A Beautiful Life: The Whitman Family’s Story
I met Kenton Whitman last summer in the middle of the woods in western Wisconsin. We had both signed on to help a local herbalist put together a “back to nature” festival and were meeting up at the site to discuss details and tour the grounds. He and his intern at the time, Brett, pulled up in a van shortly after I did, and when we all came together in the driveway I was immediately struck by the authenticity and loving-kindness that radiated from their direction. I remember thinking, “these are people who are doing what they really want to be doing in life and who want to talk about it.” Kenton was barefoot (the whole visit, hike and all) and sports a long ponytail and often times, no shirt. On our hike with Kelley the herbalist, we stopped frequently to taste plants, identify mushrooms and commune with the resident wildlife that roamed the land freely. I already knew this about him of course due to our shared interest in rewilding, but meeting him that day, I could really sense that he needs to be close to the land to feel alive.
Kenton and his spouse Rebecca are the founders of ReWild University, a school with a mission To help human beings experience their own personal re-wilding, thus discovering the passion, curiosity, and abundant joy that is every human’s natural birthright. They are passionate about helping individuals and groups tune into what is needed to live in a way that is, at the core, full of life.
I caught up with Kenton again several months after that initial meeting for an informal interview, and this is what came out.
Heidi: How has your living situation changed to be how it is today? What’s is like to live in your story right now?:
Kenton: Just six years ago we were at the end of our attempt at living the American dream. We went through a major paradigm shift that told us, in no uncertain terms, that we had to be living from our hearts. We spent a year living in a yurt without electricity or running water, then were invited by an old friend to rent a house at Bubbling Springs Farm near Menomonie. Right now everything feels like a fairy tale. My job is to run ReWild University, where I gets to take people into the woods to teach them wilderness skills, emotional resilience, awareness, primal fitness, and martial arts. Rebecca gets to be a full-time mother to our two young daughters.
That fairy tale has required us to live a very simple life. Though our income is below the federal poverty level, we feel like we are deeply wealthy. We’ve been over twenty years without a television, and the main thing we spend money on is organic and local food. We base everything in our lives on love, which is essentially our spirituality. Love for self, love for others, love for the world. We are radical about that love. When we drive by McDonald’s, we try to love it, even though our logical minds rebel against everything McDonald’s stands for. We’ve found time and again, in our family life, as well as our professional life as we try to help students to make profound life changes, that love is the real mover and shaker, capable of transforming potentially negative situations into situations of mutual growth and evolution.
Heidi: What inspires you to live like you do?
Kenton/Rebecca: We have a YouTube channel where we put out inspirational videos that help people reconnect with nature and Self. Right now every video goes out to over 20,000 subscribers, and every day we hear from people whose lives have been changed through those videos. That’s a constant inspiration for us, especially when people share heart-felt stories of the difficulties they’ve been through and how the videos have helped them out. We also started a Patreon page where people can support us with monthly pledges. We only have a small number of patrons right now, but every time another person pledges a monthly amount, we’re super inspired, because they are telling us in a very direct way that they believe in our mission and want to help us out. We feel very honored.
There is also a community here at Bubbling Springs, which is a group of self-aware people who see the world in diverse ways, from magical to scientific. It’s a constant reminder that people of various views can live together in harmony if love is always the guiding force. There have been times when we’ve had to navigate the process of living in community, and we’ve made mistakes that have helped us learn more about ourselves, and have, despite our mistakes having hurt others in the community, made us feel even closer to them. That kind of community acceptance, where nobody has to be perfect, gives us hope that the world could begin to see beyond stereotypes, colors of skin, sexual preferences, and philosophical or religious beliefs, and start to recognize our collective humanity.
Heidi: What is challenging about living like you do?
Kenton/Rebecca: We always heard that living in community is challenging, but we’ve found that taking a love-based approach removes almost every difficulty, even when people are heavily emotionally invested in something. But when we haven’t acted out of love, things can get more tense. The key, for us, is weighing our every action. Does this come out of love, or fear? When someone sees in your eyes that you are shining love at them, it makes it really difficult to get worked up.
We also have chosen a very intensive method of parenting where we don’t send our children away to school or daycare, and attempt in every moment to meet them with emotional intelligence and love. We’ve found that parenting has been our greatest teacher. We waited twenty years before we had children, and thought we had everything worked out in our relationship and emotional lives. But children have challenged everything, helping us to grow more in the last six years than we did in the twenty years of togetherness before that. They are truly our best teachers.
Heidi: What is beautiful about living like you do?
Kenton/Rebecca: We can honestly say that we are loving life. We’re committed to a Zen-like approach to being aware in every moment, so we don’t let emotions build up or “leave tracks”. We’re by no means perfect at it, but we do our best. We’re constantly talking and exploring together, both as a couple and as a family. That commitment to awareness means that we are growing every day. Sometimes growth can be painful or scary, but its fruits are so rewarding. There is an excitement every day when waking up. What adventures will we have with the children? How will we grow emotionally, physically, and spiritually? What will we make for lunch?
Heidi: What have you learned about yourself (and your family) so far by living like you do?
Kenton/Rebecca: Simple, family- and community-based living has created a life that literally has us learning new things about ourselves every day. But in the end, it’s all very simple. It comes down to living a radically love-based life. If we’ve found one truth, it’s that when we act out of will, resistance, or fear, our life quickly starts to look bleak. When we live from radical love, our life is like heaven on Earth. So our one guidepost is to always come back to love. Even when we meet life challenges, like health issues or other troubles, we find that if we operate out of love rather than fear, we can find joy even in the “bad things”.
Heidi: What are you looking forward to as you continue to live like you do?
Kenton/Rebecca: We’re at a place where we don’t strive for much, so in a sense we don’t spend much time looking forward to things. But we love what we are doing through ReWild University and are excited about watching it evolve. We really don’t know exactly what the school will look like next year or the next, but we do know that it continues to expand its reach around the world, and that it continues to help people on a deep level. So if anything, we’re looking forward to continuing to be in service to the world, and to being open to the world evolving what that looks like as we move along.
Heidi: What would you say to someone who is nervous about changing the way they operate in the world?
Kenton/Rebecca: Our culture has built up a mythology that lures us into a state of constant emotional, physical, and financial debt. Don’t believe those stories. Frustration, stress, and anxiety are not mandatory. Trading your time for money is not mandatory. Struggling is not mandatory. First, we have to question and challenge those myths. We have to listen to our heart, even if it sounds like it is speaking foolish things. Meditate to understand how your mind works, and how its current cultural training undermines our best efforts to make real change in our lives. Then we have to reach out to our network of friends and community who believe in us. We have to take the plunge and believe in the world. What waits on the other side of our heart-adventure is a life more amazing than we could ever dream of.
You have the power to change your life. You are braver and more creative than you might know. And once you start breaking free, you will begin to find people around you who give you strength, who are doing the same thing, or who will have wisdom to share. Believe in love, because nothing in this world will change your life the way love can change your life. Most importantly, love yourself, because you are a unique, precious being who is here to enrich the world with your gifts. This moment, right now, is the perfect time to start that journey. Give the world your gift. We need you.