When was the last time you felt wild? Since reading an essay by author and environmentalist, George Monbiot, on this topic, I find myself pondering this question often. In it, he recounts an experience of kayaking in Cardigan Bay in Wales, and the exhilaration felt when a dolphin launched itself over his head. We can probably each recall and an astonishingly unpredictable moment such as this in our own lives. But what Monbiot ultimately concludes is that, as we have become more ‘civilized’ we are having less of these moments—moments when we feel alive and part of something uncontrollable, natural and wild.
In part, we have lost touch with our wild selves because we have lost touch with nature. An often-cited study by the University of Maryland back in the 1990s revealed adults in the U.S. spend some 87 percent of their lives in an enclosed building, and another 6 percent in an enclosed vehicle. That leaves just 7 percent of our time spent outside. Swaddled in metal and concrete with heating and lighting, we forget there is a world out there that we were once part of—a world that is ever-changing and unpredictable, and well, wondrous and free.
At the same time as we have become indoor creatures, we have also become more fearful. Several summers ago I went to play tennis in a local park in New York and was baffled to learn it required a license. Whereas once upon a time our hearts would have raced to hunt for food alongside a lion, risky business today is knocking around a felt green ball on a gated court. And don’t even think about playing barefoot—it’s simply unheard of and way too dangerous.
The problem is, points out Monbiot, that in our “taming” we have lost our sense of wonder, and aliveness, and in doing so we’ve lost what it feels to be free and joyful. It’s something Martha Beck, in her latest book, Diana Herself, touches on, “There is something about allowing ourselves to be wild again that puts us back in touch with our true nature. There is something about moving with instinct rather than reasoning that counterintuitively does not feel more risky—but actually feels more natural and consequently peaceful.”
So maybe it’s time we started doing something wild every day. Here are a few suggestions:
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Do whatever you can to get outside more often, and start noticing that nature is calling to you to join it. Perhaps it’s a breeze on your face, weeds making their way up through the cracks in the sidewalk, a bird overhead, or a glimpse of the moon—even in built-up areas, we can reconnect to nature.
Beck is all about going barefoot. “Our feet are as sensitive as our hands, and yet we armor them nearly all the time,” she points out. When we ditch the shoes and socks, we open ourselves up to getting to know our environment more intimately, and to becoming more fully “present and attentive.”
If you’ve ever been skinny-dipping, you’ll know the joys of having nothing between you and nature. And the great thing is nature doesn’t give a hoot if you’re a size 6 or 16 or if you haven’t shaved your legs for three months. So go for it, find a nude beach or put up a high garden fence and get au naturale.
Get Out There and Dance
In every traditional culture, you’ll find dance. It is a primal expression of being alive, and when we can keep the mind from commenting on our moves, it can be a way to ignite the wildness in our hearts. If you have a highly-critical mind, then shut the blinds, choose music you’d never normally listen to, and let your body do its own thing.
It’s only in doing the things that scare us that we learn that fear is often nothing more than an idea. Whether it’s telling the truth instead of lying to keep the peace or singing loudly enough so the neighbors will hear, or skipping work to go hang-gliding—big or small, every time we do something that scares us we are stepping into the unknown, and reclaiming a little more of our wildness. In doing so, we uncover the simple fact that the wildness is our friend because it makes us feel alive.
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