2017 Forest Monk Handbook,
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
— Henry David Thoreau
You have made a commitment to four months of intensive self-exploration and growth. The best way to make positive use of this commitment is to take on the attitude of a monk. This attitude is foreign to many modern minds. We are used to being preoccupied with entertainment and distractions. Taking on the attitude of a monk means coming Present Moment. It means that we live each day (indeed, each moment) deliberately.
You will have a “temple” here to support you, including a vast wilderness populated by sparkling lakes, howling wolves, and towering trees. Your temple will include guides – Kenton, Brett, and Yuliya, along with others who step in once and again. These guides each have different gifts to share. And you will have Tribe – other monks who are sharing the rigors, explorations, and insights that unfold as each day passes.
Yet nothing here is handed to you. What you get out of these four months will be directly dependent on how much you can integrate the attitude of a monk. If you awaken in the morning and just try to “get through the day”, following your usual routine, then that day may pass with few gifts. If you awaken in the morning intent on sucking the marrow out of each moment, then untold gifts will be yours.
You will be living close to nature, with few of the conveniences you might be used to. Dwellings change by the season, by your preference, and by challenges co-created by you and your guides. They range from the comfort of yurts to hand-hewn shelters. Over the four months, we will be helping you to give up some of the manufactured items you have brought and to replace them with items you make yourself. “Baths” will be in an ice-cold stream, and you’ll go to the bathroom in an outhouse which is more “out” than “house”. You’ll start fires without matches, and learn to cook over a campfire. You will be cutting your own firewood, and hauling your own water from the stream.
You main home will be “The Shire”, a 280-acre wilderness area composed of private land that is surrounded on most sides by public land. It is composed of lowlands, uplands, streams, and a nearby lake. You can travel by foot to the “islands” (surrounded by lowlands), and canoe to the lake to adventure or fish. The Shire itself is a small village composed of two yurts, a sauna, and a number of gardens. Monks may have the opportunity to learn building skills as they help The Shire to grow. We have plans for additional gardens, another outhouse, a yurt-style chicken coop, and bee hives.
Nearby is another area of land available to monks. Shuka Land is composed of highlands – open woodlands interspersed with stones and hills. Over time monks may have the opportunity to build structures on the land, but for now it is simply another place for you to explore.
Kenton, Rebecca, Brett, George, and Yuliya live on the edge of Everwood, a 40-acre highland that you may be visiting for various activities, from Shinrin-yoku to breadmaking to workouts in the “ninja camp”.
In addition to tuition payments, monks are asked to contribute $250 a month to food purchases. For the four-month program, this means that you must plan for an additional $1,000 to be added to your tuition payment. Using these funds, we will provide provisions each week. This diet is largely vegan-based. Monks begin their training with a two-week “cleanse” diet where we eliminate meat, dairy, and sugars, and give our digestive system a “re-set”. After the two weeks, monks will have the option to purchase, with their own funds, additional foods to supplement their diet. We ask that monks keep to healthy choices, but they are welcome to include meats, dairy, cheese, and other options. We will provide a more detailed explanation below. Depending on your dietary preferences, monks can eat only the food we provide (meaning you will spend only $250 a month on food), or you can choose to purchase additional foodstuffs.
The Forest Monk program has four major elements – Primal Fitness, Wilderness Skills, Martial Arts, and Meditation. Three of those elements – the Primal Fitness, Wilderness Skills, and Martial Arts, include enormous caloric expenditure – much more than most people realize. With increased exercise and the addition of thermoregulation, which is a daily part of life in the program, you can expect to burn 3,000-4,000 calories on an average day. Because Primal Fitness is a core element, we want students to leave the program with increased muscle mass, and thus you will need to be on a diet that includes a caloric surplus.
ReWildU staff purchases food for all students. We attempt to make most if not all of our purchases from organic sources, and local sources when possible. We have an account with UNFI (which supplies Whole Foods), which allows us to purchase food more affordably.
Students receive three types of food. One is “bulk” food – food items that we supply on basically an unlimited basis. These foods include:
Vegetables and Root vegetables
Lentils and Beans
Herbs and Spices
Apple Cider Vinegar
Dandelion root tea
Whole-grain bread-making grains
The second type of foods are “limited supply foods”. Each student gets a limited supply of these foods each month, and can eat them if and when they like, understanding that they only receive their monthly ration. Students are also free to trade foods. These foods include:
Apples and Other Fruit
Tofu, Tempeh, or Seitan
Yogurt or Kefir
Bean and Lentil Pasta
The third type of food is “personal food”. This food is NOT paid for with your “food fund” money. This food is personally purchased by each student with their own money during a once-per-month town visit. This type of food is optional, but allows students to include other foods, such as meats, cheese, additional fruits or berries, or other foods in their diet. These foods include:
Meats (unprocessed and without preservatives or additives)
Cheeses (real, cultured cheese)
Any additional vegetables or root vegetables, including potatoes
Herbal teas or green tea (no black tea or coffee)
Sauces that do not include sugar in their ingredients
During the Forest Monk program, we encourage students to cook and eat together. We have found that students use a lot of time and energy cooking, and by making it a communal event, duties can be shared and cook-time can become a time for discussion, storytelling, etc.
Each student group can make their own arrangements for cooking and eating, but our suggestion for communal cooking is that students make “base meals” that each student can personalize. For instance, one evening the base meal might be a bed of quinoa upon which steamed vegetables are placed. Then each student can “dress” this meal as they like. One student might cook up pieces of chicken to add to his or her meal. Another might smother the vegetables and quinoa in olive oil and herbs. Yet another might eat the meal just as it is, and another might add a mashed berry sauce and a fish they caught that afternoon. This accomplishes a communal eating situation but also allows for individual creativity, tastes, and dietary preferences.
You can get an enormous head-start with this dietary shift if you remove all sugar (including fruit juice) and processed foods from your diet. Many people go through “sugar withdrawal”, and it is easier to navigate that before you arrive, rather than missing out on training opportunities because you feel sick or low-energy.
You will also have the opportunity to include healthful wild-gathered plants, mushrooms, fish, and even game to your diet, and if your program is held at an appropriate season, you may have fresh garden produce from the plantings at The Shire.
Tuition and food payments are requested up-front, and are non-refundable unless you are dismissed by an instructor from the program, in which case a pro-rated refund will be returned to you (unless the dismissal is due to physical or emotional abuse you perpetrate on another, or due to using or possessing drugs or alcohol during your training). We ask for these non-refundable tuition payments because we have found that most students hit a “wall” at some point during their training when they desire to quit the program. Having spent money on the program has been enough incentive for people to stick with the program, and everyone has been happy that they have.
Getting Sick or Injured
Ample studies show that living outdoors, exposure to cold, meditation, and a clean diet all strengthen your immune system. Thus, it is not likely that you will get sick. However, if you become sick or injured, you will have the decision to stay or to leave. If you leave due to injury or sickness, tuition payments may be refunded on a pro-rated basis, depending on the situation. But monks are encouraged to stay. Although it will change the content of your program (you won’t be able to groundfight if you injure your thigh muscle), you will still gain much from concentrating more on meditation or woods-lore.
Although this four months is about freeing ourselves of technology, we can appreciate that some people find it very difficult to break completely free. We ask that monks do not keep phones, computers, watches, etc. at their encampment, but we do give monks the option to have a half-hour of online computer time every two weeks – this can be used to connect with loved ones or to tend to business matters, but we ask that you don’t “surf” the internet or otherwise engage in entertainment during this time.
Drugs and Alcohol
Although we support a person’s right to choose to use whatever substances they choose, during your training we will be concentrating on meditation and awareness methods that are negatively impacted by using drugs and alcohol. Thus, we ask that no drugs or alcohol are possessed or used by monks. This includes nicotine (please stop smoking before you arrive) and caffeine except for tea.
Although most people fear elements like wolves or bears, your biggest life-threatening danger is getting lost. The Shire, Shuka Land, and Everwood are perched on the edge of tens of thousands of acres of wilderness. One of the first things you will learn is how to keep yourself from getting lost, but the training isn’t foolproof. You must always be aware of your surroundings and use the skills your guides share.
Fire is a great boon, giving us not only heat and a place to cook, but providing a “heart-place” where people can gather for stories, song, or chant. At the same time, the conditions in the northwoods mean that a stray spark can turn into a raging forest fire that destroys many, many lives. We’ll talk about fire safety before you light your first flames, but we ask that you remain vigilant and care-full during your entire time here. There are times of the year when conditions are just too dry for fires – we’ll let you know when fire isn’t an option, but also use your own judgment – don’t risk a fire if things are too dry.
About those wolves and bears. You will indeed share the wilderness with large predators, including timber wolves, black bears, and the occasional mountain lion. None of these animals is considered a threat to humans, but soon after your arrival you will learn about proper “etiquette” with these animals if you do indeed have the honor of encountering one.
There is a beast, however, that poses a greater danger, though it weighs less than a grain of sand. This is the deer tick. Lyme disease is a real issue in Wisconsin, and we’ll be talking right away about how to mitigate your risk of contracting Lyme.
There are many other wondrous animals you will share your world with for these four months, from porcupines to eagles to loons. Each one has gifts to share with us, and through nature observation and tracking, you’ll have opportunities to become intimate with many of them.
We do not offer primitive hunting instruction for the four-month program, but monks who stay on longer-term will have the option to explore bow-making and hunting techniques. However, we do practice “counting coup”, a skill that involves stalking and blend-and-flow techniques and allows one to get close enough to touch an animal. If you succeed in touching an animal, it is an experience you will remember for your whole life, and it gives the knowledge that if you did have to hunt, you have the requisite skills.
Your training will be over the course of four months. There will be three types of “days” that you will experience during your stay. “Guide” days are characterized by specific training periods with one of your guides. For instance, you will typically have three “Guide Days” each week with Kenton or Brett. During these days, you will focus on four core elements of your forest monk training – Primal Fitness, Wilderness Skills, Entrainment, and Martial Arts. One day per week is your “Yoga and ReWilding Talks Day”, which you can learn more about in the next section. Other days are “Tribe Days”, when you might be exploring, resting, reading, or making music with your fellow monks. In addition, Tribe Days are opportunities for Yuliya, George, Brett, Rebecca, or Kenton to invite monks to take part in various activities, from baking bread to canning to gardening to building a yurt or setting up bee hives.
All of your training is in the spirit of “Skill Sharing”. This is modeled after unschooling principles, and simply means that all of your participation in training is optional. These four months are yours, during which you can follow your heartsong and learn what you wish, when you wish. There will be many opportunities offered, some of which may be of more or less interest to you. Choose as you see fit.
Skill Sharing training will come in three flavours. Session sharing will be with Kenton or Brett, during specific days, and we will cover a basic format (as outlined above in the explanation of “Guide Days”). Open sharing is also led by guides, but may be offered at any time. An example would be Yuliya stopping by The Shire to say she is going on a mushroom hunt, and inviting anyone who would like to come. Or she might let everyone know that she will be fermenting cabbage three days from now, and again, anyone who wishes to come is invited. Finally, Tribe sharing is the everyday skill-sharing that happens when people live in tribe, as you and your fellow monks share your skills (one monk teaches another to play the guitar), philosophies (a campfire discussion on the nature of reality, anyone?), or help each other with motivation (let’s do a run through the ninja-camp obstacle course!).
Your training schedule will vary, and it’s important to note that there is a lot of built-in unstructured time. This time is yours to rest, exercise, train with your companions, sit in a tree, meditate, or work on projects. Here is a rough outline of what a “typical” week might look like:
Primal Fitness, Wilderness Skills, Entrainment, Martial Arts, and Yoga/ReWilding Talks
Your training opportunities will be many, and unique to each program. George, the steward of The Shire and Shuka Land, might be building a new monk dwelling at The Shire, and invite monks to take part in the construction. Yuliya, one of our ReWildU guides, might be making herbal tinctures for medicine, and invite you to help her. And Kenton, Rebecca, and Brett will be sharing specific skill-sets with you:
Primal Fitness and Martial Arts: Over the course of four months, you will be learning a combination of primal fitness and martial arts that focuses on building a foundation of fitness habits that will last you the rest of your life. By using organic movement and learning to truly hear your body, you’ll have fun with getting in better shape. In your martial training, you’ll be learning a basic system of martial arts that includes striking, ground-fighting, self-defense, and martial philosophy that is aimed at reducing or negating conflict. We’ll speak of the essence of the Warrior spirit, and act to build our bodies, minds, and emotions so that we can actualize that spirit. You’ll also have the opportunity to have fun with more playful martial elements, such as “gladiator fights” and martial skills games.
Wilderness Skills: From fire-making to tracking, the forest provides endless opportunities for learning. Often, we will simply walk off into the woodlands and allow nature to guide us. We may find some trout lily and learn how to eat it. We may spot wolf tracks and follow them as long as we can. We might find a quiet place to sit and pay attention to the language of birds. Or a rainy day might provide the perfect opportunity to try to start a fire in the wet woods!
Entrainment: Through meditation, visualization techniques, and other non-drug methods, you will be given doorways to a deeper perception of nature. This training can include “immersion” challenges that can lead us to question our ideas of comfort and limitation. It can also include practices from wisdom traditions, including Shamanism, that allow a deeper communication with the natural world.
Yoga and Shinrin-Yoku: Though not a certified teacher, Rebecca has studied and taught with Andrea Gerasimo of Third Mountain. Rebecca brings her own unique style as she shares a different approach to yogic practices, which will include meditation, asanas, and pranayama. In addition, she will lead Shinrin-Yoku walks through the forest to aid in fostering nature entrainment.
ReWilding Talks: Many wisdom traditions speak of “Awakening” from a dream-like state into a full experience of living. These sessions will usually be in a Q&A format, allowing monks to ask questions regarding anything from a personal issue to the nature of subject/object duality, and to receive wisdom-based responses from your guides.
Music, Dancing, and Silence
The experience of Tribe allows for a deeper connection with our fellow human beings. Monks are free to bring musical instruments (of non-electric varieties, with an emphasis toward more “primitive” instruments (a flute usually fits in with the overall mood more than a harmonica). Group chanting, dancing, and storytelling will be encouraged. However, remember to also respect people’s desires for silence. The forests provide a soft background of wind and birdsong that serves to deepen our mindfulness, and it is always good to respect fellow monks’ desires to experience that depth.
Although functional clothing is important, you will quickly find that some folks at ReWildU dress in clothing that looks like it emerged from another time. We’re exploring “bringing back” articles of clothing such as wool cloaks, Viking pants, tunics, and leather clothing. Although many of these haven’t been in style for hundreds of years, they offer a functionality and “spirit” that modern clothes often lack. As you plan what clothes to bring, don’t feel strange about bringing clothing that might fit in at a Medieval faire. You may also have the opportunity to make clothes of your own!
For almost all monks, their time in the woods becomes a deeply spiritual experience. What “spiritual” means can differ greatly for each person, and you will likely be in the company of people of diverse beliefs and traditions. We ask that everyone comes with an open mind, ready to entertain that other belief systems might have something to offer your own. We are NOT about delivering dogma or trying to convert you to any specific belief system, but Kenton has been very successful in helping people to deepen their connection with their world-view, whether that view is atheist, Christian, Pagan, Buddhist, or something else. If you are a spiritual seeker, the Guides and your fellow monks will have many offerings for you to explore.
One of your greatest opportunities for community, learning, and growth comes in the form of Service. The Shire is a village in construction, with new gardens, bee hives, a chicken coop, and additional monk dwellings being planned. Monks will have the opportunity to help with building and planting, giving you the opportunity to learn new skills even as you are giving a gift to future monks. Though you may not harvest the vegetables you plant, you will learn valuable skills, and provide for later monks. Over time, all monks will be benefiting from the Service of those before them.
Four children will be part of your extended tribe. Children can be our best teachers, reminding us of the power of Play, of exploring emotions, and of cultivating curiosity. Seldom do children do exactly what we want them to do, so they also challenge our adult ideas of “how things should be”. You will likely have many opportunities to allow children to be your guides.
When you arrive at The Shire, your first day will be an introduction to people and the land. We’ll talk about your four-month program, and we’ll have food ready for you to cook and eat. Although you may have fears or anxieties about what you are embarking upon, you will also have excitement, and your fellow monks and guides will help you nourish that excitement and quell those fears. We’ll provide food provisions during your entire stay, and after the initial two-week “food cleanse”, you will have the option to purchase additional foodstuffs.
Soon after your arrival, we’ll jump right in to your forest monk training! Let the adventures begin!
Forest Monk Four-Month Program Equipment List
Over time, we’ve accumulated a lot of extra “loaner” gear for monks at ReWildU. The following list is the “bare bones” necessities for the program – if you find that you need additional gear, you can usually purchase it online or from local sources, or get a piece of loaner gear from us.
Please do bring:
You will need to bring cash or a workable U.S. credit card to purchase food provisions and any extra equipment you need. Basic food provisions are included in the program, but students still will have the option to purchase their own food, which can cost from $100 to $400 a month, depending on what you purchase.
Learn to use chopsticks if you don’t know how – this is a vital woods skill. You can bring some, or better yet, make your own.
One black gi (we seem to have luck with Fuji brand, which is inexpensive and quite durable).
One set of camouflage clothing for “forest games”.
Clothing suitable for your program dates. Layers of clothing are best, with wool for the winter months, as well as winter boots, wool hat, and mittens. Cloaks and other non-modern clothing are encouraged! In general, one set of “village clothes”, one set of “adventuring clothes” (these might be your camo), and your gi should get you through.
Minimalist shoes – We encourage barefoot, but shoes will sometimes be necessary. Monks have used different varieties, such as five-fingers, Xero shoes, or Merrel Vapor Gloves or Trail Gloves.
Hair ties/binders if you have long hair.
Basic toiletries (all biodegradable)
A bathing suit (even for winter programs =)
A sleeping bag for outings or for time spent living outdoors. Choose one appropriate to Wisconsin weather (temps fluctuate widely, but you will probably be camping out in the 10F and up range.
A water bottle or bota.
A backpack (some monks bring big ones suitable for many-day adventures, others like to go light)
Any non-fiction books that are relevant to the program material (survival, field guides, spiritual books, etc.) Please no novels.
A journal if you like journaling.
Spirit or power items
Musical instruments are welcome – keep them non-electric and “old fashioned”. Singing and drumming and dancing are encouraged!!! =)
(optional) Bug repellent if you are here during warm months. Note that Yuliya can teach you to make your own if you want a natural alternative!
(optional) Sunscreen Note that Yuliya can teach you to make your own if you want a natural alternative!
(optional) A wide-brimmed sun protection hat
(optional) Pillow or pillowcase (that you can stuff). We’ll try to wean off of pillows, but that can take some time.
(optional) Sleeping pad for outdoor sleeping.
One cup, one bowl, one plate – metal is resilient, but clay “fits in” better. You can skip the plate and use some birchbark if you like. Eventually cups and bowls can also be made. You can bring a spoon and fork if you like, or use chopsticks and make your own spoon (encouraged).
1 mouth guard for sparring (boil and fit it before arrival – you can learn how on YouTube if you haven’t used one before).
Knives – there are many options here. Some people feel that wooden handles and leather sheathes give them more of a “forest feel” than synthetic materials. Condor products tend to be reasonable and still be made of leather and wood.
A small “forest knife”, like a mora knife (inexpensive and good quality). Mora comes in synthetic handle or wood. Condor also makes some small knives, like this one: http://www.condortk.com/productos-detalle.php?producto=95&cat=71
(Optional) A larger “hacker” knife, like this: http://www.condortk.com/productos-detalle.php?producto=93&cat=71
Ka-Bar makes a decent line of synthetic handled knives, and Condor has some synthetics that look a bit like wood, such as this one: http://www.condortk.com/productos-detalle.php?producto=61&cat=61
Please do NOT bring:
Smartphones (unless you want to leave them with us)
Computers (unless you clear it with Kenton)
Cellphones (again, unless you want to leave them with us or you are the designated “phone keeper” for your program).
Flashlights or headlamps
Modern bows and arrows
Other weapons unless they are martial arts training weapons and you’ve talked with Kenton about it.
Drugs, including nicotine, hemp, or alcohol
I understand that this training is provided and contracted with K&R Creative Enterprises, LLC, and that I, ___________________________, (Client’s Full Name), wish to voluntarily participate in the Rewild University training program I have selected. I realize that such participation may involve wilderness survival situations, strenuous activity, extreme physical exertion, full contact sparring, flexibility conditioning, extreme range of bodily motions, emotional and mental challenges, exposure to wilderness conditions, ingestion of wild plants and mushrooms, rock climbing, rappelling, tree climbing, immersion in ice water, swimming, as well as other activities that could cause physical harm, permanent injury, mental or emotional damage, or death.
I hereby state that my participation in any and all activities is strictly on a voluntary basis, and that I will immediately cease any activity that I deem unsafe. I understand that safety precautions such as helmets or other protective gear are solely my own responsibility, and I agree not to participate in any activity without full use of those precautions which I feel are necessary to ensure my safety. Under no circumstances will I engage in any activity for which I do not take full responsibility for my own safety and well being.
I hereby state that I have no medical or physical conditions which may affect or restrict my participation in the training program. I agree to assume the full risk of any exercises or training techniques that I perform, and state that all such activities are engaged in on a strictly voluntary basis. Furthermore, I agree to consult my physician and obtain medical clearance prior to participation in any such activities.
I understand that I alone am responsible for monitoring my own condition at all times, and I agree to cease participation immediately if any symptoms should occur.
I fully assume all risk involved in my participation in any activity performed in the training program, and I agree for myself, my heirs, executors, and administrators, to hold harmless K & R Creative Enterprises LLC, ReWild University, Kenton Whitman, Rebecca Whitman, Brett Harris, George Welk, Yuliya Welk, and any other participants who are involved in teaching or training in any activities associated with the training program from any and all claims, suits, losses, or related causes or action for damages, including, but not limited to, such claims that may result from injury or death, accidental, negligent or otherwise, during or arising in any way from the above mentioned activities or training program.
In signing this liability waiver and consent form, I attest that I have read this form in its entirety and that I understand the nature of the training program. I also affirm that my questions regarding these programs have been answered to my satisfaction.
Trainee Name (Printed)______________________________________
ReWild University Health Questionnaire (Attach an extra page if necessary.)
We may be providing food during your program. Do you have any dietary restrictions or preferences we should know about?
Are you allergic to anything?
What is your personal history of:
Surgery or major illness?
Depression or Anxiety Disorders?
Do you have any chronic medical condition such as hypertension, ulcers, epilepsy, diabetes, etc.?
List any medications taken regularly, including those for depression, asthma, anxiety, etc., especially those that would be significant to medical personnel:
*We strongly urge you to not change your medication while you are here unless advised to do so by a physician.
List any parts of your body that regularly give you pain in active physical work:
List any part of your body that you feel is weak:
Is there anything else that we should know about your health in relation to participating in a wilderness/strenuous physical program?
Is there any reason you cannot work in bare feet?
Health Insurance Details (if applicable)
I grant ReWild University the rights to videotape and/or photograph me during authorized student activities for archival and promotional purposes. I authorize ReWild University to retain exclusive rights to all photographs and videotapes (with our without sound) taken of me during student activities to copyright, use and publish in print and/or electronically with or without my name.
I understand that personal video, photography and audio recording is allowed with prior authorization by ReWild University staff. If I am participating in a group workshop, I agree to communicate with all members of the group to make agreements about photo and video releases.
Signed __________________________ Printed Name _________________________
I have read and agree to everything in this handbook.
Signed _______________________ Printed Name _________________________