What do we mean in this series when we say “wilderness?”

We DON’T mean the positive, life-enhancing experience of a journey into Deep Nature, to Alaska or the Antarctic or the wild sea or the Himalayas. We mean “wilderness” as in lost. Alone. As in exposed and vulnerable to wild creatures and storms and floods and cold that will kill you. We mean “far from home and family and in serious peril.”

We mean exile.

In my own wilderness years I had no communication with my family, with my wife, my brother, my parents, with anyone. I was too ashamed of myself to write or call or reach out. And if others reached out to me, I ducked them.

That’s exile. The feeling of wilderness years is the feeling of being outcast. We are the black sheep. We are the bastard. We are the prodigal daughter or son.

The Doors

In wilderness years, we’re “a stranger in a strange land.” Remember that Doors song:

People are strange

when you’re a stranger.

Faces look ugly

when you’re alone.

 Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted.

 Streets are uneven, when you’re down.

And yet. 

And yet, in some cosmically ineluctable way, the experience of feeling in exile is necessary. It’s indispensable to our evolution. Why? Because we, whether we realize it or not on our wilderness passage, are seeking to free ourselves from an Inauthentic Self. From who we were. From what others expected of us, even if those expectations were and are entirely well-meaning.  

THAT’s what we’re in exile from. So when we encounter new people and they react to us as if we are strangers, “not from here,” as painful as that experience is in the moment, that’s exactly what we need. I’m thinking of a time for me in New Orleans, where I was totally a stranger. Nights on rainy streets in the French Quarter, then working on oil rigs in the Gulf. What was I doing there? Nobody knew me. And though I hated it, it cut me free from all conceptions of who I was or would be or could be.

When you’re strange,

faces come out of rain.

When you’re strange,

no one remembers your name,

When you’re strange,

When you’re strange.

Sometimes we need to be strange. We need to be “cast out.” We have to be in exile, so that we’re open to hearing such wisdom and imbibing such hard truths as we would never accept if we were not “strangers.” 

We have to be desperate to face the truths about ourselves that we’ve been in denial of all our lives. That’s the sense that makes “wilderness years” so powerful and so productive.


Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.



Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.



Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"



  1. Veleka on October 19, 2022 at 1:42 am

    Yes. To everything you wrote in this piece. When were you in the French Quarter? I lived there for a few glorious years in my twenties.

    Your comments made me think about the structured journey that young men in some cultures take, such as the Walkabout of an Australian Aboriginal. What heartened me about feeling abandoned by my family at birth was that Caroline Myss says being an outcast is essential for some people, and this is why so many stories are about orphans: Cinderella, Snow White, Batman, Little Orphan Annie, etc. You have to leave your tribe (or be kicked out) for your greater good. From this perspective, Joseph had to be betrayed by his brothers. And I had to leave my family of origin to fulfill my life’s purpose.

    • Joe on October 19, 2022 at 4:21 am

      Good observations, Veleka. One of my wittiest friends, who has three young boys, once said:

      “We were watching Batman and I said that a lot of superheroes seem to be orphans. My kids started looking at me like they were disappointed I was still around.” (Snorted milk out my nose on that one.)

      I’m thinking of other examples where “casting oneself out” into the wilderness is key to a personal evolution: American Indian vision quest (“hanbleceya,” which translates to “crying for a vision”), Amish rumspringa, certainly the stories of Jesus or the Buddha going into a wilderness, seeking a vision or a transformation.

  2. Tolis Alexopoulos on October 19, 2022 at 2:21 am

    Thank you dear Steve,

    This situation of being alone in the wilderness is so full of fear, but it must enclose some of our best qualities exactly because of that. Did we ever consider what is beyond fear? Because what fear does to us is kill us when we stay WITH it. But what if we go past it? Meaning, what if we go to fear, but having the tools (mostly discipline, guidance and a purpose I guess, and balance too) we pass through it like through the membrane that you mention in the War of Art? [beware: with no tools, we may end up dead]

    So I guess we must go through fear, it is important for the true artist, but not just naked, but with our weapons/armor. And the best weapons/armor are not in our hands but in our character.

    I just remembered Luke going to that cave that Yoda showed him. Yoda said, “you don’t need your weapon” but Luke took it out of fear -you could see he was anxious. He was not ready yet, he was not a weapon himself, so he needed the lightsaber. How does one become a weapon of justice himself/herself?

    P.s. I was driving from Sparta to Macedonia on Monday, wanted to learn some more about the Spartans on the road, so I listened to “The History of Ancient Sparta – valor, virtue and devotion, and the Greek golden age” by professor mr. Timothy B. Shutt. I was so happy to hear him admiring often and using the ideology of The Gates of Fire. Felt proud, it was a beautiful and intimate surprise. And what a beautiful audio.

    So, conclusion: we must go from home to hell, to reach the heaven which is, if we use the right weapons, our self -the unique existence within our physical existence and the dynamic cosmos.

    I wish a great work-week to all! PDCA: Plan on paper, Do what you planned, Check the results, Act on correcting them and back to Plan again.

    • Joe on October 19, 2022 at 4:27 am

      A line that very few people on this planet can use today:

      “I was driving from Sparta to Macedonia on Monday…”

      I tip my hat to you, Apostolos! (I owe you a note… just saw your comment from last week.)

      • Tolis Alexopoulos on October 19, 2022 at 12:44 pm

        Thank you so much Joe, how lucky and blessed we are for what we have lived to see and do… thank you.

  3. Frank N DiMeo on October 19, 2022 at 3:33 am

    I have walked that road.
    Someone once said, “No one wants to know you when you’re down.”
    That is so true.
    Thank the Lord, life is much better now.

  4. edgar van asselt on October 19, 2022 at 3:47 am

    A heartfelt yes to this writing Steve! It can be SO helpful to be in exile modus for a fair amount of time. Just to purge yourself from all non essential nonsense and focus on the work that really matters the most. I’ve spent the last couple of years in exile, working on my new album. And it helped me so much just focussing on what really mattered for myself, instead of going from externally induced agenda’s. (going to network meetings, taking on work that’s not aligned with what I’m doing now, etc)

    I’m getting at the end of that road now, slowly leaving my exile. But still very thankful for what it brought to me: growth and the birth of a new album.

    fun fact: years ago I was playing in a small bigband and one of the songs we recorded was actually a jazzified version of ‘People are Strange’. I don’t know if I’m allowed to share this here, but here’s the link: https://youtu.be/9Nf0CvOsI-o

    • Virlana Kardash on October 19, 2022 at 6:53 am

      Young Sinatras, right on, brother! Love your version of the song.

  5. Jackie on October 19, 2022 at 4:02 am

    Gut punch today, Steve. Exile was the word I’d been seeking. So many layers of lies need to be sorted through and cast off to become the true self. You said it perfectly, “Because we, whether we realize it or not on our wilderness passage, are seeking to free ourselves from an Inauthentic Self. From who we were. From what others expected of us, even if those expectations were and are entirely well-meaning.”
    Last week, I mentioned that I was looking forward to the wilderness. I meant it. I need to know how to get out. Maybe just knowing that someone else made it is enough.
    Maureen, you suggested a book to Lin by Brenda Ueland. Excellent recommendation, thanks. Wishing all a productive week.

    • Maureen Anderson on October 19, 2022 at 6:50 am

      This tickles me to see, Jackie! Thanks!

    • Joe on October 19, 2022 at 6:57 am

      Jackie and Maureen, I had what seemed to be an other-than-normal experience with Brenda Ueland’s book, If You Want to Write. I was just starting out with writing and thinking about a story I wanted to tell (about when I was living in Cameroon and came upon the body of a man who’d just been killed in an auto accident). I was at my dad’s house and was looking around for a notebook. On his night stand was Brenda Ueland’s book. It was surprising to me… my dad never showed any interest in writing and this didn’t seem like the kind of book I’d ever seen him reading (he was mostly Ian Fleming, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy). When I asked him about it, he said he’d been thinking of writing down the “funny union-vs-management stories” from the job he’d just retired from.

      He went on to say how he’d read a review of Ueland’s book and recounted the trouble he’d had trying to get his hands on a copy. The local Barnes & Noble told him it was “out of print.” Then they figured out it WAS in print and ordered a book for him. That copy got lost and they had to order again. Other snags, but he eventually got his hands on a copy. (I don’t think he ever read it, and never wrote a word as far as I know.)

      That next week, I went to the B&N to find a copy for myself. There was one on the shelf, which I picked up, paid for, and took home. When I cracked it open, I found a small card in between the pages. It had my dad’s name and phone number written on it. Imagine my confusion to find this card in the pages of a book I’d just pulled off the shelf.

      I pieced it together and realized that THIS was the book he’d originally ordered but never received. It felt like the book was never meant for him (didn’t read, didn’t write), but was meant to be in my hands. Eerie.

      • Brian Nelson on October 19, 2022 at 8:03 am

        Quantum entanglement. The Divine Hand. That is an awesome story.

      • Sam Luna on October 19, 2022 at 9:06 am

        Ditto bsn …. great story.

      • Jackie on October 19, 2022 at 9:06 am

        Plain freaky Joe. Excellent story thanks for the share.
        I also had an eerie coincidence happen with the book. After Maureen suggested If You Want to Write, I ordered it.
        While I waited for the book, I visited the library and checked out Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss. I got distracted and set it aside.
        Next week Steve mentions Susan Cain’s book, Quiet. So I order that one too.
        Having some down time, I picked up Tribe of Mentors and cracked it open. I see Susan Cain. Second opening of the book sets on Steven Pressfield.
        Then same day, I come across a paasage in Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much (Anne Wilson Schaef) by none other than Brenda Ueland.
        The facing page quotes: Miracles are unexpected joys, surprising coincidences, unexplainable experiences, astonishing beauties… absolutely anything that happens in the course of my day, except that at this moment I’m able to recognize its value.-Judith M Knowlton
        Way cool, huh? Thanks for setting us up for magic Maureen and Steve.

        • Joe Jan on October 19, 2022 at 10:05 am

          Love it, Jackie (and you all). It does seem like the more thought (a surrogate for spirit or consciousness) we feed into an ecosystem (sorry for the corporate lingo), the more we can perceive the connections, the threads, vibrate.

          • Lin Keeling on October 19, 2022 at 11:58 am

            Ecosystem is biology; corporate lingo coopted it, Joe. And, our biological ecosystem includes the spirit otherwise how can we explain the animation of the biological and be conscious beings? The threads indeed vibrate. I’ve had experiences like that with books too, having them appear when I most need them, when I’m ready to connect with what they have say. Great story, Joe, always look forward to your comments on WW!

          • Joe on October 19, 2022 at 2:04 pm

            Likewise, Lin!

            (And the corporate world has coopted so much… even (especially) sports terminology. I know, because I’ve seen them tee things up to position them to take multiple shots on goal.)

      • Maureen Anderson on October 19, 2022 at 9:22 am

        Eerie, indeed!

        This book is second only to The War of Art in that when I finish it I keep it handy to read again, almost like a prayer book.

  6. Sweta Das on October 19, 2022 at 4:33 am

    I think the exile or wilderness helps us get in proximity with our soul. We can finally sense the true parts of ourselves and as Brene Brown says, “the wild marks our heart”. So we can recognize how it feels to stand for things we believe in, even in a room full of skeptics. Because our hearts has been marked by the wild.

  7. Jen on October 19, 2022 at 4:46 am

    Whew… so we can reframe the exile… I can’t wait to have the new book in my hands, Steve!

  8. Gwen Abitz on October 19, 2022 at 5:07 am

    PROFOUND and NEEDED WORDS put in a way of understanding where I have been, am and need to be….
    Thanks Steve.

  9. Gwen on October 19, 2022 at 5:10 am

    When I’ve been at my most creative – I have been a stranger, even to myself. I was never able to explain (for those incredulous friends) why I left a lucrative job in Los Angeles’ film industry so many years ago to move into a dilapidated farmhouse in very rural NY. I just know I’ve been able live a life that allowed me time and (relative) peace to find that stranger and put her ass where her heart had always been – at a desk writing and rewriting a world changed by many forces – too few of them good. If this is where it ends – I’m sure I’ll have to take that old stranger by the shoulders and shake from her the whining lamantation for commercial validation.

    • Kate Stanton on October 19, 2022 at 6:32 am

      This. “I just know I’ve been able live a life that allowed me time and (relative) peace to find that stranger and put her ass where her heart had always been.” From the heart. Truth. Well done, Gwen. This is courageous.

    • Brian Nelson on October 19, 2022 at 8:05 am

      Need to echo Kate. The first thought that crossed my mind was “Brave”. So very brave. Thank you.

  10. Joe Jansen on October 19, 2022 at 5:24 am

    “Freeing ourselves from an Inauthentic Self.” It does seem that this transcending of ego is a consistent theme across time and cultures. Practices of meditation and use of entheogens serve to quiet the brain’s “default mode network” (from which seems to arise a sense of self), and there’s even a stage described as “ego dissolution.” People take different names at different stages of life (a war name, a pen name, a Catholic confirmation name, etc) as an external signal that “I’m a different person at this point.”

    Here’s another transformation example from nature, which trips my lights: When I was a kid, I assumed that a caterpillar spun its cocoon, holed up for a couple weeks while it grew wings and antennae on its little caterpillar body, and emerged as delicate butterfly. That’s not correct, of course. The subhead on this article from Scientific American sums it up: “To become a butterfly, a caterpillar first digests itself.” Near-complete dissolution, from which arises something new, and evolved. A fair metaphor for the wilderness transformation that can happen for any one of us.


    • Jackie on October 19, 2022 at 6:11 am

      Joe, thanks for the caterpillar/butterfly metamorphosis. I’ve always been facinated by moths. If caterpillars can survive disintegration for rebirth, there is hope for us.

    • Brian Nelson on October 19, 2022 at 7:58 am

      Man is it great to see you back to Writing Wednesdays with the fecundity (I cannot explain why that word popped to mind..but I decided to keep it) we’ve come to rely upon. Last week’s post was so powerful I couldn’t even comment.

      The idea of digesting oneself is both revolting and inspiring. So glad to ‘see’ you regularly again.

      • Joe on October 19, 2022 at 2:19 pm

        Hey B! This is always my first stop on Wednesday mornings. Sometimes I don’t feel I have anything worthwhile to add. Sometimes things come to mind, but if we’ve gone into Thursday, I wonder if people will see it. Always love reading your thoughts!

    • Lin Keeling on October 19, 2022 at 12:01 pm

      When exactly in the process does it stop being a caterpillar and become a butterfly? And, does the butterfly remember being a caterpillar? One of those existential questions I love to ponder….

      • Joe on October 19, 2022 at 2:38 pm

        Lin… That seems almost like a little koan, forcing one to confront duality. We can extend the question to us humans. When do we go from boy to man? From girl to woman? From life to death. A phase change. Something I learned in that Scientific American article: “Certain highly organized groups of cells known as imaginal discs survive the digestive process. Before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing inside its egg, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly or moth—discs for its eyes, for its wings, its legs and so on.”

        A couple things I like here: Calling these cell structures “imaginal” seems to suggest that form originates in imagination or from the field of ideas. Fits with some of the things that have been discussed in our virtual symposia here: stories, music, sculpture, paintings, businesses, recipes… all exist in a Platonic dimension, as ideas that await a suitable midwife down here to write it, sing it, sculpt it, paint it, build it, cook it.

        The other thing is that even in the midst of complete dissolution, these SEEDS of future form remain coherent. The acorn that becomes an oak, the daimon that will lead a small human personality toward its true purpose.

        Oh! And about memory. What if WE could recall our prior iterations. I don’t know if that would be a boon, or just create too much noise. I got enough problems trying to manage all the memories from THIS life. 🙂

        • Lin Keeling on October 20, 2022 at 11:50 am

          Imaginal cells … interesting … A whole new thought-line. I agree, trying to manage this life’s memories is enough!

  11. Jasonius Maximus on October 19, 2022 at 5:39 am

    I moved from San Diego to southern Utah, and it’s been quite a culture shock. Dont get me wrong, it’s the
    small town vibe with vintage buildings culture that I absolutely adore, and even though I changed my license plates immediately upon getting here – I think somehow these people intrinsically know that I’m an outsider. Even worse, a Californian outsider. I might as well be a leper.

    Being a loner my entire life did not prepare me for this level of solitude. Even if I was not a particularly social person – it was still comforting to know that it was there. It was an option.

    Now, with even a close friend or family member seemingly a million miles away – it’s pretty rough.
    It’s now Me versus Resistance, alone. Part of me thought this would enhance and redouble my motivation and efforts, but it seems to be having the opposite effect. Why bother? Who goes there, but me, myself, and I?

    I was listening to an audio course on ancient Mesopotamia, last night the chapter was on the Epic of Gilgamesh. On his quest for immortality, he encounters the tavern keeper Siduri. She tries to dissuade him from his quest, telling him to instead focus on the present and enjoy his life right now. The fate of all men is to die, and the best you can do is live what you have to it’s fullest. Of course it’s put far more eloquently than I’ve stated here, but those ancient words did speak to me. As your post this morning did.

    Maybe it’s the muse speaking through you, but do feel inspired to redouble my efforts and use this time to the fullest. This solitude can be a gift. Looking back at all those periods where I was wishing my girlfriend or wife, or social commitments would just leave me the hell alone so I could do my art, my work. This is the time to really focus on my own quest, the Resistance I’m facing is my own Bull of Heaven that must be defeated.

  12. Dan on October 19, 2022 at 5:48 am

    Have been free falling through this wilderness for a few years now; at first dismayed and angry, only to finally begin to realize that shedding those unnecessary, unneeded ‘skins’ was the only way through. Since that epiphany, the trials are not any easier, but recognizing them for what they are is.

  13. Daniel Stutzman on October 19, 2022 at 5:51 am

    “Every one of you has been in the shit or you wouldn’t be in this room.”
    – Robert McKee, Story Seminar, October 2018, Nashville, TN.

    • Joe on October 19, 2022 at 7:55 am

      Dig it.

  14. Mark Freeman on October 19, 2022 at 6:10 am

    Steven, thank you so much for this message. I really needed this. I have been in exile for years and I have struggled. I have been so depressed, agonizing over every “bad choice” that got me here, but now I see that I am supposed to be here. I have been resisting because I have been stuck in the past. I must embrace this exile and face the truth about myself. I must journey forward into the unknown. Thank you for opening my eyes.

  15. Dan Anders on October 19, 2022 at 6:15 am

    Fact Check: TRUE! Very profound way to express this phenomenon, Mr. Pressfield. Thank you.

  16. Kate Stanton on October 19, 2022 at 6:22 am

    “Because we, whether we realize it or not on our wilderness passage, are seeking to free ourselves from an Inauthentic Self.”
    This resonates deeply. I think I intuitively knew, but didn’t start “breaking free” from controlling people in my life until I was 14. I’ve always felt like a lone wolf trying to figure it all out. I seek out people in my life that I wish were my role models growing up. I have a therapist that taught me about family scapegoats and helps me reframe all of my experiences. The wilderness is bringing me to a place of deep healing–one that I will most certainly give back into the world. There are many “outcasts” and “black sheep” out there that just need to find their tribe. It was astonishing to me that fellow human beings want to see me be better and do better. I didn’t figure that out until my 30s. Always crabs in a bucket…

  17. Brian Nelson on October 19, 2022 at 6:52 am

    Great posts everyone. I had a mixed response to this post. There have been times in my life, and I hate to admit it is plural, when such deep shame has pushed me to exile and disconnection. Like Tolis hints at, I was also without tools.
    These are the times when I was deep into my addictions and self-absorption was at its peak. I nearly didn’t make it out of those places/times.

    The last few years of my military career is was in charge of our ‘social services’. Family programs, career change, sexual assault/harassment programs, resilience–and suicide prevention. I began to see suicide as a disease of separateness, a loss of connection to everything and everyone.

    What I’m avoiding saying is that I know many people do not survive the wilderness.

    There is a difference between the shame-fueled exile(s) that were to hide from accountability, and what Jasonius and Gwen describe above–a sober minded decision to separate.

    So many of Steve’s posts are serendipitous to the timing of my own journey that to mention it is redundant, but makes me think more of quantum entanglement or a Divine hand in this community. In my own life I’m creating a bit of a wilderness for myself by eliminating all distractions and sitting with the discomfort of the work. This site is different to me, I consider it one of my devotional practices.

    In closing, I just want to wish everyone strength in their paths. I remember how lonely and afraid I have been at times. I’m not quite an orphan, but was tossed out of my home like garbage at 16. I finally understand my driving passion is to set the conditions for authentic connection which I’ve come to believe is the true purpose. As much as I recognize the need for solitude to find one’s bearing, my heart wants to reach out to everyone, put my arm around them and say, ‘You matter. You belong. You’re on the team…You’re safe now.”

    • Kate Stanton on October 19, 2022 at 8:00 am

      If we would have grown up in the same time and place Brian, we would have been close friends. I know it!!

      • Brian Nelson on October 19, 2022 at 10:46 am

        Thanks Kate. Might be better to be e-friends here. Back then I unintentionally burned many of those near me as I denied a creative streak to instead push all my efforts into conforming into the best little product of the corrupt materialism water in which we swim.

        It sure takes a while to surface and breath clean air. We’re not fish. We’re mammals.

  18. Kathy on October 19, 2022 at 7:04 am

    Sometimes we leave family, not because we are the black sheep but because we are the white sheep seeking truth and freedom and true identity consciously – all the things they will not allow. The result is the same – the wilderness. Right where we belong.

    • Kate Stanton on October 19, 2022 at 7:59 am

      Beautiful, Kathy! Truth shining in the face of the oppressor. They can look at themselves in the mirror and change, or they can project. Setting boundaries saved my life!

      • Jackie on October 19, 2022 at 9:18 am

        Yes, Kate, boundaries. This is what I must learn. Amen.

    • Jackie on October 19, 2022 at 9:16 am

      Kathy, you pefectly expressed the current wilderness path. Hoping to find a way of learning and leaving the ugliness without becoming ugly in the process. Thanks.

  19. Anna on October 19, 2022 at 7:07 am

    Hello Steven,

    I feel like I’ve been in the wilderness for the last 20 years. Even when I was on my way back from the wilderness, I always ended up back in the wilderness. I think, when you speak of the inauthentic self, that because I was stuck as an inauthentic individual, I kept on returning to the wilderness to find my real self. Unfortunately, I still haven’t found my true self and I stay in the wilderness.
    After reading your piece I don’t feel as alone as I have always felt because I know now there is a reason I need to stay in the wilderness. I feel more patient now. Thank-You.



  20. Lyndon on October 19, 2022 at 7:15 am

    Steve, thank you for this reflection on wilderness and exile. IO have felt this way, on and off, for over 20 years since my life fell apart after 9/11. What I am seeing now is that this perhaps has been and is the most pivotal period of my life in finding the courage to walk toward self love and integration. Whew! Thank you Steve.

  21. Maureen Anderson on October 19, 2022 at 7:20 am

    There are probably more humiliating ways to have been tossed into the wilderness than mine, but I don’t remember hearing of one. And while journalists aren’t supposed to raise questions they don’t answer, that’s as far as I can go at the moment.

    I have tears in my eyes as I type, though. Every Wednesday is a reminder I have a sacred contract to write this book.

    It still baffles and delights me how much encouragement there is in a community of relative strangers. I almost look at us like little kids around a table in kindergarten. We’re painting with our fingers, making messes, tentative and hopeful at once. And Steve keeps walking around that table, looking over our shoulders at the works of art in progress (so to speak), with one suggestion: “Keep going.”

    • Kate Stanton on October 19, 2022 at 8:02 am

      Your comment is a beautiful reminder this Wednesday that we all have that inner creative child–the essence–to nurture and play!! “Keep going”. Amen, Maureen!

    • Sam Luna on October 19, 2022 at 8:59 am

      I like the image of Steve as our kindergarten teacher, Maureen. I think of him as Mickey Goldmill in “Rocky” smacking us in the face to get back in the ring for another round. But, same principle!

  22. Joe on October 19, 2022 at 7:31 am

    Leaving a sidebar comment here. Several of you left kind words last week about the “wilderness” opening passage from the “Grief” book, and asked for information on where to find it. I left some info in a comment in last week’s WW post. <3

  23. Sam Luna on October 19, 2022 at 7:31 am

    I forget the podcast but I heard Jim Carrey define depression as “deep rest from the character that you’ve been trying to play.” I like that.

    I don’t think you ever leave the wilderness, i.e. return “home.” You can never go back. Reminds me of one of my favorite movie scenes in “Dances with Wolves.” The U.S. Army finds Lieutenant Dunbar living with a tribe of Sioux, and one of the soldiers taunts him “you went Injun,, didn’t ya?” And Dunbar responds not in English, but Lakota. He’s not one of them anymore.

    I think the “alone” part is what unites us in the wilderness years. An absolute ice-cold feeling of “I’m on my own.” I remember my moment, wandering around downtown Atlanta with a prescription that had just been casually (and disinterestedly) handed to me by a psychiatrist who had listened to me for 5 minutes before rushing me out the door. I tossed the script in a trash can and realized I was on Day 1 of the rest of my life. Pure survival instinct kicks in at that point. And as Sweta put it above, “my heart had been marked by the wild.”

    • Joe on October 19, 2022 at 8:06 am

      Sam… I’m going to key on your reference to “Dances with Wolves.” I’ve recently become a fan of the FX/Hulu series, “Reservation Dogs.” The main cast and all the writers are American Indian: four kids set on a rez in Oklahoma, coming of age and figuring out their relationships to the world. There are many references to pop culture (even the title is showrunner Sterlin Harjo’s homage to Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs”).

      There’s a couple scenes in there where a character proclaims to another (in stage-drama Lakota voice), “Do know I am your friend?” Playing off the line in the concluding scene where Wind in His Hair calls out to Dunbar as he and Stands leave the tribe (even in that, a separation). It’s a great series. Two seasons out there to stream, and it’s been picked up for a third season.

      • Sam Luna on October 19, 2022 at 8:50 am

        I’m a big fan of Reservation Dogs, Joe. Reminds me of the Sundance movies from the 90’s. Now they’re TV shows.

    • Jackie on October 19, 2022 at 9:33 am

      Sam, needed the Jim Carrey quote and the reference to Dances with Wolves. I’ve been wandering around trying to get out of the wilderness. It’s where I need to be. And I am NOT going back. I see this now. You all are better than a therapist.
      You’ve no idea how you’ve all helped me today. I hit so hard this week, I wasn’t sure of getting back up. Big THANKS.

  24. Tricia on October 19, 2022 at 7:42 am

    Alberta Hunter: Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and out. She could sing it because she knew. (YouTube)

  25. Lin Keeling on October 19, 2022 at 9:38 am

    I think I’ve been in the wilderness all my life. Even when I was with a lot of people, with friends, with family. Always alone in the wilderness. Until I started joining in here. I have come to acknowledge my true authentic self here. I’m still strange–but we have to be strange on some level to go where we go as creatives–and I can be my true strange self here, find respite and strength to continue the work. Tolis, I loved “the best weapons/armor are not in our hands but in our character.” Anna, you are so right, staying in the wilderness takes understanding what the wilderness is and what it does for us. Thank you, Steve, once again for another great insight into the life we are all working to live within.

    • Maureen Anderson on October 19, 2022 at 10:28 am

      You might enjoy this quote from Lewis Carroll, Lin: “You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

  26. Brian Nelson on October 19, 2022 at 10:37 am

    After reading everyone’s posts and walking my dogs this morning, I needed to add another thought. Could become clearer with the publication of “GOVT CHEESE”. My initial understanding of ‘the wilderness’ is similar to dark night of the soul, Hero’s Journey stuff. This is a place we go, but then return with the gold.

    Question: Is freeing oneself from the Inauthentic Self synonymous with finding the Authentic Self? My gut says, “No, it is linear. Freedom comes first, finding comes second…or third, or much later…”

    I also had some dark memories of when I was completely lost and alone.

    But–what I’ve read from most of you is that the wilderness remains, now as a place of renewal and creation. Be in the world but not of the world. Is this where the Pro goes to work? I could be misinterpreting the entire thread–but I do get this idea that while we are vulnerable in the wilderness–it is also where we must return to find our strength.

    As I recognized that I needed to strip myself of distractions, most of those are cultural (news, sports, trends, gossip…) so I can fight through the Resistance to produce–I think I might be trying to create a small space of wilderness in my own suburban existence.

    This place rarely disappoints. I’m often off on a philosophical mind-wandering for most of Wednesday.

    • Lin Keeling on October 19, 2022 at 11:51 am

      Brian, “while we are vulnerable in the wilderness–it is also where we must return to find our strength” is exactly it. I used to try to come back from the wilderness thinking, “ok, I get it now, so I can just go back and thinks will be different.” Not so. Yes, we dip into/live in the wilderness to create and we have to ‘come back’ in order to do the work, but we have to retain that state of the wilderness while we do it. It’s not linear; it’s a cycling action. We’re never done with or beyond the wilderness. “Be in the world but not of the world” as you said but also at the same time, have the wilderness present. It’s a dualistic existence–at least for me–I have to have a space in my head that is ‘the wilderness’ always connected to it, no matter what I’m doing. Hard sometimes, but if I find I’ve disconnected, I am able to notice it ( sometimes right away, sometimes days later) and get back to it because that is the only place I can truly see the work and make it work. I’m not making sense but I think you get my drift.

    • Joe on October 19, 2022 at 6:00 pm

      Brian… this thing we do with the “inauthentic self”: we see through it, see around it, overcome it, free ourselves from it, maybe even integrate it. I’m not sure though, that doing any one of those things with the inauthentic self necessarily results in the “authentic self” presenting itself front and center.

      But our minds are inhabiting the same space. I was thinking along those lines this afternoon, too. Thinking of James Fadiman’s book Your Symphony of Selves. And Bob Dylan’s song, “I Contain Multitudes.” https://youtu.be/pgEP8teNXwY, with some lyrics:

      “I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones
      And them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones
      I go right to the edge, I go right to the end
      I go right where all things lost are made good again

      “I sing the songs of experience like William Blake
      I have no apologies to make
      Everything’s flowing all at the same time
      I live on the boulevard of crime
      I drive fast cars, and I eat fast foods
      I contain multitudes”

      So, if we have a multitude of selves (the martyr, the adventurer, the bad boy, the philosopher), some of them are going to authentic in some contexts and inauthentic in others. I’m thinking that “the authentic self” is going to be an assemblage of those strongest selves, the ones most aligned to our purpose (if we’re lucky enough to be able to divine that purpose).

  27. Richard T. Ritenbaugh on October 19, 2022 at 12:45 pm

    Perhaps I am a contrarian, but I do not see the wilderness as a place to stay, as some of you imply, but to pass through. Whether it is the Children of Israel or Jesus, they traveled into the wilderness and came back out, reforged into something different, stronger, more able. Once out, they did something extraordinary: conquered the land and preached the gospel, respectively.

    The wilderness is a place of testing and refining, of stripping down to basics and rebuilding, of clearing the mind and reprioritizing, so that one is prepared for what is to come. To me, staying in the wilderness is to seek forever and never to find. To cross the Jordan and do the work fulfills the journey and truly satisfies.

    • Joe on October 19, 2022 at 6:15 pm

      You can be contrarian, Richard! Lots of opinions and perspectives here. Agreed that the wilderness is a place for transformation. Distillation. Breaking something in order to let something new emerge. On the Hero’s Journey, “the Return, bearing Gifts” inevitably follows the wilderness, the transformation, the atonement.

      And just like other arenas of transformation, one cannot stay there forever. One meditates, but eventually has to get up off the cushion, take a shower, and go to work. In “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” Jerry was talking about meditation with his friend Garry Shandling.

      Jerry said, “You know why the Buddha never got married?”
      “Why?” Garry responded.
      “Because he didn’t want to hear, ‘Are you just going to sit around like that all day?'”

      Garry busted up laughing. (It’s worth a watch, the whole episode.)

      So, we can’ just sit around meditating all day. We can’t stay in the wilderness forever. Great transformation can be found through the use of psychedelic plants, but one can’t go through life tripping all day, every day. We have to take what we find in the wilderness, in exile, in meditation or on a mushroom trip, and bring those learnings into our walking-around consciousness. Does this line up with what you’re thinking?

      • Richard T. Ritenbaugh on October 20, 2022 at 7:38 am

        Yes, Joe, it is. The wilderness should be a through-way, not a home. It is a crucible that many must enter, be tried, and then leave, all impurities purged to reach the goal at hand. To stay in the wilderness is to wander and never progress, as we can see in the example of that first generation of freed Israelites, who died without reaching their goal. God told them to enter the Promised Land, and they refused out of fear and died. He told them to go neither to the left hand nor to the right, but that is exactly what they did, and they peregrinated (great word!) for forty years, accomplishing nothing and ultimately, dying. Had they only gone straight, passing through the wilderness, they would have reached their goal in good time.

        Conversely, Jesus went into the wilderness fasting and praying, overcame the testing of the Devil, and returned to civilization to do His work. As we Christians believe, He accomplished His mission and now sits at His Father’s right hand, His work for all humanity accomplished.

        Juxtaposed, the two illustrations show us the better way: The wilderness may be necessary, but we cannot afford to stay there. We have to use the wilderness as a tool to whittle down the unnecessary and the distracting (or, to use Steven’s lingo, “to free ourselves from an Inauthentic Self”), so we can focus on reaching the goal. Then, we have to return to the arena and fight to actualize it.

        • Joe on October 20, 2022 at 9:43 am

          Good thoughts, Richard. We can take these ideas about “can’t stay in the wilderness” and extend them more generally to the theme of “moving through archetypes” that Steve has talked about in here. If you’re a teenager, you can’t expect to be hand-fed as you were in an earlier epoch. As a middle-aged person, one cannot conduct themselves as they did as a 20-something. Always moving, everything a process (more than being “a thing”).

  28. Nina Polo on October 19, 2022 at 1:13 pm

    And yet, behind the complexes of our exile lies our home. Once we’ve made peace with the stranger in ourselves, we realize that all land is sacred and all tribes are one.
    Thank you for such beautiful article Steven Pressfield.

  29. Joe on October 19, 2022 at 6:23 pm

    Responded to Richard, and then popped over to IG to look around. A friend shared this and it seems on-theme. Little girl asserts, “Explorers don’t care what their hair looks like!” I couldn’t tell for sure, but I think one of the things she says explorers should care about is “golf.” (Take a listen and see if I’m wrong.)


  30. omwow on October 19, 2022 at 7:09 pm

    “We have to be desperate to face the truths about ourselves that we’ve been in denial of all our lives.” A friend once told me: “You either learn or suffer.” I found this to be a much deeper truth than I realized back then. For some reason we often seem to resist learning some lessons unless life pushes us to a breaking point.

    • Nom de Plume on October 19, 2022 at 9:00 pm

      As I heard it (in diluted mass-market Buddhism), it was more like “You can either suffer and learn, or suffer and not learn” — and probably suffer the more for it. Suffering is required; learning is optional.

      This has been a great discussion — great comments, everyone!

      And a funny thought on Richard’s comment about how the wilderness is not a place to stay, but a place to be forged anew and then emerge to face the dragon: When they make the action movie of your life, your time in the wilderness will be the training montage!

  31. York on October 20, 2022 at 3:17 am


    As usual, written exactly when I need it.

  32. Trina Morgan on October 22, 2022 at 5:42 am


    That’s it.

    Feeling that I didn’t fit in to my tribe, and that I should. Wondering, What’s wrong with me? Who decided to put me here, anyway? Does the Universe make that kind of mistake? Or is it all just a massive joke?

    Now, on the other side, I am free to accept that I’m different. I can be the black sheep and still love the rest of the flock—even when I have to do it from a distance. What’s more, I don’t care if they accept me or not.
    I’m better, stronger, wiser than I was. And I’m ok being black.

  33. John Scott on October 24, 2022 at 7:18 am

    Yikes – this Writing Wednesday note on exile really resonated. Thank you. I left a toxic leadership environment to do the work I love to do as much as possible … writing is core to that. My friends and connections are all working in towers or from home for big organizations. Sometimes I wonder what the hell am I doing. Resistance hops on that mindset. Feels like I have exiled myself sometimes. But that is misinformation. More and more, I am standing up to Resistance and using “exile” as the freedom to do the work I really love. Thank you Steven for the hard-earned deep wisdom.

  34. rommarkk on November 18, 2022 at 7:16 pm

    Sigurd Olson was neither the first nor the most knowledgeable American to discuss the spiritual benefits of wilderness. He was simply the generation’s most adored wilderness advocate. 1v1 lol

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    Being in the wilderness may provide a sense of freedom and connection with nature, while for others, it may feel lonely and frightening. Aurora Tree Removal

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