Wild Child

“Among oral people’s, language functions not simply to dialogue with other humans, but also to converse with the more than human cosmos. Words do not speak about the world, they speak to the world, and it is our loss that we have become severed from the vaster life, and have forgotten the expressive depths of language provided by the whole of the sensuous world.” David Abrams

A post on the Depth Psychology Alliance group, Ecopsychology, discusses the topic of story, fairy-tales and language in relation to environmental education and this paper by Joanna Coleman. You can read the post and conversation here, but a free membership is required.

My heart goes out to this vital topic. Before one can enter into a conversation on using stories to heal the rift between ourselves and nature, might it first be necessary to consider both Nature herself and the nature of belief and story? Are stories still a vital way to see ourselves?

Perhaps some resistance to seeing ourselves in a story, a living fiction, preferring instead to call it Reality, stems from a necessary agreement that we are not simply making the world up. We need agreement for those places where our lives intersect. The modern distinction between reality and fiction mistakes story as something untrue, rather than something that provides a metaphorical way to understand reality. Reality and story are not opposites. They belong to two entirely different modes of perceiving.

Storytelling, for us moderns, is enjoyed primarily because of its fictitious nature. Immersing ourselves in a story means suspending reality, perhaps releasing us from the tensions so many of us feel. Tensions caused perhaps by an increasing dependence on remote, uncontrollable sources for food, water and shelter. Technology, in some ways, returns us to infancy, only our mother is now the Sysco truck, the Real Estate agent and local Utility service provider.

File:2008-07-24 International truck docked at Duke Hospital South 2.jpgCan humans live for hundreds of thousands of years, relying primarily on hands-in-the-dirt participation with local resources for survival, to a place where we’ve forgotten most of the knowledge it takes to survive, trading it in for utter reliance on a network so vast, complex and distant that it’s become out of sight and out of mind? What does this change do to Psyche, let alone Nature?

Perhaps the change in us that’s hardest to see, although sensed, is also too primary to see. We live the life given to us through the structures already in place upon entering this world. They are natural. And if nature is now out there, in a zoo, a storybook, or a National Park, we’ve tamed it to the point that what little exchange we have with animals and trees barely touch us, except in a sentimental and safe way, or through efforts to manage her. From forest fires to so-called Parks, nature must submit to human demands – the more so, the more damage done.

But, do we remember the fear of the wild our ancestors lived with, or understand their drive to tame the wild west? Perhaps we have never come to terms with the conflict between a desire for safety and its result of devastating loss of wild life. Must the choice for safety always come at the expense of nature?

Culture:

Middle English (denoting a cultivated piece of land): the noun from French culture or directly from Latin cultura ‘growing, cultivation’; the verb from obsolete French culturer or medieval Latin culturare, both based on Latin colere ‘tend, cultivate’ (see cultivate). In late Middle English the sense was ‘cultivation of the soil’ and from this (early 16th century) arose ‘cultivation (of the mind, faculties, or manners)’; sense 1 of the noun dates from the early 19th century.

Ironically, culture relates to land, saying something about our relationship to nature, not nature as it is, but the one we till, grow and harvest. Culture than is the very thing that moved us from a people living with the inherent constraints and fierceness of nature, to a people resisting her wild unpredictable circumstances by settling down, forcing nature to comply through the use of our technology. From here it’s easy to see that nature becomes our thing, less something nourishing and containing us, and more something to be subdued, enslaved and dominated.

A Snow Leopard at the Toronto Zoo.

Not only must we see the horrific attitude that comes from dominating nature, but perhaps we must also see that blindly following the path of our ancestors has less to do with some inherent human evil and more to do with the harshness of nature herself. Can we remember what the pre-technological past was like and the harsh conditions of day-to-day life for primary sustenance? Could we moderns ever willingly give up even a drop of our technology; the safety, the abundance, the convenience and choices we have as a sacrifice for longterm stability?

Perhaps we need first to forgive the ancestors and ourselves, for choices made along the way that brought us the comfort we now seem unable to live with or without. Maybe then we can accept the sacrifices necessary to bring about a balance between our comfort and convenience and a sustainable world. Can we see though that our desire to plan and manage nature is what got us to where we are today? Does nature need us to tend to her ways?

I prefer to answer that question by remembering that I, too, am nature; part of the problem and the solution. Perhaps the thing most needed now is not only to see how blame, hope or turning away affects us, but to enter into a conversation that allows fear, anger, and sadness as necessary expressions that encourage attention to the complexity of our human nature and current predicament.

Maybe our fate has already been sealed and we’re free-falling our way to an unknown future – not alone though, for, abandon her, love her, fear or hate her, nature will be there too.

With hunger at her heels,
Freedom in her eyes
She dances on her knees,
Pirate prince at her side
Stirrin’ into a hollow idols eyes
Wild child full of grace,
Savior of the human race – Jim Morrison

I-Me-Mine

Is it the fear of what is other, the initial recognition of duality, that tempt us further into categorizations of duality? Is individuality, that necessary movement for freedom of action, what fosters a battle stance, a duality initiating all future duels?

Perhaps fear of the other must finally, as Jung suggested, reduce the gods to diseases, eliminating their autonomy, along with the autonomy of ideas, that now further reduces all human perception to the material causes of brain chemistry, neurons, or delusional thinking. Could we have moved from a world where once all was personified, to one where we’re not even sure of our own personhood?

“…the experience of the gods, of heroes, nymphs, demons, angels and powers, of sacred animals, places, and things, as persons indeed precedes the concept of personification. It is not that we personify, but that the epiphanies come as persons.”

Pan, Mikhail Vrubel 1900

“Epiphanies come as persons,” for us rarely, but to understand the truth of this we can look to dreams or art.

If you can possess your experience, all threats of “other” are “managed.” Filtering experience, we make sense of the world as fits our emotional state, religious viewpoint, cultural conventions, language skills, or whatever else fits the habits of our awareness. Barriers between us and the world are forged categorically: self and other, self and self (resistance even to unwanted thoughts and fantasies that have their way when all is quiet), self and world (especially the uncivilized worlds of forest, jungle, deep-sea and inner city). Sometimes, it is only through a dream or nightmare that we may be reached, and then, rather than hear a message, we might rather insist it was something we ate. 🙂

“When Pan is dead, then nature can be controlled by the will of the new god, man, modeled in the image of Prometheus or Hercules, creating from it and polluting in it without a troubled conscience.”

In their book, Pan and the Nightmare, Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher and James Hillman remind us of a historical account of Herodotus’ in which Pheidippides receives a message from the god Pan that saves Athenian democracy:

“Herodotus says Pan burst in on Pheidippides, cried out his name, and gave him a crucial message that saved Athens. The leaders of Athens believed Pheidippides, won the battle, and set up the Cult of Pan in Athens. Were the cunning and intelligent Greeks so deluded? Did all this come about because of the exhausted state of mind of a certain messenger who had a sudden bright idea and conjured up “Pan” to bless it with authority?”

Here Hillman mocks the modern prejudice which insists the phenomena of receiving messages from the gods is some form of delusion or power grab. I agree with Hillman that it is to the essence of the experience; that of being receptive to receiving messages, that remains relevant to us. What has modernity done for us by refusing to even entertain any such direct experience of the divine? Are we any wiser, safer, secure in our destiny, more civil in our interactions, more caring for home, city and planet for it?

I love the hints, suggestions, ideas and messages that come through experiencing the world as personal; alive, layered, varied, imprecise, whose purpose serves more than functionality. When fear provokes me into summarily dismissing a foreign way of looking at something, or a new way to hear an old idea, it leaves an unsettled feeling in my heart. That unsettledness, when attended to, eventually brings a gift of insight, understanding, compassion, beauty and love.

When ideas themselves can be seen as other, coming to us personified, as dream images do – without the threat of seeming like a foreign invasion, the desire to possess them and boss them around lessens. Their gravitas remain, but without weighing us down as their owners. If there is one gift I have received from spending time with Hillman’s ideas, it is this loosening and respect of fear, and an increase of interest in ideas for their own sake.

“Could we step back from our times, step out of the pretensions of the fearing ego who would bring every atom of nature under its control? Then we might realize again that we are not the source of personified gods. We do not make them up, anymore than we invent the sounds we hear in the woods, the hoof prints in the sand, the nightmare pressure weighing on our chests.”

As well, it is freeing when I recognize that others are also not the author of ideas. We may all be possessed by them, but who knows where their source lies?

Perhaps our need to possess ideas, shifting them away from an experience of the divine, comes from the absorption of polytheism by monotheism, and monotheism by scientistic materialism that takes monotheism one step further. If monotheism reduced the gods to one, separating divinity from the material world, materialism finished the job by removing altogether any notion of the divine, reducing the world to mostly dead bits and pieces bossed around by chemistry, math and physics.

But the shifting of states of awareness through the ages may be necessary, and the Greek imagination helps us to see Dionysus at work here. It may be Dionysus, the only god to have one mortal parent, that best represents the psychological style of modern consciousness, for he was both a god of the grapes, given to transcendent ecstasy, but also ripped apart by the Titans to avenge his father Zeus’ love of Semele, his mortal mother.

Can this myth tell us something about the modern tendency to reduce the world into bits and parts, along with a love of transcendent states, whether through drugs, alcohol, technology, apocalyptic visions or meditative states? Can we see the possessiveness in reducing the world to bits and pieces, and deadening it for the sake of control?

In slicing and dicing as we have throughout the last millenia, perhaps the resulting technology will come to serve another twist of fate. Through the transcendent impulse, we may see seeing, taking on a birds-eye view of not only our planet, but of the vastness beyond our understanding, which may foster in yet another Dionysian trait; a rebirth into another style of consciousness, one that expects variety, and without fear, experiences the divine everywhere.

All quotes, Hillman, James; Roscher, Wilhelm Heinrich (2014-10-09). Pan and the Nightmare. Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.