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The U-Process Explored: What Really Happens at the “Bottom of the U”?

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Journey With Me Deep Into The U-Process

Those defining moments when you have a feeling of heightened attention.  Time slows down.  The environment becomes palpable.  You possess high coherence.  And there is a deeper level of “inner knowing” than you’ve ever had before.  

We all experience this phenomenon from time to time.  The sensation is rich — the qualities profound – and descriptive of what happens at the bottom of the U.

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The U-Process is a methodology whereby individuals, teams and organizations can learn to operate in extraordinary ways.  It is a journey consisting of three fundamental elements:

  1. Connecting to the world outside
  2. Connecting to the world within
  3. Connecting to the world yet to come

u-process exploredThe bottom of the U is the where “letting go” and “letting come” converge and begin to interrelate in a way which is “whole”.
The phase of letting go helps you to release resisting thoughts, emotions and beliefs – to “empty the vessel”.  This allows for openness.  From this openness, reintegration occurs between the head, the heart and the soul.  In this state you begin to operate with a finely tuned level of energy and a sense of future possibility.

When we take individuals and groups through the U-Process, the event that occurs at the bottom of the U is a Nature Retreat which includes a 3 night/4day solo.  In my experience, being alone – in silence – in nature takes people away from their day-to-day habitual patterns, creating an opportunity to re-attune to the natural world, release “inner noise”, and reconnect with the rhythm of the universe.
Perhaps one of the best ways I can communicate my understanding of what happens at the bottom of the U is to share a story about my first Nature Solo.  About 15 years ago, I participated in my first wilderness experience via John Milton and The Way of Nature.  My destination:  the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona.

Growing up in a family of nature-lovers, I have been exposed to the natural world for as long as I can remember.  To embark upon a wilderness retreat for 12 days 9,000 feet above the Coronado National Forest was like a dream come true.  It wasn’t the “nature part” I was afraid of; it was leaving my two young children for the first time to embark upon a journey that included some “risky business”.  Namely bears, mountain lions and jaguars.  

After weeks of preparation, I received a call from John three days before I was to travel.  He shared with me that everyone else in the group had canceled due to the SARS virus; I was the ONLY person who had not yet withdrawn.  He asked me if I still wanted to attend.  Without hesitation, I said “YES!”  It wasn’t until after I hung up the phone that resistance began to build.

Seventy-two hours later, I swallowed my fear; got on the plane; and departed Boston for Tucson, Arizona.

Upon my arrival and meeting John for the first time, I learned that not only was I the only participant in this retreat; but John informed me that he needed to travel to Tucson on business – some 250 miles away —  and would do so while I was “on solo”.  In short, I would be out – alone – in the middle of nowhere – for 7 nights with no one else available to me – and a 6 mile walk to the nearest point where cell phone coverage was available, but sketchy at best.

I spent the first two days in training with John, preparing for what I began calling a “Solo-Solo”.  On Day 3, I gave John a farewell hug and hiked three miles to my solo site location which I had selected the day prior.  I set up my tent; hung up the bear bag, and took some time to get my gear in order.  Several hours remained until dark so I enjoyed the warm sun and solitude.

The first night alone was the worst.  I missed my children tremendously and had no way to communicate with them (or anyone) even if I had wanted to.  Part of the “rules” for solo work is to go out into Nature completely stripped of cell phones, pagers, books (and other reading material), and CD players, etc.  In short, the less you bring in, the more you take out.

As I lay in my sleeping bag in the dark of night, the growling of the mountain lions was what kept me awake.  It was unnerving, as earlier that day as I was pacing back and forth in front of my tent, a huge red-brown animal about four feet long with a long, somewhat bushy tail ran towards me; and upon eye contact scurried up the nearest tree.  I thought it was a mountain lion.  It looked like one.  The only exception was that the tail was fairly thick.  Later (after the solo), I learned it was a catamundi which is part of the raccoon family.  

I got more accustomed to the “music of the night” and therefore more comfortable as the days passed.  Day 5 was glorious.  The temperature had cooled a bit and the sun was shining in a cobalt blue sky.  I was sitting in the middle of my tent with the door unzipped and open, flaps tied to the sides, listening to the gentle gusts of the wind.  I was writing a poem.

As I re-read the words I had written in my very small notebook, I felt a presence.  I looked up from the journal and right in front of me was an enormous bear.  His head was in my tent; he was so close I could feel his breath on my face as I looked deeply into his deep brown eyes.  

I became incredibly still; yet I had no fear.  We continued looking into each other’s eyes.  And as profound as the experience was, I had the presence of mind to slowly reach my left hand back behind me to unlock the safety cap on the can of bear spray I had my tent.  

We stared at each other for what felt like an eternity.  Everything was completely still.  Time slowed down, and I became extremely mindful of every detail – the way his fur glistened in the sunlight – like white light and rainbows; his creamy “hot chocolate” eyes; the way the beating of my heart matched his breaths.
After many moments, I made the decision that I needed to do something to get this bear out of my tent.  I had a whistle around my neck; but I did not want to blow it for fear of hurting his ears.  So I simply cleared my throat – very loudly.  And he ran off.

I waited a minute and poked my head out of the open tent door.  The bear was gone, but not for long.  Seconds later, he re-appeared.  We had a similar experience until which point I loudly cleared my throat and he ran off.  Again, I scanned the area outside my tent to ensure the bear had left.  There was no sign of him.  Until a few moments later when he returned again.

By the third visit, it was beginning to get dark.  While the energy of the entire experience was playful, I honestly did not know what I would do if my newfound friend decided he wanted a sleeping partner in the middle of the night.  I held on to the gift of this magnificent creature’s seeming interest in hanging out with me for as long as I could.  But as the sun began to fall below the horizon, I had no choice but to scare him off for good.  With tears in my eyes, I blew the whistle as loud as I could and the bear ran off to the left at full speed.

Given that I had no one else around to signal or call for help, I decided to pack up a few things; leave my tent; and hike the three miles back to the cabin where I would spend the night.  John was still in Tucson, so I would not hamper my experience by coming into contact with another human being.

I slept in the cabin that night, leaving a note on the door in the event John came back early.  My slumber was restless.  I kept thinking of and dreaming about the bear.

Upon rising, I went for a long hike along the creek, reflecting on all that had happened the day before.  I felt grateful.  I felt exhilarated.  I felt alive.  All of the resistance and fears preceding my journey into the wilderness were gone.  I still missed my children.  I still missed my husband.  But I was no longer sad about not having any contact with them for two weeks.
I had been touched in a way unlike any prior experience.  I had a new understanding about who I was and what I was meant to do.  Since graduating from college, I had sacrificed my connection with nature without really realizing it – until now.  I guess I just got too busy – securing my first “adult” job at the ad agency; moving to California; getting married; working in a fast-paced city; moving again – this time to North Carolina; and having children.  Until this moment, nature had taken a second chair.  I cried.  I cried long and hard.  I apologized to Mother Earth for leaving her behind.  And I missed “my” bear…

I had been gone for hours.  Upon my return to the cabin, I saw that John was back.  As I didn’t think to take the note off the door prior to my hike, he had read it and asked me, “What happened?”  

I fell to my knees and through tears tried to articulate my story.   I told John of the bear and his three visits.  When asked, I shared that the bear was huge – by my estimation probably 400 pounds.  John felt strongly that that could not be the case, as most of the bears were just coming out of hibernation given that it was April.  Furthermore, there were not a lot of berries this time of year and it’s the berries that help to put weight on the bears.

John asked if we could walk back to my site and I agreed.  As we approached the site, I tracked prints in the dry earth, following them right back to my tent door.  And in front of the tent door?  A big ‘ole bear plop!  John examined the prints and the scat.  There were indeed berries in the droppings; and by judging the size of the paw prints, John estimated that the bear was in fact male, weighing approximately 450 pounds.

I spent the next two days wandering the forest and found myself at the creek each evening hoping “my” bear would come for a long drink.  I never saw him again; yet he remains with me until this very day.

As for my re-connection with nature and the meaning that held for me, I had made the decision that I wanted to lead Nature Retreats for Generon.  Upon my return, I asked my partners if I could move from my function inside of the firm and expand to working in the field.  They were most happy to accommodate my request and training began almost immediately.  

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“At the heart of the universe is a steady, insistent beat: the sound of cycles in sync. It pervades nature at every scale from the nucleus to the cosmos.”  
Steven Strogatz

I don’t share my bear story freely; and it’s certainly not for every audience.  Often times, an analogy I like use to describe the bottom of the U experience is that of the pendulum.  

If you put a several small pendulums in a room with a larger pendulum, eventually all of the smaller pendulums will synchronize with the larger or dominant pendulum. It has something to do with a mathematical formula and coupled oscillators that I frankly don’t understand.  Yet when I consider the largest oscillator in the human body – the heart – and I link that to this pendulum phenomenon, what makes sense to me is that when you are out in Nature, what is happening is that you are synching (or re-synching) with the dominant rhythm of the universe.  In short, your heart is becoming entrained — through rhythmic alignment – with the natural world.  And that is what I think really happens at the bottom of the U.

While we have found time alone in nature to be the most effective process to access that deeper knowing, and re-align with the universe in the way I describe, it is not the only way.  The process of Generative Dialogue can also be very effective, resulting in similar experiences.  But that’s another story…


  1. George W on August 18, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Excellent! Thank you, Susan

  2. Susan on August 24, 2014 at 6:49 am

    Thank you, George! I appreciate your comment.

  3. Runa on August 25, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    A beautiful encounter with your Sacred Heart Susan. Thank you for sharing your story. I am one of those who appreciate your personal sharing and have found the same connection that we get at the bottom of the U with John in Arizona and other places. I have never had the grace to be visited by a bear but your story brings such an encounter fully alive. There is nothing like it and I agree with you, it is one of the fastest ways to transform as a human being and open up to something much bigger than ourselves. Thank you again and may many be touched by your story.

  4. Susan on October 29, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    Runa, so greatly appreciate your beautiful comment and thank you also for the reminder of John’s profound work. I too participated in my first solo with John Milton in Arizona; it was a life-changing experience. I completely agree with you that Nature is one of the fastest ways to transform as a human being. With gratitude…

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