At least once a year (sometimes 2-3 times) I go off by myself for 8 days and camp on a big hill over the ocean in California.
My goal is to not see or talk to another human being the entire time and to otherwise do nothing. My careers all involve frequent, intense and intimate contact with other people and I used to call this trip my “People Fast.” We go without food to cleanse our system, well, I go without people to cleanse mine.
I can watch the sun set into the ocean from my tent – and I’ve watched the moon set on many occasions. I’ve been there for electrical storms and breathlessly magnificent starry nights.
My heartbeat and body rhythms slowly begin to align with the rhythms of the planet (a stark contrast to my “normal” life which has been in big cities – NYC and LA – for the past 35 years.)
Here I come to feel the movement of the waves and the movement from day to night to day again, and the changing movements of animals during those shifts.
There are two main questions that I am asked almost immediately after telling anyone that I take these solo trips in nature. “Aren’t you scared?” And “What do you DO??” (often asked with a combination of amazement & horror.)
To answer the first question, I used to say, “Hey, I’m a New Yorker, compared to NYC – this is mother’s womb!” but that was really a bit of posturing.
I had grown up in the woods, and retreating into nature with no one around was the only privacy I ever knew growing up, but I never felt alone. I loved the company of the trees and some animals. There was a safety and absorbent strength in those woods.
I loved the sound of wind in trees (still a favorite.) That, to me, says “safety” like nothing else. So, no, I’m not scared. (Plus I take a bullwhip with me that makes a real loud crack that can scare off any raccoon, bear, or person if need be. Insert smiley face here.)
But the most fervent question comes from my city-dwelling friends – “What do you DO that whole time??” “How do you spend your day?” “It must seem like forever!”
And whenever someone asks me what I do, a typical response from me would be: “I don’t know … but those 8 days go by like 8 minutes.”
It’s true. In some ways my time there is timeless, but in a very real way, it’s over almost immediately. I never get over that.
When others hear this, some assume I’ve gone into some kind of trance – and maybe I have. My senses are entranced with slightly different things each time I go.
Once the entire place was consumed in a cold sea fog the whole time, so the privacy & stillness was mystical.
Usually, I’m consumed by the movements of the ocean, the sky, the trees in the wind, the animals, the hawks flying over me and the little creatures scurrying about below, the movement of the sun in the sky, or the clouds – and especially how the wind ripples through this golden grass covering the hillside outside my tent.
I could watch that all day. And I guess I do. It’s a natural form of meditation.
I recently had to work with newborn babies (and the last baby I’d handled is now 16 years old so I had forgotten what to do or what it was like.) And in holding that little life and looking down at it – I was amazed at how the baby sucked me in and I was drawn into this world of … baby… love … life. (I call it a “baby meditation”.)
Well, on my hill, I guess I’m doing an ocean-sky-wind-grass-movement-of-sights-and-sounds meditation. And my thoughts which at first are chewing on whatever issues have been arising in my life, by day 2 & 3, I’ve gotten insights of wisdom about it all – as well as new ideas & inspirations.
And by days 4-5, my thoughts are waves like the ocean – i.e. something arises and drops away – and I just enjoy the movement and don’t get attached to the content.
So now this is sounding like I’m doing a lot on this hill – but no, this is activity that just happens - when I do nothing.
And I don’t hike or leave the area around my tent. Maybe once every other day, I walk the 1000 meters down to where the Pacific Ocean comes crashing onto the bluffs – a totally different experience – exciting, dramatic, loud, windy, cooler than my nest atop the mountain. But otherwise I’m staying within 20-30 feet of my tent with this splendid view and sensory array.
The hike down to the ocean (which I might do 3-4 times in 8 days) – would be the only thing I could say that I do during the whole 8 days.
I’m not allowed to have a fire – so I don’t build one. I don’t eat much since I’m not moving much. I don’t bring a computer or books or music. Pets are not allowed. It’s just me – and my thoughts – or lack of them, if it all goes well.
I do have a cell phone for an emergency – but I do not talk to any human being – that’s actually a big deal for me on these trips. The need for no human contact is as strong as the need to submerge myself into nature.
So while I’m doing nothing – stuff is happening – this cleansing (“people fast”) and a quenching (with the nourishing rhythm of nature.) I don’t do it, I just allow it to happen.
I’m not sure I know a more efficient way of allowing that stuff to naturally happen – every other way I can think of is either too much effort or too expensive.
So “doing nothing” – allows me to get distant from “doing” and a greater view & presence arises (that the business of doing can obscure.)
I become so present that towards the end of my 8 days, I cannot imagine ever living any other way than I am right at that moment.
These camping trips are a key ingredient to my presence, happiness & tolerance levels for the rest of the year.
Doing nothing in this way is one of the most fulfilling experiences I can imagine. It’s a very rich “do nothing.”