Total Isolation

What isolation taught me about the need for others

Five years ago, I volunteered to be dropped off unaccompanied on an uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for sixty-days as a survival experiment. I didn’t take any food. I had no water, no tools, no knife, no lighter or equipment to help me survive in any way. In fact, to prove that I had exactly nothing up my ‘sleeve’, I was dropped off as naked as the day I was born.

As the noise of the Fijian fishing boat’s motor faded into the sound of the waves crashing into the reef, I was left standing naked on the beach. Vulnerable and literally exposed, I was struck by one overriding and overwhelming emotion: panic.

At the time, I hadn’t a clue why I was panicking, and it could easily have been attributed to the somewhat daunting survival mission that I had set myself. However, with the benefit of hindsight and time to reflect, I now know exactly what I was terrified of: being on my own.

The sixty-day ordeal came and went. It was deemed to be a success and without wanting to spoil the surprise if you’ve not read my book, Naked and Marooned, I survived. Nonetheless I must be honest with you: I would never want to be alone for that long again.

Despite the island being bountiful in coconuts and seafood, and the beaches being picturesque clichés of golden sand, I simply wasn’t able to find happiness. I could survive, exist, eat, live, breath, build, cry, vomit, and poo. But I couldn’t say I was ever truly happy. The reason for that was utter loneliness.

All sixty sunsets were wasted on me and my restlessness. I just didn’t care. And the reason I didn’t was because there was no one there to share them with me. In fact, I couldn’t have cared less. I tried to be happy on my own but I came up short, day after day.

Fast forward two years and I was lucky enough to obtain my own survival show on Discovery Channel. But as much as it was my dream job, it meant less to me when I was coming home from my adventures to an empty London flat and a microwave meal for one in front of the telly.

The irony is that the island gave me the harshest personal test as a man, one that eventually led to me finding someone. Being isolated was like a cruel mirror that wouldn’t let me look away. I came back from the ordeal so much more self-aware. And as a result I now find myself less emotionally volatile and have a far deeper sense of balance and peace in myself than previously. To be shown the true version of yourself without clouding the issue with other people’s opinions, is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever been given. Nevertheless, once healed, the last thing I wanted was to spend more time alone.

I now live in the countryside, am married to someone called Laura, and we have our first son on the way. The shift in how meaningful my life is makes me tear up when I dwell on it. To have a home and family to care for and protect gives a core meaning to my life that is full of love. And that inner core radiates out to everything else. I still venture away and make mad TV shows, but the difference is that I now have a foundation, a home, a loving base to return to. And that gives me my meaning in life.


"We need a shift in consciousness and a reconnection to emotions and instinct to fix our increasingly fractured planet"

Community is an extension of family. I have seen the most idyllic, indigenous villages all over the world where children are free to roam in and out of neighbours’ houses and everyone has a broad, kind smile on their face. So, if sharing our lives with others is such a positive and instinctive thing, where and how does family and community become problematic? When do the walls go up and why do the doors get locked?

Many Aboriginal Australians believe that we have three brains. The biggest brain is the gut, the instinct, and it sits in the belly. The second biggest brain is the heart and the emotions. The smallest brain, the logical brain, sits in the head. The word they use for the smallest brain is that same word they use for a fishing net that is tangled up beyond repair (and totally screwed). Some Aboriginals would say that Westerners complicate and make such a mess of our lives because we are quite simply using the wrong brain. In the Western world, we generally believe that we are our thoughts. That the brain is who we are rather than simply sophisticated tool.  But the tool doesn’t work properly if it is not used as a tool. It’s not meant to run your life. It’s a bit like the sat nav trying to drive your car: it might be very clever indeed, but it’s not designed to do that job.

Most Westerners now live almost entirely in their heads. Lives have become a frantic and tiring succession of uncertainties and problems. When you can’t stop thinking you end up being driven by fear: fear of loss. And when you live in fear you view the world as something separate from yourself, something threatening. Therefore, it’s not hard to see why people disconnect from each other and shut the curtains. Even those who have a loving family and extended network of friends often shut down their compassion at some level, maybe community or perhaps national, in order to supposedly protect what they have.

Life has meaning through sharing experiences and building strong families. Being part of a sharing community is, in my opinion, the very core of a good life. There is no negative about coming together, that’s to miss the point. Rather it seems the only reason that different sections of society clash or close their shutters, is that people perceive the rest of the world outside their bubble as a threat.

It may all sound a bit hippy, but I firmly believe that it is a shift in consciousness and a reconnection to emotions and instinct that is the answer to our increasingly fractured planet. Stop analysing risk and worrying about what you might lose – start being an open and generous person in every area of life. On a personal level, it requires a conscious decision to be mindful and live from a more caring place. If everyone did that then all factions of society could be more open and the barriers could come down. That’s easy to mock I know. It’s the logical brain’s best defence. It is much harder to absorb as truth, and decide to live by.


Read more from this issue of IAI News here: A Tribal World

Latest Releases
Join the conversation

Jeff Olstad 30 July 2017

I just spent ten minutes writing a post and it poofed into the ether when I tried to upload it. I probably won't ever try to post again.

Jeremy Brimblecombe 16 April 2017

A great ideology but don’t you think that the default response in all life is mistrust, it appeared at the same time as predation and forever to be with us. Life has proved itself to be perpetually swinging between conflict and collaboration, it powers the evolution of all species.