Dialogues - Issue #1
Rewilding the self requires us to move away from our anthropocentric notions of ourselves and embrace being at one with nature.
It was my first night of facilitating a two-week programme of nature-based practice at the Eco-Dharma Centre in the foothills of the Catalan Pyrenees. As the participants left to settle into their first night of sleeping on the land, I wandered down the track into the soft evening light that fell across the valley, giving thanks to the day and contemplating the beginning of the programme. Our opening circle together had invited a free-flow sharing of word associations or translations of “meeting” and “wild”.
The verbal responses reverberated through my footsteps: encounter, fear, unknown, raw, intimacy, salvaje (wild), otherness, dziki (wild), selfwilled, openness, tapaaminen (engagement), becoming, relation.
I came to a sudden stop above a delicately twisted coil: a dark entanglement that lay starkly distinct from the limestone track, wrapped into itself like a Celtic knot. Stepping back, I couldn’t be sure that it was not about to uncoil, but as I lowered myself closer, the slightest of indentations to the side of its head became visible, along with the dark diamond patterning attributable to a viper.
Death by impact. The same jeep that veered up the road, rucksacks strapped to the roof-rack, full of excitedly chattering passengers braced against the unevenness of the track and the swing of the vehicle, had struck this snake with the abrupt force of a rolling tyre. Recoiling from the impact, it had folded in on itself to form a self-protective knot for the final moments of its life.
As I stood over the dead snake and hooked the coiled body with a stick to move it into the vegetative embrace of the habitat that had sustained it, a prayer emerged from inside me. With each meeting there is an impact. May the offering of this programme be life-affirming. May this snake hold me accountable.
One week later, after deepening into sensebased and contemplative practices, exploring the land as mirror, as container, and creating community together, the participants prepared for a three-day “solo” in the wild.
A local Catalonian woman, Pakita, who had lived in this area for all of her 90 years, offered her blessing to the group. “It’s a good thing, you going out to the land,” she said. “You’ll bring life back to those stones.”
She told us how in her childhood this valley had supported a community of 4,000 people: a living bond between village life and the wild land. The landscape was now largely devoid of human presence, with just the faintest of traces remaining: a terraced slope or the remains of a stone dyke wall. The boldest markings were those made by the wild boar, indicating a systematic rootling, radiating around the base of each pine tree.
The feathered grasses danced in the breeze of the bowl-shaped valley where ancient seas had once surged, folding our primordial ancestors into fossil formations and the sedimentary ridges from where vultures now took flight.
We gathered in a clearing, around a circle of pine cones. Each participant was packed with a tarp, simple food provisions and laden with water. We met each other’s eyes for a final time and, crossing the threshold, the participants left the human community behind, to venture out alone into the surrounding area of pine forest and sage-filled meadows. Alone, at least, as any single human could ever be in the company of the more-than-human world.
Just as the rewilding movement seeks to restore the agency of ecosystems, nature-based practice looks to restore and transform our inner ecosystems. Rewilding speaks to what we instinctively know to be possible, and what we long to reclaim. We are directly confronted with the wounding of our times, for there is a need to acknowledge what has been lost in order to meet the possibility of restoration.The anthropocentrism that has led to a notion of self as an independent, autonomous organism – a symptom of our hyper-individualised society – becomes a lonely position from which to perceive the world.
A movement towards “rewilding the self”, embodied within acts as simple as laying down to rest without walls around you, aimless wandering, or asking the land a question and being open to the answer, serve to de-centre the human story.
For once examined, or felt, our ecological selves become responsive, expansive and permeable. Inclusive of species, systems and habitats, ecosystems and the biosphere grow within our sense of self. We become sensitised to the specificity of another being, or receptive towards the companionship and animation of the rocks. We remember the aliveness of the earth. The time soon comes for us to blow the conch, and to welcome these human animals back in from their time on the land, for we need their stories – each as precious and vital as that of the snake. A process of re-storying our human relationship with the more-than-human world has begun, allowing wildness to be understood as a field of relations, folding us back into a wider, wilder understanding of our earthly, biotic belonging.
Meeting the Wild was co-facilitated by Rupert Marques and Amy Clarkson at the Eco-Dharma Centre in June 2019.
Meeting the Wild: a Facilitator’s Field Notes