lives, we have convinced ourselves of this idea of being able to find neutral, or that much of our state of being should be one of relaxation and rest?
That’s certainly not the case for any other creature on the planet.
I am finding, that to accept that things may be difficult, that it’s normal to feel the peaks of fear in this situation or that, is an act of compassion and kindness to myself.
That to expect the opposite is delusional at best.
The positive thinking movement has its benefits for sure, but I sometimes wonder if it’s created more of a deficit in our ability to meet reality, less ease in accepting the natural, normal level of hardship that is part of being in life.
In my membership program, JoyRide, so much of the work that we do there is about renegotiating our experience of what feeling and emotion feel like in the body. So much of it is not about removing discomfort, but more so, learning not to freak out about it and act within it.
Which on first reading, might not sound appealing, but the truth is, it’s a liberation.
Naturally, help is advisable and available when we find ourselves managing an emotional life that is non-functional and removes us from the ability to act. But beyond that, entertain there is a level of discomfort, of hardship that just… is.
I think back to my women camper friends, the one who explore out in the wild. I am comforted by the thought of their minds who are as busy in the dark as mine is.
That we all have the spikes of anxiety, the doubt, and the concern.
That this is not necessarily something to escape from. It’s confirmation of humanity.
Universal reminders of the animal skin of which we’re in.