“I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” ~ Joseph Campbell
Memories of my childhood bodysurfing come back to me in salt and sun-drenched sensations: fingertips shriveled and unfamiliar, lips parched and plump from salt, skin just starting to divulge its burntness.
In my hours and hours spent bobbing in the Atlantic, I learned to anticipate the rhythm of the ocean’s movements, the long periods of rest and waiting, and the split-second intuition needed to catch a long ride. And if a wave carried me all the way in, there was always the repetitive walk back into the surf, a proving of my strength and ability to stay upright against the obstinate, incoming waves. Standing in those shifting waters with the afternoon light slipping and shimmering off the many roaming peaks, I felt submerged in some kind of mystical awe.
Lately, I have been visiting the ocean again, but mostly in my dreams. These waves are darker and more powerful, their black color contrasted against ribbons of white froth and vigorous swirling. I am taken in these waters—never drowned, but lifted in great ups and downs, heaved and moved with an otherworldly force. When I awaken, I am somehow not surprised at how my sleep state mirrors the intensity and overwhelm of my waking life.
A quickening has taken hold of all of our lives, as if we have stepped onto a slipstream of electrical impulse and acceleration. On an everyday level, we feel this with the tremendous surge of information and technology—our brains and bodies desperately trying to swallow and digest tidal waves of stimulation. Noise and light pollution subtly invade even the most remote places—the bottom of the ocean and the outermost atmosphere—with a constant sense of urgency. Even in the stillest of moments when I am alone in the forest, I feel the press of our human proceedings: the airplanes overhead, the distant rush of a main road, the restless whir of our doings.
This buzz brings my awareness to the fact that we modern humans are agreeing to some very strange unconscious contracts with our world.
We participate in a healthcare system that operates on the commercialization of sickness versus prevention and actual health.
Business is the god we worship, more holy and almighty than thunder, the milky way, or a newborn baby’s heartbeat.
Big box stores sell us cheap stuff, cheap food, cheap meat, while bright lights and cheery music distract us from the question of how it all got so cheap.
Highrises push upward, while the monochromatic ‘burbs sprawl outward, ever moving us from our source.
Lawns and lawns of blue-green have become the best we can do for feral beauty.
Somehow we fail to see how these predictable yet soulless places reflect our own empty, stuck, alienated inner states. It is this quiet resignation and the journey back to aliveness that I am most interested in.
We have stopped feeling the acuteness of what we are missing, and the further distanced we are from our instincts and need for wild spaces (both inner and outer), the more unconscious and far away they become.
Our longing for safety, security, and comfort is reflected in these wasteland places. Hiding out from the bloody viscera of life, anesthetized and ever-busy, we keep our wantings safe and easily attainable, our desires politely tame. But these safe wantings cut us off from full engagement, keeping our lives like ovens set on warm.
Our overwhelming suffering and discontent is ultimately based in unmet cravings for wilderness, mystery, and meaningful participation with the world. Somewhere deep inside, we remember that we long to submerge ourselves in the flow of all life.
The natural world is always available to show us how to access our life force. With devoted attention, we find that respect, reciprocity, gratitude, and a sense of belonging are gateways to connecting. With keener listening we discover that the stars have been waiting lifetimes to make contact. The trees reach for us when we are not looking. The wrens turn on their branches to educate us in their language of radiance.
Go to the places and do the things that make you feel this aliveness. Not to consume in a way that convinces you that you always need more, gobbling experiences down into the empty pit of yourself, but in a way that fills you up with a richness, fed by the wonder and wild jubilation of your own fragile humanness.
Do not expect smoother, calmer seas ahead. On some level this is what we may always be hoping for. In these swells of agitated emotions and despair, we may be tempted to duck our heads or try to float or even sink. But these stirring, changing times that we are living in are meant to cleanse, dismantle, and deconstruct our broken ways. Our hearts are meant to be caught by the ever present, urgent question of how we should really live.
We find our answer in the hushed holiness of fresh snow; in the depths of a bird nest-filled thicket; along mossy, forested paths; and in the luminosity of morning waves. The resilience and richness of these places reminds us that our own wild places must be contacted on a regular basis. Seeking out our aliveness, we start to notice everything else that is alive around us, and we long to live in a way that honors our place within the sacred continuance.
With less automatic judgement we can see these waves we are riding as neither good nor bad, but like beings that contain a life force of their own. We can rise with these ocean waves and absorb their power.
Returning to the natural world means having all of our senses on. The froth and the swirl and the mess of these times asks us to work with what is directly in front of us. Maybe we will be cold, teeth chattering, wind-blown, but also awestruck, clear-headed, and grateful to feel something more than a dull indifference.
Let us be taken by the storm of these times, allowing the flow of this intensity to move through us, wash us, and change us for good.