Into the wild in Italy  – by Elles
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Into the wild in Italy – by Elles

With all this economical splendour, technological possibilities and experiential plenty surrounding me, how come I felt unhappy so often? Why did I wake up feeling overwhelmed to the point of tears? I was living my dreams, all six of them, and yet had to go to the burn-out centre two days a week. “You do too much. You don’t recharge.” These are the things the professionals there told me.

“The gods of the Greeks were like helpless children compared to humankind today and the powers we now wield. And yet on this most important issue [happiness] very little has changed in the intervening centuries. We do not understand that what happiness is any better than Aristotle did, and as for learning how to attain that blessed condition one could argue that we have made no progress at all” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Crisp mountain air. It does something with us. The absence of my laptop, of my phone, the space not to live in a state of response. It worried me at first. I was leaving behind my business for a week. Imagine leaving behind your six month old baby, it was heart wrenchingly difficult, and so energising at the same time.

We spent a week with Lynx, who is an expert on prehistoric survival skills. Drop the lady in the middle of Siberia and she would bang rock against each other to make tools, hunt deer, make a dress out of the hides and sleep blissfully under some trees. She taught us how to make fire using friction

How to make tools from rocks (we made a prehistoric rock band, banging rocks together)

And most of all, she brought back some sense of ritual. We sat and shared stories around a campfire every night. We lightened our hikes and heavy work singing songs. The drumming and free way of singing meant that even I howled to the moon with a freedom unbeknownst to me. Some barrier broke and tones flooded from me in a state of collective flow.

We spoke out our gratitude to the gifts of nature around us, to the bees pollinating, to the river rushing loudly past. These are much more valuable to me than the technical skills of finding shelter, making fire, and making shoes from deerskin (which we also did).

Ancient knowledge was thought in the course, part of it is technical, part of it is sociological. How we organise ourselves, how we take the time to express gratitude, and what we strive for. Contrary to Confucian China or Republican Rome we live in a society where the ability to control ones thoughts and feelings seems “uptight” or even somewhat ridiculous. The mastery of happiness however, lies in this.

“Such individuals lead vigorous lives, are open to a variety of experiences, keep on learning until the day they die, and have strong ties and commitments to other people and to the environment in which they live. They enjoy whatever they do, even if its tedious or difficult; they are hardly ever bored, and they can take in stride anything that comes their way. Perhaps their greatest strength is that they are in control of their lives.”Flow p.10

If anything, I learnt for a moment to be in control of thoughts and feelings in the mountains of Italy. This is the skill I wish to pass on to our community.

Elles Van Asseldonk

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