rewilding – earth medicine, human therapy

series on changing perspectives on wilding and connecting with the earth to find wellness personally and for the environment

“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” –

Mary Jane Oliver, American poet 1935 – 2019 Her work was inspired by nature, rather than the human world. She had a passion for solitary walks in the wild.
Wild. Wilderness. Wild-lands. Re-wilding.

The common definitions for these terms is a description of natural environments that have not been changed or modified by man – non-urbanized and not under cultivation. Rewilding, the process of a species or ecosystem returning to a natural and untamed state; the process of undoing domestication, and is not a term regularly associated with humans! Essential wildness is difficult to define, also ‘rewilding’ is not a parti pris; simply it could be an openness to truly being alive.

A belief that everything is inherently wild – if it has a life-cycle – fauna, flora, biota – then it’s not such a leap to believe we, humans, are also creatures of the wild – perhaps self-domesticated and urbanized, but still wild at our core. At times, civilization itself is in denial of this belief and tends to think of wild as the exception and not the rule; that wild exists in isolation, that it is scattered here and there, on reserves and in parks and it’s probable that a majority of us have lost the connection between the wilderness and human existence. Lost the ability to connect with the land, plants, and animals, and recognizing the wild in ourselves. Most devastating is our disconnect from our cultural roots, our elders, and a way of doing for ourselves, from scratch, to survive in the wild.

“Wildness isn’t a thing. It’s an energetic state, It’s not a destination or something that can be distilled easily. It’s spontaneity. It’s untameable. It’s a product of the life force in everything, and it defies the logical imprisonment of explanation.”

Miles Olsen, author Unlearn, Rewild

Domestication is the eradication of what will not submit to control, and rewilding stands in opposite direction from domestication. Take for example the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

The Pripyat River Basin was wetland and forest until the 19th century when the forests were burned for pastureland and timber. In the 20th century some reforestation and land restoration projects were made to rewild the area but competed with urbanization, population growth, industry, and a nuclear power plant, Chernobyl. On April 26, 1986, the power plant exploded, creating what many consider the worst nuclear disaster the world has ever seen. Because of the catastrophic pollution from this event, humans were removed from the zone and yet, over the last 36 years, researchers have found that plants have regrown and a diverse animal life thrives – the zone has been rewilded.

If domestication means domination, than rewilding is a breaking-free from the control and to escape this oppression – wildness – the lifeforce – will fight to find a way, to express itself, to find a hole in the fence or a crack in the cement and grow. This is as true for humans as it was for the plants and animals of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Reconnecting with the wild in ourselves is a path to wellness of the spirit and body. This is not the wellness of pop culture, with its insipid meaning describing everything from fad products to fad diets. Nor is not the wellness proposed by fitness professionals. A stimulating workout, out of door’s, is a poor excuse for connecting with nature. I will concede that in fitness terms Wellness is simply a state of being OK, Wildness is a state of totally alive in the moment – or is that just the endorphins from the workout! Not to confuse these two concepts, health and wellness; one can be healthy and not well and well and not healthy. A true wellness of the soul coexists with health of the body and connects in a deep and meaningful way with nature and ourselves – bridging the gap between wilderness and our human existence.

wild beginnings

The grassroots movement of Earth First claim the first coining of the phrase re-wild when it appeared in print in 1990 and in 1998 it was refined further by conservation biologists Michael Soulé and Reed Noss, in a paper that described rewilding as a conservation method based on “cores, corridors, and carnivores”. Cores, protected areas of habitat; corridors to connect protected wilderness to allow migration, and carnivores, “keystone” species–regulate the ecosystem, ensuring stable relationships throughout the food chain. This method was further refined by Dave Foreman in an exposition of rewilding as a conservation strategy in 1999.

George Monbiot, writer and environmentalist, in his book Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life, presented a romantic and unabashed vision of how we can invite nature back into our lives…rewild ourselves and the earth and through his eyes and experiences, we were offered a vision of the world where humans and the nature worked together to heal. These ideas, along with notable success in the United States, Europe, and the transformation of Chernobyl, the re-wild ‘movement’ of environmental wilding has surged in popularity and continues to evolve.

photo Brightravenphotography.

“We live in a shadow land. A dim, flattened relic of what there once was. Rewilding offers us this fantastic opportunity to start allowing systems to restore themselves: stepping back, and letting nature get on with it.”

George Monbiot. It seems
wellness vs wildness

For many of us the word wellness has been watered down and packaged as a corporate health plan offering online counseling and financial advice. It seems a bit sedentary in comparison to the word wildness, which awakens the senses, fills us with possibilities and excitement. So for purposes of word association, we tend to think of wellness as a “program” and one that really doesn’t require a huge commitment. The term domesticated has a faintly insulting ring to it when applied to humans! We associate it with household drudgery or subjugated male roles. But Wild…Wilding…to be Wild – these words are exuberant, exciting, and vital. A bit dangerous and unpredictable. Not much of a contest between them.

However if to be wild is to have heart and spirit, I propose that your heart and spirit must be in a state of wellness. Since Charles Darwin wrote about “evolutionary fitness,” the idea of fitness has been confused with physical strength, tactical brilliance, and aggression and fitness is interpreted by many to mean wellness in a physical sense. So it is not a matter of this vs that, it is a symbiotic relationship and re-wilding is the journey to where you are truly feeling alive, living in the moment and and connected with earth. I am not suggesting that a mere change of residence, moving into the woods to live off the land, nothing that superficial, but a reconnecting to that wildness dormant inside you; the amazing, rich true self that’s there waiting to be engaged. If at this juncture, one has evolved and has made the connection and chooses to live closer to the earth, off the land, and into the wild, then it is appropriate to make that change of residence!

photo l. fowler
wild journey

Just as ecological re-wilding succeeds by letting nature do what it is designed to do, your personal journey to wildness can take the same approach. Imagine what would happen if we were more aware of our dynamic processes, and began to look inwardly to our own innate wisdom to repair and reunite with nature.

A connection with nature is often the best way to start the journey back to belonging and re-wilding. Nature reminds us that we need to grow and to also be still. The rhythms of the “garden” – pollination, seeding, growing, harvesting, composting, and resting – teaches that our life is not meant to constantly strive for production. John Muir said it plainly… “I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news” as we slow down in the process we enter the present, enjoy being ‘here’, and not struggling to get somewhere else.

Although every person’s journey to the wild is different, certain perspectives need to be altered before we can experience a real connection with our natural state. Modern ideologies spread and promote that our instinctive nature is in need of restraint – just the opposite of wild. Consider examining your perspective in these areas of your life. The process of changing deeply embedded perspectives requires an unlearning and relearning, a bit of grit and determination, some research and reflection, but most importantly, a desire to shift and realign your belief systems.

photo Brightravenphotography

1. Perspective of materialism. In the past 100 years our populist society has accepted the pursuit of material objects as a means of fulfillment and satisfaction. We tend to ‘hang on’ to the psychological wounds and conditioning of our upbringing and influences from advertising, in the hope of finding happiness in this consumer driven culture, yet, material objects never satisfy for long, if ever. A different perspective would allow us to withdraw from this mentality and reconnect with nature, our wild nature.

2. Perspective on technology. Not many of us have been immune from changes in work, education, and socializing due to COVID, and for many of us, technology has been a way to enrich and enhance family relationships, to work, create, enable and enhance our professional lives, and at times participate in a health and community lifelines. Technology used judiciously is a knowledge storehouse, problem solver and creator, and entertainment – we are connected like never before in our history, yet simultaneously, we are deprived of the true deep connections with others and our natural environment. Perhaps the change of perspective for technology in our re-wilding journey, is more with managing its role in your re-connection process and defining the parameters of its influence. Controlling technology and not technology controlling you.

3. Perspective on education. In America, our education systems, based on an industrial economy, mold us for productivity. It has a nasty habit of discarding anyone who does not conform and unlike many other aspects of our fast changing times…education is woefully lagging behind. Even in its “reforming” it still subscribes to its roots of regimentation and “domestication” that discourages individuality and forces a “rigid systems of seating, grouping, grading, and marking,” according to Alvin Toffler in his book Future Shock. The result is generations of people in the workforce who have no passion for what they do.

“The American education model…was actually copied from the 18th-century Prussian model designed to create docile subjects and factory workers.”

— David Brooks, writer for the New York Times
Learning from the wild

Changing your perspective on formal education systems, requires the act of unlearning what you have been programmed to think and believe, and look to Nature for the lessons on how to connect with yourself, your community, and with your career to find the passion to live all to the fullest.

The best teachers don’t show you what you need to see – they show you where to look for it. There is more than one truth in the world because the world looks different to every set of eyes belonging to the human spirit, so instead of following another’s opinion, make the effort and find your own truth.

 re-learn to fail

Failure is natural and it simply means there is something to be learned or another direction to take. Developing a growth mindset, rather than seeing failure as a negative and as in nature, failing leads to resilience and growth.

re-learn love

Finding what you love, the reason that gets you our of bed each morning with a sence of excitement, is an amazing feeling. And once you come across that “something” It can be the influence of everything else in your life. It is not always practical or possible to “love” your “job” – but having something meaningful that you do have a passion for, can bring color and satisfaction to any task or job. It can be another person; it can be your job; it can be a belief or a way of life.

re-learn gratitude

In the ‘wild’, the cares and concerns of daily life are cut down to size by the enormity of the life surrounding you. In the wild you can find so many reasons to be grateful for the gift of clean air, water, food, and the greatest gift of all…yourself. When you consider the increadible odds that your creation as a being beat, then know that you are a unique and wonderful creation just as the giant redwood or the tiny fern.

In the wild, surrounded by nature, and devoid of the distractions of technology and the busy daily life, it is easy to find gratitude for the small things. Dew on the leaves, the smell of the forest humus, breeze rustling through the trees, the eagle flying overhead….

photo Brightravenphotography
re-learn purpose

Hand in hand with gratitude is that everything has a purpose – including you. In nature there is nothing superfluous of redundant possessing a beautiful cycle – from the tree falling that provides shelter – and then as it decomposes by fungi and insects – it returns nutrients back into the soil that benefit the seedling of another tree.

re-learn to breathe

Besides the battery of biological reasons to breath properly; benefits to visceral organs — lungs, heart, and the gastrointestinal tract and the motor effects like slowing heart rate and lowering blood pressure – breathing aids in suppressing ‘fight or flight’ and helps one find a relaxed physical and mental state. There is no better place to practice deep and cleansing breathing techniques than in the wild surrounded by fresh clean air.

re-learn to listen

We hear much but listen very little. In conversation, or in listening to the natural world, you have to learn to stop, free your mind of distraction, concentrate on nothing, and let the wildness flow into your ears with out comment or judgement. Just as when listening to other people, there is so much to learn from listening to the wild. It is reveling to hear what is truly being said; how it is said; and why. It can also be a complete relief not to be waiting for the next gap in conversation and fill it!

re-learn living in the moment with your natural instincts

The paradox of living in the moment: How can you lose track of everything around, be focused and engaged so that distractions do not penetrate, and unaware of the passage of time – living in the moment, if you are not aware of the moment? We do this naturally when we are enjoying a special event or conversation with a friend, but we do not find this ‘bliss’ often enough and we certainly do not practice living in the moment as a life enhancement tool on a regular basis. Going into the wild you can focus on what nature is communicating, is a perfect place to practice this skill away from the trappings and distractions of our world.

Rise with the dawn, sleep when its dark, eat when you are hungry, and trust in your instincts. In the wild you have control and make your own decisions. You are responsible for where your next step is placed. Uses your instincts and trust your senses.

photo Brightravenphotography
re-learn responsibility

As you travel your journey to wildness, pause and discover the responsibility we have to steward the wild-lands, nature, and wild-places that we work in, recreate on, and care about. Stewardship.

“Most people are on the world, not in it – have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them – undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.” 

John Muir

good read….

“An uplifting book of how and why humans evolved a deep impulse to help total strangers but also act with unspeakable cruelty.” –Daniel E.Lieberman, Author.

Survival of the Friendliest is a fascinating counterpoint to the popular [mis]conception of Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest.’ Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods offer a convincing case that it was not brute strength, raw intelligence, or ruthlessness that allowed modern humans to thrive while our hominin relatives died out. Instead, they argue that friendliness was the key to our flourishing—and that the same kind of cooperative communication is the key to freeing us from the tribalism currently threatening democratic governance around the world. Powerful, insightful, accessible—this book gives me hope.”—Megan Phelps-Roper, author of Unfollow

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