David Clark – Spiritual Guide in the Wild
From an early age I have been obsessed with the question of meaning – call me “existentially precocious”.
Actually, my earliest memory is from growing up on Padre Island off the Texas Gulf Coast. I remember I was looking up at the vast array of the stars glittering above the swaying palm trees on a balmy summer evening, and thinking: what is the meaning of it all? My life has been a search to address these fundamental human questions:
“Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning and purpose of my life?”
My experience as a priest, spiritual counselor, wilderness guide, vision quest guide, college teacher of philosophy and comparative religion, meditator, and hospice chaplain, is that without intentionally and purposely answering these questions (which because they are dynamic will change and grow), no matter what we may accomplish in life our life will be less than it could be.
The Buddha’s four noble truths begin with: all life is suffering (dukka, sankrit). Perhaps a better translation is that life is challenging and no matter how well things may be going for the moment, there is an underlying sense of anxiety and dis-ease. As Thoreau said: “The unexamined life is not worth living”. My experience is that the unawakened life is not worth living.
So, it is not surprising that when I was 10 years old I began holding Sunday afternoon Christian services, with my congregation being the apartment dwellers who lived in the complex that my grandfather owned. Of course, I passed around the proverbial offering plate with the explanation that “these candles don’t come cheap”. I mention this because it is one example of how I was drawn to spirituality and leading ceremonies.
After graduating from college I entered the Army and served as a chaplain’s assistant to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. While there I became enthralled by the writings of the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis (of the Narnia Tales fame) and who belonged to the Church of England or what is known in the U.S. as the Episcopal Church. And so, that’s what I wanted to be as well, not only an Episcopalian but an Episcopal priest.
Following my discharge from the Army, four years later I was approved to attend Episcopal seminary and received a Master’s of Divinity and was ordained as a priest in the Washington National Cathedral. I subsequently spent almost twenty years as a priest, particularly focusing on spiritual counseling and spiritual development. During this time I enrolled in pre Ph.D. Studies in spirituality and ethics at Duke University.
There came a point, however, when I wanted to expand the horizons of my spiritual path by exploring the beliefs and practices of the Great Wisdom traditions. I left the priesthood and embarked into the great unknown. This was a period of great challenges, fear, and trepidation as I sought to find my place in the world, often in very unfamiliar terrain. I spent a year on a traveling self guided vision quest camping and backpacking through the Southwest. I also immersed myself in obtaining wilderness and leadership skills, receiving certification as an outdoor guide with NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) , WEA (Wilderness Education Association), OLTS (Outdoor Leadership Training Seminars) and a WFR (Wilderness First Responder from Wilderness Medicine Institute. At the same time, I was exploring the spiritual practices and teachings of Native American Spirituality, Shamanism, and Buddhism.
Upon completing my wandering I received training as a wilderness guide and spent the next 4 years working with youth-at-risk and young adults with addictions with some of the most prominent wilderness therapy programs in Utah and Colorado. Concurrently, I entered a Master’s program in wilderness therapy at Naropa, a Buddhist University in Boulder, Colorado. At the same time, I began in earnest a disciplined meditative practice and intensive study of Buddhist meditation, a Buddhist psychological view of the emotions, and Buddhist philosophical teachings.
After I felt that my time as a wilderness therapy guide had come to it’s natural conclusion, I was drawn to the service of hospital chaplaincy. I completed 2 years of clinical chaplaincy training and worked as a hospice and palliative care chaplain. I was a self identified Buddhist chaplain and I had the opportunity to immerse myself in meditation as the only way to work with the emotions that arose daily in being with those who were seriously ill and death and dying. My main meditative practice during these years was primarily with communities from the Zen tradition.
Two years ago, I felt the strong need to engage in a prolonged meditation retreat. I had finished teaching ethics, philosophy, and comparative religion to college students and so I travelled to a Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Center in Colorado where I spent a year combing personal time in retreat, attending all the retreats at the center, and leading meditation and mindfulness experiences in the wild for volunteers and staff at the retreat center. I also developed a unique 10 day retreat that combined some of the elements of a vision quest but with the foundation and practice coming from Buddhist meditation.
What emerged from my year on retreat is a deep calling to join the practice of mindfulness and some of the meditation practices coming from the Buddhist tradition with immersion in the wild or the natural world. I trained as a vision quest guide with the School of Lost Borders in California and began offering vision quest programs and other rites of passages.While the vision quest offers one of the most transformative experiences that is available to us I also want to ground spiritual practices from the Buddhist tradition as well.
Dharma Wild: A path of awakening in the wild for the modern world is the culmination of my life’s experience and journey. My deepest conviction is that when we can open ourselves to our own mind, discovering how vast, limitless, and spacious we really are within the experience of the natural world where all our senses are alive, feeling, literally the oneness with all that is, we experience such transformation and healing beyond our wildest imaginings.
This is my passion and that path that I seek to share. This is the path that gives meaning and purpose, allowing us to live authentically our true story of who we are and our place of service in the world. This is the path that illuminates the response from those stars so long ago, those questions from that 6 year old boy: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?
David’s Experience and Certifications
- Episcopal priest for over a decade in service to mentoring people to discover their profound spiritual connection with the more-than-human world.
- Buddhist meditation guide and mentor
- University professor in eco-spirituality and wilderness spirituality.
- Hospice chaplain
- MA in wilderness therapy and eco-psychology
- Wilderness therapy guide
- Vision Quest guide (Certified: The School of Lost Borders)
- Rites of Passage guide
- Wilderness Guide Certification (NOLS, Wilderness Education Association, and Outdoor Leadership Training Seminars)
- Colorado River Guide Certification
- Wilderness First Responder Certification (NOLS)