Into the Wild, Part Two: Rewilding Self


Jeriah Bowser I Ecology & Sustainability I Analysis I December 7th, 2015



Part One: Towards a Post-Civilized Critique of Civilization




Onboard the great ship of civilization, I and a few other passengers have come to the conclusion that the voyage is headed for destruction and the ship is sinking. We the dissenting passengers have decided to abandon the ship altogether, plunging into the great Sea to cast our lot with all things wild. We have committed ourselves to a relationship with wildness and are attempting to find spaces of healing and connection within this culture of radical disconnection. For those of us who have reached this point, we have discovered that it helps to establish relationships with others who are also pursuing this path, as our culture lacks any mythology, ritual, language, or elders to guide us on our path toward wildness. Some have come to call this process "rewilding," and many excellent books, essays, schools, teachers, documentaries, and communities have been formed around this essentially anti-civilization movement. I myself have spent many years learning ancestral technologies, learning bird language and tracking, and developing relationships with other animals, plants, and bioregions. While the small but dedicated world of rewilding has done an excellent job of demonstrating what rewilding looks like externally, I have experienced a lack of emphasis on the internal (subjective) implications of rewilding - undoing the effects of domestication, colonization, domination, and disconnection. Although there are Wilderness Therapy companies, ecopsychologists, and Rites of Passage programs that attempt to facilitate internal rewilding experiences, many of these programs are expensive and inaccessible to most people, as well as being severely limited in their understandings of Power and their critiques of civilization and domestication.

As I have spent the past decade facilitating wilderness healing experiences for thousands of fellow domesticated humans, I feel that I have some insight into this somewhat neglected side of rewilding, and I would love to share some of my thoughts, experiences, and lessons I have learned as a fellow rewilder and wild healer. This essay is the praxis to the theory of "Into the Wild Part 1: Towards an Anti-Civilized Critique of Civilization." The following thoughts and principles are a summary of my life's work thus far, and as such they are very much a work in progress. I have been fortunate to have had many excellent mentors and teachers through the years, way too many to mention here. By far my greatest teachers have been the land itself, as well as the many students I have worked with through the years. As I look back over my guiding career, it is really I who have been the student all along.

I have organized this essay into six principles that I have found to be helpful in rewilding: the Language and Assumptions of Psychiatry, the Self-Other Parabola, Resistance, Bodyfulness Practice, Honoring the Feminine/Yin, and Technology. I am presenting these as general themes that, when practiced, can facilitate healing. Thus there are no hard definitions and no step-by-step guides for practicing these principles. I also don't expect you to take my word for anything. Please take these ideas apart, test them against your own context and experience, take what works while leaving what doesn't, and move on.


The Language and Assumptions of Psychiatry: Dualism and Power

To begin with, I immediately face some rather formidable barriers as I attempt to share my experiences within the symbolic medium of written English language. In addition to the standard barriers of any written language, the English language is particularly inconvenient when it comes to this subject, as the philosophical assumptions (myths) of civilization play heavily into our language. Although cumbersome, working through these language issues is a great way to introduce these myths and illustrate how we all internalize and perpetuate the logic of civilization.

Let's examine the term, "Mental Illness." This seemingly straightforward term carries two major assumptions within it which, when exposed for what they are, can help us begin seeing the world in a much more connected and primal way. The first word, mental, connotes a realm of being which is made up of thoughts and thought-experiences. This is, obviously, a realm which mainly exists in the shadow of Western philosophy, under the label of Cartesian Dualism (although the origins of this can be traced all the way back to Plato, who argued that the intellect gained access to the realm of forms or ideas). This statement strikes many as absurd, for their reality is so inundated with the effects of dualism that it is almost impossible for them to imagine living without it; the old joke about the young fish not knowing what water is seems appropriate here. [1] Obviously we have thoughts, yes. I am not arguing against the existence of a brain that thinks; I am arguing that as domesticated animals, we are trained to think of ourselves as having a mind which functions as a cockpit from which we interact with the world and even our own body from a scientifically detached position. Of course we have thought experiences, but we also have hand experiences, stomach experiences, heart experiences, and gut experiences. When Rene Descartes said, "I think therefore I am," he was declaring his mental phenomena as validating his existence. He did not say, "I feel therefore I am" or "I love, therefore I am" or "I have meaningful relationship with others, therefore I am." He said, "I think, therefore I am," and in doing so, he reified the disconnection that he had been experiencing his entire life; the same disconnection that we experience today.

This Self-separation into two major realms (mind and body) is a tragic consequence of living under systems of domination. Our body is our Self, our body records every traumatic act of violence and disconnection which it has received. To fully inhabit our body is to feel the totality of the accumulated traumas we have experienced, which is an overwhelmingly terrifying and dangerous experience. In order to function and succeed within this world of domestication, we must learn to disconnect our mind from our body very early on; we must make our own bodies Other. Understanding this, the barbaric child-raising philosophies endorsed by people like B. F. Skinner begin to make a lot of sense, as well as the entire spectrum of hospital birthing procedures, the ritual of circumcision (non-consensual genital mutilation), and compulsory education for very young children.

Philosophically, I reject Cartesian Dualism. Practically, it is almost impossible to talk about my work without using Dualistic language: mental health, mindfulness practice, psychiatry, psychology, the psyche, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychosomatic work, etc. all need to be rejected. How can I talk about rewilding while de-legitimizing the primacy of the mind and the normalized assumptions of dualism? Entirely new language is needed, and I've only just begun trying to figure this out for myself.

I have come to refer to any internal experiences as Self-experiences, which is still problematic because it reinforces the existence of Self (we are ultimately attempting to transcend all Dualisms and realize the illusory nature of Self), but I believe it is a huge step away from Dualistic thinking and helpful to many people. My usage of Self refers to a mind-body unified whole. That's why I say "rewilding Self" as opposed to "rewilding the mind" or "rewilding the psyche." I also refer to the whole spectrum of practices which are commonly known as "meditation," "mindfulness," and "contemplative" with the less Dualistic term of bodyfulness practice. Again, even this word does not fully escape Dualism, but it works well for most people who have never even considered the impacts of Dualism on their bodies. I also refer to Psychiatry as applied dualism and therapists/psychiatrists/psychologists as applied Dualists, which is a great conversation starter at parties hosted by said Dualists (also a great way to never get invited back to said parties.)

I find that whenever I use dualistic language to describe an experience, I end up feeling more fragmented and disconnected from my Self; however, when I use nondualistic, body-grounded language when talking about an experience, despite the initial awkwardness of the language, I feel more connected and authentic. I have come up with a few ways to practice this. First, when I am describing emotional experiences to others (an integral part of communal healing experience), I make as much effort to describe my physical sensations as well as attaching emotional qualifiers onto them if I need to. For example, I might say to someone who is repeatedly violating a personal or community boundary, "I feel tension in my chest and tightening in my fists and jaw when you continue violating our boundaries. This feels like anger and disrespect." This is important because the words "anger" and "disrespect" are thoughts about feelings which are rooted in bodily sensations. When I draw a connection between my body and my emotions, it helps remind me that my emotional experiences originate from my body before they are translated into words that facilitate shared meaning. Of course, this language only works within certain contexts, and most people will just look at you like you are an idiot if you use them without this context. Even when you aren't able to practice this with others, you can still explore this concept by noticing how and where emotions show up in your body. Most people in our culture are so disconnected from themselves that even having them understand and talk about their emotions is incredibly difficult; practices such as embodying emotions and rejecting dualistic language are definitely a step beyond standard therapy practices.

The second word, illness, reveals the assumptions of Power and Progress on Psychiatry. Who exactly defines a mental "illness"? The obvious answer is: a mental health professional (applied Dualist). But by what standards do these scientists measure mental sickness or health against? Is it personal happiness or discontentment? Socially standardized behavioral norms? Religiously manufactured Morality? Cultural mythology? Psychiatrists never have a good answer to this question, and that's because the answer is not very flattering. Psychiatry is not only applied Dualism, it is also applied Power. This can be more easily understood by realizing that the Psychiatric system is very closely related to the Penal system, in that both systems attempt to control and regulate anti-Progress or anti-Power activities. When a person acts in a way that is not in accordance with their cultures mythology, said culture will find a way to punish or quiet such behavior. While one system (penal) attempts to correct such anti-Progress behaviors as armed robbery, unsanctioned social violence, and selling unlicensed drugs, the other system (psychiatry) corrects anti-Progress behaviors like apathy, depression, Self-violence, and misanthropy. Of course, as these systems have evolved together within the context of industrial civilization, there is much shared belief and practices between them and their boundaries are very hard to distinguish.

This becomes apparent when one considers how poor and oppressed people face the penal system for their actions, while the wealthy and privileged face the psychiatric system for committing the very same actions. This can also be seen in the fact that the mind only becomes ill to society when it challenges Progress; that is, when it interferes with work or social roles. As long as you can show up to work and participate in society, you are healthy enough to stay out of a mental ward or therapist's office. The minute you can't participate, you are officially "ill." This is encoded into the language of the so-called "functioning" drug addict: the boundary mark of addiction is set at the point to where someone can't work or function in society. Why isn't addiction considered serious at the point where someone's life is so meaningless that they become dependent on destructive chemicals, thought patterns, or behaviors to function? Why are substances that fuel Progress and numb suffering given a pass (caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, pharmaceuticals) while substances that encourage dissent demonized (entheogens)? Why aren't the addictions of technology, fossil fuel consumption, consumerism, or working ever called into question?

I believe it is because Psychiatry serves as a huge social basket, catching those who have fallen off the assembly line of Progress. As we struggle with our impoverished language and disconnected Selves to describe our anger and confusion at having been born into a culture of violence and domestication, our feelings are softly invalidated and we are told that actually, we are the ones that need to adjust to society. To reassure us that this is the case, we are tested, diagnosed, and officially informed that we have a "mental illness," in language fully backed with the power of Science and its holy scripture - the DSM. There is hope for us poor troubled souls, however, as we are given Self-numbing pills which further our disconnection and deepen the Cartesian void. We are also taught coping skills, which serve not to help us confront the dominating forces in our lives, but rather help us keep our mouths shut and our anger distant. As soon as we have swallowed the lies and pills offered to us by Psychiatry, we are sent right back up to the assembly line to continue the ever-important work of civilization.

It is often very hard for people to see past the smiling face of Psychiatry, as there is virtually no dissent within the field and it rarely gets subjected to the same level of scrutiny that other systems of Power undergo. This is partly what makes Psychiatry so nefarious. While there are undoubtedly many sincere and well-intentioned therapists and counselors out there, there are also many well-intentioned cops and prison guards. Good intentions do not excuse or negate oppression. It is indeed sad that so many potential healers who intuitively feel the brokenness of our world get pulled into careers as applied dualists. And while many of them do facilitate incredible healing, it is important to remember the context that their healing takes place in, to realize its limitations, and to keep in mind the interests it ultimately serves.

This is why, instead of using the terms, "anti-social behavior," "insanity," "madness," or "mental illness," I use the language anti-Progress behavior. These are behaviors which threaten Progress, either through active resistance, passive withdrawal, or by acting as mirrors to our culture - thereby threatening our mythology.

The simple act of noticing how common and invisible the assumptions of Dualism and Progress are in everyday conversations can be an incredibly powerful and transformative experience, made all the more so if you can begin to notice these assumptions in your own thoughts and actions. In addition to using Self language, it can be very empowering and validating to also use anti-Progress language. This looks like re-evaluating your relationship to mass society in terms of your participation in Progress or lack thereof. When seen through this perspective, many behaviors which often carry shame can become sources of pride and acceptance, which can be a liberating and validating experience. You are not crazy, the world is crazy, and it's okay for you to feel that way. You are not lazy for not wanting to attend work, church, or school. Those places are often boring, traumatizing, and full of deception; your energy is probably better spent doing more fun and meaningful things anyways. You are not oppositionally defiant for hating authority figures, most of them are sociopaths and following their orders will turn you into one too. You are not insane for thinking that most people are pathetic, sick, and ignorant. Most of us are. Giving yourself permission to feel angry, wounded, depressed, or whatever it is that you feel can be a deeply healing experience.

Whether or not you choose to keep participating in civilization is up to you, but knowing that you don't have to participate is a fantastic realization.


Self-Other Parabola

There is no essential distinction between the Self and the Other; rather, there is an interplay between the two, an exchange of experience. This is known as "soul alchemy" to New Age gurus, "internal alchemy" or "Neidan" to esoteric Taoists, the "parabola" or "philosopher's stone" to depth psychologists and Jungian analysts, and to ecopsychologists, and it is the eighth and final principle of ecopsychology, "there is a synergistic interplay between planetary and personal well-being."[2] [3] In religious narratives, this concept is represented as karma and the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. [4] A parabola is a mathematical equation where a curved line exists on both sides of an x-axis. What happens to the line on one side of the graph directly affects the line on the other side, they are inextricably connected. This parabola can be understood as existing on both a physical and metaphysical level, as what we do to others will affect us somehow, someway, sometime. If we act with violence on the world around us, not only will we become spiritually disconnected, but we will become physically disconnected as well. This partially explains the existence of Cartesian Dualism and our culture's inability to be with our bodies and emotions as we become more and more disconnected from our Selves. Although the Self-Other parabola has retained some presence in Eastern philosophy, it has been almost completely obliterated in the Western tradition. Any semblance of connection, empathy, and shared experience must be severed in civilized societies; domestication thoroughly disconnects us from the Other, and every facet of our culture reinforces and reiterates this objectification.

I think we all intuitively feel the existence of this parabola. We can see this playing out in our family dynamics as parents tend to pass on the same dysfunctions, patterns, traumas, and beliefs that they were raised with to their children, despite their best intentions not to. In our communities we see violence and injustice playing themselves out in predictable patterns, as individuals who were raised with trauma and violence become perpetrators of trauma and violence. On a cultural level we experience this parabola playing itself out as we demonize and objectify certain behaviors, types of people, and other cultures; and in return we cut ourselves off from the valuable relationships and perspectives of those we have Othered. When our culture acts with violence on other cultures, we receive that same violence in various forms (chickens coming home to roost, anybody?) When our culture acts with violence on the rest of the biotic community, we receive that same violence in the form of the various diseases of civilization, Cartesian Dualism, oppressive violence, Self-destructive behaviors, loss of relationship with other forms of life, and the inevitable catastrophe that will happen when the biotic community refuses to support civilization any longer.

This parabola is very apparent when one spends any amount of time with those individuals who are responsible for facilitating destruction in our world. As wilderness therapy is (unfortunately) such an exclusive treatment option, I have spent much of my career working with the children of the 1%. As a result, I have a unique insight into the daily realities of the rich-and-famous; and let me tell you, I wouldn't trade my upbringing, as traumatic and terrible as it was, for a single one of these kids' lives. The amount of sickness, disconnection, and ignorance which drives these families is almost incomprehensible. It is no wonder that their children are incredibly traumatized and end up spending their lives in and out of treatment programs. After years of working with these wealthy and powerful families, the reality of the parabola has become incredibly obvious to me. You cannot spend your life sentencing millions of trees to death, covering up political corruption, or stealing money from working-class families without a price to be paid. Although it may seem that these families live fantastically lavish lives, I can assure you that it is all a mirage; they are the most miserable and insecure people I have ever met.

What are the implications of this parabola on rewilding Self? Simply realizing that you are connected to every other form of life on this planet, on a physical and metaphysical level, carries enormous implications in rewilding, resistance, and healing. Whenever you become more connected to your Self, you will reflect that in the world around you, and whenever you become more connected to an apparent Other, you also restore connection within your Self. This is also known as radical empathy. I differentiate radical empathy from shallow empathy along the same lines as the deep ecologists created a distinction between shallow and deep ecology. Shallow empathy is allowing yourself to formulate a thought about what an Other might be feeling or thinking, and perhaps feeling some compassion towards them. Radical empathy is actually extending Self into the Other until the Other dissolves into an extension of Self. Shallow empathy is primarily a thought experience (Hello Descartes), while radical empathy is primarily a body experience.

Before I totally lose you, know that you already probably do this in many ways without realizing it. For those of us who are fortunate to have beautiful people that we share our lives with, we are probably already extending Self to them. When someone I love deeply is suffering, I experience it in my own body; I don't experience this as a thought or abstract feeling of compassion, but I actually feel their suffering. It is real to me because I am radically empathizing with them. I can't tell you how many times I have intuitively known in my body that someone I love was experiencing suffering, and then later my intuition was confirmed. I imagine most of my readers have had similar experiences. And of course this does not just apply to suffering, but to the full range of human experiences. How many times have you been elated because a loved one was experiencing joy? Ultimately, the act of making love is a full embodiment of radical empathy. When two (or more) apparent Others come together to become one Self, we lose ourselves in the primal interplay of sexual energy. When I am making love, I am not abstractly thinking about what my partner might be thinking or feeling. No, I am fully in my body. Focusing on my partner's experience intensifies my own, as I am actively extending my Self into my partner, and vice versa.

But we don't only share this experience with other animals, we also can extend Self into living organisms, land-bases, abstract ideas, and technology. I interact with people every day who practice radical empathy with their cars, their phones, their houses, their lawns, their political/religious/philosophical ideals, their race, their nationality, their social media avatars, a particular sports team or athlete, and other strange objects of affection. How can I tell that someone has extended Self into one of these objects or ideas? It's pretty easy, simply look at what they identify with and, subsequently, what hurts them. When I watch a man feel enraged and personally injured when his car is scratched during a minor traffic accident, while feeling no such empathy for the single mother who he is insulting and berating, that's usually a good indicator that he is experiencing his vehicle as an extension of Self, and thus feels personally attacked or insulted when it is "injured." Understood this way, we can become aware of what we are empathizing with on a daily basis, what we are including as a part of our Selves. This is actually a terrifying practice, as I have discovered that many things I include as an extension of my Self are in fact dead products of industry or abstract concepts, while I actively cut myself off from other animals, plants, the land, and the Earth itself.

Practice radical empathy. Allow yourself to experience the Other. Become aware of the parabola that exists between you and the world around you. Notice the ways that you perpetuate your own domestication/trauma on the world around you, and also the ways that you create space for healing and connection. What you do to an Other is what you do to yourself. The road to healing is both external and internal; there is, ultimately, no distinction between the two.


Resistance

Destroy what destroys you. Resisting domination, injustice, and oppression is one of the most powerful acts of healing (on both sides of the parabola) that you can ever do. Of course, resistance takes many forms, and while there are no shortage of books or opinions about the particulars of it, for now we will bypass that issue and say that resistance is whenever you are holding a boundary or protecting your Self from a non-consensual violent act from an Other.

Psychiatry actually acknowledges this principle within the context of codependent and abusive relationships, but tactfully ignores its applications elsewhere. Any applied dualist worth their salt will advise someone who is experiencing what they perceive as abuse within a relationship to do a couple things: 1.) Help their client discover what their boundaries are 2.) Coach their client on how to hold boundaries and 3.) If the abusive partner continues to violate boundaries, to leave the relationship.

I completely agree with this simple outline. In fact, I think we should apply it to every relationship in our lives. If someone violates a boundary of mine by assaulting me or threatening me, then I will either stop that person's actions or refuse to be around that person; if this person happens to wield mythical power granted to them by the State, the same rules still apply. This is resistance. If I have extended empathy to another person and that person is experiencing violence, then I will defend my Self by defending my friend. When I walk down the alley by my apartment and happen upon a cop harassing an economic refugee (person experiencing homelessness) for trying to find a quiet spot to eat his dinner in, I am immediately faced with a few options. I could not extend empathy at all, mind my own business, and walk away. I could try to extend empathy to both of them by ignoring the realities of Power and trying to mediate between them. I could extend empathy to the cop for his poor choice of employment and attempt to help him by also harassing the refugee. Or, I could, understanding the realities of Power and choosing which side I am on, extend empathy to the refugee. In doing so, I immediately draw a boundary for my Self (which now includes the refugee - I never got his name) which looks something like this: I don't think it's okay to be yelled at and assaulted by a thug for wanting to sit and eat some dinner in peace. When I begin defending the refugee by stepping between him and the cop and diverting his energy away from him and onto me, I am defending my Self. I am holding a boundary. I am refusing to accept the abusive relationship of Power that the cop and the State has over me and my refugee friend in that moment. I am engaging in resistance, and by resisting a tiny bit of civilization externally, I believe that I am also undoing a tiny bit of domestication internally.

The deep ecologist and land defender John Seed captured this concept eloquently when he said about his work, "I try to remember that it's not me, John Seed, trying to protect the rainforest. Rather, I am part of the rainforest protecting itself. I am that part of the rainforest recently emerged into human thinking. [5]" Likewise, it's not I who am trying to defend the refugee, animals in captivity, incarcerated friends, belittled coworkers, the Desert, or the planet itself. Rather, I am part of those whom I love protecting themselves. The words of Aboriginal Activists Group in Queensland, Australia (1970's) speak to this concept as well, "If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. [6]" There is no room for pity, liberalism, paternalism, or shallow empathy in resistance. When I find myself wondering whether I need to intervene in a situation (as I am not interested in playing the "liberal white savior"), I simply listen to what my body is telling me to do. Sometimes I screw up, yeah. Then I try to learn from my mistakes and move on.

When we resist and fight for what we love, we are honoring our bodies, we are reconnecting that which has been shattered, we are rejecting civilization and domestication, and we are listening to the voice of wildness.

Much of my work as a healer is teaching this concept. I have spent countless hours sitting in the sand and dirt, role-playing scenarios with my students that help them learn how to hold boundaries for themselves. Together, we explore where their autonomy has been taken from them and their boundaries have been violated and we work towards gaining autonomy, self-respect, and confidence. Some of my most memorable moments have been guiding young women on understanding and resisting Patriarchy, teaching young men to resist racism and machismo, and helping young transgendered teens resist heteronormativity. It is an incredibly validating experience to be told that you don't have to accept the systemic violence which saturates your daily reality. Learning to resist is crucial for a rewilder, as it is ultimately just honoring my body wisdom. As I become more aware and comfortable with resisting, I realize that all I am doing is listening to my body. When someone at work makes a hateful and offensive comment to a coworker, I don't have to think about the finer points of empathy or resisting; I immediately feel a tightening in my chest, throat, and fists and I honor my body's sense by calling out the comment as hateful and unacceptable. When an oil company threatens to destroy a bioregion that I love, I instinctively defend the land because I am defending my Self. When someone swings at you, there is no time for deliberating on strategy. You automatically raise your hands to block the hit.

Resistance is rewilding because it is a rejection of domestication and a return to the primal defensive instincts. Resistance is healing because it is stopping abusive patterns and returning power/agency to the resistor. It is possible to kill the cop in your head, but it may require confronting the cop in the street first.[7] [8]


Bodyfulness Practice

Bodyfulness practice is the art of being present with oneself. As such, it shares space with various Eastern philosophical and spiritual traditions as well as the esoteric branches of many Western traditions. However, there are some practical implications that come alongside my rejection of the term "mindfulness practice." Namely, in my personal explorations into Zen Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Hare Krishna mantra meditation, and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (a school of Psychiatry which incorporates various contemplative practices) I have noticed an overall trend of asceticism, which I understand as essentially a rejection and denial of the body and body experiences. It is a strange-looking relative of Dualism, one could call it Confucian Dualism.

As a dedicated student of Taoism who has maintained a regular meditation practice for many years, I have gradually abandoned traditional forms of meditation both for myself and for my students in the field. Many forms of meditation I have found to be rigorous and body-denying: maintaining a single posture for an extended length of time is rarely what my body wants to do, and it just isn't fun. One of my personal goals as a guide is to find ways to make my teachings fun and interesting. I try to engage my student's agency and help them discover healing practices which they enjoy and will voluntarily implement into daily life. Of course, this is an extremely lofty goal, as much healing work is intensely uncomfortable and difficult, but I don't think it always has to be that way.

Taking this into account, I have distilled bodyfulness practices into a simple maxim: You are being bodyful whenever you are so completely engaged in an experience that you forget to think. This opens up the field quite a bit. Essentially, this is saying that whenever you are actually experiencing a moment, whenever you are completely present with your experience, you are practicing bodyfulness. I have discovered that rock climbing, martial arts, tracking, backpacking, monkeywrenching, and hardcore dancing are activities where I become completely absorbed in the moment and forget to think. During those activities, my body completely takes over; my primal instincts to climb/fight/track/hike/destroy/dance supersede my domestication and I feel serenely, powerfully, wholly present. The immediacy of the moment commands my body's attention, and my mind becomes strangely quiet.

I also spend time every day just sitting with my Self, but my motivation is not to escape my body or transcend this reality; it is to ground myself within my own body and to situate myself within the world around me. A fantastic method of using bodyfulness to facilitate rewilding is through a technique known as a sit-spot. A sit-spot is a place as far away from civilization as you can manage, a place where you can simply be with wildness. It may take some time to find a good spot, as you want it to be accessible (so that you will actually want to come back), and also remote (far from the sounds, smells, and energy of the city). Once you find a place that you feel is appropriate, simply spend as much time sitting there as you can. Try to slowly build a relationship with your spot and all the beings that live there. Initially this may look like just sitting for an hour at a time, letting your energy adjust to the energy of the land, allowing your awareness and empathy to slowly creep outwards from your tiny Self into the vast mysterious world around you. Eventually, you may begin developing a more intimate relationship with the place by learning the languages of the birds, the tracks of the other animals, and the daily habits of the insects which share their space with you. Although your first few trips may be uncomfortable, it will soon become a sanctuary from the madness of civilization, a place you will learn to love like a friend, a relationship that is healing for both you and the land itself. [9]

For those who find bodyfulness activities uncomfortable, you are not alone. This is one of the hardest lessons I have learned, and one of the hardest skills I teach. The ability to sit with oneself is incredibly difficult for those who have spent their entire lives ignoring and distancing themselves from their bodies. However, I also believe this is one of the most important skills to learn as a rewilder and resistor. Everything I have ever written or ever will write could be summed up with these three words: Trust your body. I believe that teaching people how to be with and trust their bodies is one of the most radically subversive things I can do with my life. I know that sounds like hippie new-age bullshit, but I really believe it. Of course, domestication has served to disconnect us so thoroughly from our bodies that actually learning to access this wild Self is a lifelong process, fraught with difficulties. It is possible though: dozens of former students of mine, those who learned to be with their bodies, have since dropped out of the assembly line of Progress within months of leaving the wilderness: quitting school, abandoning careers, and renouncing family wealth. Many are currently rewilding themselves and actively resisting civilization. I am not deluded enough to think that I am the sole reason for these actions, but I have been doing this work for long enough that I am beginning to see the effects of wilderness therapy many years after the initial experience. The students that fell in love with the wilderness and learned to trust their bodies all have a very hard time reintegrating into civilization initially, as it goes against everything they just discovered that they love. Years later, they almost invariably find ways to drop out or resist, in many unique and often unseen ways. On the other hand, those students who never really "got it" end up transitioning well back into society, relapsing hard, and either end up in a cycle of treatment programs or they pour their frustrations into work - quickly rising through the ranks of power and prestige.

Although I can't discuss my political, philosophical, or spiritual beliefs in the field, I can teach my students something that supersedes all of that - to trust their instincts. I don't need to be a radical feminist in order to feel anger when femininity is destroyed or insulted. I don't need a background in anarchist theory to feel injustice in my gut. I don't need to have read Zerzan to know that the world around me feels fake, destructive, and alienated. Learn to trust your body, for it is the only person in this world which will never lie to you.


Honoring the Feminine/Yin

Nothing in the world

is as soft and yielding as water.

Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,

nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard;

the gentle overcomes the rigid.

Everyone knows that this is true,

but few can put it into practice.

Therefore the Master remains

serene in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter her heart.

Because she has given up helping,

she is the people's greatest help.

- Tao Te Ching, verse 78 (Stephen Mitchell's translation) -


Civilization/domestication is the suppression of femininity. Learning to honor femininity (on both sides of the parabola) is a major step on the path to healing and rewilding. The femininity I am describing here is very different than most Western conceptions of feminine attributes. The best description and depiction of what I am talking about is encapsulated in the Taoist concept of yin. In an attempt to distance my concept of femininity from any notions of sex, gender, sexuality, or the political implications of feminism, I will use the language of yin and yang.

Yin and yang exist as two polarities within a system, not as rigidly oppositional concepts. When one of the polarities disappears, the system disappears. This can be a very difficult concept for those educated in the mythology of Western civilization to understand, as this concept of an eternally returning process, a cyclical interchange of energy, "an explicit duality expressing an implicit unity," denies any possibility of Progress or linear advancement. [10] When, as in the case of civilization, one of the polarities is destroyed (yin), the resulting imbalance creates a situation in which unchecked masculinity dominates the cycle, a process we have come to know as Androcentrism, Patriarchy, misogyny, and male chauvinism. Both yang and yin have potentiality in all forms of life, and their exchange is what creates life itself. Yang and yin have little to do with essentialist definitions of sex, gender, or sexuality; this is a much more nuanced, dynamic, and subjective way of understanding the world than our mythology allows for. I believe this is why many who intuitively feel the suppression of yin in themselves and in the world around them often turn to feminism as an outlet for their frustration and resistance. Feminism has a much more clearly defined set of critiques, definitions, and theories, and it positions itself as immediately relevant to those who clearly live in a world of unequal gender binaries. While the feminist critiques are valid and important, the concept of yin goes beyond the physical realm of feminism into the metaphysical realm of femininity.

For example, as a cis-het-male, my role in Feminism is something of an ally to the cause; an outsider trying to understand and negate my privileges in a world predicated on said privilege. Within the body of Feminist theory and critique of Power, there is little room for exploring the effects of Androcentrism on my Self. [11] When I expand my understanding of femininity to the concept of yin, it becomes much more immediately relevant to me. Yin is not so much concerned with my gender, sexual orientation, or equal rights (understood as equal access to systems of Power and Progress), as it is about understanding the exchange and balance of energy that is always fluctuating on both sides of the parabola. When the balance is destroyed through domestication, the resulting imbalance creates an environment hostile to all that is feminine in my Self and in the world; no person or place is free from the colonizing influence of Androcentrism.

On a personal level, this looks like the repression and denial of my innate capacity for feeling, honoring, and manifesting my own yin femininity. As a domesticated animal who has been assigned the category of "male" in our culture, I must therefore repress and destroy all that is feminine in my Self. As I progress through the domesticating institutions of family, church, and school, I begin understanding what my role is and identifying with culturally appropriate displays of "masculinity." These include such character traits as: tough, strong, powerful, independent, stoic, dominant, and violent. I also begin denying, ignoring, and disconnecting from feelings, urges, or instincts which might be culturally construed as "feminine"; traits such as nurturing, being empathetic, listening, sensitivity, patience, and healing. This results in sexual repression, emotional stunting, and distorting my Self to fit into socially acceptable sexual and gender roles (heteronormativity). In doing so, I cut myself off from an entire world of potential yin experiences, which are crucial to becoming a fully developed human. This is an incredibly damaging, traumatic, and disconnecting experience. Not only have I experienced this personally, but I have seen its effects on hundreds if not thousands of people in our culture. No matter what your genitalia looks like, what your gender is, or what type of people you are attracted to, civilization will destroy and suppress your femininity at every level, and the results are terrifying.

To make these concepts a little more clear, yin can be understood as that which is receiving, yielding, hidden, and open; Yin is the shady side of a hill, the ocean which receives all because it is at the lowest point, and the Moon. In contrast, yang can be understood as dominating, penetrating, visible, and forcing; Yang is the sunny side of a hill, the top of a mountain, and the Sun. Picture a cork bobbing in water, with a man hitting it with a stick. The man with the stick represents yang as he is initiating, forcing, hitting, attacking and dominating; the cork represents yin as she is receiving, yielding, accepting, and continually returning the energy of the stick without rigidness. The man will tire out long before the cork is submerged, he will continue his foolishness until he has worn himself out or he realizes the futility of his efforts. The cork will ultimately prevail as it is manifesting true strength - the strength of the eternally returning feminine.

Lest this metaphor be seen as an excuse for male violence, know that the cork is also able to pop out of the water and smash the assailant in the face, thus returning the violence used against it to the attacker. This returning of violence (resistance) is integral to the nature of yin energy. Another metaphor commonly used to explain yin is the Ocean. The Ocean, because it is the humblest and lowest point, receives all the water in the world. It derives its great power precisely from its humility and receiving nature; if it ceased to become the lowest, it would also cease to receive all and would no longer be the Ocean.

Practical applications of yin energy can be seen in many Eastern martial art forms: kung fu, jiu-jitsu, judo, karate, taekwondo, taijiquan, aikido, and many others. These martial forms derive their power not from masculine, violent, dominating energy but from receiving, yielding, non-forcing energy. As a student of jiu-jitsu and aikido, I have been taught to harness my yin energy in order to defeat a much stronger, larger, and more violent opponent through the practical application of non-aggressive resistance. This principle is summed up in the cliché, "use your opponent's strength against them." This seemingly counter-intuitive fighting philosophy is remarkably effective, not only in class but also in the streets.

Androcentrism is present in every aspect of civilization. Agriculture, the basis of civilization, can be understood as an annual ceremony to masculinity, a festival to the most basic act of civilization: rape. Every year, men take their phallic plows, violently rip through the skin of the Earth, and forcibly sow their seed into her flesh. Throughout the ensuing gestation period, men prevent any possible subversive abortion by diverting water, fertilizer, and various chemicals into the field to ensure their harvest. When the Earth carries her term, the men violently take her children from her for their own uses, leaving her barren, ripped open, and exposed to the elements through the harsh winter. We have repeated this ritual without fail for at least the past twelve-thousand years, and we wonder why rape is so prevalent in our culture.

The origins of war, slavery, law, currency, gender norms, and the nuclear family can all be traced back to the dawn of Androcentrism and civilization. The first laws ever encoded contained numerous references to making women and their offspring the property of men: the Ur-Nammu codes (dated to 1800 BCE) contain 32 laws, 16 of which are about controlling women's bodies. The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, Sumerian Code of Lipit-Ishtar of Isin, and the Hebrew Taryag Mitzvot (613 Commandments which became the Judeo-Christian 10 Commandments) all contain about equal amount of legislation on controlling women's bodies, restricting women's role in society, and regulating their reproduction. The entire narrative of civilization can be understood through this narrative, and while many books have been written on the physical manifestations of the evolution of Patriarchy, scant attention has been given to the metaphysical realm and subsequent spiritual consequences of this development. The notable exception to this is ecofeminism. Ecofeminists have done a remarkable job of illustrating the metaphysical, spiritual, and personal consequences of Androcentrism, and I highly recommend exploring these works to anyone interested in understanding the interplay of yang/yin in themselves and in the world around them. [12]

For the rewilder, our task is to understand and resist the ways that yin is suppressed both in our Self's (domestication) and in the world around us (civilization). This looks like opening ourselves up to experiences with our own yin energy: the nurturing, empathetic, sensitive, open, healing, and humble aspects of our personality. The goal is not an eradication of yang or the suppression of masculinity, but rather a balance of energies, no matter our sex, gender, or sexual orientation. In a lot of ways, refeminizers can draw heavily from the work of radical feminists, especially anarcha-feminists and ecofeminists. Femininity is insulted, degraded, abused, and destroyed at every level in civilization; once you begin seeing the world through this narrative, opportunities to reclaim your own femininity will present themselves to you daily. It is your task to then honor those moments. One practice I have found to be very effective in my own refeminizing journey is studying martial arts which emphasize yin energy (kung fu, jiu-jitsu, judo, karate, taekwondo, taijiquan, aikido, etc.). Studying these martial forms is a very practical way for men to begin understanding and accessing feminine power, as well as empowering women to resist Androcentrism's favorite tool of colonization: sexual and physical assault.

Yin energy is powerfully dangerous. Those brave enough to confront Androcentrism by learning to access and honor femininity will not have an easy time. Masculinity defends itself with violent, brutal oppression; it will rape, destroy, and kill everything in its path until there is nothing left. This is not a path for the timid. However, yin energy is also powerfully healing. For those of us who carry in our bodies the physical and metaphysical scars of unbalanced masculinity, we can no longer afford to ignore the small but persistent voice of femininity which lies in us all.


Technology

Technology, understood as the systemic totality of tools, rituals, processes, artefacts, and devices which mediate our ability to relate to and draw meaning from the world, is another major way that civilization perpetuates itself through domestication. While delving into academic definitions and analyses of technology can be quite intimidating, its impacts become immediately obvious when humans are taken out of technosphere and placed in reality. Within days of arriving in the wilderness, the grip of technology begins to loosen and the layer of dependency which Ellul christened "technique" begins to dissolve. After a few weeks, a student's entire demeanor and way of understanding the world changes. They are much less restless and bored, the world around them starts to become real and alive.

Ancestral skills, more commonly known as primitive skills, play a large role in many wilderness programs I have worked for. While I have yet to hear a therapist explain exactly why these skills are such an important part of the healing process, they all intuitively feel the importance of learning and participating in these rituals. Only very recently, with my intellectual foray into neoluddism, have I started to understand the connections between technology, civilization, healing, and rewilding.

Technology can be very hard to understand because it is so normalized and ubiquitous. Like Cartesian Dualism, it saturates every interaction and function of our culture; it's the fish and the water metaphor again. Technology serves as a cultural filter through which we interact with the world around us, receive information, and derive meaning from this information. In this respect it can be compared to various religions, philosophies, and beliefs which function as cultural filters; the difference is that technology serves as a sort of meta-filter which undergirds almost all religions, schools of thought, and beliefs within civilization. Can you think of any religion, philosophy, or belief which critiques or rejects technology? While there are some luddite trends in various monastic, ascetic, and voluntary simplicity communities, those that dare to question the role that technology plays in our society often find themselves stigmatized and isolated (in a cabin in Montana, perhaps?).

Within civilization, technology has become our primary way of experiencing reality; it exacerbates and perpetuates the ever-widening disconnection from the Self and Other. I see this almost every day as a guide, as my students demonstrate their inability to experience reality without it being mediated and reified through a screen. Upon encountering a beautiful sunset, one of them exclaims, "I wish I had my phone! It's so dumb that I don't have my phone right now. I can't even share this picture with my friends," and walks away from the moment. This is an acutely revealing moment. This young man, when he is presented with a rare moment of wild beauty, quickly searches his cultural mythology for a narrative to place this experience on, in order to give it meaning (as we all do) and, sadly, finds that he has none, no context for the experience. It's as if it didn't happen, or only happened partially, an event trapped in limbo between being and nonbeing. The only other times in his life he had been presented with images like this have been through movies, pictures, instagram, facebook, etc. As humans are constantly searching for and creating meaning, the only way he can make sense of this is to capture it on a screen, freezing the moment of space-time indefinitely. This "technological capturing" also serves the function of group validation (shared experience). As my student feels that his social community exists mainly in the technosphere, if he is unable to present this experience to his virtual social community he is also unable to feel validated that he did indeed experience it. He then, frustrated that he does not have access to this Technological mediation and reification, rejects the experience as not being meaningful. He is unable to simply sit there and experience the majesty of a desert sunset, he rejects reality because he is unable to experience it.

In the middle of a long hike through a dense forest, we stumble into an old-growth forest grove. I pause as I instinctively feel the sacredness and beauty of the place, the raucous group of adolescent boys behind me also pauses and listens, and there is a brief moment of quiet stillness… which is abruptly interrupted by the youngest boy loudly declaring, "This is like Narnia! That is where the Lion was on that table with all the mice and -" he is cut off by another boy, "No way man, this is definitely Lord of the Rings status. This is where the orcs try to ambush us and we just feed you to them and get away. Check it out, here's my orc-club," as he picks up a large stick from the ground and the moment of serenity dissipates into a spontaneous LARP-ing session. While it is encouraging that young men who were getting inducted into street-gangs just weeks ago are now merrily sword-fighting off fictitious foes in the woods, this short exchange is another revelation of the effects of Technology. My young students, when faced with a moment of mystery and sacredness, struggled to place this experience within some contextual framework. The only other memories they had of being at awe with a forest grove were in digital movies they had seen. Devoid of any other real experiences to relate this to, they placed this experience on their technological narrative and created meaning out of it - ignoring reality in the process. They were incapable of simply experiencing the mystery of the place, of feeling the intangible allure of sacredness. They missed out on an opportunity for relationship, they were robbed of a moment of connection.

The terms "its facebook official" and "pictures or it didn't happen" are clear indicators of this phenomenon, as events and moments are not important or even considered real unless they exist within the technosphere, unless they are reified through technology. Social media is currently one of the more pervasive and insidious forms of this, as it constantly encourages us to project ourselves into a virtual avatar which serves as a symbol of Self. As more people participate in social media and as those participants project more of themselves into this symbolic realm, we become more and more alienated from reality. The consequence of this is that we lose our ability to interact with and experience reality without the aid of technology.

Essentially, technology is a crutch which weakens us the more we use it, making us ever more reliant on it and ever more incapable of living without it. Technology disconnects and alienates us from reality. The impacts of this process are so obvious, it's almost impossible to see. As humans growing up in the technosphere, we are inundated with technology, we are never without it. It becomes incredibly difficult to imagine living without these aids, conveniences, and filters, and so we don't even try to. We accept the promises and premises of technology without question, and then we wonder why we feel so disconnected and alienated.

Healing from technology can be very straight-forward. Stop using it, and start living as simply as possible. When technology is removed, connection and healing automatically fill its place. Of course, for many of us that decision is not so simple. Although I know the risks and deleterious effects of technology, I still use it every day. I'm using it as I write this essay with the anticipation that you will use it to read the essay. In order to survive within civilization, we must use technology. Fully dropping out of society and pursuing an unmediated relationship with the world is, unfortunately, a privilege that not many of us have. At least, not until civilization collapses.

In the interim, studying the effects of technology on your Self and striving to experience reality without technology are great ways to practice rewilding. Technology makes us dependent on civilization for our food, water, housing, relationships, language, and meaning itself. Learning to provide these things for yourself directly (autonomy/self-sufficiency) is resisting the influence of technology. This is where the rest of the rewilding world comes in and takes part in the healing process. Learning about your bioregion and pursuing direct relationships with the various life-forms that occupy your region can be a deeply empowering experience for many. Foraging, hunting, and scavenging for wild foods, learning and practicing ancestral skills, and simply spending time in wilderness areas away from technology are all helpful practices for a rewilder. Learning to find value in non-technologically reified experiences is difficult at first, but can become deeply meaningful. Believe it or not, there exists an entirely different reality hidden underneath technology; allowing yourself to experience this reality is a helpful, important, and fun part of rewilding. [13]


The Totality

These six themes: the Language and Assumptions of Psychiatry, the Self-Other Parabola, Resistance, Bodyfulness, Honoring the Feminine/Yin, and Technology do not exist independently of one another. They are merely different narratives and perspectives of understanding domestication. I'm sure there are narratives that I missed and narratives that have yet to be explored. When I inhabit my body, I am also honoring my femininity, resisting oppression on both sides of the Parabola, experiencing reality without technology, and rejecting the language of Psychiatry. Rewilding is resistance is bodyfulness practice is honoring yin. This does not make the process any easier, however; civilization colonizes our bodies just as efficiently as it colonizes forests, oceans, rivers, human, and non-human communities. We all carry around the DNA of civilization in us, and if we are at all interested in rejecting this reality, we must strive to eradicate the influences of domestication on us; we must refuse to perpetuate the destructive patterns and beliefs which have been passed on to us from our families, communities, and cultures. In allowing ourselves to heal from our various traumas, we also refuse to participate in the ever-evolving madness of civilization.

Healing is an inherent, organic, and automatic process. As victims of trauma in need of deep healing, we only need to let our body's inherent wisdom guide us. The work of a healer is the art of facilitating natural healing processes. When I experience someone's process being blocked by something, I step in, help to remove the blockage, and then step out of the way. Unfortunately, skilled healers are hard to find these days, especially those who know how to heal the wounds of domestication. Although having guides and a supportive community is very helpful, you contain all you need to know within you. Your body carries the memory of every act of violence inflicted on you; the wounds of domestication lie very deep indeed. However, underneath the many layers of scar tissue lies a deep, ancient, and primal wisdom. Millions of years of primal evolution cannot be erased from your body in a mere 12,000 years. The wisdom of your wild ancestors cannot be forgotten that easily. The potential for ferality is always lying just outside the fence of domestication. Despite the horrendous circumstances we find ourselves in, wildness will win in the end. Yin always triumphs over yang; no matter how hard you hit the cork, it will always find its way back to the surface. The potential for healing lies dormant in every domesticated animal, we all feel the call of the wild deep in our bones. Honor the call, trust your body, resist civilization, and begin creating your own meaning for your journey into the wild.



Notes



[1] For those who haven't heard it, here is David Foster Wallace's version: "There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says 'Morning, boys. How's the water?' And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes 'What the hell is water?'"

[2] "Foundations of Internal Alchemy: The Taoist Practice of Neidan" - Wang Mu (2011)

[3] "The Voice of the Earth" - Theodore Roszak (1992)

[4] In the Christian Bible, this is a paraphrase of Yeshua's teaching found in the narrative of Matthew, chapter seven, verse twelve.

[5] "Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind" - Linda Buzzell and Craig Chalquist

[6] Although often attributed to Lilla Watson, she has asked that the quote be attributed to Aboriginal activists group in this interview: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/aboriginal-lives-lilla-watson--tiga-bayles/3243166

[7] For more information on the parabola, Frantz Fanon has written extensively on the effects of domestication/colonization on the individual, as well as the necessity of resistance in restoring meaning and health to the colonized.

[8] "Kill the cop in your head" is a reference to the 1968 uprisings in France: http://www.iww.org/history/library/Ervin/copinyourhead

[9] http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/johnny-lake.html

[10] Quote is from Alan Watts, "Tao: The Watercourse Way" which is an excellent resource for those attempting to understand the yin/yang dualism, as well as Taoism in general.

[11] With notable exception being the growing field of masculinities. Research the work of Jackson Katz, Raewyn Connell, and read bell hooks's, "The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love"

[12] For resources on understanding the physical and metaphysical implications of Androcentrism/Patriarchy, I highly recommend "The Creation of Patriarchy" by Gerda Lerner (1986), "The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution" by Carolyn Merchant (1980), and "Women and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her" by Susan Griffin (1978)

[13] For a more thorough analysis of Technology, Jacques Ellul stands alone as the first and foremost luddite prophet; his 1964 book, "The Technological Society" remains untouched as the most thorough critique of Technology in mass civil society. Chellis Glendinning's works also contribute greatly to this discussion: http://www.ludditeluddite1812.blogspot.com/ and http://www.chellisglendinning.org/