what is wild?

a week in the wild

no thing mild

a world reconciled

There’s a story of relativity I have, in my mind, attributed to Einstein. Someone asks him to explain the relativity of time & he says, It’s simple—compare a minute with a pretty girl & a minute with your hand in a fire. Or something like that. Tribute to the effectiveness of our week in the wild was that, at the end of it, one of the consistent feedback points from the participants was the desire to extend it. Many of us felt we had just begun to get our rhythm and settle into the terrain—of the landscape & of the impromptu community—as well as our own unfolding place in both, when it was suddenly time to gather ourselves back up to be reinserted into “society”.

Now, rootless in the “normal” world, our week in the wild has sideswiped my perceptions of what “wild” even is. Untamed. Ah, but didn’t Le Petit Prince work magic on my wild resistance to being tamed?

Who wouldn’t want to consider themselves Wild? Yet is anyone, really? The flabby drunken boys on my flight into England, were they really wild? Instinctively I knew they wouldn’t survive in the wild. The Harley riders anywhere in the world, are they wild? The gang members? The “crazy” ones? Who, & what, defines wild? One of the very first questions I asked at the start of PocaHauntUs was,

“How can we call ourselves civilized when women & children still live in fear?”

This labeling of wild or savage at this point in time is an interesting one, but 4 to 5 hundred years ago it was a crucial one. It determined a genocide. By labeling indigenous people savage, a synonym for wild, we humans were able to savagely decimate 95% of them (as estimates go). I say ‘we’ because I was/am both. The killer & the killed. The hunter & the hunted. How do I reconcile that? By spending a week in the wild? Certainly not. Though it’s a start.

For how else do we cultivate a relationship than by dedicating time & space to learning the language(s) of the Other?

Worlds collide. This is what happened, is happening still. It could have been otherwise—a conversation, a dance—but it was a collision. While waiting in line to board the plane to England, I desperately searched my databanks of how to best manage this particular iteration of the pattern where 3 lads threw verbal abuse at women generally. Each slander cut me to the quick. Each lash of “cunt” I felt physically, like the reverberation of a specific rape. I’m sure this sounds extreme, like I’m the epitome of sensitivity to take it so deeply.

After yesterday spent on the ground in England, at the Borough Market & then along the Thames by the Tate, that internalized reaction boarding the plane was mild. How else to explain this than to say I am like a sensitized wild animal who feels everything, who is programmed for survival to sense everything. I’m clearly in the wrong environment, this urban one that provides a continual, relentless & numbing onslaught to my senses.

When I came to England last year to visit a dear friend, & also to visit Gravesend where Pocahontas had died–or was killed–while waiting for the tides to change (a meta-metaphor if ever there was one) so she could return to her homeland, I felt some of the same shock & awe. I fully admit it’s absurd to diss an entire nation based on 2 instances of entrance into it & on an imagined mirroring of an ancestral pattern playing out yet again. The Disney Pocahontas sequel, as racist & unskillfull as it was, had at least succeeded in showing me how foreign & uncivilized the “civilized” world of England was in 1620/1. If you’ve come from the “wild”, which word originates from wold, meaning woods or forest, where your connection to nature never wasn’t, an anthill of humans who don’t bathe in the river every day is not only smelly, it’s highly suspect. How far are we now from the levels of artifice & jostling for position that Lady Rebecca, as Pocahontas was renamed, would have seen at the king & queen’s court? This is what I saw everywhere at the market yesterday & it called up panic in me, maybe because underneath the cool facade of so many fashionably-shod consumers gobbling up the goodies & doubling up the rubbish, there was also panic—a low-level panic to eat more.

Acting has given my plastic face an outlet to express all the levels of horror & grace humanity can harbor, but yesterday in public I couldn’t keep my face from showing the horror I felt. Several times my friends reminded me, with their kindness, that others might see the horror on my face.

Yet I felt invisible, like Pocahontas in that horribly inaccurate Disney sequel that I had to shut off because it was so offensive. But I did relate to how they portrayed her—more like any other animal-creature artfully skimming up & down trees, in & out of view, more wild than “civilized.” And truly, if civilized means anxious, alcoholic, angry, egomaniacally desperate to “get ahead,” then lord may I never be tamed. For so many of my people have been. Somewhere in the enormously cathartic & challenging process of writing this play, I realized I was siding with the “good” side & somehow conveniently forgetting there was just as much, & perhaps more, of the “bad” side in my blood. That became part of the ending—me owning ALL of it. And maybe it was that willingness to show up to all of it that made it so very much like a rebirth, where I felt spewed out into the world anew, virtually a tabula rasa. Virtually, but not quite, since I still had all my old tricks–words, costumes, sets, identities–to play with.

I am all of it, and none of it.

So feeling my heart thumping & my anger rising in response to these boys boarding the plane, who were now including me in their taunting because I had dared to turn around & face them. My intention was to be neutral & simply witness them, as it was glaringly apparent that they wanted attention, but even that was aggravating. I was at a loss. How can I effectively transform this situation? I thought of Non-Violent Communication & of loving action. Others around me were throwing glances around, yet no one was DOing anything. I felt like a tattling child telling the flight attendant that the boys about to board were a problem. Could I not do something myself? Being antagonistic would only strengthen their antagonism, I felt. Somewhere in my recent activism training I’d read that violent action stems from a lack of imagination. In that case I felt like a dim dolt. I considered striding up to the loudest one in the middle & hugging him, but then thought he’d only convert this to his dark misogynistic purposes.

I was failing as an activist.

On the plane they kept up their loud, offensive yammering even when a young, slight, & brown British girl matched their white-boy cursing. She told them in no uncertain terms that if they didn’t pipe down their drunken pathetic selves, she’d have them taken out when we reached London. I admired her pep, was awed at her seeming lack of concern for her own safety & wondered if she did indeed have a family of fighters to back her up. I imagined a team of big brothers who met her at every airport she alighted upon. But this only added fire to their fire, although it did have the effect of galvanizing others to step up against them. An older pink-faced man in glasses asked them to be quiet, which they rudely denied. Finally, as in school, the main culprit was taken up front, tucked behind a curtain & told that if he didn’t behave he’d be off the plane. When he returned my hackles rose higher—his new manners were an obvious ruse & made me far more nervous than his overt rudeness had.

Caged wildness is not tamed wildness, as we like to think.

Just like suppressed emotion is not safe emotion.

We’re blatantly not facing the beast here.

This particular loutish version of a beast promptly fell into a drunken snore as the plane leveled out, which gave his sidekicks excuse to climb over the backs of their seats, endowing them an outlet to express their own wildness. Their untame-ability. Which I also understand. Who, at heart, wants to be so damn civilized? Who doesn’t want to feel a sense of wild autonomy? But how do we do that as individuals without trampling all over everyone else’s freedom, human & otherwise?

Truly I did not mean to talk so much about them, but about the remarkable week in the wild I had. There’s something here though in these boys, & perhaps in all rebellious people. Something about how we have un-wilded our world. Where, for most people, the only real predators are those of our own kind. I don’t think many people think of this as odd, but to me this is frightening. Not the frightening that comes from feeling threatened by a rowdy drunkard or a gang member or a horny frat boy, but the frightening that comes from the dilution, & even extinction, of how we experience reverence, which is awe mixed with a little fear. How often do you feel there is something larger than yourself? There’s a general elegiac feeling that comes through spiritual practices, but I’m talking more about the fear-instilled feelings of reverence that come from immersion in the wild, where the wild things still roar. Where, without the skills to build fire, purify water, create warm shelter & find food, all our righteous roaring will get us nowhere fast.

After yet another heartbreak, I came to realize that a week in the wilds of Barcelona, touring museums & hunting down Gaudi on my own would not be as fulfilling as applying whatever navigation & survival skills I already had to expanding upon these essential skills (that I didn’t even know I needed to know) in the woods with strangers. Unlike the beautiful strangers of the city, with whom I would not likely dive any deeper than skin-deep–since modern beauty rarely survives the depths & instead thrives on the superficial–I realized that it would be a far greater challenge for my broken-open heart to live in intimate space & collaboration with 15 other humans.

Wild Camp. A bit of both in that. A bit of the untamed, married to the settled. The settled to the settler. And isn’t this most of us, at the heart of our ancestry? The colonized & the colonizer? The one Of the environment & the one trampling all Over the environment?

I’ve begun to realize why I can’t finish my book yet—I’m still learning what it means to “come home to your own sweetness, your own home.” These few days in London I’ve been staying with my Spanish friend, her American husband & their two girls born & raised in England. The theme while I’ve been with them is:

‘You don’t have a home?’

They can’t grasp what I’m trying to indicate—that my home is me. I tell them I’m like a snail. There’s a faint flicker of recognition, but the chant of “no home, no home” pulls stronger. There’s a child-like panic in all of us. I am touching on a deep fear, that also fascinates. If I don’t have a home, then home is not a given. They, too, could be homeless. It could happen. I watch carefully for signs of panic, impatience & grief arising within me, while I continue to field their repetitive & persistent disbelief.

The day spent navigating the hoards of parasitic, mindless consumers at the market has left me washed out, full of dread & devoid of hope, like I’ve just faced off an entire city of ravenous zombies & survived, but only barely. And there’s still tomorrow. The zombies are still out there. Yet how much are they “in here”? I wonder. How much zombie am I? How can I be so judgmental without somehow judging myself?

This marriage between male & female that happens at the hips, it’s for all of us to do, including me. And it’s why I haven’t been able to finish my book. These tough teachings of life are leading me to some sort of literary resolution though. I can feel it arising slowly. Soon, soon I will feel in my own bones an on-going dance between the ancestral lines that draw up from my feet, through my legs & then come to meet (or not) in my pelvis. This main physical juncture, as well as the one where the arms & neck/head extend out from the shoulders, are where most people site trouble & dis-ease in their bodies. I’m convinced that until we start clearing out the lineages that feed us–by healing what we may not even consider is ours to heal–we will forever wobble & hobble in the world. And our wildness will not be reconciled. We have work to do. Celebrations sure, yet until we make the underlying shifts, the seeming celebrations will exacerbate the dissonance between the surface cheer & the subterranean traumas we can no longer afford to ignore.

The symptoms of sickness are everywhere. My face in the market was horror & disbelief. How do I convey this to you without sounding like I’m the crazy one? There was a feeding frenzy happening, not just on dead animals delivered in an excess of environment-taxing packaging, but with cameras as well. Everywhere, everyone attempting to capture something. Anything. No one looking deeply satisfied. Only a disturbing combination of bored & hungry, even while overweight & heavily entertained.

with Lindsay Alderton at EcoDharma

My friend at EcoDharma had warned me to be careful out here in the wider world, in London—to take care of myself after 6 weeks in the rarefied environment of relative meditative stillness there, & especially with my particular strain of open-heartedness. I had brazenly replied that I’d spent far more time in this Being than the years she’d known me & that I could handle it. AND she was right. Both happened. I can, & am, handling it. But roughly.

My friends here have looked after me, like one of their own young girls. In the middle of the mayhem of the market the father says, ‘I love you Melissa’. A few moments later he realizes that I’m crying, but he doesn’t realize that it was his care that turned those tears on. In a maelstrom of mindlessness, his kindness & protectiveness are the kind of fatherly love I have all-ways craved in full, yet only had in small snippets. And this is key to the marriage in my hips as well. I took on the role of father & protector with my mother. I was the good husband. Recently I’ve seen & understood an astrological signature for this when I studied the mythology of some asteroids. With Juno prominent in my public arenas, I show a staunch face when it comes to promoting women & protecting them. There is nothing wrong in this.

What requires balancing is the softer, more tender sides. And it was those sides that had felt free to emerge while at EcoDharma, the way a wild woodland creature would do when the crashing-about of humans has subsided. With 6 weeks in the ear-ringing silence of the Catalunyan cliffs, broken only by cuckoos &, later in the season, nightingales, & sometimes the dark & startling snuffle of a wild boar, I had been tamed by the timeless. My own wild heart had ventured forth, showing itself in abandoned laughter as well as unbrooked grieving, all witnessed by these strangers I’d stepped into the wilderness with. Who each had their own luggage to sift through, their own dialectical dramas to undo, to re-wild themselves.

What, for you, is wild?

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