At a spiritual level there are two reasons that drive me to regularly spend nights alone in the woods, all through the ever changing year. The two are first, the undisturbed solitude, and second, the relative asceticism that inevitably comes with it. Although it is hard to measure your soul, I believe both affect me at the core of my being, moderating my views on everything, and in a sense, bringing me back to the reality of things, down to earth, so to speak.
The undisturbed solitude slowly strips away all of those distractions of modern life. It doesn’t happen overnight though, and can in some ways actually at first emphasize them, as your mind is left alone with only itself for company, but after some time, you learn to relax and focus primarily on the present and the immediate, enjoying the simplest of things; the sound of the wind, the burning of the sun or the stinging of icy snow on your face, of bathing in a cold autumn lake, and of hot food and a wool blanket or fire to warm you in the night.
Reality narrows down more to your direct experience and the immediate surroundings as you learn to look and not just see, and to listen instead of just hearing. And it is like bathing and cleansing your soul, rediscovering the true magic of a tiny bug that you felt as a child, relearning to be rich not with possessions, but with experiences, and to respect even the minutest of life and the true order of things. And at the same time recognizing the complexity of even the simplest of things.
The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.
This also connects to a certain asceticism, where you first rediscover how to enjoy very simple things, and second learn to appreciate anything above those as the luxuries they really area. This second bit is very important, I believe, as we all need to recognize how blessed most of us are, even those of us with fairly low income, as there are a great many people around the world who do not share even our smallest fortune, who do not even have access to the basics of warm, clean water, decent shelter or a soft bed, something which we commonly tend to take for granted, not really realizing the harsh circumstances of many of our ancestors and those poorer than us.
Now, I can choose this asceticism, much like the stoics argued we should all do with regularity, and that choice is a luxury in itself, but I do agree with the stoics in that it is a good practice that helps us reset our spirits, and coming back from the woods it becomes very clear how truly luxurious a warm house or apartment, a hot shower, a soft bed, and family truly are.
True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The great blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.
– Seneca the younger
So, the effect is dual; you get closer to nature, cleansed of worries and corrosive reflection, and at the same time made a bit more humble to the value of things in your daily life, and to nature, hopefully looking at society, the world and its people, and even our own roots, a little bit differently. And I believe all this is growingly more important, as the disconnect between people, society and nature is growing ever wider, nurturing a lack of understanding and empathy for all. It is all one, and we all need each other, but the balance is broken and unless we find our balance again, we are bound to fall. And this, I believe, is one way of finding it again.