Column: how I found my inner Freddie during 24 hours in a forest

by Peter Gerritsen, written in 2019

It’s January 3rd – the middle of winter – and I’m in a forest in Het Gooi (in the Netherlands). While all my friends are toasting in the New Year, I sit alone for 24 hours. No phone, no food, no writing materials; just a tarp and a sleeping bag. I’m going to find out who I am without any context.

People are constantly looking for distraction, consciously or unconsciously. Eating, drinking, watching Netflix, playing sports, working: anything to escape the silence. These 24 hours in the forest are a Nature Quest, part of a leadership program that helps busy people stand still and reflect.

There I am in my own chosen spot, a 4-meter circle outlined in twigs and stones. This is where I have to stay. I’m not allowed out because walking around is also looking for a distraction. I have to let what’s going to happen, happen.

"I want to be more like Freddie again. Flamboyant. Spontaneous. Creative.”

I have no expectations, but I do have an intention, a deeper desire I want to investigate. When I was younger, I had an idol: Freddie Mercury from Queen. I want to be more like Freddie again. Flamboyant. Spontaneous. Creative. That sometimes gets crushed under all the deadlines and busyness.

The first hours pass fairly easily. I’m pretty good at being alone. At some point, all kinds of thoughts arise. Things from the past are popping up. My grandfather I never knew, an old friend who died 25 years ago. I use stones as a metaphor for colleagues. I lay them in front of me and they help me see things in perspective. Positive and negative experiences, which I never really think about. That surprises and touches me.

"All the answers are already inside you; you only have to listen carefully."

It’s getting darker. And cold. I’m wearing long underpants, three sweaters and a coat. I’m sitting under a rope with a tarp thrown over it. It’s windy and wet. What am I doing here?! What am I supposed to do? I really can’t sleep like this. Noise from the rain. These thoughts keep going through my head. I resist it all for an hour and a half, and then I’m exhausted. I’m going to be up all night. Once I accept that, it doesn’t matter anymore. Mental resistance creates stress and it’s completely pointless. Once you let go of that, it just is what it is.

It’s morning. I get insights, I feel connected to everything around me. I have time for it now. I look at a bug and study a bunch of ducks. Normally, I rush past them on the highway. When I come out of the forest, I’m physically very tired and my feet are soaked, but inside I experience an enormous peace and clarity. 

Freddie Mercury was a busy performer, but he also had an introverted, quiet side. This forest experience taught me to allow 100% of everything in myself. After all, I’m both: both extroverted and introverted, both positive and negative. Now, I’ve stopped drinking  coffee and I drink very little alcohol. I feel more vital, energetic and creative. I do things much more quietly, with more intention, less by rote. All the answers are already inside you; you only have to listen carefully.

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The ability to reflect is an important part of leadership development. We think you might enjoy reading CEO Camiel Gielkens’s personal experiences with strategic alignment, too. 



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