Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes: A Year Alone in the Patagonia Wilderness, Robert Kull, 2008. New World Library, 384 pages, $15.95 (paper).
Solitude is a natural craving for many of us after the social overload of the holidays and a tendency for introspection seems to come with a new year. Therefore it’s an ideal time to delve into a book about solitary physical adventure and spiritual seeking. Having visited Chile, I was eager to once again picture the gorgeous maritime wilderness of Patagonia. The author’s descriptions of an incredibly beautiful but hostile wild and the connections he was able to forge with his surroundings did not disappoint. And while I long to go back, it wouldn’t be in Kull’s footsteps. The author is refreshingly honest about his trials and reveals tough personal revelations that make this book no “conquer the wilderness” story.
Kull relays his preparations for the trip, as well as his return home to Vancouver, B.C. afterwards to write his doctoral thesis on the adventure. Solitude focuses on the spirituality to be gained from long periods of meditative solitude and the effects on one’s psyche. Individuals who have tried their hand at meditation will find this an interesting example of taking the practice to the extreme. All along we are privy to the author’s deepest thoughts and physical and psychological challenges, as well as the philosophies of other spiritualists in regard to solitary endeavors. Writes Kull: “Wilderness solitude has the power to catalyze a transformation in consciousness and a shift in perception”. Yet he acknowledges the very real danger that in such instances that “the persona can begin to unravel”.
One of Kull’s goals was to cultivate the art of observation while conflicted with the drive to be doing something and how to balance the two in a situation where day to day survival requires careful preparation and deliberate activity. That is to say—not doing something or doing something at the wrong time could be injurious or fatal. Kull writes: “Physical activity does dissolve (or cover up) anxiety, but one of the things I’ve come here to learn, or remember, is how to feel comfortable without losing myself in constant doing. Actually, I believe our whole culture needs to consider this if we want to survive and enjoy living.” Well said.*
Another of the authors’ key perceptions from living so intimately with nature: we are disconnected from the earth by the comfort and security of our material surroundings, thus sadly “the nonhuman world has become a sort of inanimate backdrop to our human affairs.” Kull surmises, it’s this disconnect that makes it harder for us to make the sacrifices we all need to make in order to live more lightly on our planet earth.
New World Library’s website is http://www.newworldlibrary.com
*Note from Colleen Miko: I apolgize for originally misquoting Mr. Kull as writing “conquer this” rather than the correct “consider this”. The way it reads now is accurate.