We are an over-stimulated people. All around us the world rushes by, resulting in what Spencer Wells called "the odd combination of isolation and crowding that characterises much of modern life." This condition, not even recognised as anything but 'real,' is far from it. As a society, culture and as individual animals, we are suffering chronically from something identified by Richard Louv as 'Nature Deficit Disorder.' Both the origin and the primary reason for this is due to our basic perception of ourselves as somehow separate from the natural world. This is an illusion. The wild is not outside, it is in your heart.
At the moment, 'wild' is on trend. The marketing and advertising industries have turned their eye to the romantic escape fantasies we all covet. 'Find your wild,' the advert insists, click to buy. As a consequence, half of east London look like Norwegian fishermen and Antarctic explorers. Wild is hot, for all the wrong reasons. The wild you seek is not on some frozen summit, empty ocean or silent plain. The wild is within you. This recognition could be vital to our ongoing survival as a species.
At the dawn of The Anthropocene we have an option and a choice, perhaps the most powerful choice that any living human has ever made. This could be the point at which our children and grandchildren will look back and say: 'they woke up.' Nurturing the part of ourselves that is still wild is to accept our interconnectedness with non-human life. "In the course of the millennia," Jung said, "we have succeeded not only in conquering the wild nature all around us, but in subduing our own wildness." Yet it has not died, it simply sleeps.
I am not condemning wild places. In twenty years of obsession with the ocean, my exposure to nature has been a constant force. Over time, it is recognition of our own wildness that this exposure teaches, and this has nothing to do with escape. It is something that cannot be traded, the only part of us that can hear, as Ikkyu wrote:
"the love letters sent by the wind
And rain, the snow and moon."
Accepting this universal part of ourselves (yes, that's you, everyone) is the key to feeling at home on our planet. As Alan Watts said: "You didn't come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here." Acceptance of our relationship with the world and the wild is not a defeat. It is an incredible homecoming, the gaining of security that inspires confidence, something that cannot be put on a t-shirt, packaged up or ever truly lost - though it clings by a subtle thread.
In challenging this perception, in rejoining these dots, you may hear the "vast pulsing harmony," that Aldo Leopold heard, "its score inscribed on a thousand hills, its note the lives and deaths of plants and animals, its rhythms spanning the seconds and the centuries." In the modern city, this orchestra we forget, although as Daniel Raven-Ellison of GLNP points out, London is 47% green space and we share it with 16,000 species.
John Zerzan put this disconnection thus: "When we removed ourselves from the direct experience of the sensual world through reification, time and language we became less stimulated by our senses. As we immerse ourselves in the world of objectification and abstraction, we see the triumph of the symbols for reality over the reality of experience itself." Think, for a second, about your reality. About who and what you are. There is a great opportunity here. Ecology, rewilding, nature connection - call it what you will. It is the most radical, subversive and beautiful chance.
As the veil lifts, nature becomes what it is: vast and magnificent. "To shut ourselves off from these other voices," David Abram said, "to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence." As children, our senses naturally open to the world, nature is a place of endless magic. It is our child self we have the opportunity to meet, though our society is absolutely structured to scorn, disavow and prevent this. Paul Shepard, in Nature and Madness said that: "Western civilized cultures have largely abandoned the ceremonies of adolescent initiation that affirm the metaphoric, mysterious, and poetic quality of nature, reducing them to aesthetics and amenities." This is old knowledge, hewn in a time when we had no choice but to live close to nature. "Primary cultures," Steven Harper wrote: "have always had ways for people to become "things" outside of themselves. In their rituals and rites of passage, people become the Other: the animals, the plants, or the rocks." The logical extension of this viewpoint comes from Oren Lyons, who said: "What you people call your natural resources, our people call our relatives."
And as we separate from nature, we become increasingly afraid of it. E.O. Wilson identified this biophobia, as he identified the opposite emotion - biophilia, the automatic empathy we feel with other living creatures. Wilson strongly recognised the importance of nurturing the wild part of ourselves: "I will realise the case that to explore and affiliate with life is a deep and complicated process in mental development. To an extent still undervalued in philosophy and religion, our existence depends on this propensity, our spirit is woven with it, hope rises in its currents."
The core of this message is therefore hope. Hope for our world lies in our individual connection. Rabindranath Tagore, who saw unity with nature as the highest stage of human evolution, said that: "We live in the world when we love it." And this is unmistakably about 'we,' about you and I. "If the self were widened and deepened," Arne Naess said, "so that protection of nature was felt and perceived as protection of our very selves." Our diet, our bodies, our brains have emerged from nature. It is in no way an illogical step to therefore infer that our consciousness is nature. This recognition of a connected consciousness offers great hope for our future.
We are without doubt a uniquely powerful element of the natural world and as a consequence we have a unique responsibility, not to mention a universal opportunity. Paul Shepard pointed out that this "is the inherent possession of everyone." The signs of this transition in thought are everywhere. As Carl McDaniel identified: "The ecological revolution is the next big idea in Western culture and has been in the making for more than a century." This countercultural movement could be a definitive point in human evolution that influences society and its impact on the natural world, forever. Nature sleeps within every single one of us, for the moment on the sidelines. It waits, soft as feathers, savage as a bear, begging the question that Mary Oliver posed:
"Tell me, what it is that you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"
Daniel Crockett is a writer. His first book, Wildonomics, is ten social experiments to connect humans with nature.