REMEMBERING THE WISDOM OF WILDNESS

Re-connect to the wisdom of wilderness, and perhaps our planet will save US, says Darren Austin HallArtwork: Stéphane Recoupé

“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 worst kind of loss is 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, all-engulfing yearnings.

We may taste it in the devastating awe of a sublime valley of meandering meadows and lakes surrounded by towering mountains. Or else in the skin-crawling terror that some city slickers can experience in the dark woods. We get little nudges of it, too, when we boldly take risks, calling upon unknown resources. In the ecstatic place when limits are transcended and we witness how much more powerful we are than we believed.

And we also find it in the rebellious streak that smirks at authority figures, sometimes playfully, sometimes out of a sheer desire to transgress any kind of ‘taming’ of our primal being, as if it were a grave betrayal. 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 remembering, for it harkens back to the most ancient wounds that usurp us all.

Our natural world, horrendously abused, is now in a state so perilous our very survival as a species is threatened. This is an example of just how deep the wound of separating from our wildness goes. At the heart of perhaps one of the longest and most insane of wars in our story as a species, it is also one we are largely ignorant of: the war against both nature and the wilds of our own human nature.

I realized this returning to Toronto after a recent vision quest in Manitoba, and realizing what we’ve lost in choosing to pave over Her wild, ragged skin; to relegate Her rawness to sanitized city parks; to drown out the peaceful pulse of Her wilderness with the perpetual motion of the traffic and busyness that charge our cities with a certain kind of restless madness.

Moreover, how we have become cut off from something so vital and necessary; something that keeps us in constant alignment with what is true and good, on a path of virtue, and away from the suffering that modern culture wreaks upon us by way of social conditioning.

But all it takes to remember is to acknowledge the inherent wisdom that awakens within us when we’re in the wild, like a silent soul-switch.

In any moment of heartache, when you’ve felt called to take a walk in park or, better yet, hike in a forest, didn’t you experience an almost immediate peace-of-mind? And perhaps a subsequent yet even more powerful cascade of wise insights, resolve, and answers? In my one-on-one healing practice, I often send people besieged by turmoil 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 that within minutes of sitting, she found extraordinary insights. On this note, one ancient name for Goddess Earth is Sophia, meaning ‘wisdom’—also at the root of the word philosophy: philo (love) of sophy (wisdom). Or Sophia, the Earth Goddess, whose quality is wisdom.

I believe that when we encounter any kind of wilderness, even in a city park, an extraordinary resonance 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. To take a hit of this means an immediate sense of liberation.

It’s a feeling we experience as teenagers: as our hormones thrust our bodies into adulthood, and 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 channeled, and not devour them in arrogant hubris and inflated egos vulnerable to narcissism.

Nowadays, kids do drugs, and partake in other risky activities to test their mettle against these dynamic evolutions. All too often, it leads to disaster—disasters we often survive (we are sturdy folk). But some are are never able to escape this deep yearning for more aliveness, chasing the sensation for the rest of their lives in whirlwinds of drug and alcohol abuse.

For the great call of the wilderness is forever present.

If we choose, we can learn to ride the stallion of our desires using the tools of our spiritual practice, while fostering a quiet reverence for the wild, knowing that there will always be a part of us that lies beyond our control. For if we don’t figure out how to live in harmony with our wildness, we’re doomed. Something we’re reckoning with as a species right now.

And so I invite you to rediscover the wild in you and to find ways to connect more deeply and even sacredly to the wilds of the world.

  • Perhaps this means a month-long discipline of mini-vision questing a la urban shamanism, going to the nearby park every morning to sit in gratitude and receptivity for potential flumes of wisdom.
  • Perhaps this 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 your way of connecting to the wisdom of wildness, know that you are healing the great wound between ourselves and the Earth, a wound that has pushed us to the harrowing brink. Know that these small acts are in service of a greater movement that is sweeping through our species as we begin to remember a deeply eternal love for Earth, and for the wild.

In which we might just find the way to live one of the most splendorous truths imaginable; we might find the way to let the world save us.

Discover more about Darren Austin Hall and his work at Darrenaustinhall.com

COMFORTABLY NUMB: AN AMNESTY ON COOL

Enough with the hiding your real self behind your artfully composed selfies. It’s time to call an amnesty on cool, says Comfortably Numb columnist Kate Atkinson.

 

I want to declare an amnesty on modern cool – realizing this is one of the most uncool statements I could write, and more than aware that several people will probably be cringing reading this. If you are, call me anti-millennial and grind away. But if you’d have hoped we’d left it behind in high school, it seems like “cool” is an extremely contagious epidemic no thanks to the digital revolution.

What exactly is cool anyway? It’s an intangible phenomena that you can’t really touch, a state of being that defines the way you walk and talk, what you wear, the music you listen to, where you’re eating, and whether something is on trend – that is, worthy of likes on Instagram. It’s visceral. You can just feel it. And when it comes to true self-expression, I have to say, the modern version is a straight-jacket.

I also want to preface this story with the fact that while, yes, I do have tattoos, by no means am I an expert on cool. I was on the debating team at school – enough said. But I have got up close and personal enough with this insidious contagion to know how it works, and the more I examine its motives, it’s beginning to feel like cool is the root of an identity crisis that’s plaguing our generation.

A girlfriend put it perfectly when I asked what it means to be cool: “it’s the desire to be accepted, the need for validation, the urge to seem radical, despite longing to fit in.” And so it goes. Oh, the dichotomy of being human. Our narcissistic tendencies AND our insecurities are fuelled by cool, especially at a time when platforms for inclusion and exclusion are at an all time high.

Are you aspiring to be an “influencer?” This breed is all about being seen and accepted, “liked” on the interweb. For them, Instagram is basically a digi-friendly version of the high school cheerleading team. Things are sold to us now by “seeding” them with cool people. Brands, celebrities, and destinations are made by their manufactured “cool factor.” What I want to know is, what happened to under-the-radar cool of yesteryear?

In his 2013 book “The Cool School”Glenn O’Brien talks about the new tastemakers. But his cool  “squad” were, put simply, incredibly creative weirdos. Homeless Jazz beatniks, bohos and roaming beat poets. Anyone who made people uncomfortable basically. Something tells me that they wouldn’t be invited to Kim and Kanye’s dinner party.

We live in an age of such style over substance that it’s incredibly hard to rage against the machine and do your own thing. In fact, a study commissioned by smartphone maker HTC late last year revealed that 52% of the approximately 1000 Brits surveyed admitted to posting images of possessions and items with an intention of making their “friends” jealous. What the hey?

Wasn’t this cool thing supposed to be people going against the grain? Rather than just sticking up photo-shopped images captioned: “I ate, I pooped, I wore Celine!” Now pardon my French, but WTF? If this isn’t numbing what’s going on in our down and dirty daily human reality, I don’t know what is.

Because cool these days is about hiding the “sad” half of your life and projecting the best bits. Ambivalence is also key – pretending not to care, even (especially) if you do. Which is basically saying to your soul that your true hopes and aspirations count for nothing unless they fit with whatever’s trending this month. And yet, as the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character puts it in cult classic Almost Famous: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”

A moment please to consider this: when the cool castles in the sky come crashing down around you and you’re left with the reality of your life, who out of your carefully curated online “tribe” will actually be there to help cushion the fall? Because what you’re really doing when you shield the real you with a glossy veneer of cool, is construct a bulletproof force field that deflects true intimacy.

So beside a total social media detox and cancelling our memberships to Soho House, how can we wake up from this aspirational bullshit existence that we’re creating for ourselves? By taking the time to get conscious to how we while away our days, and creating meaning in every interaction. By walking our talk, with our roots firmly entrenched in reality.

It sounds so obvious, but social media is the great distractor when it comes to following your own expressive intuition….and it’s there for seeking approval when you do actually create something. The old greats weren’t preoccupied with showcasing their creativity, they just did it.

It’s a mythic delusion and a safety net to communicate and earn accolades in this way – as well as a way to mask what’s actually going on. Surely giving away change on the subway is also worth a few “likes” – so why aren’t we posting on Instagram about that? “Saw a nice guy dish out change today on the subway – what a dude!” Shouldn’t he be the real “influencer?”

These stories DO come up on social media – and when they do it’s meaningful, the positive slant on modern technology. But too often, they’re engulfed in a stream of exclusivity: “I ate this, my bae wears that” – with resulting countless digital high fives and @s to follow.

I know my feed rarely delves beyond the aesthetics. And yes, fashion week happens, and friends stay in epic mansions. There are days at the beach with the clearest water ever. Again, I am not counting myself out of ANY of this malarchy, I am as partial to a well-posed selfie as the rest of us. But the lack of reality is what’s wrong with this whole picture, and it’s beginning to be all I can see.

Can’t somebody invent “Unstagram” for the days you’re feeling a bit off? For when you get dumped, you spent the last two days in tracksuit from Target, or you have an embarrassing medical problem?

Because you know what’s really cool? Being real. Not some projection of me me, me, me, I’m so fabulous, watch me eat, watch me sleep! Watch me break my arm! Look at me tagging historical references to show how tapped in and culturally aware I am.

Are we really this dumb? Is there no end to our ridiculous need for validation? This is the worst kind of cool that there is, and what’s more, this culture of exclusion is not social by any means. It’s actually scientifically proven to be making people chronically depressed.

So in a recent discussion with a friend on a rather significant life choice that involved making a potentially un-cool move, when she advised me to: “Fuck cool” – I decided I whole-heartedly concur.

NOT by Ernest Hemmingway

You are not your age,

Nor the size of clothes you wear,

You are not a weight,

Or the color of your hair.

You are not your name,

Or the dimples in your cheeks,

You are all the books you read,

And all the words you speak,

You are your croaky morning voice,

And the smiles you try to hide,

You’re the sweetness in your laughter,

And every tear you’ve cried,

You’re the songs you sing so loudly,

When you know you’re all alone,

You’re the places that you’ve been to,

And the one that you call home,

You’re the things that you believe in,

And the people that you love,

You’re the photos in your bedroom,

And the future you dream of,

You’re made of so much beauty,

But it seems that you forgot,

When you decided that you were defined,

By all the things you’re not.