Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes - A Year Alone in the Patagonia Wilderness Paperback – 1 Aug 2009
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'...meet another great introspector - the Canadian Bob Kull, who chronicled his own retreat from society in Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes. In 2001, Kull's desire to understand himself and the world took him to an uninhabited island off the coast of Chile, 150km from the nearest settlement. He spent just one year here, building a home, fishing, collecting firewood, pulling his own rotten teeth, getting in touch with nature...'
--The Guardian, February 2, 2010
On September 11, 2001, reality changed for America and much of the world. But for one man alone in the wilderness, completely cut off from world events, the lessons of life and death were very different. Extreme adventurer Bob Kull may be the only educated Westerner to have missed 9/11 and the media blitz that followed. Alone on a remote island, Kull faced a different kind of crisis - a war between body, mind, and soul. Years after a motorcycle accident left him with one leg, Kull traveled into the wilderness with supplies to live alone for a year on a remote island in the Patagonian wilderness.He sought to explore the effects of deep solitude on the body and mind and to find answers to the spiritual questions that had plagued him his entire life. With only a cat and his thoughts as companions, he wrestled with inner storms while the wild forces of nature raged around him. The physical challenges were immense, but the struggles of mind and spirit pushed him to the limits of human endurance."Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes" is a diary of Kull's tumultuous year.Filled with the details of a life distilled to its unadulterated essence - the struggle of staying alive with no outside help - Solitude is also a meditation on the tensions between nature and technology, isolation and society. Kull went into solitude fishing for enlightenment, seeking the answer, but came back empty handed. Wilderness, he found, is a place to clearly see the insanity of denying that the world is what it is. He discovered that life itself teaches us all we need to know - once we cultivate the awareness to truly listen. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
It's an absolutely fascinating work. I can't remember how many times I've gotten frustrated at my chaotic life and thought that if only I were alone I could meditate and really get to the bare bones of why I am here and what I'm suppose to learn.
Solitude shows that enlightenment doesn't follow our schedule. We can't pencil it in on Monday evening at ten and expect to suddenly be there. It happens when we are willing to let go of control, be mindful, and willing to go out of our comfort zone. Even in the middle of nowhere with no one to judge us (except ourselves, of course), no chaotic daily schedule, and no one else to take care of we'll still find things to fixate about so that we retain the illusion of control.
"Cat and I have been at it again. He sure is willful. Gets into the middle of whatever I'm doing. Seems to give up only when he senses real anger or pain. I haven't hit him again, but a couple of times he's tried to claw me when I've squeezed him till he cried."
What gives this account a great deal of poignancy is that Robert Kull is an older man and an amputee. These two things are of course no barrier to undertaking such a challenge, though far too often stories of outdoor adventures seem to be reigned over by younger and fitter specimens who have dedicated themselves towards survival activities, Bear Grylls being one example. Instead Kull is rather like the everyman and one can empathise greatly with the challenges that he faces, both physically and mentally.
The first half of the book concentrates greatly on the physical aspects of solitude. For Kull this initially consists of a battle against the elements as he tries to construct a sturdy camp, such efforts are constantly interdicted by health problems and severe weather. Though as time goes on Kull's recordings become more philosophical and spiritual in their content as he remarks on all manner of issues. Spirituality forms the core to this book, which was something I was not entirely expecting, one clearly learns that Kull is an intensely spiritual man and many of his entries do comment extensively on such issues. In some instances I found this to be hard to stomach, though in others I could understand so very clearly why his connection with spirituality was so profound in isolation.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
His relationship with his cat is frankly unbearable. He abuses the cat relentlessly, and lest remorse enter into his consciousness, he creates the idea that the cat enjoys being abused. Since the cat remains affectionate when not having cold water thrown in it's face or being immersed in a mud puddle, he seems to conclude that this indicates the positive nature of their relationship. Traumatic bonding, Mr. Kull, search that on your google engine.
Do yourself a favor and find a wilderness adventure where the author has gained the status of adult maturity.
As one other reviewer mentioned, if you're looking for a feel-good spiritual book then this might not be a great choice for you. If you can't handle the reality that humans are imperfect and not all of them are the same as you, this book might not be a great choice either. But I worry an awful lot about folks who only want to read books like that. I fear it's one of the reasons we have so much spiritual materialism in our world and such a lack of deep, genuine human understanding.
This book was incredible for a number of reasons, and while the author's early relationship with his cat, and his habits of obsessive self-reflection (which easily can be construed as narcissism, though I don't believe they are necessarily the same) might be difficult for some, there are so many redeeming qualities in this story that it is a shame to disparage it or not finish it.
Above all, this book is an incredibly honest account of a man who is searching for answers, and is willing to bare himself to the fullest, both his strengths, and his personal shortcomings, during this journey. The difficulties of his solitude and his survival form a true page-turner, and although he at times feels he is not finding the 'Answers' he set out to find, it seems clear to me that this journey was still ultimately transformative.
And one final note on his relationship with his cat, which so many people seem bothered by, I thought it was very telling when at the end of the book he wrote of the cat (which had been taken by Patti to TX after his year in Chile): "He was such an integral part of my life in solitude, and I learned so much in my interactions with him. My heart hurts when I think of Cat."
This book was a great story, a great journey to be shared, and deserves to be read by anyone interested in the truth of the human condition and the search for personal meaning in our modern world.
The book is a truly a day-to-day diary of the stay in Patagonia, and likewise the prose was never meant to be any kind of literary gem, but an honest account of what actually took place in Patagonia. I find that endearing and truthful. It is easy to read, and once in a while the frustration of not being able to perform simple, mundane chores which we in the modern world take for granted, comes through the pages. However, this is about as much as one can get out of the book, whose subject seems infinitely more promising than the actual outcome.
The thought of the author keep seeking spiritual salvage from Buddhism while abusing the heck out of his only true companion in the vast Patagonia wilderness - his cat - is frankly quite unbearable to read. How does one gain wisdom by abusing an animal, how does one learn to live with nature when one cannot even cherish the affectionate love from one's own animal. I find the idea of going to the last pristine frontiers in the name of gaining wisdom but simultaneously torturing an animal sickening.
In the end, we learn about the author, and nothing about what the author has learned - as he has learned nothing.
As soon as I got into the rhythm of his story, I did not want to leave it. I put everything else on hold, so as not to break the spell of reliving the tornado of pain, grief, peace, joy, and insight that flows from the pages of this gripping, evocative, and inspiring book. His writing is captivating because it is so honest, so authentic, so real, so human. Rarely, if ever, have I read such raw honesty. It takes real courage to express -- and even to read -- the full play of light and shadow in the human soul.
He went into solitude for a year, to an isolated island off southern Chile, in search of answers (or The Answer). He was intent on finding a way to spiritual enlightenment, to discover deep insights that he could take back to the world, answers he could share that would make the business of living life a little easier for others. But this is not what happened. He did not find The Answer, except to realize over and over and over again that there are no answers.
However, this is no "empty message" -- we learn, instead, that the emptiness of "no-answer" is the fullest answer of all. The integrity and spirit that shine from his writing will inform and inspire the rest of us who aim for spiritual enlightenment in the comfort of our homes, surrounded by friends and family. You don't have to abandon everything, pack up supplies, and head out into the wilds to discover the heights and the depths of the human spirit. Dr. Kull has done that for us. And he has returned to tell us that enlightenment is not an achievable end-state; rather, it is an ongoing process of opening to and accepting whatever shows up-inside and outside. Most of all, when you read "Solitude" you will realize, as Bob Kull has, that experiencing the richness of "ordinary" life is the most extraordinary achievement of all.
Like the bestselling book and Oscar-nominated movie "Into the Wild," Bob Kull's story brings us face to face with a "search for wisdom in extremes." The main difference, though, is that Kull lived to tell the tale. And we should be grateful for that. If you want to know what it truly means to be human, I encourage you to read this remarkable book.