When was the last time you took off your clothes in the wilderness? I had stopped for a breather on a sun-dappled wooded ridge in the Tuaruas when a glowing patch of sunlight on my forearm arrested my attention. Focusing on it, the slide into trance was easy.
One part observed Richard dropping his pack and removing his clothes. Another part cautioned, "What if someone sees you?" Yet, it felt right to be standing naked there.
Feeling liberated even after re-donning my whiffy gear, my feet negotiated the trail while the mind turned over possibilities. This experience and others dished out by the Tuararas had helped crystallise my thinking about an extended 'tramp' through NZ.
First, the walk as a whole had changed. It was now about seeking adventure rather than needing to escape. I now walked toward a future instead of running away from a past. A new story was emerging and it filled me with excitement.
Second, I'd grown in confidence. I could lead myself into and out of potentially high-risk situations. I felt as fit, tough and on purpose as I had done as a much younger man in uniform. I'd led men and women into war. Surely, I could bring them in and out of wild settings? "Yes," I told myself, "You can and you will."
Third, I'd gained some clarity about my next steps. Nothing beats a good pasting in nature's therapy room to help you get clear about what you want in life.
I believe you need to test yourself to grow. Wild places are the perfect environment to do that in. It's not difficult to get wild in New Zealand and you don't need to go into the unpredictable Tuaruas to do it. The five day Hillary Trail is just 40 minutes from Auckland.
"Rosa can bring along the packs and main meals in a vehicle," I thought. "And those who hate 'skinny mattresses' can book into B&Bs."
Really, though, it's not just about aching muscles, sore feet or a belly that's not quite ever full enough. Those are givens. Our ancestors went through all of that and much more. Physical discomfort won't kill you and soon becomes both a distant memory and a source of inner strength. It's really about understanding at a deep visceral level that you've been focussing on false targets, wasting energy trying to control the uncontrollable and generally doing your utmost to seek happiness in all the wrong places.
And that's OK too. Certainly, I've felt some sadness and a nagging regret at opportunities lost and people needlessly hurt. In nature, you soon realise that nothing is ever wasted. First, you become aware of endless cycles of birth, growth, decay, and rebirth. Then, a moment comes when you realise you are a part of a miraculous endless unfolding, not separate from it.
You can't conquer nature anymore than you can a mountain peak or a trail. Those things will be around long after you have left. Nor can you conquer yourself. The subconscious primitive emotional mind is infinitely stronger than the conscious emotional human one.
Those neural patterns laid down in childhood and through later experiences are strong. Even more tenacious are the time-honoured pathways gifted to us through thousands of generations walking trails like the ones I tread.
We are born to walk.
You can learn to walk your trail with awareness of your fragility on it
And out of that fragility comes a strength you may not know you've had all along.
You can gain clarity about your purpose and move toward it with confidence.
You too can stand naked in the wilderness and feel complete.
In a few weeks, this trek through NZ will be over but I think it's just beginning.
I want to bring you into nature's therapy room through writing, images, stories and for those of you who want to know it first-hand, expertly guided experiences led by me.
To do that, I have had to walk the trails first.
That is the gift from the Tuarara Ranges.