A Personal Retreat: Finding Solace on a Solo Backpacking Trip

In June 2019, I decided to begin a series of solo retreats this year. The inspiration came from the work of Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. His book, In Love With The World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying, was my inspiration to return to solo retreats after not making that a priority for a couple of years.

Planning a long backpacking trip is second-hand to me at this point in my life. I’ve done a few backpacking trips (somewhere in the 100s at this point) and am comfortable in the wilderness. Going alone, however, is more of a challenge. Imagine that moment when you walk out of the car at the trailhead, your mind filled with all kinds of thoughts about animals, treacherous trails, crazy people, literally every kind of fear that CAN arise!

Using a paper journal, I planned my trip: food and equipment I had to take, a route plan using maps and the like, as well as thoughts about what I needed to do to be as safe as I could in the wilderness. All of these steps and all of these actions were built around the idea that I would find the kind of space necessary to “add wood to the fire.” To put myself in an uncomfortable place that would, simply put, stimulate my mind in ways that I couldn’t do in the world I’m in right now. This retreat was my chance.

As I planned and write and thought about the trip, I had serious doubts and concerns. What would come of me? About two years ago I faced a serious health crisis and I was, willingly, headed into the wilderness with no access to medical care, support, or phone service. I was, literally, going to be along in the forests of southern Colorado. If something happened, a health issue or whatever, I had not way of contacting anyone. I would be completely alone in the world.

Choosing this path is one that I both feared and relished. I wanted to test my mettle against the world as it was. I had no way to control the environment I was going to be in; I was completely in the hands of nature. Sure I made sure I had a tent, food, water and the like, but when it came right down to it, I was putting my life at risk.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche stepped out into the world with just a backpack a note telling his friends and family he was leaving. I stepped into this trip telling my family what was happening and what, likely, I would be doing. In a very real sense, I identified so much with Rinpoche on his journey. I read every word he wrote and asked myself similar questions about my purpose and point, the direction I was headed and what going into the “unknown” was going to be like.

Rinpoche’s father, early in Rinpoche’s life, asked his son “what makes you Mingyur Rinpoche?” I had that question for myself. What makes me Thomas Gentry-Funk. What characteristics or thoughts make up what I consider to be “me”? Was there a me at all? As I’ve come to uncover, there is not a self, a me, aside from the various thoughts and emotions that are cobbled together to shape a kind of me. But those thoughts and emotions change all of the time; one day I want this thing, the next that. One day I’m sad, the next happy. My thoughts and ideas come and go like the ocean tides. However, the tide is always there…it always remains even though literally everything around it changes: sand, the quality of the water, what’s on the tide and in the tide, all changes…hell even the strength and quality of the tide comes and gos. And. And the tide remains. That constant movement, that motion, reminds me of what Aristotle said about the soul “anima” or, simply put, what animates or moves us.

What was that thing that was moving me? My true nature? The collection of karma? The influence of Mingyur Rinpoche?

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