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Wilderness, and the bonding from shared endeavors


Here are selected excerpts of a two-part podcast episode, called Track Your Life, with Boyd Varty and his sister, Bronwyn Varty-Laburn, talking to Patrick O’Shaugnessy in his Invest Like the Best podcast.

Boyd and Brownyn run the Track Your Life retreats in South Africa.

I feel like their conversation touched on some universal stuff about human nature worth compiling here.

Happiness from being outside

Boyd Varty says:

[…] Yeah, I mean it’s like what you said on the first day. You said to me: I realized a few years ago that my level of happiness is directly correlated to how much time I spend outside.

And one of the things that I say is: most of the time in modern life, we wake up in a box, we get in a box, we drive to a box, to seat in a box, and stare at a box. And there is something about being outside, like even just something like the effect of horizon. When you stare at a broad horizon, something happens in you, there’s like a possibility, there’s a vastness that can come into you.

One of the things about the retreat is, I just want people, men in particular, to have the experience of watching the stars fade and the sun come up. And to feel themselves moving through a vast landscape, to feel their own vastness within that, and to feel the way their body was meant to move over a landscape […]

The feeling of being out all the time is the feeling of being a part of something mysterious that you can’t quite name, and you can’t quite know […]

And I feel like that a lot of the anxiety and depression that we see in the world is actually just an undiagnosed homesickness for knowing ourselves in a natural place.

This happiness of being out in nature does resonate with me. Maybe it is some form of escapism.

The strong bonding created by difficult, shared endeavors

Boyd Varty then continues:

To feel what happens to a group of men when they move together on the trail of an animal. There is a cohesiveness that develops, there is a bond that is naturely formed […]

Then, we add in being out in nature, sleeping out on the ground. Then, add in what happens to a group of men when they’re out in nature, you know. If you just arrive in a boardroom, and you sit down and you say to a group of men, OK, let’s all open up about our feelings, it doesn’t happen.

But you put the guys on the trail of a pride of lions and they track those lions together, they have to operate together. And they have to watch out for each other. Well, that night around the fire, you don’t have to say “let’s open up about our feelings”, because there is a natural bond there.

And people start to be able to share openly about what they’re looking for, what they’re trying to let go off, and the transitions that they are going in to. And it just starts to happen, you know.

I think men were meant to be out together in a shared endeavor. That was one of the core principles of the retreat. It’s like: to go and do something difficult together. And operate together. And work together. And have successes together. And have failures together. And for there to be consequences. If we get it wrong out there, you can get molt. It’s real life. And that brings something alive in us […]

The experience of doing it, of being in it, was so full. Naturally, the lightness that started to develop in the group. Guys started to tell stories. If you think about the amount of private, in-house jokes we’ve developed over a four days period […] That’s what happens with a bunch of guys out there together. Having done something difficult and challenging. And then being willing to talk about things that we were looking for in parts of our lives. By the end of it, there is this bond, this lightness, and there is the community.

As a student and observer of human behavior, this really fascinates me.

Having other people’s lives in your own hands only

Patrick O’Shaugnessy then brings up the night in complete wilderness:

Let’s go to the extreme of that, which was the night we’ve spent outside. And this concept of watch. People being on watch. Describe your thinking for why you’ve set the whole thing the way you did […] [It was one of the most] crazy feelings of aliveness that we had together […]

Boyd Varty goes on:

On one of the nights, we go and sleep out on the ground. [No tents, nothing.] That’s the thing, one of our goals is to have nothing between you and the wilderness. You sleep on the ground. You stare at the starts. There is no vehicle to get in to. There is no tent to go in to.

If wild animals come around that night, and there’s a good chance they will, we’re gonna have to #1 be aware of it and #2 handle it as group […]

[There was a massive bull elephant 10-20 meters away from us … There was a leopard, literally next to the camp, calling. So this is no joke.]

As night starts to fall out there and there is no way to go. A wilderness come alive inside of you. And then, as we were talking, we were doing the safety briefing, I mean the elephant just hit a tree [pah], it was like 30 meters away. Huge bull. And he walked in towards us. And you’ll remember, I said, OK, guys, just come together. Alex got his rifle […]

And then there is the watch. All through the night, someone in the group has to keep watch. And that person is responsible for the well-being of the other people in the group.

There is so many dynamics to it, because: #1 everyone’s lives is in your hands, a hyena can come and bites someone’s face off, if you don’t pay attention, so there’s awareness that come to that. #2 it’s just you awake in a wild place, you and the fire, and the stars, and those creatures, there’s an archetypal feeling to that […]

There’s a really deep union that happens at that time as you seat there […] There’s an aliveness that is there […] You are in it. You are not seating in a landrobe or viewing it. You’re not watching it on TV. You are in it. And it’s real.

People are not looking for the meaning of life, they are looking for the feeling of being alive. That’s it.

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