«FRANK R. (BOB) KULL B.Sc., McGill University, 1993 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF ...»
A YEAR IN WILDERNESS SOLITUDE
FRANK R. (BOB) KULL
B.Sc., McGill University, 1993
A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF
THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES
THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIANovember 2005 © Frank R. (Bob) Kull, 2005 ii Abstract This dissertation is part of an ongoing exploration of who I am and what it means to be alive. It is an account of one man who lives alone for a year in the wilderness and reflects on his experience. A research question - What are the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual effects of deep wilderness solitude? - motivates and shapes the work.
I develop an innovative methodology of vigilant mindfulness combined with radically honest journal keeping and narrative writing to examine and document my own lived experience in solitude. I extend interdisciplinarity and integrate spiritual practice with academic study, and I share my work with the non-academic community.
During the year in solitude I discovered unexpected answers of the heart that emerged gradually through daily living. The more deeply I trusted the process of living and accepted the world and myself as we actually are, the more joy, peace, and wonder I experienced. I believe humans often act in ecologically destructive ways because we are experientially alienated from the natural systems that sustain us. Solitude can catalyze transformations in consciousness that might lead to more sustainable behaviour.
Broadly, a thesis is an invitation to reflect on something from a particular point of view. I use personal narrative to evoke an experience of wilderness solitude and to invite the reader to reflect on how our culture experiences the non-human world, on how we experience ourselves and each other, and on the relationship between direct experience, intuition, insight, and conceptual knowledge.
Rather than write only about solitude, I use my edited daily journal to speak directly to the reader from solitude. Reflective essays frame the journal entries, explore various themes relevant to my lived experience, and place my research in a cultural and academic context. Two DVDs contain a movie recorded in the wilderness and a video recording of a public slideshow in which I describe my year in solitude. The recordings bring visual and auditory layers to the dissertation, and the post slideshow discussion adds an interactive element.
Table of Contents
List of Figures
Prelude: Last Email Message from Town
Interlude 1: Historical and Academic Context
Logistic Preparations: Canada
The Road South
Logistic Preparations: Southern Chile
Interlude 2: Ruminations on Methodology
The Practice of Mindfulness
Meditation and Solitude
Mindfulness and Postmodernism
A Hybrid Cross
Interlude 3: Writing from Solitude
iv Interlude 4: Solitude as Object
Features of Solitude
Containments and Completions of Solitude
Call to Solitude
Objections to Solitude
Is Solitude for Everyone?
Interlude 5: A Glance at Other Solitaries
Interlude 6: Philosophy in the Service of Lived Experience
Language and Thinking
Epistemology and ontology
Interlude 7: Ken Wilber’s Integral Philosophy
Strand One: Evolutionary and Developmental Perspective
Strand Two: Hierarchy/Holarchy Theory
Strand Three: Multi-faceted Ontology and Epistemological Pluralism............362 Four Quadrants Model
Interlude 8: A Sketch of Buddhism as it Speaks to my Life
Traditional Teachings and Direct Experience
Control and Surrender
Interlude 9: Some Difficulties (I have) with Wilber’s Approach
Interlude 10: Technology and Desire
Interlude 11: Wanderings of the Chilean Limpet, Nacella magellanica....... 501 Introduction
Discussion: Part 1
Discussion: Part 2
Interlude 12: Small Mind/Big Mind, Dark/Light
Interlude 13: Patti’s Story
Last Month on the Island
Last Day on the Island
Death of a Mentor and 9/11
South Coast of Chile
Postlude: DVD - Video from Solitude
Appendix 1: DVD - Slideshow, Questions and Discussion, Photographs........ 606 Appendix 2: Logistics
Materials, Equipment, Supplies
Appendix 3: Maps
Tip of South America
Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales to Retreat Site
Detail of Navigation Route to Retreat Site
Figure 1 Bond of Union
Figure 2 Ken Wilber’s Four Quadrant Model
Figure 3a Daily Low Tide Position of Limpet Red Dot 4:4
Figure 3b Distance Between Daily Positions of Limpet Red Dot 4:4................
507 Figure 4a Daily Low Tide Position of Limpet Red Dot 4:5
Figure 4b Distance Between Daily Positions of Limpet Red Dot 4:5................
508 Figure 5a Daily Low Tide Position of Limpet Red Dot 5:2
Figure 5b Distance Between Daily Positions of Limpet Red Dot 5:2................
509 Figure 6a Daily Low Tide Position of Limpet Red Dot 5:3
Figure 6b Distance Between Daily Positions of Limpet Red Dot 5:3................ 510 Figure 7 Red Dot Series: Average Distance Between Daily Low Tide Positions for Individual Limpets.................. 511
I wish to thank Patti Kuchinsky for her intellectual and logistical contributions to the Solitude Project and to my Ph.D. work. She was a constantly reliable primary contact person, technical assistant and medical advisor during the year I lived in solitude, and she has contributed enormously to the process of creating this dissertation. Her own journey to spend a month with me on the island in southern Chile was a courageous act of faith, and her presence was very important to me as I re-entered the social world. I am deeply grateful for her friendship, honesty, and support, and for the psychological, emotional, and spiritual love and wisdom she continues to offer me.
I believe the most important step in the process of graduate studies is selecting a supervisor and supervisory committee. This is especially so for a non traditional and interdisciplinary project such as this one. The relationship between teacher and student is a delicate dance grounded in respect and trust.
From the perspective of student, I am aware that I am being guided and trained.
In order to develop, I must give myself to what can sometimes be a painful and frustrating process. I can do this only if I believe my mentors are encouraging me to find and follow my own vision and are not pushing me to conform to theirs.
I am extremely fortunate and grateful to have had the privilege of working with Dr. David Tait, Dr. Lee Gass, Dr. Carl Leggo, Dr. Karen Meyer, and the late Dr. Peter Frost. What a wonderful experience it has been! They have always challenged and supported me, and have trusted the process to lead us all into the unknown together. As Lee once said after a committee meeting, “That was great! Did you see it? The air was blue with energy and ideas.” I have received deep insights and wisdom from them all. They are also demanding and appreciative editors, and working with them has greatly improved my skill as a writer.
viii I also wish to thank the following people and organizations for contributing generously to this project: the land and people of Chile, Dr. Barry McBride, Dr. Pille Bunnell, Alejandra Silva, Dr. Jason Harrison, Greg Callahan, Kevin Callahan, Juan-Pablo and Mane Cerda, Dr. Christian de Quincey, Janet Beddoes, Deb Wilson, Dr. Bart van der Kamp, Betsy Alexander, Ron Marsh, Heather Akai, German Coronado, Axel Anderson, Robin Clark, Dr.
Michael Fisher, Karin Konstantynowicz, Lesley Fell, NSERC and UBC for financial support; Chilean Navy and National Parks Service; Canadian Consulate, Santiago, Chile; Individual Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program, UBC; Forestry, UBC; MAGIC, UBC; Civil Engineering Workshop, UBC.
Coming into Wilderness Solitude is like studying where everyone speaks a language you have forgotten so long ago it now seems completely foreign. You know you have something important to learn, but you don’t understand. It just takes patience to keep listening and listening.
I hear the voices of nature and try over and over to translate what I hear into human conceptual thought language so I will “know I understand in my mind.” But the language of nature cannot be translated into human concepts. It is deeper and different. I realize I have heard and understood when my heart softens and opens to love and peace and beauty around and within me.
This dissertation is part of an ongoing exploration of who I am and what it means to be alive. It is a step in my wanderings toward a loosely held destination, toward the mysterious unknown and into relationship with the non-human world. The research question, What are the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual effects of living for an extended period in deep wilderness solitude? energizes and shapes the work.
However, this is not an
discussion of solitude, but a personal narrative of living alone for a year in the wilderness, reflecting on that experience, and locating it in a broader cultural context.
Several questions arise: What commonality is there between my experience and that of other individuals who might take themselves into solitude? Would other solitaries recognise what I have experienced? Sometimes my inner difficulties and insights seem idiosyncratic, at other times apparent truths emerge that carry a sense of universality.
Experientially, there is a qualitative difference between what seems relevant to only my personal history and that which feels like common ground for us all. Still, how to know?
Simply because an insight seems universally true to me does not mean it will to you.
What value might my personal journey have for others? Peter Frost1 articulated what seems to me the most valid criterion for a dissertation, “I ask that the writing touch me in some way, or that I can imagine it touching someone else.” Finally, only you can answer these questions as you read.
This story joins a long history of solitary exploration and writing as it emerges from and is embedded in a cultural climate of materialism, environmental degradation, and the recent introduction of Buddhist meditation to the West. At a time when many have begun to recognize that our long-held worldview of human against nature is no longer tenable, the reflections generated by living for a year in wilderness solitude might help heal our alienation, from the non-human world, from each other, and from ourselves.
One important aspect of wilderness solitude is its power to catalyze a transformation in consciousness and a shift in perception. The felt experience of belonging to the environment that sustains us, rather than feeling cut off and alienated, is psychologically and spiritually healing and may have profound implications for changing our ecologically destructive patterns of behaviour. My intention in this work is to explore and document the process of such transformation and to share it with the reader.
Rather than simply describe my own explorations, insights, and inner movements, I wish to evoke an experience for others.
~ ~ ~ Are we actually separate individuals? For me, Escher’s drawing, Bond of Union, (Figure 1) beautifully depicts our situation. Evidently, each of us has a distinct perception of the world and we can never know the actual experience of another. We are profoundly alone. Yet through language - in its broadest sense - we can intertwine and to some extent share our experiences together. More, if we are willing to quiet our minds and peer beyond the allure of language, we might realize that we are fundamentally united. But the drawing is not inclusive enough, because I sometimes experience all people and all non-human organisms as manifestations of our common flowing Life. All is Alive, and, finally, the planets amongst which we float are us. Our sense of separateness, while not exactly an illusion, is not the whole truth.
While an exploration of the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual effects of deep wilderness solitude is a central thread in this dissertation, my broader intent is to bring together personal spiritual practice and academic study. In this I am also breaking with tradition, but I believe the integration of these different aspects of my life is a natural extension of interdisciplinarity.
An interesting difference between academic and spiritual practice has to do with the relative importance of conceptual knowledge. Within academia, discovering new facts and developing new interpretations or new theory are often considered the primary criteria for making a scholarly contribution. In the spiritual realm inner transformation which may be linked to seeing through and letting go of ideas, theories, and conceptual