Celebrating (30 days in the Wilderness)

Thirty days ago, I set out to explore one of the most desolate places in the world; a place that remains uncharted. And during my time here I have gained so much insight into the place itself and my own response to it. 

And what a crazy time for such an experiment: Covid-19, Christmas and new year around the corner and work deliver suddenly ramped up to make year end. And yet, here I am 30 days into exploring the Wilderness. 

The motivation behind my experiment was (is!) personal: I desperately needed a reset. It is very easy – and maybe even appropriate – for me to say that the effects of the lockdown (in the South African context) was the catalyst for an existential crisis. Are the effects of government’s response to Covid financially ruinous? Yes. Is lockdown mentally challenging? Yes. Am I rebelling against the effects of the pandemic on my life because I feel that we can do things better? Yes. Is all of this what triggered my personal crisis? No; it merely highlighted it. 

What is important is that I was in a tailspin and realised that I needed a reset… I was in desperate need of a reframe for my life, my approach to life and my career. And so, with the support from my family (and unbeknownst to my clients) I set off into the Wilderness. 

At first the landscape appeared barren, and my first reaction was denial; I didn’t choose this and wanted to return to the safety of my current routine immediately despite the ramifications of continuing with that routine. As I started to walk, two weeks into the expedition, I found myself noticing the intricacies of life around me; I noticed how the life shifted shape in rhythm with day and night. How have I overlooked such small manifestations of marvel and Creation? I also noticed the dark, lurking presence in my peripheral vision that had shape in as much that I could just… only just, see it while it didn’t have enough form for me to identify it. 

And with this mix of marvellous wonder and the trepidatious presence on my periphery, I covered ground… step by step… day by day. On more than one occasion, I wanted to give up and return to the familiar… I bargained with myself that I’ll try this again at a better time if I could just go back for a night or two. 

And then I started noticing that the further I ventured into the Wilderness, the less drawn to my previous comforts I felt. Almost as if walking “out of range”. Still, on occasion, when the wind blew just right, I experienced this sudden pang of longing and I just wanted to give up and the only thing that got me through those moments was the deep knowledge that I was not alone in this. The connectedness with the world and people around me started to re-surface the deeply embodied knowing that there was a Higher Power – an Entity waaaay bigger than my wildest expectations. 

And here I am celebrating the first 30 days in the Wilderness… 

Yes, I have ventured on the Edgelands for a year only to fall back into the familiar. Yes, I have lived in the veld for a month with the understanding that I’d return to the known in celebration. 

This trip is different. 

As much as I am celebrating 30 days in the Wilderness, I am overwhelmed by the deep hope that I can stay here for the rest of my life; that I’ll celebrate 30 years in this increasingly vibrant and wonderous landscape that, although it holds pain and sadness, gives comparatively more joy and love. 

As I prepare for a day of walking, I reflect on what I have come to realise over the last 30 days:

  • When we set out to change things (our lives, aspects of organisations, cultures, etc.), there needs to be a realisation that change is needed. 
  • To effect change, regardless of how gentle, good intentioned and skilful we are with ourselves and others, we need to cover difficult ground and to cover that ground we need support and encouragement from sources beyond ourselves. 
  • It is important to celebrate milestones, and in celebrating we need to realise that this is a point along the way and not a marker that signals to us that we can now turn around and return to where we started. 
  • Be kind to yourself. Stay with the feelings of overwhelm and uncertainty because they do give way to new understanding and possibility. 

“The wilderness holds answers to questions we have not yet learned to ask” – Nancy Newhall 

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