Stay Wild, My Friends
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” asks Mary Oliver in perhaps her best known poem.
What makes it wild? Maybe it’s just our birthright, as Jon Young might say.
Bill Plotkin attests our wildness, our indigeneity to the earth is part of us, part of the wholeness of our being. When I say indigeneity, this is not meant to appropriate the status of First Nations. It’s meant to say that we are all from, part of, and connected to the earth. Being connected to a place, a bioregion, certainly helps, but it isn’t necessary for us to feel our connection to wildness.
This is in our Abrahamic traditions too. Those who know even a little Hebrew know that the name Adam derives from the Hebrew root adamah, meaning earth or ground. The primordial human, Adam, is from the earth, so by extension we are too. Creation stories from other cultures also describe this direct sourcing of humans from the earth.
Adam and Eve were put in a place of primeval wildness. They ran around naked, supported directly by the land, or by G!d, but let’s not split hairs. They had direct insight into and deep relationship with animals, so that the Source of Creation asked Adam to name them. Some view this as an act of control or dominance. I (and others) view it as a deep understanding of their essence.
As I mentioned in my last blog, David Abram, in The Spell of the Sensuous, builds on phenomenological thinking of Merleau-Ponty and Husserl that we are constantly in interchange and relationship with the more-than-human world in a field of exchange, of “inter-Subjectivity.” The language of indigenous, earth-based cultures are fully enmeshed with this world. The more-than-human world has its own language too, in Merleau-Ponty’s words, “the very voice of the trees, the waves, and the forests,” which is also understood by those raised in such an earth-bound way.
You might notice this wildness is not welcomed in our culture. Unnatural, straight lines and square rooms confine us, or more accurately domesticate us. It’s easier to sell us things when we stay within the lines and buy into notions of scarcity, rather than the abundance of the natural world. Even the idea of wildness or the wild peddled to us is a contrived, commodified image, like clips of SUVs tearing up nature simply for amusement.
One sad result of this is we don’t realize our own wholeness. In Plotkin’s map of our psyche, the wildness of the South “enables us to most fully experience our unconditional belonging in this world, our native kinship and interdependence with every other thing and place on Earth. And it is precisely this sense of belonging and kinship, if widely experienced, that would render impossible the Western and Westernized cultures we now live in, which is…in short, isolated and isolating, the obverse of affiliated and collaborative.”
Some say we can’t return to Eden. Of course, there is the little issue of those angels with the flaming swords blocking our return, but I think we have a yearning to return. Perhaps it’s a yearning to be back in direct relationship with the Divine, or perhaps it’s a yearning for a sense of the kernel of that primeval wild self, for direct understanding of the wild, natural world, knowing deep down that we aren’t whole without it.
How do we sense this wild? I’ve gone through my phases of trying – jumping out of airplanes, hitchhiking across the country among other things. Some might say that teen or college-age partying and rambunctiousness are efforts to experience this wildness, but maybe we should do the opposite to feel our wild soul. All we have to do is quiet ourselves and just be; pay attention to the details, how the grasshopper “lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face,” as Mary Oliver said, or like Abram “quiet the persistent chatter of words within my head,” and “find this silent or wordless dance always already going on—this improvised duet between my animal body and the fluid, breathing landscape that it inhabits.”
Remember what it was like just to fall into the grass? Do you remember how to, in Mary Oliver’s words again, “pay attention, how to fall down/into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,/how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields.” Have you ever crawled around, growling like a wild animal, feeling the grass and the dirt in your fingernails, smelling the moistness of the earth or tasting the bark or needles of a pine tree?
Abram says it more eloquently than I, we start by “owning up to being animal, a creature of the earth. Tuning our animal senses to the sensible terrain: blending our skin with the rain-rippled surface of rivers, mingling our ears with the thunder and the thrumming of frogs, and our eyes with the molten gray sky. Feeling the polyrhythmic pulse of this place — this huge windswept body of water and stone. This vexed being in whose flesh we’re entangled. Becoming earth. Becoming animal. Becoming, in this manner, fully human.”
Yet, there’s even more. What if we have to channel this wild, indigenous one to love fully too? In Plotkin’s map, the direction of wild indigeneity, the south, is also the place of emotion, earthiness, sensuality, and passion. What would this world be like if we loved with abandon? Can you imagine a world where everyone loved boldly and fiercely, like a mother bear loves her young?
So, admit it, you are a wild man or woman. Howl at the moon. Growl at the wind. Fall in love with a grasshopper. Kneel in the grass and be blessed, so you can bless and love this world a little more.
This is really nice, Jon. I love Mary Oliver and how you’ve integrated her into Torah.
Love this – thank you, Jon, and have a good shabbos!