Being a druid, nature-based spiritual practitioner, living an earth-honoring lifestyle, or another awakened path individual can be tough, especially when you are isolated and alone. Some people prefer being solitary practitioners, and even if there are others and groups around, they may prefer to be alone. But humans are social animals, and a great deal of people who are solitary are not necessarily solitary by choice, but because they haven’t had a chance to connect with anyone else or nobody in their friend or family group is walking their path. This is often compounded for people who are living in isolated or rural areas–this kind of setting allows for a more connected lifestyle on land, but it comes with a lot of challenges with being radically different from the dominant culture. And it can be further compounded if you live with people or have family members who are not supportive of the path. And this is compounded by the fact that the more that someone walks down this path, the less they start behaving, believing, and engaging with the world through the dominant narrative–which can reinforce feelings of being isolated and alone. Finally, sometimes people are isolated because they have been mistreated by a spiritual community and have decided to self-isolate for protection.
As the head of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, we often get a lot of people who are solitary–some by choice, but many not by choice. They are just the only person in their area who are druids, working toward an earth-honoring lifestyle, and making a lot of radical shifts in their lives. So I’ve had the opportunity to talk with a lot of people who are in this position and build a set of suggestions from this work. So in this post, I offer some guidance for how you can make the best of going it alone and how to build a community for yourself, even if you are in a physically isolated place.
Challenges of Solo Work
If we look back at our own ancestral history, humans have always formed communities and groups. Humans are social beings–and we can see countless examples of the social nature of humans, even before we were humans. The isolated wanderer, reflected in something like the Hermit card of the Major Arcana in the Tarot is an archetype yes–but in the case of the Hermit, the Hermit goes off into the wilderness and then later returns to share what they have learned. All humans need solitary time, but too much solitary time can create problems. Certainly, we saw this challenge during the pandemic, when so many people were isolated for months, years, or due to health concerns, and may still feel the need to isolate. That kind of isolation challenges you and changes you, and I don’t think it is for the better. In fact, we have a lot of research that shows that isolation can lead to or exacerbate a long list of health conditions, and this systematic review study shows just how serious social isolation and loneliness can be. I’ll now offer some specific challenges that people may face in terms of feeling isolated or lonely.
I think first, there’s the general challenge of being awake, alive, and aware in a time when people seem to be burying their heads in the sand about all of the challenges we face and the damage that the age of the Anthropocene is causing. A lot of people are suffering from increasing climate anxiety, frustration about the direction humans are taking, and feeling really powerless about it–which can cause you to feel like you are on your own trying to fight this. This is compounded if you practice animsim and/or see the world as an enchanted, living, and spirit-filled place. To see such wanton destruction for greed, and to feel the loss of so much life… can be not only very upsetting but also very isolating. It is hard to be alive. It is hard to pay attention. It is particularly hard when everyone around you seems to care less or ignore that the problems are happening–it makes you feel like you are the only one doing things. Even if this isn’t true, it feels that way.
To address this and try to live a more earth-honoring lifestyle, some people choose to live on land that calls to them, but in doing so, they are making choices that may necessitate them being more isolated or alone. I’ve talked to a lot of solo homesteaders, farmers, and permaculturists who stopped waiting for that perfect person to show up and just took the plunge and bought the property and started living the life they wanted to live. I did it too–but the years of isolation and loneliness really took their toll on me, eventually making me decide to leave my homestead in Michigan and return to Pennsylvania where I could be closer to my family. On the physical side, homesteading and related activities are really hard by yourself–and it’s really not fun to sit for 3 hours and shell beans, but it is fun to sit for 3 hours and talk to others while shelling beans. Even if you have loved ones with you, you don’t necessarily have a strong community around you, which can also be isolating. For us, we’ve found that we have such a radically different philosophy towards the land (an animistic, earth-honoring, biocentric philosophy) that we can’t really even have a conversation with people near us, even people who are also living a similar lifestyle. We live in a rural conservative area, which creates a whole other set of compounding issues, where we feel we have to hide who we are because things aren’t exactly friendly towards those who are different..anyways, you get my drift hopefully.
This leads to the next challenge–having a different set of beliefs compared to everyone around you. The further you walk down a path, the more that that path becomes part of who you are, and that path may distance you from your loved ones who don’t understand (or may actively resent it or not support you). It may make things complicated at work, where you are forced to work on holidays or experience other intolerance. This can simmer under the surface or turn really ugly, and I’ve had stories of people who have been rejected by their families or friends for no longer believing the same thing or being willing to go to church. These challenges may be compounded by intersectional identities where there are multiple aspects of yourself that are not accepted by loved ones (e.g. also identifying as LGBTQIA+, etc.). There is little in the world that brings more healing and peace than simply being accepted for who you are. These challenges can mean that you have to hide a big part of who you are, leading to feelings of inauthenticity. I will point to two articles I wrote a while ago about how to address some of these specific challenges: On Being Your Authentic Self, Part II: The Path of the Sun and On Being Your Authentic Self, Part I: The Path of the Moon.
Another challenge can be the specific spiritual work in the world that you do and how it may not be very common compared to other paths. I can’t speak for other paths, but in the case of land healing and in being an animist in larger neopagan traditions focused on polytheism, I often find myself feeling very isolated and alone like the problem is so much bigger than I am. Going out to fracking wells, poisoned streams, mountaintop removal sites, logged forests–by myself, I can get really overwhelmed. Sometimes, it can feel like I am trying to put a band-aid on a gaping wound. I’m one of the only land healers that I know–not only in my region but more broadly, and the lack of conversations and community on that particular area is also really difficult (hence why I wrote a book on the topic that is coming out next year and I am planning on starting some community surrounding these practices in the winter after the homesteading is wrapped up for the year!)
A final challenge can be tied to having a spiritual community and then feeling the need to leave to protect yourself or having some other kinds of severing happen that leaves you on the outs. I can’t tell you how many people I know that have experienced this, and earlier in my time in druidry, I also experienced this. There is a particular kind of loneliness and isolation that comes from knowing that while you are no longer part of a group, they are still there going on without you. It can be deeply painful, and this actually causes a lot of people to reject all groups and be on their own. It can cause a lot of PTSD and other lingering trauma that can leave you broken a long time. And while that can be a healthy choice in the short term, in the long term, it may cause further feelings of isolation.
So…wow, those are a lot of different ways that we feel isolated and alone, even if we are regularly surrounded by others. So what’s a druid to do? Read on!
Paths Forward and Out of Isolation
The above list is a pretty serious one, and these kinds of challenges can compound when you are facing multiple challenges on the list above. I want to start by saying that there is no quick fix or easy solution for the above challenges. Some of us learn to live with them and adapt, and others of us make substantial changes to our lives (moving, ending relationships, etc) in order to try to make it better. I also think if we make changes, there are new challenges that arise. That’s part of the human condition, particularly in this fragmented, broken age. But with that said, I do think there are a number of things you can do, and I’ll share the list of things that have worked for me and for others.
1. Build your spirit team. One of the things that most helped me feel isolated and lonely, particularly as a land healer, was building a strong team of spirit allies. While I might not have friends in the physical world able to support me, I have a range of spirit allies who are there, and who are also doing the work side by side with me, and that really matters. I talked a bit about this work in terms of finding allies and guides in my post on spirit journeying. The techniques that I outlined in this post can be adapted to find other kinds of allies and guides who may support you in the various spiritual or physical work you are doing.
2. Recognize your friends in the ecosystem. Another thing that can really help is to make friends with non-human beings and recognize that your tribe is bigger than just humans–especially as all of the challenges I listed above are very human-focused. Thus, your tribe can include the ants, the trees, the birds, the flowers–anyone in the ecosystem that you want to connect with. Finding your friendship from these beings can help soothe the loneliness and isolation you feel with the human community. Thus, you can find your friends in your ecosystem and spend quality time with them. For me, this is my goose flock–my five geese are very curious, adventurous, and interesting, and they often can accompany me on walks around the land, foraging, gardening, and even swimming in the stream. These connections really matter, and they may be some of the most important connections that you have. They keep you grounded, they keep you sane, and they remind you that friendships can develop across species–and that really matters. Further do remember that with practice, you can talk with the spirits of nature just like you talk to your human friends–and those friendships can develop and deepen in powerful ways.
3. Recognize your visionary nature and spread the word. Anyone who is choosing to live an earth-honoring lifestyle right now, to take up a path of nature spirituality, working to heal and regenerate the land, is already living in a way that honors the future and that will likely be necessary for most people in the future. If this summer around the globe has taught us anything with the extremes (droughts, floods, extreme heat, breaking down of the jet stream, wildfires, smoke…), it is that climate change is ramping up, the human-caused damage to the global ecosystems is accelerating–and a whole lot more people are going to need to make similar lifestyle choices in order to survive the coming age. Thus, you can see yourself as a person who paves the way for others. Embrace the “weird” and “eccentric” labels that people may throw your direction and reframe it as visionary. Recognize that sometimes visionaries have to blaze a path for the rest…and that work you do will allow others to follow. While seeing this as visionary work doesn’t take the loneliness and isolation away, it certainly reminds me that this is all worth it.
I will also say that in the 18 years, I’ve been on this path, I’ve seen some real changes that give me a lot of hope. For example, at work, sometimes my colleagues snubbed their noses at my life choices, asking me why I lived on a farm if I was a professor, but now, six years later, those same colleagues are asking me for plant starts and to consult with them on creating their vegetable garden. Times are changing, and it is good to be on this path as a beacon of hope to others.
4. Find a local community. Another idea is to find a community, even if it’s not an ideal community or one directly tied to your path. For example, you might be the only druid in your town, but perhaps there are a group of Zen practitioners who also meditate, honor nature, and might enjoy having you around (I had this exact thing happen when I lived in Michigan!). Or there’s another interesting group of people that allows you to feel connected, even if it’s not exactly what you always do. But I will also say that in some places, this can be really hard because the established communities may not be particularly in line or friendly with what you are doing, but just keep on looking!
5. Start a local community. If you can’t find any existing communities, consider starting something yourself–put out a call and see who might come. I outlined one such community we created in Michigan–this community is still going strong, 10+ years after we started, and while it has certainly evolved, it has stayed strong. Even if you start small, just try to start and see what happens. It may take a few different tries to find something, but it is worth trying!
6. Seek out gatherings, classes, and other events. One of my specific lifelines being isolated here is taking classes, going to gatherings, and finding other events to attend. There are a range of gatherings, weekend workshops, events, and so forth that can foster a sense of community, even for a short while. For example, we have yearly druid gatherings on the US East Coast, and these are often lifelines for people who are solitary for much of the year. Beyond druid gatherings, there are a wide range of gatherings that can be really good to attend Ancestral and Earth Skills gatherings, permaculture convergences and PDC courses, and herbal gatherings. These courses can offer some great places to meet like-minded people. If this is a regional gathering, you may even have an opportunity to meet new friends who are regional or even local! Sometimes the best part of these kinds of events is just a chance to reach out to people, share, and talk.
7. Join an online community or druid order. There are more opportunities than ever to connect online, even in deep and meaningful ways. I highly suggest you consider joining some kind of close-knit community where you can get to know people and share. I always feel grateful for the community created by the two druid orders that I belong to (OBOD and AODA)–being in a druid order gives me a network of people all around the world who have similar philosophies, paths, and practices to me. Being in our online spaces, attending workshops, and attending in-person gatherings with them has always felt like a homecoming, a place where I can be my best self and get to know others.
AODA also started doing order-wide rituals that work to provide blessings to the earth, sea, sky, and community. I love these rituals because they are taking advantage of our solitary practitioners all over the globe. You can learn more about them here.
8. Recognize the benefits of solo practice. I think a final thing is to see the glass as half full, not half empty, to use the metaphor we use here in the US. Rather than focusing on the problems of being a solo practitioner, focus on the benefits. You have freedom, you don’t have to compromise anything, you can do what you want, where you want, when you want, and you are not limited by other people’s feelings or demands. By framing the solo work you are doing (even if its not by choice) as something that is a positive experience, you can also come into your spiritual and sustainability practices with more peace and joy.
The above list is enough to hopefully get you started in thinking about some ways of building connections. When I think about my own challenges with these issues, I know that they aren’t necessarily ever going to go away. But I can work to mitigate them and have a happy, connected, and full life by working to find like-minded humans and friendly persons in the broader world who can support my path and the work I do. And that’s what matters. I need to grow where I am planted and do that by creating as much nourishment for myself as I need to do the work well.
I would love to hear from you, readers! What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with being isolated or feeling lonely? What have you done to help mitigate those challenges?
Announcement: Activated Earth Summit! I want to draw your attention to the upcoming, free Activated Earth Summit 2023! This summit features a wide range of speakers from around the world, talking about how to deeply connect with the earth through permaculture, nature spirituality, and other earth-honoring practices! I did an hour interview for the summit. Here’s a link to register.
Second Announcement: I will be taking a blogging hiatus for the rest of August while I do some travel and work on a larger writing project. I’ll see everyone in early September :).