“Nothingness ceases to exist when all that is not the man is added to the man. This is when he seems to be himself.”
— Hans Bellmer
Wilderness. It’s dangerous, full of lurking unknown forces, some with teeth. This is what the natural world has become, a place to fear and avoid. Yet, are we any safer on the average inner city street late at night?
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Some children have never seen the stars; urban light pollution obscures their sky. Many of them also have no clue where food comes from, other than fast food restaurants and grocery stores. Animals are pets, with the wilderness domesticated out of them. Adventures come from screens and mobile devices and friendships live on Facebook.
The living environment is a blurred backdrop, vaguely present “out there” while we text and game and traverse between encounters with superficiality as fleeting as the nutrition in junk food and the depth of on-line relationships.
But life is inexorable and, usually without warning, intrudes to explode this spell. So many of us have stories to tell and for the most fortunate of us they are similar to what author Stephen Harrod Buhner further describes:
“Once you are touched by a living intelligence from out there, you are changed. It is nearly impossible not to be. The living reality of that experience works on the self, undermining the old paradigm, and you begin to, more and more frequently, step outside the normal habituated boundaries of the Western world. You begin to enter an older, wilder, less–domesticated world, the place barbarians inhabit, where the hair begins to grow long, where wild lights begin to gleam in the eye. You begin to enter the wilderness that still lies underneath the concrete of the civilized world.” 1
Epiphanies can be infectious. The transformation this awakening to wilderness-as-home generates affects others. Remember meeting someone who had been reabsorbed back into the all of it? They exerted an invisible influence, a presence that took you into that mystery through them. Buhner explains this phenomenon: “Through the lives of those whose boundaries have thinned, we catch glimpses of the shimmer of infinity in the face of the other, catch glimpses through the doors of perception of the metaphysical background of the world.” 2
This is where we live, all of us, we’ve just forgotten. Awakening, enlightenment, does not point to knowing more in isolation; we awaken to oneness and it feels something like what Buhner so poetically described. Ironically, so much of spiritual searching is conducted in isolation. Meditation is traditionally done with eyes closed and in quiet, sequestered away from the world in order to calm the mind, to order the thoughts, and dive deep into an inner world of peace.
Wonderful. But if this produces an escapist mentality, if it inadvertently strengthens our addiction to separateness, is that really enlightenment? Or is it just a brighter form of delusion?
We are not separate from the physical world. We have bodies. There is nothing wrong with having a body; it is not a less evolved state. Our goal is not to jettison our bodies and become pure spirit. That’s an imagination and there’s no proof — except in beliefs — that this has ever been or ever will be true. We can speculate all we want and even access the gift of authentic visionary wisdom, but none of it should further empower our separateness from the actual world where we live.
This is our home and it’s meant to be wild. Wild doesn’t mean dangerous, it means untamed. And that which is untamed, that which is truly wild, is attractive beyond rationality. Wild contact reminds us of who and what we are at our core and can compel our explorations towards a new but familiar experience of connection and belonging, where one might honestly say not just, “I am at home in the wilderness,” but, “I am the wilderness.”
Bellmer wrote, “Nothingness ceases to exist when all that is not the man is added to the man. This is when he seems to be himself.” That dangerous other we have called wilderness and avoided in fear contains all that is not the isolated man. Add that and we may become whole.
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1. Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm, Stephen Harrod Buhner, page 357
2. Ibid, page 361