A Reflection on:

The Wisdom Of the Wilderness

by Gerald May

Mankind has been enduring a never-ending struggle to know the unknown. There seems to be an innate yearning towards something beyond us, whether that be the divinity of a god or gods, or through the wisdom only the natural world can provide. In either case, we seek something which our ambitions and drive stem from, but also lead to. The end goal? To become part of something, to know that no matter what, we belong and are welcomed somewhere. Gerald May addresses this in his book The Wisdom Of the Wilderness, in which the man comes to learn that everything is as it is, and that's alright.


But what does that mean and why should we care? A main argument put forth by May, which few would likely disagree with, is that humanity has a tendency towards separating itself from the natural world, and this separation has made us no more free than the animals we keep as pets. Through the exploitation of the land, or, on the other hand, the preservation of it, we preoccupy our minds with controlling, taming, or preparing for that which may or may not come to pass. The result: increased anxieties and fear that lead to more and more control to further domesticate ourselves in the artificial society we created. What happens then when we are let free to be in a natural state, away from all constraints of society? Perhaps the same thing that happens to our pets when we release them into the wild – we die, physically and/or metaphorically.


Let's say, however, that we actively work to bridge the separation and become closer, if not one with, nature. We will soon find ourselves in a state of freedom rarely experienced, we will learn to welcome our raw emotions as the life energy that keeps us going, and most importantly we with learn that we are part of something bigger than our everyday lives, that we are part of the grand infinity that is the universe's creation process, and that no matter how down we may feel, we are always loved.


A main issue with separating ourselves from nature (which depending on one's beliefs can be God, gods, logos, etc.) is that it is, more often than not, a coping mechanism to reject our body's natural reaction to stimuli. We fear the dark, so turn on artificial lights. We then sit around creating more fears about what may happen should the lights go out, so our fears grow more and more until the only time we experience darkness are in the few moments before falling asleep, where even then many will medicate themselves to shorten this exposure. The same thing can be said for our reactions to other emotions that come in their most raw states, they are to be stopped and controlled before being expressed. Are these emotions wrong, do they cause harm? No to both, they are natural to us, neither right nor wrong. They are as they are, a part of being, much like the fear in a deer's eye when attacked by a wolf. But unlike us, the deer's fear is unadulterated and completely in the moment. It does not wake up in the morning fearing a wolf attack, nor does it strategize how to avoid or confront the wolf, it lives always in the now, always with its nature. For us, does this mean that we should act more like a deer? After all, no plans means no problems or no disappointments. Sure, one could live their life like that, but maybe a better option would be to learn to become more receptive of our emotions, not only for what they are but also for what they represent: the sign that we are indeed alive. The signs are there, fear is nothing to be numbed out of us with pills, it is the indicator that we need to keep pushing forward to keep living. The source of fear, and its great push, is the love of living inherent in us all.


It doesn't stop there, though. In order to further bring ourselves closer to that which our love pushes us to, we need to learn to become receptive of it. Some have easier times that others at this, various stages in life are also a factor in how much one can become aware that they are part of something, even the methods of this can differ. Many followers of eastern traditions and those in the various new-age movements will emphasize meditation as a source understanding. I for one have never had any luck achieving anything with the traditional cross-legged meditation styles often taught, and the only understanding I gain is that I now understand that my body doesn't like sitting that way for too long. In the sense of becoming more attuned to and with our nature, meditation here is anything that causes us to be in the moment. It is a state that can come at any time, can last for any duration, and can be anywhere. It's the moments of being where there is no rush to move on, the moments when the world around you is seen as it is with no focus on any particular detail in full, it's when the thoughts you have come and go as they please. In the animal world, we may call this instinct: the grazing deer halting its eating to sense its environment before returning to its meal. We apply meaning to the deer's actions here, assuming it does what it does to check for predators. In one sense, this is what it is doing, but we are still applying human thought to the deer's actions. What is most likely occurring is that the deer feels a rightness to that moment to be observant, and as such is observant. With this deer example, the key takeaway is that when the moment of “this feels right” comes to us, we should be fully accept it. In the book, May used an example of having awoken one morning whilst camping when the “power of slowing,” as he calls it, hit him and the feeling of calmness and rightness resulted in an extended period of time before the moment can for him to know, deep down, that it was time to make breakfast. So mediation needn't come from extravagant tropical getaways with trained gurus, it can come at any moment, and when it does come we must learn accept and savor it.


Now what? We've come to accept our emotions as our life energy and have begun to work on being receptive to the world around us when it decides it wants us to feel it, but what's there to be learned? May puts forth that what is gained isn't necessarily some lost wisdom known only by the ancient druids of old, but is more a sense of pure gratitude. A strong sense of thanks to no particular object, but to that what we yearn for. It is the gratitude for merely existing and being a part of being as a whole. Once the void for something more in our hearts gets filled with this gratitude, our sensations driving us towards seeking, searching and yearning get transformed into seeing, feeling and experiencing. In a way similar to how one struggles for understanding with a piece of art or music, knowing somehow that there is more to it, before finally having a revelation of its beauty. In May's case with nature, this revelation can turn a section of dead trees into a beautiful landscape of things exactly as they are to be. Are they ugly? Sure, but why would they not be? They are as they are. Them being that way shows that there is something out there that loves them despite what flaws we ourselves may assign to them. The dead, mangled, ugly trees are living out their being as their being is, much like we should be living our being as deemed by our nature. Even if we can only experience our natural wild state in a few short moments, the wisdom gained from such experiences will last us a lifetime. One could stay along the path struggling to find impossible comprehension with the world, in a journey full of exhaustion and rage, or one can find great peace and hope in simply relaxing and accepting the essential mystery of being.


In the end, we can choose to live our lives as we please. Perhaps there is some meaning to all of this, perhaps not. We could just be traversing through a universe of randomness and chaos, in which case the best one can hope for is that the show they'll watch after work is at the very least entertaining. But for those of us who have even the slightest inclination that mere chance isn't what has caused all of this, then at least we have an invitation to keep questioning and contemplating on our quest to feel the embrace and give back love.