Escape or Embrace

During the Wilderness Bushcraft Semester we do two-night solos where participants head into the forest alone with very minimal kit. For many people it isn’t easy to unplug from the modern world and be alone with themselves. We can get so distracted with life, the internet and everything that our minds are almost never where our bodies are.

Before we send people out on solos, we discuss two ways of dealing with the situation: escaping from it or embracing it. This means being there and being aware, or going somewhere else in your mind whether by daydreaming or being distracted.

One point of the solo experience is to reflect on what you’ve accomplished and completed, and on how your personal relationship to the land has changed. This takes some serious introspection to do well, demanding effort and attention. Another planned outcome is boredom; when you remove the distractions that are so common modern life you start to get to know yourself on a deeper level. It’s also great preparation for expeditions, where occasionally something (usually the weather) dictates that you hole up for a day or two.

However, there are some people who have chosen instead to look for distractions, to escape the situation. Several years ago, for example, after the solo experience a young man told me he watched YouTube on his phone the entire time. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be entertained, it misses the bigger point; what are you there to accomplish, and how best to go about it? In this instance, because he spent the time watching videos he missed out on much of the solo experience.

This idea of escape or embrace is much bigger than bushcraft, it’s a way of looking at all challenging situations. You can either run from them or you can meet them head-on and see what can be learned or experienced as a result.

I think that’s one reason why wilderness expeditions can be such powerful experiences in people’s lives. When you’re on top of mountain or in the middle of a remote rapid, you’re probably embracing it 100%; you don’t have any easy distractions. Compare that to sitting in traffic, flipping through radio stations but not really listening. Which of these is a more powerful life experience? Which do people yearn for? One of the big draws for leading wilderness expeditions for me is to be there during those moments. It’s a rush when a whole group is embracing a situation. The energy is palpable.

But you don’t have to be in a remote or challenging situation to choose to embrace what’s happening. With every situation, from the exciting to the mundane, we can choose to embrace it or escape from it.

Personally, I never want to look back on a situation where I had chosen escape and wish for a do-over so I could embrace it. It happens, but I want to minimize it the best that I can.

It’s the end of week five of the Wilderness Bushcraft Semester and our mid-semester break is winding down. We’ll be doing solos soon. I hope everyone chooses well.

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