Into the woods: A spiritual journey, or cray cray?

The other day I watched a youtube video critiquing Christopher McCandless – the guy who rejected the superficialities of society by going Into The Wild. He died because of it. The youtube video critiqued McCandless as foolish, irrational, and noted that the people he met on his journey were trying to save him, but he did not listen.

The video critiques the romanticism modern society has attached to his story. Chris ventures into the wild Alaskan shrub alone, woefully unprepared (no map, low food supplies), spends 114 days in the wilderness and eventually dies of starvation.

I’ve not read the book, but I have seen the movie (I know, I know, poor substitute, yada yada… whatever, bite me). In the movie, Christopher is portrayed as a man undertaking a spiritual journey. A quest for deeper meaning in his life.

It seems to me there is a great desire among people to follow in Christopher McCandless’ footsteps. This is a good thing, but also seems rather counter-intuitive to me. Why would we seek to go into the woods? Modern technology should literally be having the opposite effect – as technology provides us with the ability to support more and more of the people within our communities, should we not have more free time to spend in our communities, with each other, invested in each other’s well-being? Should we not have more time to spend within society? Why is it we wish to escape? Is there something wrong with us for feeling this way?

I know of many who dream of winning the lottery (I was once one of them), so we can say “fuck you” to our bosses, as we walk out the door, middle finger raised high in the air, sunglasses on, flip flops clacking all the way to the island paradise that awaits. Do we not see that there is something fundamentally wrong with a desire to say “fuck you” to our bosses? Something fundamentally wrong with a desire to leave the world behind? Why do we desire this? If we felt as if we were working together, on the same team, toward a common goal or purpose, surely there would be little need to feel this way.

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Society is sick. Very sick. And growing sicker by the day.

We cling to our jobs as if our sense of self-worth were dependent on how much cheddar we earn. We continue to believe what we do defines us. We continue to choose to drown ourselves in anxiety over ultimately meaningless things (the report isn’t going to get done by the deadline!), concern ourselves with trivial nonsense (this coffee is a Latte, I ordered a Cappe-Frothy-Mocca-Choca-Whoop-De-Fucking-Do-A-Cinno) and worry about happenings that have not happened (what if there’s an apocalypse and Spiderman’s lazy no-good second cousin comes to my house because Spiderman kicked him out for not paying rent and he eats all my survival biscuits? … wait… what?).

What a crappy way to live this is.

Is it possible we aren’t listening to our own hearts and souls?

Recently I was having a cup of tea with my new boss, an owner of a business that unloads ship containers. Yes, I unload containers now for fifteen hours a week. Basically, I get paid to go to the gym. Though I’m not nearly as good at my job as my Polynesian co-workers. My new boss said to me his business partner used to always say “I” when speaking about his dealings and very early on told him that he’d need to sort that kind of talk out; that he never used this word and always made a conscious effort to say “we”. When he told me this I remembered back to my early days working in an office. A fresh eyed graduate looking to contribute to the world. I recalled that when I’d first started working, this was how I’d used to be too. I used to say we. Not I.

That all changed with Pete’s printing.

The world hurt me. In a major way. The world as I knew it told me it was not we against the world, it was I against the world. It was an arena. A battlefield. A competition. For the highest grades in Uni. For the best job. For the most money. The most power. The most status. A competition for More. More. More.

What a dreadful way to live this is.

I realised one day, after someone who I thought was on my team played me in a game I did not know I was playing, that if I too wished to “succeed” in the arena as I’d known it, that I too might need to play the game. I too might need to step on others in the pursuit of More, More, More.

No thank you.

The pain the world caused transformed itself into existential angst and despair and I found myself unwilling to compete. At this time, despair entered my life and began to hang around me like a hot fart. I could think of no other option than to leave. In retaliation to the pain, I rejected society. I tried to escape. I decided I did not need it. That I could stand alone.

I was wrong.

However, I learnt a lot along the way.

The question is… what of saying ‘fuck this’ and choosing to leave this sick society in your dust like Christopher McCandless? What does that look like?

Imagine… no more anxiety. Nothing to worry about. The bliss. The serenity. It would be endless. Waves lapping the shore. Birds chirping in the trees.

But, would it?

Doubt it.

Perhaps for a time. However, there is a dangerous thing to be found in these woods. Not the Yeti. Although, he might be banging around in there too, so best you bring some Yeti-spray with you. I’m talking about something far more frightening. Something you may have even come across before… Loneliness.

If there is one thing that is truly frightening to behold, it is Loneliness. The holder of despair. The king of dull times. If you are ill-prepared like Mr McCandless, he will show you no mercy. And in these woods, or on that island beach, there may not be any escape from his grasp. Mr McCandless knows this all too well.

How do I know this?

Because, I too ventured deep into the woods, metaphorically speaking.

Fleeing the hurt I felt, I left an office job in my home country among family and friends, to go to a no-job in a foreign country where I knew no one – a journey into the proverbial woods. For quite the time, I found myself deep within their grasp. Though to say I was totally alone would be a lie. I found a tribe. But they were most certainly walking different paths. On the path I’d chosen to tread, I felt woefully alone.

Something I often wonder is how many of us out there feel this way even when we are surrounded by people. In our jobs. In our busy cities. I certainly felt this way once upon a time when I had such things. Why is this so? Are we missing something?

In the woods I encountered new beasts, terrifying things. I also danced with spirit and met with Loneliness and Boredom.

These encounters, even with Boredom himself, caused me to deepen as a being. At the risk of sounding all new age hippie, I underwent a spiritual awakening. This is truth. My truth. Before the woods, the only spirits I thought existed were named Jim Beam, Jack Daniels and Mount Gay. Afterward… well, I found it hard to believe how I could possibly have been so naïve for so long.

While in the woods I learnt something I’d once known but somehow lost sight of… I learnt once again I know nothing of this planet, not the life on it, nor the stars beyond. And with this knowledge, the world came to life. The trees took on new depth. No longer were they merely a bundled collection of cells photosynthesising. Instead they were mystical. Magical. Beautiful. Had they not always been this way?

I looked to the stars. Up at a Universe I somehow had not seen before, despite the fact it had been gazing at me from afar every single second, every single minute, every single hour, of every single day. I wondered, in whose eyes (or alien butt-sensory glands) out there was it I appeared as but a twinkle in the sky?

A realm within myself I did not know existed came to life. No longer was I a logic-driven being living a narrow-minded self-gratifying life parroting popular opinion. I learnt to see with my own eyes. I learnt to hear with my own ears. And to feel with my own heart.

A question I have since asked myself is: did I encounter the divine in these woods? God?

I guess that depends a great deal on your definition of God. If your definition of God is a man with a white beard who sits in the clouds, then no, I did not encounter Colonel Sanders… I mean, God. If your definition of God is a sentient being of any description (animal, alien, half-man-half-sausage-roll), then no, I did not encounter God.

My answer is no. I did not encounter God. I was not religious in any way before I ventured into the woods. And I am not religious now. However, recently when a friend asked me whether I believed in God, while my answer was the same as it had been in my earlier years, there was a slight twist, “No. I don’t. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe. I believe in spirit. In life.”

I encountered beauty. The beauty of a world hidden from me for too long. How did I not see it? Right there. In front of me. All along.

And I learnt we are the same. Because I looked directly at my “I” and saw right through it. My new boss knows what he’s talking about. There is no I. Only we.

I must admit to you this has been excruciatingly painful… A lot has changed. Friends. Jobs. A lot has been lost. And loss, however necessary it may be, hurts.

I learnt no one among us can stand alone. NO ONE. And no one of us ever should. Yet it would seem to me this is exactly how we are choosing to live. It’s no wonder despair would pay a visit!

I stood alone in those woods for a long time, but I grew tired of it. So, I tried to come back to the society I had once rejected. Rather quickly I found I could not. At least, not in the same way I’d once known it. This, I am still trying to figure out and perhaps always will be – life is a never finished work in progress.

We live in a society that constantly tells us we need to become more, to own more, to do more, to have more, to be more, More, More, More… Adverts tell us we aren’t complete as we are, and then after creating this psychological void within us, immediately offer a solution: “Buy my WIDGET!”.

Lol. Just lol. Psychological warfare hidden in plain sight.

Fuck that.

More money, More this, More that… More sick…

It will not satisfy you. It will not fill the void within. The simple act of helping a stranger will give you far more joy. Trust me on this.

We are meant to be invested in each others’ well-being. Because that is how we heal. Together.

I’m quite simply tired of it. We can do better. We must do better.

Perhaps I’m an idealist. Perhaps I’m a dreamer. Well fuck it. I’d rather fight to manifest this dream than succumb to living the way I’ve been told, constantly told I’m not good enough, constantly told I need more, constantly sold shit I don’t need, constantly competing rather than co-operating, constantly numbed by substances just to function.

No thanks. I’d prefer to seek my sense of self-worth from within. Not without.

I am enough. There is nothing on this planet you can sell me to make me anything More than that which I already am (except maybe a bionic arm… Elon, can you help a brother out?).

I did not know of Christopher McCandless’ story before I embarked on my own journey into the unknown. I knew only of my hurt, and my relationship with despair. This journey was driven by a simple question: there must be more to life than this, mustn’t there?

I learnt there is. But we must first forget what we know, including ourselves, in order to see it. Call me a hippy if you wish. Or just cray cray. Whatever man. I’m still learning. But without a doubt, I prefer life this way.

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