The term “rewilding” has been used by diverse writers and even appropriated by a wildlife conservation organization, but was coined by Animá Center’s own Jesse Wolf Hardin in 1976, and first saw print in in 1986 in the following serialized essay. As a result, Wolf was assigned to write the Rewilding entry on page 1383, Vol. 2 of The Encyclopedia of Religion & Nature (Thoemmes Continuum, 2005). I encourage you to forward this 5 part series to others, by clicking on the “Share This Post” button below. Blessings. -Kiva Rose
The Rewilding: Part 3 (of 6):
Wild Self, Wild Mind
By Jesse Wolf Hardin (www.animacenter.org)
“Be a good animal, true to your animal instincts.”
-D. H. Lawrence
The rift between ourselves and our true natures – and between the natural world and human kind – is paralleled by and fed by the cultivated disconnect between thought and feeling, logic and intuition, reason and instinct. All too often the mind is imagined to be an entity separate from the body that hosts it, a conscious soul piloting an imperfect vehicle of breakable bones and needy flesh. To the contrary, wild mind – natural mind – is housed not only the gray matter we call the brain but also throughout our entire beings, shared through a network of nerves and translated through the actions of hormones and enzymes, together constituting a literal body of knowledge.
That body, too, is a wild thing – an animal true to its creature nature irrespective of thought and judgment. It makes “sense” of the world not though its intellectual analytical abilities so much as through a collection animal senses that defy restraint, intimately and unhesitatingly interacting with the rest of the greater earthen body. It is perhaps that animalism that we have long feared most, a reminder of eventual mortal ends and a surplus of not always welcomed passions. How often have we heard expressions like “He’s such an animal” when either criticizing or lauding a man’s demeanor in bed. “She eats like an animal,” a particularly catty friend might say, and news reporters speak of people having been “reduced to little more than animals.” I’ll never forget when I was a little boy and had just discovered that I too was an animal, a mammal, a fellow creature formed in part by a wild and magic process called evolution. I ran up to a girl I knew, anxious to share the news. “I’m no animal!,” she shot back while walking away, “but you might be!”
As adults we may argue that the power of self reflection and deductive thought makes us somehow more sentient, conscious or ordained than the other lifeforms. Civilized human kind tends to conceive of itself as exempted and removed, the religious as either God’s mirror image appointed to manage chaotic nature, or as a species evolved into a higher form and largely elevated above the earthen condition, its problematic cravings, messy body fluids and even the course of aging, removed if not immune from the clinging soil and impenetrable dark, from the microscopic and unseen, the fermentive compost forever welcoming us back to the depths of its heat. Many feel not only annoyed but betrayed by the occasional escape of gas and monthly flow of menstrual blood, the untimely erection, hair sprouting in “undesirable” places, the wrinkles that record a person’s laughter and tears, and that make clear the preciousness of those numbered hours between each birth and demise.
The five senses, together with so-called extrasensory perception, form the pathways of connection and communication between the narrowly defined self and the rest of the world. We are linked to that which we touch, held by that which surrounds us. We come to know a “thing” through its smell, taste, and appearance, not through the non-sense of extrapolation. And the world knows us the same way. A garden responds to song. A tree sends out warnings through it roots at the first bite of our intemperate chain-saws. Moving through this canyon my presence is communicated in waves of recognition passing from boisterous blue jays to ground squirrel to deer like an alerting wind blowing through the boughs of pine trees.
The domesticated (or civilized) body is almost by definition deadened, distracted from elemental engagement and consequence, perception limited by conditioning, instincts untrusted, the physical senses dulled, isolated not only from the systems and cycles of nature but its own essential, intrinsic processes as well. Many of the human diseases not directly caused by industrial poisoning are the result of our disassociation from the cycles, needs and warnings communicated by our own bodies. These ailments are to a degree the product of our dis-ease – our lack of ease – our discomfort with our corporeal beings. A perfect example are those who focus on their promised afterlife to the neglect of lived experience and personal responsibility, while at the same time spending fortunes on the latest medical technology in an effort to postpone the very death required to take them there.
And there is what we might recognize as being a truly terrifying price: By persistently looking away from bodily suffering and death, we miss out on the depth and breadth of life. By going out of our way to miss danger, we lose out on opportunities for challenge and growth. Insulating ourselves from the sensation of pain, our patterns and padding limit the degree we can experience pleasure. In learning to block out the noise of sirens and traffic, we are less likely to notice the subtle twitters of birds, savor the music of the rain, or be alarmed in time by the sound of an overhead branch as it snaps or the telltale scream of a vehicle’s brakes. Training ourselves to ignore the ill odor of asphalt and rotting garbage of alleyways, we progressively lose our ability to discern the scent of wildflowers growing next to the sidewalk or to discern the distinctive aroma of our lover from afar. Eyes averted from the fight down the street, the wino in the gutter, the blackened smokestacks and glaring chrome of commerce or the eyes of passing strangers, likely miss the graceful swoop of the urban pigeon, the details of an important encounter and the intricacies of turbulence on the surface of a child’s swimming pool. Physical and perceptual barriers erected for our comfort and protection can easily block sight of the interactive and message filled world, and of our unfulfilled animal as well as human potentials.
The crucial awakening and rewilding of our bodies begins the engaging of every aspect and element of life, every second of experience, with every one of our atrophied senses. In this way, even the most unwelcome of pain can increase our ability and tendency to feel, deepen and expand the range of experience, lengthen and intensify our moments of ecstasy. Uncivilized and rewilded beings exist by nature and necessity in a hyper-state of sensate awareness and bliss punctuated by experiences of suffering. The wild body is as much as anything else an ecstatic organ, an organ and agent of bliss. The practice of its reinhabitation involves re-familiarizing ourselves with the feel and function of our flesh.
Wild body is sensate and sensuous body. The senses take us into ourselves, even as they reach out and thereby enlarge us. And to that end, I suggest that you practice feeling the blood even now pushing its way through your veins, the way different foods effect your energy and focus, what postures cause you to tighten up and which increase your range of movement. That you enter the nearest wild places whether park or yard in order to pleasurably open the senses, and so as to make them less likely to close down upon your return to the habits of city and schedule. That you interpret the world without internal comment whenever possible, reading the nuances of everything around you, tasting reality with the tongue, the ears, the nose. When using your hands, be sure to register the sensations of everything you touch from the weave of your furniture coverings and clothes to the incrementally warmer keys of a computer keyboard in use. Use them to explore the cryptic patterns of tree bark, and to learn the desires of your dog or cat. Rub one hand with the other. Touch yourself, squeeze a sore shoulder or lightly scratch a seldom tended spot. Accept that it is okay to make yourself feel good, and you’ll find it easier to do the same really well for others. Then focus on contacting the world through your skin without using your hands, by touching the bed, the wall or the grass outside with the seldom engaged small of your back, your elbow, your bottom, your toes or forehead. Alternately stroke, pat and stroke your face with varied materials and textures such as a feather, loofah, wind polished bone, damp lettuce and rough piece of wood, noticing not only the signature feel of each but also the variety of sensations depending on the the varied motion and tempo you impart. When going about your regular daily affairs, avoid sliding into rote behavior with shut-down senses, avoid ignoring the way the chair cradles you back, the way the air dries the sweat on your neck and the messages of hormonal pheromones released by others in your presence.
Wild body is instinctual body. With our detachment from our instincts humanity became easy prey. Not for hounding beasts, but for the predatory artifice emblematic of much of modern society. Intuition and instinct are the will and wisdom of both the personal and planetary bodies, bodily stored memories of when to run or fight, what places to cleave to and which to avoid, what kind of people to beware of and which to open to in the loving of night.
And yes, wild body is sexual body. Whether straight or gay, bi or other, androgynous or celibate, male or female, young or old, the body is influenced and empowered by sexual predisposition, characteristics and drives. Natural sexuality can help us experience oneness with all elements of our selves, with our partners and the seamless universe surrounding us. But even when alone, the urges of the wild body call to us for attention. We walk about charged with the energy of our sexuality, the dynamic force of the universe itself, of life endlessly seeking and growing towards completion, of the rest and relaxation of dissolution as well as the creative excitement of re-formation. Endlessly moving, cycling, spiraling. Upping the ante and the amperage. Women can take their temperatures regularly to help them anticipate and feel the actual dropping of the egg, and become intimate with the fluctuations in the shape and degree of their desires. Men can tune in to the rise in testosterone in their bloodstream, and revel in the jump and plunge of their mammalian urge for union.
Our animal sexuality is but one venue for passion, with passion the fuel of both art and evolution. An ally of immediacy, it takes us from objectification to the full experience of present time, place and context, responding directly to fete or foe, task or poem. The wild body runs on the pulse of passion – the urge and obcession to wholly experience miraculous, finite life.
(photos (c)2008 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)