"A King without enough Wild Man will be a king for human beings,
but animals, ocean, and trees will have no representation in his Senate..."
“I long for wildness, a nature which I cannot put my foot through, woods where the wood thrust forever sings, where the hours are early morning ones, and there is dew on the grass, and the day is forever unproved, where I might have a fertile unknown for a soil about me.”
Henry David Thoreau
The worst kind of loss is the one you’re not even aware of. The loss of the wild and our allied wildness is one such loss, haunting us in a multitude of inner-howlings and muffled cries; deep, psychic pains and distant, engulfing yearnings. We may taste it in the devastatingly beautiful awe we feel when we enter into a sublime and immense valley of meandering meadows and lakes surrounded by towering mountains or in the skin-crawling terror that some city slickers can experience in the dark woods at night or in the gargantuan majesty of an evening sky alight with spectacular stars. We get little nudges of it too when we boldly take risks, calling upon resources we had no previous notion of possessing and the ecstatic place when limits are transcended and the victorious bliss of witnessing how much more powerful we are than we formerly believed. We may be throttled by it too in moments of dance when we are so exuberant a part of us becomes crazed and our limbs speak for themselves and the body suddenly jostles the mind to and fro, leading us into transformative states of ecstasy. And we also can find it in that deep and constant rebellion in us all that smirks (perhaps silently) at all authoritative figures, sometimes playfully, sometimes out of the sheer wishing to transgress any kind of ‘taming’ of our primal being as if it would be the most grave betrayal.
“To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” -- Terry Tempest Williams
The story of our wildness, what it is, what happened to it and what to do with it now, is old and complicated but it’s one worth discovering, finding, and telling one’s own threads in it for it harkens back to the most ancient wounds that usurp us all. Take this for instance: the devil who came to be the great projection of evil in the Christian tradition, at some point centuries ago took on the caricature of a half-goat, half-man with horned head. In ancient Europe, this was actually Pan, the God of Nature, now Christianized as a figurehead of all that is terrible in our humanity and to be feared in the world. These are big cuts, cuts that have sliced away an integral part of our nature, exiled the animal from our soul, condemned a massive continent of our essence. The current state of our natural world, horrendously abused and decimated with psychotic irreverence, is now in a state so perilous our very survival as a species is threatened. This is a clarion call to just how deep this wound goes. It has done nothing short than wage perhaps one of the longest and most insane of wars our story as a species has ever known and one largely we are totally ignorant of: the one against nature and our own nature itself.
“In Wildness is the preservation of the world.”
– Henry David Thoreau
The city is a perilous place. I didn’t know this in the depth I do now until I went on a vision quest in the wild of Manitoba with a First Nations elder for three days with no food and water, in a small area confined by four ropes of prayer ties. Our austere efforts were an offering to the Earth itself who, in kind, is said to give us visions that profoundly guide our lives, help us to acknowledge who and what we truly are, and restore our sense of connection with the primordial, planetary mother. I didn’t expect to receive visions: I thought I was just a humble white guy out to experience something intense and perhaps detox. But I did and massively, in ways that altered the course of my life. But the hardest part of that vision quest wasn’t the quest itself. It was coming back to Toronto and realizing what we’ve lost living in urban confines that pave over Her wild, ragged skin, relegate Her rawness to parks, and drown out the peaceful pulse of Her wilderness with the perpetual, fervent motion of traffic, busyness and ever-increasing distractions that bound the city to certain kind of restless madness. Moreover, we are cut off from something so vital and necessary; something that keeps us in constant alignment with what is true and good, clear on a life-path of virtue, steered from the waywardness that modern culture wreaks upon us in the wiles of social conditioning.
“The healthy being craves an occasional wildness, a jolt from normality, a sharpening of the edge of appetite, his own little festival of Saturnalia, a brief excursion from his way of life.” – Robert MacIver
It may seem too out there for some to acknowledge the inherent wisdom that awakens within us when we’re in the wild, like a silent soul-switch, but upon a bit of reflection I’m sure we can all concur, at least slightly enough to wonder. Take anytime you’ve been betwixt by something, confused, plundered by grief even. Have you ever gone to take a walk in park or, better yet, gone to the cottage, hiked in a forest? Did you feel an almost immediate peace-of-mind and perhaps a subsequent, sometimes less immediate, but even more powerful cascade of wise insights, resolve, answers? In my one-on-one healing practice, I often send people besieged by turmoil in their lives to the park to sit beneath a tree, to ground into the earth and simply ask questions. I counsel them to enter a state of meditative receptivity and to wait to see what happens. It never fails. One incredulous friend later admitted she thought it was some ‘hippy bullshit’. But within minutes of sitting, she found extraordinary insights curing her consternations, remarkably so, leading to sagacious epiphanies. On this note, it’s powerful to regard the ancient name for the Goddess that is Earth, Sophia, which means wisdom and is the root of the word philosophy: philo love of sophy wisdom or Sophia, the Earth Goddess whose quality is wisdom. Are you beginning to ascertain the gravity of what we’re missing?
"I believe that most of what was said of God
was in reality said of that spirit whose body is the earth"
A.E., The Candle of Vision
I believe when we enter into any kind of wilderness, even a park in the city, there’s an extraordinary resonance that takes place between it and the wilderness buried deep in us. Suddenly, stagnant emotions, thoughts and experiences find flow because what is wild is always in flow; cannot be tamed nor contained and to take a hit of it means an immediate sense of liberation. This is also the source of regeneration: there’s a wild energy in nature that tends to rise up in us, as if the soles of our bare feet were suckling something, perhaps the radiance from what some ancient cultures revered as the second sun—the core of the planet (the heart of Mother Earth), said to be a luminous nexus, exuding a rising energy to burst through the surface as a constant expression of fertility: “Both Sophia and Dionysus contain in their legends the secret of a sun that does not shine from the sun down, but rather a sun deep in earth which shines up toward us” (Robert Bly). A potency fills us that asks of us to roar, or sing, or jump and dance; to get robust, become big with feeling, welcome an overflow with the trust that we shall be able to figure out how to surrender to the inevitable tumults of life. Yet, if we are not in touch with our own wildness, tumult will make us afraid and we’ll believe we’re not up for the constant and inevitable challenges of life. The wild in us meets stress head on, like a herd of buffalo who turn to stand and face the storm while it passes. In fact, it gets off on adversity as a chance to energize and prove its mettle. This is why the wild fills the cup foremost of the warrior, an archetypal force we are so deprived of in our modernity.
I’m told that soldiers who fought in the wild-teeming jungles of Vietnam often didn’t commit suicide because of the horrors they’d seen but because they missed the wildness of living in a life-death scenario day in and day out; the quenching of adventure; the effervescent liveliness of the jungle. All of us while we’re teenagers feel this too: as our hormones thrust our bodies into adulthood, we feel the unhinged energies of our being expanding. In traditional cultures, these were times to take the boys and girls into the wild to teach them how to navigate these new energies so that their wildness could be aimed and not devour them in arrogant hubris and inflated egos vulnerable to narcissism. Nowadays, kids go to drugs, and risky activities to test their mettle and find lines of force to actualize these dynamic evolutions. All too often, it leads to disasters, and disasters that we often survive (we are sturdy folk) but adversities that could have been lived through with more immediacy and skill. Some never are able to escape this deep yearning for more aliveness and chase them for the rest of their lives, hungry evermore to be wild and free, in whirlwinds of drug and alcohol abuse.
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountain is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” – John Muir
The wild cannot be tamed totally. This is the great call of the wilderness. We can learn to ride the wild stallions of our desires using the skills of spirituality but the truest souls have a quiet reverence for the wild, knowing that there’s always something beyond our control. We can invite that into our lives and not be so scared of it. We’re impassioned to control everything in modern culture; an insanity that has distorted the natural flows of the vital currents of the world, whether ocean currents or simply sexual energies rising through the body. If we don’t figure out how to have right relationship with our wildness, we’re doomed. We’re reckoning with that doom right now as a species.
To have a relationship with one’s wildness is reconnecting to the most primal and invigorating power in our lives. It behooves friendship with all that is beneath our navel, the world of our sensuous embodiment, our sexuality, our penchant for more than one kind of ecstasy, as Robert Bly affirms. But most of all, it allows us to relate to the environmental crisis not through mere intellectual ‘inconvenient truths’ but to understand, viscerally and even devastatingly, what we are really losing when we are in disharmony with the natural world, which is nothing short of the most beautiful sense of true empowerment and belonging. According to Dr. Gabor Mate, one of the foremost experts on addiction, the root cause of all addiction is a feeling of disconnection. Perhaps the original disconnection that haunts and terrorizes our being is our alienation from the fierce-loving arms of the original mother, Earth, Gaia, Sophia. Recovering our wildness allows us to re-bond with the Earth in tangible ways that aren’t just theoretical. We feel the connection, through the bombast that awakens our body in wild dance, in allowing feelings to unfold in fullness, whether in cathartic yelling or soulful music; via the honouring of spontaneity and the playfulness we exude as children, now recapturing our stagnant bodies and throwing them into little shuffles, desires for touch and sacred sexualities that long for altering ecstasies to unleash us into the constancy of transcendence that the ever-growing-flowing wild is.
I invite you to discover the wild in you and to find ways to connect deeper and even sacredly to the wilds of this world. Perhaps that means a month-long discipline of mini-vision questing a la urban shamanism, going to the nearby park every morning to sit in airs of gratitude and reception of potential flumes of wisdom. Perhaps that means shaking for twenty minutes a day and letting the voice vent into roars, yells and spontaneous songs. Perhaps it means following our instincts more, our gut-truths, and heart-wombing wisdom, giving head to our heart. Whatever it is, it’s a magnificent way to save the world and the great wound between ourselves and the Earth that has pushed us to the harrowing brink. Know that these small acts are part of a greater service that is sweeping through our species as we begin to remember a deeply eternal love for Earth and the wild. We might just find the way to live one of the most splendorous truths ever shared with my by a dear friend…we might find the way to let the world save us…
“Through the Wild Man’s initiation, men learn to worship the animal soul, and that ancient worship to this day calls up from the busy adult man the sorrow of animal life, the grief of all nature, ‘the tears of things,’ the consciousness that is betwixt and between; and finally, it awakens in the shaman the ability to step over into the consciousness possessed by mountains, rocks, waters, trees, and demons. Above all, the devotion to animals that die calls up the knowledge of sacrifice, and what sacrifice can possibly mean.”
Robert Bly, Iron John