Kile Ozier takes a two week trek into the wilderness, and learns how a tiny shift in the rudder of the mind can steer a new course.
The call came at a moment of almost cinematic synchronicity.
A year ago, David and I had reconnected—thanks to the web—since losing track of one another as adolescents, back in 1969. That day, some 40+ years after having met and bonded and mere months since beginning to re-forge a vintage friendship; he called and reached me at a moment of extreme darkness, simply because he was moved to check-in with me and see how I was doing.
It was clear that I was not doing well.
The invitation came in an email, that afternoon: two weeks camping in the Griffon Pinchot wilderness, northeast of Mount St. Helens in Washington State, with a group of about 15 – 20 people whom I did not know, other than David. With a few more questions came the complete answer; this group of mostly Native Americans go into the wilderness, every year, in support of one or two of their number whose purpose is to stand solitary vigil, deep in the woods or high on a mountain; seeking guidance and clarity in the making of critical Life Choices or choosing a Path.
I do not believe that “everything happens for a reason.” That smacks of predestination and absence of free will, to me. What I do believe is that, as intelligent, sentient beings, we have the capacity—indeed, the responsibility—to find lesson in virtually everything that happens. That being said; the fact of this call and invitation from David hints strongly that there may be order to the Universe…that there just may be Forces more powerful than ourselves.
My youth was spent in the mountains of Oregon, my adult life has been metro-centric. While I love cities, I have often referred to my sense of carrying Oregon inside me…missing the woods and water, the breeze one can barely hear as it whispers through the pines, barely feel as it coolly kisses one’s face.
In recent years, though, the cool and embracing greenness of those places seemed to have dried up, within me. Upon opening the virtual box wherein I’d stored this precious place for so long; I might catch the barest whiff of ocean or pine only to find naught but a dusty box where brilliant memories of youthful experiences were once stored, fresh for retrieval. It had been, easily, 40 years since I’d been alone in the forest.
In retrospect, I believe that the Me to whom so many turn for comfort and advice, for strength and succor, for guidance and mentorship was in danger of becoming more Act than Authentic. My Spirit was on his last legs and my Spirituality had become, I believe, almost nonexistent. With that, something within me leapt at this opportunity…and sought to experience it all. I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I needed to go up, alone, onto that mountain and see what, if anything, I might salvage and revivify of my Spiritual Self.
What I did know is that I could not get that close to that solo experience and not attempt it. I knew, too, that were I to attempt it, I would succeed. Four days and nights, alone on the side of a mountain, with nothing but a sleeping bag and some spiritual tokens made by and loaned to me for the vigil. No food, no water, no books, no internet or phone; just me, alone with myself. Just me, a woodpecker, two chipmunks and a territorial bumblebee…and the immense and unescapable, mind-filling “silence” of the untouched forests.
I cannot share the specifics of preparation nor of the experience, itself, without revealing cultural confidences shared by this committed group of Native Americans from myriad, disparate Tribes—Cherokee, Lakota, Ojibway, Sioux…Irish (me)—who allowed my presence and welcomed me to this de facto Tribe with open hearts and arms. I can tell you that there is no small amount of meditative and physical preparation for going up onto the mountain; all of which serves to clean and clear the mind and body and allow focus on the Question before the Seeker.
Hours and days of preparation, including the finding of the site for my own vigil:
When it is time to go; there is ceremony, there is steam, sweat and smoke, there are drums and singing and then there is silence and one is completely alone, miles from the encampment…the breeze making the 90-foot pines dance in welcome as I created the boundaries for my space on the mountain. Alone; I watched the sun travel across the sky, the fantastic gradations of dusk and evening darkening into night as the buzzing of insects faded to silence and the irregular sounds of deep forest at night…the stars, then the full moon, would come out in a brightness I’d completely forgotten.
Yes, in the back of my mind I worried a bit. What about a cougar, a badger, Sasquatch? I took a look at an extra willow branch I had and thought maybe I could poke out the eye of a predator with a very lucky strike; but, I knew that, push coming to shove, if the critter saw me on his menu, then I would probably be dinner.
So, all I had was trust.
Chipmunks came to investigate, a woodpecker spent an afternoon in my glade, I saw a fox from a distance as well as a hawk and, I think, an eagle. Hummingbirds by day and a few bats at night swept overhead without a glance in my direction. I was minuscule and insignificant, while being a part of something incomprehensibly great and unfathomably large.
During the days, I thought some, sang some, spoke some things aloud, cried some…though softly and thoughtfully, if that makes sense. My mind never for a moment slowed-down. Steady as a river, she kept active and alert, examining and re-examining moments of my life as I berated and forgave myself, appraised and accepted myself…perhaps began to like myself in a way I may not have for quite some time.
I mean, really; what’s not to like?!
No blinding revelations came to me; no visions or strikes of lightening. What did happen, I believe, was the tiniest and most critical of shifts in my mind and spirit. It only takes the slightest alteration in the position of the rudder to radically shift one’s course and ultimate destination, over time.
The little answers and realizations I did find are making themselves felt across the spectrum of my life, since. I have actually caught myself singing as I walk down the street on more than one occasion, since. This could be a phase or manic episode…or, it may actually be a shift in my perspective and point of view.
The minor metamorphosis under which I have gone manifests more deeply, daily. This would not have transpired, had I simply stayed home and not opened computer or phone for two weeks. As one who creates immersive, storytelling experiences for a living, I can tell you that this experience is one of utmost and profound authenticity.
I recommend such a recalibration. I will go back and do this again. I am very clear on what can actually make me happy and was able, with remarkable ease, to release expectation and anticipation that had been controlling me, coloring the way in which I see and interact with the world, for decades.
I am not “cured,” nor is everything that was obstructing me now gone; though, this shift is incontrovertible. I am seeing things differently; I know who I want to be and how I need to be to be that. I know what I want, most, and that is to be happy and fulfilled as I strive to make a positive difference in this world; whether that be on a grand scale or simply just down the block.
Happiness with oneself and one’s life is everything. Everything. Achieving said happiness is 100% my responsibility, and I am quite capable of accomplishing what I now see before me.
Watch this space.
So, I am now back among the living and in the data flow. My discipline is to allow this to flow around me, reaching into it as I need to do so; not to allow it to flow through me, for that space is reserved, now, for something more precious. I don’t use the word, “discipline” lightly; to maintain such a perspective will take focus and work, and I will not succeed, invariably…there will be slips.
I find, though, that I am happier, now, than I have been in years. This is how I want to be, to live; so, that’s my daily goal.
Anyone gets in my way, I’ll throttle ‘em!
See you on the mountainside.
Photos by author, taken while scouting the location for his solo experience.