My fiancé and I often discuss leaving suburbia and living in the woods. While we literally mean this, and certainly incalculable benefits result from marinating in trees and dirt and open sky from dawn till dusk, there’s a metaphoric meaning here as well.

When people talk about being “off the grid” and independent of (arguably collapsing) structures around us, we’re generally referring to growing our own food, making home products from scratch, using alternative power sources, maybe even implementing token economies or e-money. But even if we’re doing all of that and actually living in the woods, if we’re not “living in the woods” internally, all is for naught.

The root of living in the woods is interdependent independence, and the taproot is presence.

To live a life that is true to oneself and not simply dictated by convention or authority, one must develop interdependent independence—the ability to access and assimilate what is needed for survival, preference and comfort, rather than becoming their servants. We need food to survive, but if my definition of food is McDonald’s and Domino’s, I am not able to provide food for myself, period. I will be in full dependence. On the other hand, if I’m able to create nutritional, tasty dishes I love from whole foods I either grow myself or procure another way, I’m not only healthier and clearer, but I’ve also moved to interdependent independence.

While we are undeniably interdependent on others to build homes, grow food, make clothing etc., I’d rather hitch my cart as close to the source as possible. If I can rely primarily on Mother Earth for my needs, I know I will never be wanting in quality or quantity. I just have to unlearn my illusory dependence on corporate providers—quite do-able, although due to intentional cultural brainwashing, sometimes admittedly easier said than done.

If the purported purpose of living in the woods is freedom, then I must free myself from not only external illusions of dependence but from internal ones as well, no matter my environment. 

Gaining this freedom (or rather losing the illusion of un-freedom) potentially involves unentangling the mind from all of the below (non-inclusive list):

  • fantasies about the future (including belief that wanting is meaningful)
  • fantasies about the past (including belief that regret or pride is meaningful)
  • fantasies about the present (including belief that anything but awareness of this moment is meaningful)
  • dependence on entertainment/addiction/distraction of any sort
  • fear of boredom
  • fear of change
  • fear of loss
  • fear of pain
  • fear of death…

We can move toward this one shackle at a time. However, the more direct route, rather than unentangling the mind (because the mind cannot be completely unentangled; that is its nature) is simply realizing everything but Now is fantasy, that the mind is a tool and anything it contributes in terms of predictive power or rumination truly has no real value. Gut knowing/intuition/heart, on the other hand, knows all. Essentially (nothing new here), for total freedom, we must be here now (so much so that anything BUT is known only as imagination), not taking the mind or body too seriously, just letting it run quietly (or loudly) in the background.

This is living in the woods.

When our attention is here, in our bodies, in our experience—acknowledging the flow of thoughts, emotions and sensations (denial of these is resistance to what is and not presence) while 90% of the attention is on what’s going on right in front of us, we are free. When our attention is no longer focused almost solely on the brain’s ever-present looping into past, future, theories, analysis, entertainment…then we are home. This is our woods.

Currently Kyle and I are both biting into Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance, and much of that reading is applicable in this discussion. Acceptance (a clear, kind attention) of all that is happening internally and externally is required here. If we resist or grab, the flow of Life within us is squelched and we begin to knot up. Whether in therapy, in meditation, in exercise or bodywork or other loosenings and awakenings, these knots must be released for full freedom to be experienced.

While we may indeed prefer to reside in the midst of trees, what we don’t often discuss is that the desire to live in the woods is really a desire to go home to our own true natures. Foliage, pine needles, streams and moss are signifiers of the home we left when we forgot who we really were.

(Which is fortunate, as if every human being were to “move to the woods”, there would no longer be any woods. Not that preference for actual woods isn’t supportive and supportable for many).

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Though contemplation of releasing attention on anything but the present moment can bring up the thought that we’ll be unbearably bored or lapse apathetically into Netflix binges with nothing to motivate us past the fridge, this is only a  misconception. At the root, we’re not primarily motivated by our brain’s schemes, achievement desires or avoidance fears. When attention is detached from these habitual patterns, it eventually becomes clear that non-local consciousness, that life, is living itself through us. Byron Katie observes “it” getting up off the couch, “it” drinking tea…And as Brach notes, “life unfolds”. Flowers bloom, grass grows, trees produce bark, birds sing, water flows…

We flow too. We just mis-think that we as the identity make it happen. Wake up, Mr. Green. 

For those of us who just enjoy actually living in a traditionally “natural” environment (e.g., the woods), we certainly have that option. But for those who recognize that their desire to move to the woods is perhaps more symbolic than literal, the course is simple: use whatever tools and practices you have to be receptive, to put yourself in the intention of becoming increasingly present to the now, and watch what happens. Anyone, no matter where we live, can both notice the traditional nature around us (parks, trees, birds, grass, weeds) and contribute to a more natural environment by bringing more nature into our homes: houseplants, planting wildflower gardens, constructing bird and bee baths, opening our windows etc.).

Waking up to Green—not to the green of money, but to the green of nature, to our true nature, is at the root of the desire to live in the woods. The longing for that homecoming, for presence, for our return to the flow of the immediacy of the experience of enjoyment lived as a point of consciousness in the all-sea of Being, is eternal, wherever we sleep.


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