One spiritual memory that lingers from the long ago is a time of solitude I experienced in my mid-twenties. Four decades have passed since those solitary months when I was living in a very remote area of the North Island, a walk from a gravel road-end across a hazardous swing bridge then a further mile, trudging with supplies along a rough track. A small cottage awaited these exertions, no electricity, no phone and a rudimentary shower and water supply flowing down from a hillside spring.

I was employed to build deer fences around the wild acres of virgin forest and regenerating scrublands, and left entirely to my own resources. In this remote place I had a dog and a horse as my only companions and spent six months at a time without seeing another human being. In summer the only sounds were the harsh, daylong chirruping of the cicadas or the wind moving at night through the treetops, a sound as though the forest was breathing, sighing; in winter the rain falling, sometimes snow, rendering my route out to civilization impossible with fast running creeks and slips blocking the roads.

Away from all of the distractions of the city and society, interesting things begin to happen. Your senses slowly sharpen and become attuned to the living ecosystem all around you; you begin to feel the language of the forest and its creatures, and measure the impact of your presence there in the response of the animals you encounter; you sense changes coming in the weather, the transition of seasons, the presence of danger. Far away from your fellow man, you feel your vulnerability and the precariousness of life, how easily a small mistake can mark your end. Out here, no one would find you. Caught out at night and lying on the forest floor under a huge canopy of stars, you discover humility, fear, the boundaries of your nature, the beauty and frailty of living, gratitude and prayer, a sense of enormous mystery.

One lovely gift from this time was the discovery of what I now call meditation. I would sit on the cottage porch as the sun went down, and there was this long incoming silence of the night. With nothing to engage my attention, I began to discover an inner stillness – the evening silence was a mirror and my mind began to empty itself of all thought. All the distractions of the world had no place to disturb me, and I began to connect to some fundamental part of myself – pure being, pure consciousness. I felt my inner silence to be a kind of language, a talking to the universe. The boundaries of my human self were dissolving – I began to feel something eternal about my fundamental nature, and a widening sense of a mysterious kind of love.

I have never forgotten those formative, solitary years. I became a seeker of knowledge and spiritual understanding, and the longing to travel further and deeper along this inner road of knowledge has never left me. In my daily meditations the sense of communicating through silence with a grace-filled universe is very strong, and so too the understanding that this the only really important thing in my life.