Going Solo in Nature: The Ancient Shamanic Practice For Awakening To Spirit

by Jul 8, 2024

Originally published in the Journal of Contemporary Shamanism, in the Spring 2014, Volume 7, Issue 1

 

From time immemorial human beings sought the great outdoors for solitude, observation, listening, and learning the ways of nature to enhance their own survival and empowerment. Shamans from many continents sought isolation in the forms of walkabouts and vision quests to increase their powers, and to develop special supernatural abilities.

The well-known Native American Vision Quest is an example of ceremonial alone time dedicated to seeking inner knowledge and direction from the spirit world.

Why spend solo time in nature?

Solo time in nature is worth its weight in gold when it comes to relief from the daily grind of stressful conditions at work. But relief from work stress is far from the only advantage offered by solo time in nature. The mystics and shamans of old went to nature because they knew that the only way to recharge was to hook up with something more powerful than they. What better way to recharge than to sit on a mountain, in a forest, or next to a waterfall for a few days and nights? They knew that some of that natural power could be gathered and stored using special techniques and then applied later to their active endeavors. There is no reason why an ordinary person, or a business or organizational leader, cannot learn and apply similar techniques to recharge, gather, store, and apply the renewed vitality gained from solo time.

While an intent and solo time in a natural environment are actually sufficient to accomplish a great deal, there are other important additions to a solo that enormously enhance its effectiveness. First of all, during a solo a participant can engage in a series of powerful ancient practices designed specifically to break through old patterns, gather and store vitality, and enhance visioning. Secondly, there is great power in doing a solo under the guidance of an experienced solo guide who supervises the experience of a number of people doing solos in the vicinity. This brings a measure of safety to the experience as well as a sense of community even though the time is spent in solitude. After the solo the group can gather, share, and integrate their experiences, thus providing much greater overall insight and learning.

What happens on a solo?

In a true solo there are no outer distractions, nothing to leak or help discharge the power of the experience. Prior to and during the solo there is an all-important declared intent, a riveting focus to break through to gather power and clarity. This focus, this intent, makes all the difference in the world and distinguishes time alone from an ordinary vacation.

Most often solo experiences, long or short in duration, include special practices. For example individuals my concentrate on their awarenes of being aware and present, the infinite and eternal properties of Spirit, concentrations to empty the mind of chatter, practices to rise io a higher octave or magnetize special gifts, practices to become free of fear or to release attachments ,  physical postures like chi gong for gathering vitality, deep meditation, prayer, singing, and many others. One practice might be to answer the question, “Who am I?” or “What is truly important in my life?” Or “What is my impossible dream?” Some participants practice tai chi, yoga, breathing exercises, or other methods of gathering energy. People spend time in prayer, saying hello to nature, recapitulating their lives, forgiving and erasing negative memories of traumas through special Toltec practices, clearing away personal energy leaks and addictions, focusing on intentions and the like. The possibilities are practically endless. A person can be as busy or as relaxed as they choose to be during their solo time. There is truly no one correct way to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the solo experience.

What are the challenges of the solo?

Perhaps the greatest challenge for many people participating in a nature solo is boredom. Unaccustomed to having much time on their hands, they become restless, fidgety, irritated, and impatient. At first, they are not quite sure what to do with themselves with none of their usual distractions. Their minds might flit from thing to thing in a random, annoying way that revisits worries and regrets circulating with no resolution. One may feel compelled to pace back and forth being distracted by the thoughts that they are wasting precious time while they could be working on projects, putting together deals, and making important calls. In a word, these people have become addicted to stress and have a challenge experiencing an environment that can be exceptionally peaceful.

An impatient person can come face to face with their time demon in a rather unpleasant way. Others might worry that while they are isolated their competition is getting the upper hand on them or somehow they are falling behind. While this phenomenon might plague most people for short periods of time, it is extremely rare for a person to experience discomforts like these the entire time because the experience of the solo tends to wash these temporary worries away after a time.

All these challenges can be irritants or they can be excellent teachers for the willing student or learner. The vast majority of working people know how to learn from difficulty or challenges met in their work settings so a little outdoor discomfort should not be a grave deter- rent. Most say afterwards that the challenges helped them to become quiet and introspective, appreciative of isolation and silence.

Solo Value: What is the gain for the average person?

The great majority of solo veterans feel that the experience somehow changed their lives for the better. Follow up shows that upon returning to their work world they are more accepting of differences, more disciplined, more positive, and more productive. Most feel spiritually renewed no matter what their religious or spiritual orientation. More than a few find the experience the single most transformational experience of their entire lives.

Today the need to spend time alone remains as important and necessary as ever, perhaps even more so given the unrelenting hectic pace of modern life. While the ancients always lived in harmony with the natural environment, modern people are mostly disconnected from nature for the major part of every day. The vast majority of people who experience a nature solo report that their personal understanding of the power in nature and the need to protect it grows phenomenally following their solo.

Members Share Their Solo Experiences

On my three-day solo I had to learn a song from Spirit that I would then be called upon to sing in the ceremony closing the solo experience. I didn’t consider myself a singer, but I also understood that a part of shamanic practice is singing. On the second day, I lay down on the ground early in the morning and with great gratitude for this time alone prayed to Spirit for help in my task. I called on every goddess I knew by name to surround me, and they did. And it was Mary Magdalene who stood at my head. With no effort, a song honoring her power and healing ability and beneficence and sacred place as consort to the Christ energy filled me. For a day and a half I sang that magnificent song gift, and I took it back to my circle with the courage to sing in front of 30 people.
Pat Liles
San Anselmo, California

The transformation experience of my wilderness solo came not from any dramatic revelation, but because I did the hard, tedious, inner work of reviewing my life, starting with my first memories, releasing any anger or fear, and giving myself acknowledgment for the triumphs and kindnesses. That effort was emotionally draining work; and it took most of the time on solo. The result, however, left me feeling cleaner and lighter. The experience left me more in tune with myself and nature, and much more open to Spirit.
Tracey Whitley
Attorney at Law

I was located up on a wooded ridge, overlooking a field. A stand of pine trees created a nice circle of shade and wind break. I created a simple medicine wheel and each morning and evening prayed to and connected with the four directions, Great Spirit, and Mother Earth. The quiet of the place allowed me to meditate for an extended period of time and deepen my observation skills. I chose to fast to add to an altered state while on solo. The connection to nature engendered by the solo, for me is the heart of a shamanic practice. The connection to nature transfers to the ability to connect with myself. The solo reminded me I am also part of nature and her rhythms.
Karen DiTrapani
Albuquerque, New Mexico

I was blessed to pilgrimage to a mountain on the southern shores of Lake Tahoe within the Paiute tradition and introduced by an elder to this deity’s manifestation in the world: Gratitude.

I thought that I knew and understood thanks, but I realized after my three days and nights of fasting and placing sacred offerings, that my previous knowing of this powerful emotion and way of being in the world had been superficial. It took a mountain “falling” on me to experience gratitude and warmth and connection that come with unrestricted giving.

This deity gave the great gift of being gratitude, and having lived this, has allowed me to return again and again to my place in the world.
Peter Brown
Olympia, Washington

I have done many, many solos with wonderful experiences. Sitting quietly, listening to nature, and getting into my heart always makes me feel one with nature. The quietness and being alone gives me time for reflection and to get questions I have about myself answered.

There were times that I stayed awake all night to communicate with the night sky which was very satisfying. Lying on the earth, looking up at the stars and seeing meteorites was a very powerful experience. I always felt safe, even when the elk came romping by my spot and when I could hear the bears. There were insects to see, and many birds to watch and talk to, especially the hummingbird. I felt so privileged that I wrote a song about all the critters.
Flora McCormack
Texas

Last summer, I backpacked in the Marble Mountains taking my pack, rattle and intentions. I hoped for support with my intense fear of bears – a shadow on an otherwise beautiful love affair with the outdoors. I’d never seen a bear while backpacking, but the fear was alive and real. I left an offering, asked for support from spirit of place and hiked in. Within an hour, I heard then saw, a black bear cub gazing at me while romping up a hill. Pure awe and delight! The first night by the fire, I rattled, connected with the spirit of place and had a surprisingly restful sleep, interwoven with dream visits from wolf and others. Over the next two nights, I worked through layers of fear and limiting beliefs. When I set up camp on my final night under a tree with fresh sap dripping from a bear’s claw, I had to laugh. Bear had been with me the whole way, with its strength and power, helping me call on my inner resources and find my way to freedom in the wilderness.
Eleni Livitsanos
San Francisco Bay Area

Sitting inside my stone circle at the edge of the Ozark forest, I watch the sky moving further away as the stars recede. Lurking shadows scurry from the half-light as the glow of predawn slips in. The dawn feels so alive! I feel so alive!

Everything that occurs within my sacred circle of stones is part of my vision quest…my thoughts, dreams and fears in the night. An insect’s buzzing, a snake’s meandering, the voice of a bird, shapes in the clouds, the wind in the trees…all are answers to my prayers and messages from spirit. Nature shows me the inner workings of my soul and where I fit in the world. Time alone, sitting and being, makes me reach deep inside. My yearly quests give me valuable insights. It is a process I trust deeply. I go to the Wild to remember who I am.
Pat Tuholske
Grubville, Missouri

About the author

José Stevens

José Stevens

José Luis Stevens, PhD is the president and co-founder (with wife Lena) of Power Path Seminars, an international school and consulting firm dedicated to the study and application of shamanism and indigenous wisdom to business and everyday life. José completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Wixarika Maracame (shaman) in the Sierras of Central Mexico. In addition, he is studying intensively with Shipibo (shamans) in the Peruvian Amazon and with Pacos (shamans) in the Andes in Peru. In 1983 he completed his doctoral dissertation at the California Institute of Integral Studies focusing on the interface between shamanism and western psychological counseling. Since then he has studied cross-cultural shamanism around the world to distill the core elements of shamanic healing and practice. He is the author of more than twenty books and numerous articles including Awaken the Inner Shaman, How to Pray The Shaman’s Way, Encounters With Power, Transforming Your Dragons;  and the forthcoming The Shaman’s Manual Of Extraordinary Practices. website: www.thepowerpath.com
José Luis Stevens, PhD is the president and co-founder (with wife Lena) of Power Path Seminars, an international school and consulting firm dedicated to the study and application of shamanism and indigenous wisdom to business and everyday life. José completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Wixarika Maracame (shaman) in the Sierras of Central Mexico. In addition, he is studying intensively with Shipibo (shamans) in the Peruvian Amazon and with Pacos (shamans) in the Andes in Peru. In 1983 he completed his doctoral dissertation at the California Institute of Integral Studies focusing on the interface between shamanism and western psychological counseling. Since then he has studied cross-cultural shamanism around the world to distill the core elements of shamanic healing and practice. He is the author of more than twenty books and numerous articles including Awaken the Inner Shaman, How to Pray The Shaman’s Way, Encounters With Power, Transforming Your Dragons;  and the forthcoming The Shaman’s Manual Of Extraordinary Practices. website: www.thepowerpath.com
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1 Comment

  1. Forrest itche iichiile Hudson

    My first “intentional” Nature Solo occurred several years ago at Eagle Bear Ranch followed by two more over the span of several years.

    Looking back over my childhood years through adolescence I had countless “unintentional” Nature Solos as I was fortunate enough to enjoy an expansive diverse wooded terrain only a short walk out my back door where I spent innumerable hours alone hiking/exploring/discovering. A time to commune with all that nature had to offer which became foundational for those intentional Nature Solos that followed.

    Now I spend my summers in SW Oregon on a vineyard surrounded by tall pines with a few horses and several sheep. Regardless of the venue nature affords me I feel at ease and secure within that environment which for me deescalates an active amygdala. Affording me the opportunity to peel back several accumulated layers of acquired defenses consequently exposing my vulnerabilities thus, creating a mindset at ease that directly connects me with Spirit. I’m unaware of an alternative environment that produces such conditions, at least not for me.

    The Silence Speaks…

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