This post is a continuation of the last (1). During his experimental year of radical wilderness solitude in Patagonia, Robert Kull maintained a journal. The complete journal was 900 pages long, and he had not only to review it but also to write an edited version. Both the original writing and the editing involved a careful process of selection. Even the original entries told only “one among many possible tales”. Kull says: “I have, though, both in the original journal entries and in the editing process, tried to tell my truth as I lived it”. He is very conscious of the way in which “the magic of words”, and cultural expectations about narratives, including the motif of the ‘hero’s journey’, can come between the experience and the record. These considerations influence what he brings back from his year, and what we can learn from it. I feel moved by, and respectful of, the way he works through these concerns.

“In the journal, a saga of physical adventure and spiritual transformation runs parallel to and weaves through the drifting account of daily life – the autobiographical quest of the hero. This is a recognized, even expected, storytelling mode for someone spending a year alone in the wilderness, and I could have enhanced the heroic saga during editing. But instead I’ve allowed that tidy narrative to remain interrupted over and over by the unruly wildness of the ‘hero’s’ soul.

“In the messier story, the hero’s cultural ideals of personal success, social progress, and free will are questioned in view of the cyclic storms of depression, rage, fear, and doubt about his place in society and a felt lack of spiritual development. Despite differences in theology, moral orientation and self-discipline, the man in that pedestrian tale may have more in common with St. Augustine and his surrender of personal agency to Divine Will than with the stereotypical self-oriented striving of modern culture’s secular hero.

“My goal in the wilderness was not to conquer either the external world or my own inner nature, but to give up the illusion of ownership and control and to experience myself as part of the ebb and flow of something greater than the individual ego. But the goal of attaining enlightenment was elusive – except when it was not. Through a shift in consciousness, my quest came to an end as I realized there was nowhere to go and nothing to get. The notion of a holy grail out there – or even within – was illusory, and what I was seeking I always already had: I was not a special hero, but simply a speck of life like all other specks – unless I was not. Personal agency always reasserted itself, and these two aspects of my being struggled and then tentatively began to dance together.

“Stories of spiritual seekers or solitaries in the wilderness are often portrayals of heroic adventure. It’s difficult not to slip into this mode, but I’ve tried. We already have enough of such writing, and in its most blatant form it’s little better than checkout-counter publications flaunting the amazing lives of superhuman ‘stars’. When I read such stories and compare them to my own actual life, I feel diminished. ‘That’s not how my life is. What’s wrong with me?’ I’m also pulled out of my own life and into vicariously living the imaginary life of another. What I offer instead is a more human account so perhaps we can wander the spaces and silences of wilderness solitude together.” (1)

(1) https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2023/05/23/radical-wilderness-solitude-an-experiment/

(2) Robert Kull Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes – A Year Alone in the Patagonian Wilderness Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008