“I had not met or interacted with a human being for weeks. I had just spent the night alone on a cloud-shrouded mountain. And now a fox and I looked intently at each other.…”
What is it like to spend time offline and on one’s own in nature? Vajragupta is a long term ordained Buddhist with the Triratna movement, and he has been walking into the wild on so-called ‘solitary retreats’ for twenty-five years, since he encountered Buddhist practice. In his newest book Wild Awake: Alone, Offline and Aware in Nature, he recounts how these ‘solitary retreats’ have changed him, how he fell in love with the places he stayed in and the creatures there. He reflects on how the outer world and his inner world began to speak more deeply to each other, how there were moments when the barrier between them seemed to dissolve away.
Subhadramati, author of Not About Being Good and a practising Buddhist in the same (Triratna) movement, comments:
“Vajragupta gives us a wonderful evocation of how to use solitude as a way of deepening our resonance with the natural world. But, even more than that, he shows us how this vivid aliveness to the world leads to ‘a quietening of the self’ which, paradoxically, leaves us ‘saturated with life’.”
In today’s busy world, we may have few chances to put technology down and surround ourselves with the living Earth. When we do, the experience we have can surprise us with its richness.
Vajragupta comments on what he hopes Wild Awake will achieve:
“I hope to encourage people who haven’t done solitary retreats to think about giving it a go. Many people, once they’ve had that taste of solitude, discover something really precious. Hopefully the story of how I developed my solitary retreats over twenty-five years will also be interesting to people who’ve done them. I’m also hoping the way I write about nature, the descriptive writing, will appeal to people who love nature.”
Sara Maitland, author of Gossip from the Forest and lecturer in Creative Writing at Lancaster University believes the book is indeed encouraging.
“This is a seriously beautiful book – beautiful writing about beautiful places – and a wise one too. With its practical good sense, lack of self-indulgence and purity of heart, it will encourage, ‘give courage to’, those who have longed for but have not dared to try out solitude in nature, in wildness. It is grounded in authentic knowledge and experience. Get out there – but take Wild Awake with you.”
People who regularly reflect in solitude and nature may resonate with Vajragupta’s reflections as he stays in small cabins in England, Scotland, Wales and Spain. Readers who have never been out in nature on their own and would like to give it a try may find the A-Z guide on how to do solitary retreats at the back of Wild Awake helpful.
The book is now available from Windhorse Publications (an independent publishing house based in Cambridge, UK), which ships worldwide, or other online retailers and bookstores in the UK/Europe. It will appear in bookstores in the US and Canada this summer.
- by Giulietta M. Spudich (Windhorse Publications)