We seem to have a problem with wildness.
Our industrial growth based society is wiping out wild animals – two thirds of the population of wild animals will be gone by 2020 – a simply staggering loss in a tiny sliver of time in the life of our planet. Our wild eco systems are shrinking – pushed back by human expansion, our need for resources, for space to build, live, travel and transport. 10% of wild spaces have disappeared in just the last 25 years, with rates of wilderness loss accelerating.
But the problem with wildness does not stop there. Huge as these issues are, and they are very huge indeed – threatening the very viability of human culture on this planet, our sense of ambivalence towards wildness runs much deeper.
People describe a child as ‘wild’ when his or her behaviour is unruly, surprising or overly energetic. Pundits describe a ‘wild’ tackle that deserves a red card. Our everyday use of the term ‘wild’ is pejorative, a sense that wild is bad, dangerous, likely to lead to trouble, and that containment and control are the order (sic) of the day. ‘Wilderness’ is seen the same way. A public figure who is ‘left out in the wilderness’ is beyond the boundary of every day relevance. To be ‘in the wilderness’ is to be out of the centre, out of the game. What matters is never within the wilderness, so we have come to believe.
Reclaiming our relationship to the wild:
Yet there are new whisperings from the fringes, of an altogether different relationship with the wild and with wilderness. The rewilding movement, heralded in the UK by activist and journalist George Monbiot makes a strong case for re-introducing disappeared wild species and leaving large swathes of land completely untouched, without human interference, as a practical measure of environmental restoration and symbolic measure of cultural renewal. Wild swimming and wild camping, fringe movments still, attempt to remind us that what is wild may also be life giving, nourishing and invigorating. Deep educational experiences like Way of Nature, by simply allowing people to spend time, alone out in the wild, for a few hours, or a few days or a few weeks, help people reconnect with … well, with what exactly?
Fear of wildness as projection – encountering the wildness within:
Modern culture is predisposed against what is wild. Wild is threatening, wild is out of control, wild is dangerous. And yet as we construct a world bereft at each level of wildness, amidst the concrete, the repetitive routines and the overly structured syllabi we intuit a deeper need for the wild. This need is about nature certainly. It is about the broken relationship that industrial growth society has created between the human body, human consciousness and wild nature.
But we can also understand our hesitancy toward the wild as a projection or reflection of an unconscious uneasiness regarding our own minds. There are parts of our mind, or put more accurately, part of the essence of what our minds truly are, that is inherently, unceasingly, beautifully wild. Our inner energies, emotions and thoughts are in no way predictable, in no way – it turns out in the end – controllable. This war with wildness, this drive for control over external surroundings, perhaps arises from the deeper, unconscious intuition, that the true nature of our being is wild from the very beginning.
When we sit in simple meditation, with no goal other than to be with experience, we notice that thoughts arise and disappear. Emotions, feelings, impressions too – constantly arise, abide and disappear. There may be some underlying pattern, rhythm, even meaning to this, but at the level of our immediate, direct experience, all one can ever say is that experience arises in this moment, and the next. Perhaps it has its own logic, but that logic is certainly, absolutely not ours. It is not … and here is the fatal phrase … ‘mine to control.’
Letting go of the need to control:
Meditation reveals ego’s pervasive, compulsive search for a solid ‘me’, for someone who abides and exists beyond the unpredictable, ever-changing whorl of thought, emotion, feeling and experience. On a practical level, many of us, most of us perhaps, experience our lives fuelled – if we are honest – by a semi conscious search to become more real, solid people. We want to get our shit sorted, to get it together. We seek calm, compassion or clarity.
All of these at the deeper level are one way of expressing, ‘I am not quite ok with the nature of my mind and experience just as it is, right now, in this moment, then in this moment, then in this. And so I must search (so I think), construct or create some identity around which experience flows well … um … a bit better.’
It is a subtle game this game of ego. It is a game of achievement and ambition, hope and fear arising out of the search for a never quite arising experience of control and solidity. But our minds are not like this. They cannot be.
Recent growth of interest in mindfulness may be positive in its capacity to help people develop some calm and discover something of the nature of their minds. But notice too how frequently, imperceptibly and often uncritically, so much of the mindfulness movement is predicated on the promise of improved control – becoming more efficient, effective, calmer. A sense of another new tool to control the unwieldy aspects of mind and experience.
Does this start to sound, even a bit, like the war on nature? Cut the weeds, remove the pests, manage the wildness and replace it with manicured lawns, neatly clipped hedges and more pleasing views. Control what is naturally presenting itself and turn it into something more to my apparent liking.
But what, I hear you cry, is the alternative?
Natural wildness as natural wisdom:
The yogins of Tibet have a phrase to express their ultimate realisation of the nature of mind. This, they suggest, is realisation not of some future exalted state, but simply the insight into who and what each of us already is and always has been. The resting into the natural perfection of what we are.
The yogins speak of ‘wild jnana running free.’ Jnana (rhymes with banana) is a state of enlightened insight into the nature of things. That is what we want isn’t it? Clarity, wisdom, primordial knowledge into the nature of things. But wait, this is described as ‘wild’ and ‘running free’ Hasn’t our whole spiritual search been about developing some sort of control? Some sort of orderliness as remedy for the chaos, crap and claustrophobia of our lives?
Wild jnana running free expresses the profound openness to and clarity regarding, simply what is present. Beyond the wish to make experience anything other than what it already is. Beyond hope and fear of how things will flow out of this very moment. Resting and abiding in this space, yogins may sometimes behave rather unpredictably, with no apparent regard for social niceties or the expectations of this or that milieu. A bit like – at least so it might appear – the unruly child we mentioned earlier. This is enlightened, natural wildness. Not wildness for the sake of it, wildness contrived as some trip or reaction against rules and regulations. It is pure wildness in profound accordance with the spontaneous, unpredictable and ultimately sacred nature of our mind and experience.
It seems to me that there are connections – between the desecrated state of our planet’s wildness, the attempts to reclaim and rekindle connection to wilderness as healing, and the deeper, lifelong practice of opening to the sacred chaos and wild wisdom here, right now, in the flow of moment to moment experience.
Wildness is in the mountains, the deserts and the forests.
It is also, if we pause and rest in the space for a moment between one thing and another, right here at the desk, the supermarket and the petrol station.
And it is calling us.
 Compared to 1970 levels. Study by Living Planet Index. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/27/world-on-track-to-lose-two-thirds-of-wild-animals-by-2020-major-report-warns
 Catastrophic Declines in Wilderness Areas Undermine Global Environment Targets. Watson et al (2016). https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(16)30993-9