It’s not much of a secret that I love howling at the moon from my roof. While it probably confuses my neighbors, as they aren’t used to hearing wolves in the midst of the city, I find it a wonderful way to feel wild in a legal, not -bad-for-me sort of way.
Lately, I’ve been dreaming about the Greek goddess Artemis. I want to be her running barefoot in the woods, eating with my hands, hunting, and howling at the moon without scaring my neighbors. She represents for me all of the experience of wilderness that I crave. And then the philosopher in me asks, “what is this wilderness I speak of?” (More food for thought: this question is similar to the question of what is nature, but is us even though we talk about it as if we were separate from it.)
The dictionary describes “wilderness” as an “uncultivated and uninhabited region.” People use wilderness to reconnect with the Earth, retreat from civilization, or find healing. It seems something about wilderness connects humans to something deep within themselves. I think it is only through time in wilderness we remember our own wildness.
In our civilized, Western society we don’t allow a lot of space for being wild or acknowledging the animalness residing within all of us. We seem to squelch it out using societal norms, judgment, and etiquette. The animalness and wildness in humans has become taboo – our desire for sex or nudity considered inappropriate. Yet often the experience I crave the most are the ones that makes me feel more like the animal I am. Just like in psychological dynamics between humans, we project unowned parts of ourselves onto others…so too with our own “nature.” Those of us who idealize wilderness find that it is actually our own inner wildness we crave an experience of.
It is natural to enjoy time outside and as humans we have lost touch with the rhythms of life because of the different ways in which we live now versus before. Unfortunately (and fortunately), we cannot go back to the way things were. Technology and society have come too far in the past one hundred years. What we can do is observe our relationship to nature and wilderness to gain useful insight into ourselves.
I am reminded of one of my favorite books (and now a movie), Life of Pi. Pi needed to create the tiger, Richard Parker, on the boat with him to hold the wildness he didn’t want to own for himself. He had to project his animalistic tendencies onto an imaginary tiger in order to be okay with them. When Richard Parker “leaves” he cries I think because he felt his wildness leave. And he had to return to suppressing it again within himself. Even though we don’t tolerate the wildness in ourselves, we also don’t like it in animals. It scares us.
A few months ago I went to the zoo and was mesmerized by a lioness. According to the zookeeper she was 15 years old and the most ferocious of the lion pride. I stared at her through bars and hated humans for attempting to tame her. I remembered the last time I went horseback riding and how guilty I felt. The horse wanted to run and eat and instead it had a specific route with specific things it was required to do. I would rather ride a horse bareback and allow them to take me where ever they wanted. To trust their animal instincts as my own.
I feel the same anger when I see dogs who are reprimanded for eating food off the table or attacking other dogs. Dogs must be on leashes and obey our commands. We fear their wildness the same way we fear our own. We want them to follow rules of society by not having anger or aggression and forget they are animals…just like us, only without as much societal programming. And yet, a world of untamed people, dogs, lions, or horses while it maybe more dangerous…sounds more interesting to me.
The wildness in me rarely gets revealed except for at Burning Man running around naked with fire or in moments in my apartment where I eat chicken off the bone with my hands. Secretly I know this wildness is why I seem to have difficulty being vegetarian. I want to feel like a non-human animal more often than I would like to admit. I recently read Robert A. Johnson’s Ecstasy: a Psychology of Joy that talks about the very essence of wildness. In the book, Johnson talks extensively about the God Dionysius who was misunderstood. Dionysus represented the bridge between humans as divine/proper creatures and the animal realm with sensual pleasures. His followers held the importance of honoring both the divine and animal in human nature. In many spiritual practices our wildness (or lower chakra) is not valued as much as the “higher” and more refined parts of ourselves. I want a religion where I pray naked in the woods. Or a sexual practice where it is tantric and also sometimes dirty.
Here’s how I nourish my wildness/wilderness as a practice:
- dancing naked in my apartment
- eating with my hands
- going braless (when it isn’t too cold)
- eating with my hands whenever I can (especially meat off the bone)
- wear feathers in my hair
- stop shaving my legs
- wear animals prints and (faux) fur
- allow myself to get and feel angry
- cultivate a strong body
- have a “pack” of strong women
- keep my hair long and untamed
- (I would say hot sex, but that isn’t exactly something that has been a part of my experience as of late, so I will leave this one for someone to add to their own list)
My first introduction to the “wild woman” archetype was several years ago reading the book Women Who Run with Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I read the book with stories of untamed women and felt a stirring within me. Years later, and more time in SF, with two Burning Mans under my belt, I feel this archetype in me now more than ever. This wild woman loves eating flesh off the bone, craves sweaty sex, dreams of being Artemis, and wants to run around braless and barefoot.
The introduction quote by Clarissa Pinkola Estes describes my experience and that of many others:
“We are filled with a longing for the wild. There are few culturally sanctioned antidotes for this yearning. We were taught to feel shame for such a desire. We grew our hair long and used it to hide our feelings. But the shadow of Wild Woman still lurks behind us during our days and in our nights. No matter where we are, the shadow that trots behind us is definitely four-footed.”
I believe there is something in all of us that craves this unbridled wildness. Some escape into wilderness to feel it. Others go to places like Burning Man. Still others suppress it until it becomes acts of violence. Society chastises and punishes those who remind us of our wildness. We seem to forget we are a human animal…no matter how much taming our society has done. Rightfully so, things could get out of hand, but we have something to learn from Dionysus, wolves, and Burning Man — to honor our wildness in whatever ways we can.
I want it to live in the wild me without permission from society. To hold the paradox of being civilized and uncivilized, tamed and untamed simultaneously. May we all have the courage to allow wildness to exist and seek refuge in our own wilderness.
[Photo: Sun Raven]