50 Days in the Forest | Extreme Meditation Experience

Why did you choose New Zealand?

During a meeting with the high Buddhist lama, Karmapa, he asked me which forest I was going to meditate in for 50 days and if there were any bears or tigers there, as he was living in India which has both. I told him I was thinking about New Zealand and that they did not. “Very good,” he said. That really sealed the deal for me on New Zealand. It just checked every box:

  1. No bears, tigers, wolves, poisonous spiders or snakes.
  2. They speak English.
  3. It’s very safe.
  4. The whole country is practically a national park.

For being without cell phone service for 50 days, I wanted to take as little chances of something going wrong as possible, and despite getting lost once and falling off a cliff, both of which I miraculously survived, New Zealand was the perfect spot for me.

50 days in forest

How did you manage food? What did you eat?

I brought as much food as I could in a Hiking backpack and two giant garbage bags full of dry, lightweight food, like beans and ramen noodles. I had a few nice luxuries, like canned pineapples soaking in pineapple juice, but the weight from those cans made me immediately regret my decision. But man were those good days when I got to have some sweet pineapple instead of beans.

50 days in forest

50 days in forest

How did you manage to hike so far with so much stuff?

Initially I tried to carry everything all at once: a hiking backpack, a smaller book bag went around my chest, and a hefty garbage bag in each hand. After about a mile of going way too slowly, I tied up my garbage bags to a high tree branch so deer and horses couldn’t eat my food, hiked the rest of the way and then came back for the bags with an empty hiking backpack and was able to get everything through those two trips.

50 days in forest

Were there people?

Out of the fifty days, three groups of hikers or hunters did come by for brief talks as they were passing through. At first I was not excited to talk to anyone, as my plan was to be in silence the whole time, but by the end of my time I was happy when people came by to chat and tell me about the news I had missed.

50 Days in forest

How far was the main city?

The middle of the forest was a four-day hike away to the entrance of the park, where there was a small village with no cell service. From there it was about a 2 or 3 hour drive to the closest city with hotels and restaurants.

50 days in forest

How long was the hike to your place?

The hike was around 20 miles to my final destination. It took several days because of the mountainous terrain and the extreme weight of the food I brought into the forest. Coming out of the forest was like a dream by comparison.

50 days in forest

Were you scared for your safety and what did you do to make it safe for you?

I wasn’t too scared except when I first got to the middle of the forest, and the one time when I got lost. You really feel the isolation when you first get out there. And the place I settled in the middle of the forest happened to be this spot near the corner of four different separate maps. I thought I was being smart by saving money and only buying 3 maps where I figured I’d be spending most of my time, but one day exploring a trail I had veered off the 3 maps and I got lost when the trail disappeared. Luckily, by sheer miracle, my phone, which had died, was broken, and had no service, magically turned back on, got service for one second, and a blue dot dropped on the map for the first time since I’d been in the forest. That was enough to tell me where I was and I was able to find my way back. The phone never worked again.

50 days in forest

How long have you meditated before you did this?

I had spent two years learning and practicing meditation in silent retreats, and this was essential to my successful 50 days.

50 days in forest

How did you prepare yourself for this?

I had gone on several solo camping trips in upstate New York when I was living in New York City, and this really trained me not just in dealing with extended isolation, but really honing my survival skills as well.

50 days in forest

50 days in forest

Would you recommend it to others?

I would definitely not recommend this to anyone, even though it was the greatest experience of my life. That’s because it’s very dangerous. I went because I love solo camping and it was an inescapable pull. But what I learned after returning is that it’s our daily practice that matters most. If I never meditated after the forest, I would lose what I had gained. Spirituality to me is not about leaving life, it’s about using spirituality to deal with the stresses of life. That’s the magic to me.


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