This exploration is inspired by an email exchange with a friend. Words in pink are hers.
Wilderness and wildness can be beautiful ways to recognize source made manifest, and to describe an enlivened earth as the larger terrain we and all of life are co-participants in. In this view or metaphor, wildness is understood to be the activity of wilderness, while wilderness is understood to be the manifest expression of awareness. Uncontained, inter-relational, infinitely varied, without rigid boundaries. And yet, familiar. The actual enlivening itself, coming into and through form, endlessly interacting with myriad fluid everchanging reflections of its own becoming.
Our mainstream materialist worldview believes that for most of evolutionary history instinct ruled animal life, and only later on in an evolutionary sense did intelligence and “thinking” come along, as an adjunct to or higher level order of instinct, to increase possibilities of survival and expansion.
Consciousness (or awareness) in this worldview is believed to be an even later and higher level activity of thinking, which materialist “science” has not yet been able to describe or explain.
What is mostly ignored in order to continue this materialist approach to the studying of our origins is that instinct must be preceded by or at least predicated upon perception. In other words, there must be something that is perceived for instinctive behavior to re-act to. Otherwise instinct could not exist or participate in a universe founded upon relativity.
And for perception to occur as a predicate to instinct there must be something perceiving.
That something is variously called sentience, awareness, consciousness, or perhaps even life itself, as in the enlivening of everything alive.
Anyone who can say simply, here in this very present moment, “I Am,” and simultaneously in this very exact same quiet present moment know, prior even to the words, that such is true, without any need to go into thought, concept, image, feeling or sensation, in other words without any “proof” at all, is realizing her very own self as this awake knowing (something) knowing itself as the knowing.
This knowing without an other is independent of all objective and subjective knowledge. It is a continuum in which all language is essentially made up of “verbs” (for lack of a better term), in other words a world in which activity, actuality, language and exchange (communication) are one, or whole (holy). A separate “knower,” having an “experience” comes into play only in the instant consciousness identifies with an activity, thought, feeling, perception, sensation or story, and the “once moment” (now passed into beliefs of time) is named, storied (so to speak), or “remembered.”
In this understanding our whole world and the very universe itself becomes a vast limitless conversation eternally reaching to be heard, understood, and come into consciousness, of, and as, all these myriad possibilities of its own self. Activity and actor the same.
To say it again from a somewhat different direction, for instinct to play a part in the whole, and for thinking to then come along and amplify the possibilities of instinct, eventually to perceive its own activities and then believe they (as “itself”) are above and/or greater than instinct, there must first have been awareness or consciousness.
And now from a third direction – In the midst of awareness “something” other seems to arise, and perception, as a reflection of awareness, also arises, simultaneously, inherent in the very nature of something arising in awareness. Also inherent in this something is a momentum, trajectory, or desire to continue to exist and multiply.
This primordial impulse, as a part of its desire to continue to exist and multiply, discovers thinking, and eventually, in the mirror of its own source, or awareness, of which it is, it “conceives” itself to actually be its own thinking, therefore something now other, distinct and separate from its source. In other words, thinking, via perception, becomes, through its own thinking (beliefs interacting with themselves), the “thinker” of itself, and therefore now also “separate” from itself, as well as its source.
In this belief that it is other than its source, and having the same power to extend (imagine, believe) as its source, something continues its turning away from its source (to multiply). And because it is not actually in truth separate from its source there becomes also an increasing turning away from itself, with a strong tendency to identify more and more with and as what we have come to call the identity of separation, or ego.
As a part of this turning, something other, to further sustain and reinforce its belief in itself as something separate and other, increasingly forgets its source, of which it is.
What we call ego is in a real sense the very personification of this ongoing forgetting.
To continue in this third direction, or story, something other, now believing itself separate, makes up (invents), out of its belief in separation from what it has forgotten, further separation centered around what might be called guilt, loneliness and fear in regards to its source. All of which, in an attempt to escape what it has now made up, it projects, through all the myriad possibilities of manifest form, upon its very own now forgotten vast awareness.
Something other, in order to continue believing in its own existence as something separate, must now keep believing (insisting) that its ever increasing projections in the beliefs of separation are real. And because its projections are woven out of its beliefs in guilt, loneliness and fear, they conflict and interact with each other, affirm its struggles with them as something even more separate and threatening, and multiply exponentially.
In the seeming realness of his projections as something separate that he is struggling with, something other is assured that his own separateness is real. Something other also now firmly believes he must assert dominion over his projections, so as to become more substantial as something separate and other, or in other words survive and multiply.
Something other dimly knows that if he stops struggling for dominion he, his projections, and all of separation as he believes it to be, will disappear. And so he invents death, because he would rather “die” in the belief he is a real body struggling with his projected “material” world, made up of other material things and other bodies that will go on, than disappear.
The whole materialist world view, including but very much not exclusive of establishment science and organized religion, is hugely lost in some extraordinarily complex, multilayered, mostly unconscious and therefore very conflicted variations of what I am trying to point to in this section.
All efforts to “figure” (think) one’s way out of such a mess as this will always and only add to the mess. Our current world-level circumstances – climatically, environmentally, politically, economically, socially, relationally and personally – are a result of now thousands of years of our trying to “think” (fight, control, avoid) our way out, or in other words become “free” of our own projections.
Wildness as a metaphor begins to open a door into individual expression and engagement, through awareness, as a sort of venturing beyond intellectual (conceptual) boundaries and memory (beliefs in time), enabling a journey of discovery into what is truly ourselves prior to yet not apart from thinking and instinct.
In this new ancient story, separation is (once again) seen as the illusion it is, and, to the extent it is no longer believed, it slowly dissolves back into the nothing it always was. Thinking and instinct, in the absence of beliefs in separation, simply and naturally transform, no longer apart from their source, awareness.
Wilderness, in the form of the natural world, through wildness as an activity of awareness awakening to itself as you and I, and in the context of all the many apparent activities, shapes and processes we are perceiving, engaging, enacting, expressing, knowing, comprehending and recognizing, is once again revered as the larger context of what we also are.
The “laws” of nature, of physics, of science, of economics, and of all other systems of understanding, in this portrayal, become simply our many descriptions, understandings and conceptualizations, more or less accurate in a relative sense, of what is for some of us an incredible play of coherent possibilities arising in consciousness.
We are no longer merely describing matter, material, things, and our motivation is no longer survival in the separatist sense. Instead, we are describing consciousness itself, as it is, both within and as a play of manifestation, a play in and of which we also are. Only now we are of it consciously, that is, we are participating as consciousness itself. Each one of us uniquely, yet all of us the same.
We have become where the changing and the changeless rejoin and rejoice.
We are simultaneously shaped and moved by what is apparent to us, and through the evolution of intelligence and thinking we have learned to discern ever deeper patterns, invent space, time, language, and offer name, description, expression and concept to what we perceive. We do that partly to evade, capture, contain and/or control all that we believe we are apart from and/or subject to.
But we also describe, name and conceptualize what we perceive in order to communicate amongst ourselves reverence, awe, care and concern, for life, each other, and for the natural world we are a part of. In other words, as a way to express and engage each other and the environment, as well as our internal (inward) dimensions, through the infinite possibilities of love.
Wildness – to express some of the shape and shaping of what is alive, ever-extending but more subjective, relative; what appears wild to one may not appear wild to another.
Wilderness – place and means of sharing what is alive and ever-extending, yet also immediate, here and now, infinitely textured, without limits, no “part” of it “encompassable.” A metaphor for what we are called to enter into, become, directly experience. This wilderness cannot be known by what is apart from it, by what believes itself separate.
Infinitely textured wilderness – where there are no closed doors, no fences, no walls, no separation, a “place” where the center is everywhere and where experience is always experiencing itself without an experiencer, eternally awakening as each of us and all life.
It is in this sort of wilderness that we begin to discover, more and more, how our world which seems so lost in its beliefs of separation is merely something we are collectively and individually making up.
In true wilderness everything is permeable, continually embracing, nourishing and being nourished by all of its seeming opposites and “others.” In this wilderness, which comes awake through our awareness of it as what we also are, the body-mind’s senses and abilities are now understood to be our means of motivation and engagement. We are now wildness itself, no longer merely instruments in the service of observation and defense, where the only intent was to preserve the illusion of an observer, conflict, separate identities.
I read this passage from David Whyte recently, and have been thinking about it. I have never really identified strongly with the emotion of anger, and certainly never saw it like this. I would be curious your perspective.
What we usually call anger is only what is left of its essence when we are overwhelmed by its accompanying vulnerability. It reaches through the lost surface of our mind’s or our body’s incapacity to hold it, and penetrates past the limits of our understanding. What we name as anger is actually only our incoherent physical incapacity to sustain what is a deeper form of care that abides within all these outer appearances of daily life. In this sense anger becomes the unwillingness to be large enough and generous enough to hold what we love helplessly in our bodies and in our awareness, with the clarity and breadth of our whole being.
David Whyte seems to be trying to show a way through anger to a lighter manner of being, in this excerpt as well as the larger writing it comes from.
But I believe David is also, maybe without realizing it, adding a great deal of weight to anger, making it seem more substantial, real. I suspect his effort could easily become another means or justification for some people to sustain identification with separation, and not go deeper, discover what lies behind, beneath, prior to anger. But to do something like that (as he seems to know} we first must let ourselves feel this anger we are all born into, acknowledge it, and begin to understand it without judgement.
That has been one of the shortcomings (for me) with a lot of David’s writings, how much of it keeps circling back into what are some of the same illusions of separation he is attempting to reveal, with such amazing genius, for what they are.
So many, and probably much more often women in this hugely patriarchal world, find anger to be much too dangerous, unbecoming, fearful, entangled with guilt, to feel or express.
Yet it seems, generally, that the energies of anger are how most people invest themselves in our collective human conversation, through proxies (shields, weapons, containments), of belief, judgement, ideology, posture, intensified and contracted energy, force, deception, manipulation, all the many ways the meta belief in our illusions and identities of separation seeks to become secure, invulnerable.
In a lot of David’s writings what I will call freedom becomes simply a reflection of his own unique abilities to see with exquisite detail what it is we are caught in, as he navigates, negotiates and describes activities within the ballrooms, kitchens, bedrooms, libraries, corridors, grand staircases and nooks and crannies of a great castle he never seems to leave very far behind.
Even as he walks out and about upon his castle’s many high ramparts, delves into its deepest dungeons, and climbs its many high towers, he never seems to go very far beyond its “views,” this play of light and shadows we call the world, that he is attempting to reveal in his writings.
All the while that he is still calling out, describing and giving name to many aspects of the infinite wilderness that all our castles and little interlinked kingdoms are attempting to keep us safe (separate) from. And yet, even in the midst of our readings of words such as David’s, we keep extending our fences, boxes, technologies, walls, boundaries, castles, forts, and belief systems in what has always been an unquestioned attempt, as separate identities (individuals, families, tribes, nations, species), to gain dominion over the wilderness.
The vast unknown that lies beyond all our castles’ beautiful and highly educated (described, named and defined) views doesn’t seem to tempt David to any significant degree to take the journey no one in the beliefs of separation will ever return from, if they truly go with all their being. In that journey willfulness slowly transforms into willingness, as we disappear ever deeper into a huge fecund emptiness, infinitely rich and subtle beyond measure, a stillness so complete it is beyond all possible names and descriptions.
In that sort of emptiness one begins to find, always more the less we feel a need to defend against it, what we have never really been apart from, only believed so, for a while.
David invites us even unto our castle gates, even nudges them open for us, sometimes, if we are listening closely to his words. And he leaves us there, to decide if we want to pass through, go forth, or not. And in this way he serves a great human cause, for which I am hugely and deeply grateful.
Maybe that is his essential contribution and his own soul’s journey this lifetime. I have, for lack of a better description, always felt a fair bit of ego in the way Whyte writes but, setting that aside, I do think he helps us cultivate awareness in ways we might otherwise not have found. Maybe he takes us just as far as he can see and feel, which is a fair bit more than most, I think.
Yes, much further than most. And, perhaps only because I seek the company of such as he, I want him to let his own words carry him far enough beyond all our castle walls, through his writings, to be able to look back and actually begin to grok all this world’s incredible heaviness and contracted and defended nature, now made unavoidably apparent, in contrast to the incredible spaciousness he has begun to enter into.
And then go on, around the corner so to speak, out of sight, let his writings become his destruction, erase all he believes himself to be, along with them. His words now the occasional footprints, blazes, markings and droppings of his own unfolding forever blooming disappearance. All of his words now the gifts of his pilgrimage beyond them, left so others may also find the courage to leave castle walls behind. More and more of us, following our own unique paths through and upon the waters of a journey that never ends, to a destination we never left.
In the midst of this disappearance of all we have believed we are, the wilderness itself will actually begin to use our words, activities, movements and ways of expressing, to speak to something deeper that is each of us, and also all of us. This is what we have come here into these lives to hear, to see, and to finally and fully recognize as what we also are.
Real freedom, which terrifies every one of us at least for a while, is that going forth. Some of David’s writings and readings speak a little of this disappearance of all we believe we are, and call us into an actual passage through and beyond our seeming worlds of separation. His writings do pierce through, in so many beautiful ways.
But words like his need also to show us and accompany us beyond, to where all our separately believed and conflicted worlds can begin to fall away of their own, and allow what has always been here, slowly or rapidly as grace will have it, reveal itself for what it truly is and we also are.
You are writing of mystical experience, the experience of the deep inner realms, I have read little that transports in this way, words seem a poor substitute for the lived, felt, embodied experience.
Words cannot transport us, but words that arise from the lived, felt and embodied can become for us like openings, fingers pointing, invitations to rejoin the lived, felt, embodied. Such words are no longer things, or concepts, they’ve been transformed, life is now calling through them, to life. And so life hears life, love sees love, God knows God. We pass on through the calling, leaving behind the fingers, the openings, as we become our own transport, simply by going. We have become willing.
It is all about our relationship with words, how we use them, what they are for us. Do we see them as walls, defenses, masks, the substance of our personas of separation, or do we see them as invitations and openings, through which we may emerge, meet, enter, and be entered, with our recognition of each other and all of life being the only key necessary to pass on through into a different kind of terrain, where we might truly know and be known. And not just words; looks, expressions, gestures, postures, actions, everything, all of life our art, this activity of creation.
Words are what we choose to believe they are, we can begin to use them to recreate a different world in the image of what we are, instead of what we are not. But to do that words must become openings, passages, engagement, and be no longer our means of defense, attack, alienation, separation.
Anger is merely the illusion of separation asserting itself more and more, continually pulling itself back up by its own bootstraps, so to speak, an illusion that believes it is real. Beneath anger is fear, fear of what we truly are, have never not been. Bingo! But we have forgotten, which engenders more fear.
Anger denies fear, projects it instead as the world around us, foreign, threatening, other. Anger is also what our castle walls are made of, and its ramparts and dungeons and towers, all of which enables anger to believe it can contain its own contradictions and internal conflicts and convince itself for just a little while longer that these disturbances are not there, and that it is real as something apart from its own source.
Anger, fear and ego, all the same illusion, divided upon itself, so as to convince itself it exists.
In this writing you’ve shared David seems to attempt to invent all this away, by bringing anger together with compassion and care, a kind of conflation that misses a larger dimension beyond all our words, an infinitely larger dimension in which all, including what seems to appear as anger and fear, actually do co-exist.
What David is saying in this passage is not wrong, it simply falls short, for me, makes anger acceptable, respectable in a relative sense, relative to the now “different” anger and aggression of less erudite and self aware “others.” I think you have a very sage point here.
Writing that supports and extends our meta beliefs in separation, no matter how deep, profound and beautiful, and maybe even especially when it is deep, profound and beautiful, is not helpful in our world today.
To paraphrase Liz Greene, I believe instead we must begin to transform all wrath, all anger, into courage, rediscover our own true wildness, and step into the wilderness, together.