top of page

Seeking Solitude In Nature: A Meditation Teacher Shares Her Story

By the time we’re 60, we will have been alive for almost 22,000 days on this planet, rarely, if ever, stopping to watch just one. It is this total immersion into nature and commitment to simply being there, that we can entrain our nervous system to the natural, healthy rhythm of the planet

Steph's view from halfway down the hill

On the 7thday, my mind was flowing at the speed of sea fog. Or maybe that was the description of my nervous system. I felt so present with a gentle flow - and my mind felt open to whatever arises. Good stuff.

I had been camping in solitude on a hill over the ocean on the coast of California, as I have done 2 times a year for the past 20+ years. I jokingly call it my “People Fast”, which I have always assumed I needed since, as a meditation teacher and an actress, what I do in the world involves intense and intimate interactions with people, and I figured that we always need an opportunity to “clear out” and refresh or re-ground ourselves.


But there is more to it than that – at least for me. I find this immersion into nature – in total solitude – to be a most advantageous environment for cultivating deeper states, insights, and restoration. It is my monastery.

As a mindfulness meditation teacher, I am, of course, always encouraging people to set aside time to practice – whether formal eyes-closed practice or incorporating mindfulness into daily activities – so that they are “monasticizing” their daily lives for optimal growth and well-being.

I am also often encouraging people to go on retreats, where the environment of “unplugging”, being surrounded by people who are meditating, and not engaging in social chit-chat are conducive factors for delving deeper into one’s internal experience and “rewiring” of stressful thought-feeling habit patterns.

I just recently co-led a retreat with my meditation teacher, Shinzen Young, and it was so rewarding to spend 7 hours a day teaching (technique instruction and private sessions) and witness the impressive growth and insight of the meditators I was working with. It was non-stop work and intensive interaction, but so ultimately rewarding.

And while over 20 years of taking (and sometimes teaching) 2-4 retreats a year has absolutely been the foundation of my mindfulness practice and experience, it is in solitude where I get some of the most profound work done.

When at home, it is on my “organic nights” (where, in solitude, I courageously and playfully examine my experience) that many of my deepest insights have been born. But the ultimate solitude is when I am camping in nature – totally surrounded only by plants, animals, earth, sky & water. Then I experience that my environment meditates me.

Steph's tent in sunset

I have been coming to this same spot on this hill over the ocean now for many years (at least twice a year for 5-12 days each time) and I know it intimately. Yet every time I’ve come, my experience with weather, animals, and nature has been different and is always perfect – whether I have stunning sunsets over the ocean, am pelted with rain, am freezing and huddled over some hot tea, or I’m surrounded by sea fog the whole time with no sense of anything else existing.

Many years ago, I did a Native American vision quest. This is a sacred ceremony where one stays alone in nature without stepping outside of their site (which is an approximately 6’x6’ square space) for 4 days with no food, no water, no tent and no fire – with the idea that one is praying for a vision or dream.

I discovered then that sitting still and not moving when alone in nature – and especially if I have no food – changes my my relationship to animals in a wonderful way. Usually, animals just want to know if you have food or are looking to harm them, and when they ascertain neither is the case, you become to them just a big animal who happens to have made a nest in the middle of their world and they just go about their business. I love that. I love sitting in stillness as animals move around me.