Why Earth-Based Wisdom? Why Now?
Contemporary modern culture has developed in direct opposition to the foundational rhythms we find in our cosmos, in our biology, our physiology and our healthy ecosystems. In many ways, we are a species adrift, untethered to a larger cosmology that would hold us as an integrated member of our earth communities.
The result of living in such a disconnected way is a pervading sense of separation, overwhelm, and contraction in the face of our emerging future. We live in a world of increasing complexity. The future is here, and it is unlike anything we’ve known before as a species. Our instant technological interconnectedness presents both phenomenal opportunities for insight and inspiration, and potentially dangerous fallouts as we move into unknown territory. Big data, artificial intelligence, genetic modification and many more such advances are at our doorstep. We could fall into fear and hunker down in familiar patterns , or we could grow up as a species, lean into the conversation, and take into account that we are not the only players effected by the severity of our decisions.
Fortunately for many of us leaders and change-agents, we have heard the call of the Earth to pull through into modernity the gifts of our ancestors - many that we have lost or devalued along the way. These gifts include seeing the world as alive, interconnected, and evolving; seeing ourselves as unique, co-participatory authors of our present and future world (inner and outer), and aligning ourselves to the larger rhythms of Gaia and our cosmos, which directly challenge the anthropocentric attitudes that have shaped modernity.
In doing so, we seek not to return to some romanticized past, but to “lay down the weight of our aloneness and ease into the conversation.” We call home what Jean Gebser refers to as the archaic, magic and mythic structures of consciousness, that carry with them just the antidote we need to catapult our species-wide arrested development and shift our adolescent worldview; our rich history of experience prior to the domination of the rational mind. Make no mistake, we are faced with a choice : evolve or perish.
So the question is this; how does one grow within a too-small cultural atmosphere that no longer - maybe never did, call forth the whole, healthy human being on its own? If the assumption is that we’re lost, (and our current planetary situation presents ample evidence that this is the case), where do we begin finding ourselves again? With this question we turn to the enduring and elegant embrace of the natural world for guidance. For whatever our blindspots, surely we can see the way an ecosystem supports all its members in reaching for their greatness.
In the field of human development it has been long established that the environment around us is a crucial developmental factor - and yet very little focus has been placed on the potentially catalytic role of the wild world. While human culture is indeed very important, I feel particularly passionate about re-framing our exposure to the wilds at any stage of life as a developmental catalyst. Without our direct, participatory experience of the way we, as individuals and as a species, remain one part of a much larger network of life, we’ll never understand the fallout of our actions - but worse, we may never blossom into our full potential either.
Here are five primary ways the wilds catalyze our growth;
You Belong to Earth First
In my work with wild women we often begin with a deep, long look at how we have socialized ourselves - how we have taken on roles and identities that, while they function, may exclude certain aspects of ourselves, including particular or unique gifts that may have been threatening in our early family environment, or in our culture. This shaping of a public persona is a natural impulse. We are tribal beings. Evolutionarily, we learn to find our place in our social strata.
Some of the most common personas that get developed early-on for women include hiding or downplaying our erotic nature, inflating our inner critic who seeks absolute perfection, and ends up judging others, and leaning on the good girl archetype, who seeks to play nice, look pretty, and not make waves. These are just a few examples, and not to be taken as a comprehensive account. Perhaps you can feel into your own world, and notice the roles, titles, ways of describing yourself and occupying your family or social niche that feels a little too small? It is this force - this natural need to belong, that fuels our adolescent years. For many adults in this culture, it fuels our adult years as well. And yet when we are operating out of a need to belong to our social groups, we are mitigating exile in every moment. This dance means that we are not necessary able to be truly authentic in our choices, our words, and our roles. For some, overtime, this cookie cutter dance adds up, and life becomes a series of postures one has to take. Deep down, one may wonder; is this really all there is?
What happens when we venture off the shore of normal and into the wilderness with any regularity, is that we begin to develop a unique kind of intimacy with the land and the animals there. We observe the passing of the seasons, we confront inevitable complexities and challenges - even small ones that require our response. We tune in to much greater cycles than those of our social identity. We simplify, pause, learn how to listen. We begin to see how each being is so fully themselves…a squirrel cannot help but be, squirrel. And this mirroring, though subtle at first, begins to work on us. We begin to see ourselves as belonging to something much greater than our social communities. We begin to participate, protect, and stand for something less domesticated. And the strange thing is, when that happens we become more able to show up fully human, fully ourselves in our social groups, even if that means we make waves for awhile. Intimacy is the cornerstone of any good relationship. And a true relationship cannot help but change everyone involved.
You Have Infinite Resources
Our planets wild spaces are full of variability and complexity. Shifting weather, food and water sources, encounters with the others that make those spaces their home… Any outdoors person will tell you they have gained very obvious capabilities simply by navigating these places. And yet, on a deeper level, being in the wilds helps us to refine and gain developmental resources as well.
In subtle, yet powerful ways, the wilds mirror to us aspects of life experience that we might not see much in our civilized lives. There, we see the beauty of death, the potential of every moment, the constancy of change, and the deep peace of silence. Unknowingly, we begin to develop a deeper understanding of these currents in our own lives. We learn how to be alone, how to listen, how to surrender, when and how to act. We learn about right timing, and about fragility.
Through the power of our imaginations, we can and do naturally draw parallels between what catches our eye, and our own inner lives as well. For one who is working on trust, they may notice how the natural world mirrors trust in action. For one who is currently grieving a loss, they may notice how the wilds grieve without apology. Metaphor is one language that helps us find meaning, and gain the developmental tools we need. Because of our ancient history evolving in relationship with the wild world, we are hardwired to grow this way.
Your Gifts Are Needed
Soul, in this case, refers to the unique, never-seen-before-gift that you hold for the earth community. It refers to your unique place in the ecological network of relationships that only you can occupy. Spending time outdoors first and foremost gives us space from the busyness of our everyday lives. We begin to muse upon what matters to us, what we notice, and come face to face with our deepest longings. Evolutionary cosmologist Brian Swimme, along with Thomas Berry in The Universe Story, speak about the importance of following our longings and our fears into our unknown future. It is these primal impulses that speak to us of the thread we are following, and doing so will inevitably land us at a place that can be called our own - our soul. Our gifts. We see, in the wilds, the ecological network of relationships in action. Each thing in its place. We too have a place. Longing to occupy that place, and not another, is a inborn human need. It’s part of becoming fully human.
Life is Meaningful
The hustle and bustle of our contemporary lives leave little space to widen the aperture of our perception and take in the whole, big, beautiful picture. As modern men and women, we easily get stuck in the minutiae of our lives, and without realizing it, we become so stuck on the everyday dramas of our world that we loose sight of the much larger story we’re all a part of. I’ve seen it time and time again - nature inspires us to remember that our choices matter - even the little ones. And even more, that our lives indeed have meaning beyond the scope of the mundane. How? By reminding us that we are in relationship with all things, and that we’re capable of authoring our growth in a way that is generative, conscious, and on behalf of all living things, and the future generations to come. We are meaning makers. We need meaning to live full lives. The wilds remind us of that.
Mystery, Beauty and Awe Shatter Your Smallness
Not all of us are outdoors people. it’s true that many find their pleasure, and their purpose within the village of contemporary culture. But I have yet to find a person who has not, at times, been absolutely blown away by the majesty of the wild world. Nature inspires awe in the heart of human beings. Some ancient part of us remembers our kinship in these moments. We are humbled and broken hearted in the best way by a stunning mountain vista, or by the breach humpback whale. These moments shatter us open, our mouths go agape, we inhale, and for perhaps only one short moment, we lay down our burdens, our individuality and our hubris and we become one with the beauty of a place. Human beings learn through wonder, play and curiosity. Awe is absolutely a developmental force as it opens us from inside out to make space for mystery in our lives - for something inexplicable and raw. This mysterious force brings people together in connection, and opens the doorway for a moment of profound experience. And we come away, changed.
What has been mentioned so far is only a handful of developmental capacities that the wilds inspire, it is safe to say. Over the years - for myself and in witness of others, I have watched growth happen at a systemic level. I have seen the way we soften in the face of magnificence, and the way we come to make meaning through the passing of the seasons. I have come to intimately know that spending time in the wilds is not just a superfluous past time, but an ancient human need. My primary lessons have come, not through human language, but through a silent sitting in with a honeybee, a desert tortoise, a wind that blows me down to the bone. I come back from these experiences stronger somehow. More trusting of myself in my place. I come back to the village more able to bring my gifts forward, and more certain than ever that letting down the burden of our separation is a primary fall-out of intimacy with the world that birthed us.
I am convinced it is in nature, in this first place of belonging, that we viscerally experience our unique place in the Earth community. It is here where we have for centuries come to understand our interconnectivity with all of life. Not unlike the necessary and diverse niches of a healthy ecosystem, it is here where we realize that we too have a niche to fill - an ultimate place - one that is needed and beckoned forth from us through connection with our soul.
And so here we are, called by the warming oceans and disappearing rainforests. We are called by the countless people suffering unthinkable grievances, losses, and tragedies all over the world. We are called by the ancient ones whose gifts we have inherited and all the future ones yet to be born. We are called to take our cues from the natural world to whom we have always belonged, and blossom into our full potential before it’s too late.