It has been almost thirty-seven years since I sat alone on the banks of the Escalante River in southern Utah. I was on my 31 day survival course called BYU Youth Leadership 480, still on-going yet privately run by Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS). I need to describe the solo portion of our trip that we had the last week of the course.
You can see the rocky overhang I slept under and sought shade with. At night cliff served as a heat reflector for my fire and faced in the perfect direction so I could watch Polaris throughout the night.
Returning to moments of contemplation of ourselves in this universe can center our inner beings and bring peace. It can ground us in the fact that our role in the world is much larger and more significant than we sometimes realize. Solitude can provide us with that opportunity, if we let it.
I’m reminded of a movie I saw that made a deep impression on me. My Dinner With André, 1981, is a conversation between Andre Gregory and Wally Shawn, both of whom were active in New York theater. One of the primary themes that got my attention was that sometimes we get lulled into daily routines and take for granted mundane things that bring us comfort and joy. This quote from Andre’ to Wally:
What does it do to us living in an environment where something as massive as the seasons or winter or cold, don't in any way affect us? I mean, we’re animals after all. What does that mean? I think it means that instead of living under the sun and the moon and the sky and the stars, we're living in a fantasy world of our own making… [And] comfort can lull us into a dangerous tranquility.
Solitude can cause one to look inward to realize not only their smallness, but the potential of their greatness and the greatness of our God in the universe. I like the way philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich addresses this by saying, Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth… Psalm 46:9 (NIV)
For more insight on this, see the story Stillness and Silent Prayer by Debbi Geller, from Krista Tippett's OnBeing.org, OnBeing is one of my favorite websites ever, and I'm glad I found Debbi's work. Thank you Krista and Debbi.
Post Script. What I didn't mention in this story but wanted to...1. How I got my fire started. 2. The rattlesnake that kept me from getting my tea leaves. 3. The fellow student that went home early because he cheated. 4. How beautiful the Big Dipper is when it rotates around the North Star. 5. The 13 mile run-in from the Escalante River to Boulder, UT. Perhaps another time.