Called to the Wild: The Gifts of Nature, Adventure, and Recovery

Hello. My name is Tim and I am an adventurer.

I have been living with this condition my entire life, perhaps even multiple lifetimes. My earliest memories are of climbing—anything, whether it was the wrought-iron security bars outside our home in Singapore at the age of one, or later in the crabapple trees in our backyard in Connecticut. If it was taller than I was, I had to attain it.

Then there was water. Before I could walk, I could swim. My mother turned her back for a moment and plop, right into the pool! Even though she responded to the splash with lightning-quick reflexes, it was too late—I sank like a bag of rocks. But before she could jump in, I doggie-paddled up to the surface and burst through with a giant smile on my face. I was swimming!

Next, I combined the two. At the age of three, I climbed to the top of a three-meter diving board. Once again, my mom only looked away for a second; my dad, on the other hand, watched the whole thing, expecting I would chicken out before I got to the top of the ladder. I looked over the railing at them both, smiled, took off like a rocket toward the end of the diving board, and dove.

I have always had a deep desire for adventure. I played in the woods till dark. I climbed the highest trees, built shelters from sticks and leaves, walked through streams, swam in ponds and in the ocean, and sought out the mysteries hidden in the natural world.

Then at the age of 11, everything changed. My cousin Michael, a tough kid from Brooklyn, my hero and my idol, committed suicide. It shattered me. I felt as if the universe itself had decided to swallow me whole. Everything I believed about life, God, justice, right, and wrong was destroyed. I had felt pangs of isolation before, but this was beyond. I was lost.

Michael had told me once, when I was 10, that if he ever caught me smoking pot, he would break my legs (then he handed me a cigarette). Now, Michael was gone. The first opportunity to smoke pot presented itself, almost as if to emphasize the fact that what Michael said, or anyone else, did not matter anymore. I got high.

The trauma of losing my cousin had purged my memory of what it felt like to attain the natural high through adventure. Now, this chemically induced version took hold and I chased it like a savage beast out to consume anything in its path. I embarked on the longest, most arduous, and most deadly adventure of my life: the state of active addiction.

I fed this beast for 11 years, sacrificing everything that ever meant anything to me: my family, my friends, my interests, my convictions, and myself. I drank until there was nothing left to drink, I used drugs with total disregard for my well-being, and I slipped into a suicidal depression. I ended up alone, with a coffin for a coffee table, and a deep, unending hole in my heart. I hated myself. I was broken.

At the age of 22, it was clear that I had sunk to the bottom. I knew no way out. I asked for help. I didn’t know what I needed but I knew that I needed help. I was granted the gift of going to treatment. I was sent to a retreat in the northwestern woods of Connecticut. There, I learned some simple facts about myself, my condition, and how to live with it or die. One very clear truth I was taught was that I couldn’t think myself out of my pain. I had to move; I had to act. One overwhelmingly simple skill would prove to be the foundation of my path to recovery: the act of seeking.

I was taught that I must seek a connection—a connection to a community of like-minded souls. A connection to purpose and a connection to a source of power that could be translated in any way that worked for me. I was given lots of leeway on how to begin, but one path was clear to me: Get outside.

I began walking through the woods, daily. Then running. Then climbing. Then swimming. At the end of each excursion, exhausted, I would sit. I would listen to the wind and the water, the birds and the trees. I began to listen to my breath and my body. My mind bombarded me with the distractions of questions and doubts and fears and dreams and sorrows and joys. And I would sit. And all would become still.

Time in nature taught me to quiet the racing, monkey mind, to listen to the wisdom of the natural rhythms and innate intelligence of the forest. Being outdoors always inspired me to move my body—to bike, hike, paddle, swim, surf, climb. This movement, fresh air, and time in the elements activated my strength and breathed life back into me. It was these activities that brought me back to a sense of self, and self-love.

Days became months, became years, became decades. Now, 25 years later, I move, I sit, I listen, I allow—I love. I learned to do what I love, for life and for work. And now, I am privileged to bring others into nature to find their own source of healing. I have tapped into a great well of inspiration and belonging. With the skills and techniques to explore, I get to go deeper into the external and internal wilderness. Most importantly, I have been entrusted with the gift to guide others on their own journey. I have returned to my childhood joy. I have healed.

In yoga, you hear many descriptions of the practice. My favorite is that yoga means union. For me, time in nature creates union. Adventure is my yoga.

Tim Walsh is a therapeutic outdoor educator and certified life coach who specializes in guiding people through the external and internal wilderness. He has been an expedition leader and addictions expert for more than 20 years. Tim has studied a variety of wisdom traditions and received healing rites and practical tools from elders and practitioners in both Western and Eastern disciplines. With a deep reverence for indigenous ceremony and ritual, Tim offers a tailored approach to the personal transformative process. Tim’s latest venture is Adventure Recovery, an outdoor adventure guide service, leading people into the wild.

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Tim Walsh is a therapeutic outdoor educator and certified life coach who specializes in guiding people through the external and internal wilderness. He...

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