For many years, most of my adult life in fact, I have been actively seeking a deeper connection with the earth.
Sometimes that has looked like studying the natural world in books. It has looked like pouring over field guides, and reading textbooks, drawing maps and reading about animal behavior, studying watersheds, and the life cycle, and the classification system, and plants. Sometimes that has looked like living outside, camping in all seasons, swimming in lakes, climbing up mountains, and drinking tea around campfires with dear friends at my side.
Sometimes it has looked like hours spent in the cold, and the hot summer sun, sitting very still, watching the birds build nests, or the squirrels feed their young. Sometimes it has looked like
activism, like attending marches and organizing community members and speaking up and speaking out.
Sometimes I have called the process rewilding. Sometimes I have called in
reconnection, reintegration. Sometimes I have resonated with the idea of undomestication.
Sometimes I have just called it love, born from a deep hunger for a life more meaningful than our civilization wishes to offer us.
With reconnection comes grief. The painful part of loving something deeply is coming to understand the dreadful reality of loss. That nothing here on earth is promised to last forever.
That the earth herself will one day cease to exist, and with her all of the magnificent beings that call this place their home.
More dreadful still is coming to understand that our civilization is not attuned to the planet and her rhythms. It is a hard truth to realize we are living in a way that causes suffering for other living beings, that renders whole regions of the planet unliveable, that strips whole ecosystems of any semblance of life. It is a painful and terrible thing to realize this, and worse
still is the feeling of helplessness that can come with it. Even if we know this and wish to change our present circumstances, it is hard to figure out exactly what to do to change things, and how.
I know from my experiences so far that it is possible to remember. We are capable of learning so much, of remembering the names of things, of learning the patterns of leaves, and
tracks in mud. But there is another piece of rewilding that is perhaps more difficult to practice, not found in any textbook, not something one can obviously see, sitting quietly on a cold day, or in the hot sun.
And that is the process of emotional awakening.
Our civilization is a fairly brutal one to exist in. To survive inside of it, it requires us to work against our natural inclinations to be highly empathetic, community oriented beings, and
requires instead that we compete with one another, and turn a blind eye to the suffering that takes place around us on a daily basis. We are not violent at our core. Smart? Yes. Cunning?
Perhaps. Able to adapt, and create, and invent at lightning speed? Yes. We are all of those things, and those things are what have made us so highly successful here on planet earth.
But we are also kind. We carry our babies in a gentle embrace. We make love, we tend to the forests and fields, we hunt, for food of course, and even there our predisposition is to be
gentle, quick, and humane. We are not brutal by nature. Our hands are made to hold, to clasp, to grab, to bring us together. We are successful because of our predisposition to be empathetic;
not in spite of it.
Our civilization does not nurture empathy, or sensitivity. It demands we move forward, always forward, in a desperate march of colonization and capitalism, turning living things into
dead ones and transforming life, the natural world, and our precious ecosystem into commodity.
When we are isolated, when we are faced with a lifetime filled with pain, as a survival mechanism so many of us find that we turn off emotionally. Like a snail in danger pulling itself into its shell, we withdraw into ourselves, drawing the most sensitive parts of our
emotional selves way down deep into the caves of our inner landscapes, where it is safe. We build walls around these emotional parts, and hide them away, and after awhile we grow
separated from them, can no longer access them or perhaps even forget that they ever existed at all.
But to be fully ourselves, to experience the world in a way that is both authentic, and profound, we must reawaken the emotional parts of ourselves that have been lying dormant.
Sometimes, often, this is an unconscious and unplanned process, frequently triggered by intense life experiences, like falling in love, or experiencing great loss. Moments of intense
feeling can awaken our sleeping emotional selves, and like a bear roused from hibernation before they are ready, the experience can feel disorienting, and painful. And also sometimes
intensely pleasant, depending on the circumstances.
As the dormant parts of ourselves awaken and start to function again, it can feel like limbs that were asleep tingling with pins and needles. As we start to experience the world more
fully in our senses, the process can be uncomfortable and overwhelming. Handling our emotions takes practice, and the parts of ourselves that have been sleeping need time to grow,
develop, to become full.
In the past year I lost my mother, whom I was very close to, and also my partner of 17 years and I separated. It’s a stunning amount of change and loss to comprehend, and I have struggled to find balance and a new sense of normal in my life that suddenly looks and feels
very different than it ever did before.
I feel like a newborn baby, not quite sure how to navigate life, and not quite in control of all my faculties. Or maybe the feeling is more like being an alien from the outer reaches of our universe, suddenly touched down on planet earth, and I am trying to learn the ways and customs in a space that is wholly unfamiliar to me.
Losing my mother has led to a seismic shift in my reality. My experience here without her is wildly different than the reality I lived in for the first 35 years of my life. The body that brought
me here, the breasts that fed me, the arms that held me, and the love that supported me have vanished, leaving behind a deep longing in me for something that no longer exists on this plane.
And what can I do about that? Nothing. Except remember her and hold my memories of her dear. I can whisper to her in quiet moments, and visit with her in my dreams, and otherwise I
can only sit with these difficult feelings, let them wash over me, cry an earth’s oceans full of tears, and seek life, and love, and goodness wherever it may live. But the loss has awakened me too. Even after all my years of rewilding work, there are so many parts of me that still sleep. Losing both my mother and my marriage has brought a new
perspective to my life. Parts of my emotional self long dormant have woken up. I am extremely vulnerable, and also probably stronger than I have ever been. When it became clear that my mother’s cancer, and my marriage’s prognosis were both most likely terminal, I thought I would surely die under the weight of all that loss. And honestly in some moments I wanted to cease to exist, the pain was so great. But I didn’t die. I didn’t disappear. I didn’t shatter into a million little bits and go blowing away in the wind. I’m sitting here breathing, my fingers tapping this
keyboard, and I am raw, and a little bit fragile, but also warm, and awake, and alive.
We can help one another through these difficult moments. We ARE empathetic, and we ARE kind. We can offer an outstretched hand to those in need, we can share our experiences, we can walk the roads of love and loss in community with others who are experiencing the
And, importantly, we move through these awakenings alone too. In the night, in the moments of solitude, we are kept company by the rhythm of our own heartbeat, by the blood
coursing through our veins, by the earth under our feet, and the clouds moving quickly across the sky. As the sleeping parts of us awaken we regain the ability to feel deeply, to sense the invisible, and to know some small bits of the unknowable. And our world shifts in turn, and as a result.
If civilization’s success counts on our ability to suppress our emotions, certainly one of the most rebellious, and powerful acts we can engage in is allowing ourselves simply just to
feel, without judgement, without guilt, without embarrassment, and with great, and thunderous, abandon.
Wolves and sheep
By Phil Watts
We’ve all heard the claim
That our world is wolves and sheep
The weak are meat
And the strong do eat.
But we’ve been taught one part wrong,
That being fast, fierce and ferocious,
Having tearing claws and sharp teeth,
Is the same as being strong.
Those who prey on the weak,
Those who hunt those who can’t fight back,
They are not better, not to be envied
They have their place, but it’s not the only one.
They depend on the weak,
Their power is fleeting,
Stolen from those they feel superior to,
Barely their own.
Those who live with the earth,
Rely on each other for support,
Give freely to those in need,
Own their power.
Were there no sheep,
Wolves would make prey of themselves,
We’re there no wolves,
The sheep would sustain.
Which do you want to be.