A Wildroots Column about Feral Living
The subject of a practical rewilding experience is deep and broad, like the diversity of earth-based lifeways, and the ecologies of different parts of the earth. Most of us are still children re-learning how to live as human animals. At our land-project in Southern Appalachia, we largely focus on disentangling ourselves from civilization and learning to rewild ourselves, both physically and emotionally. Since we’ve collaborated before (the Rewilding primer, for example), it made sense for us to continue in this tradition of helping bring a consistent focus on practical rewilding, or “feral praxis” to Green Anarchy, through this new column. There are countless topics that could be addressed in this regular column, much of which we have far less experience with than others, so we hope to draw on the experiences and knowledge of many in future columns. In this way, we are simply facilitating this column. In each issue, we will explore a different aspect of practical and/or personal experiences, pertinent to the particular issue’s theme. If you have any ideas or contributions, please contact us through Green Anarchy or at email@example.com
Going Feral: Escaping our Domestication
To “go feral” is to literally escape from domestication. Having been domesticated, we are trying to unlearn it and live free, but we can never be truly “wild”. We are distinctly different from beings who were born and raised within the web of life, in which no one species dominates, and where reciprocity and organic, self-organization are the norm. However physically free we manage to become from industrialism and mass society, we are psychologically – even subconsciously – influenced by our experience of domestication, and will always carry certain behaviors and perceptions that we developed in our domestication process.
Like neurotic caged circus animals, we pace in front of the bars. As all organisms do under stress, we adapt to our conditions. Interstate to interstate, paycheck to paycheck, headline to headline, we adapt to our surroundings. But we are always living under the condition of stress. If not physically, amidst toxic water, food, medicine, soil and air…then socially, amidst patriarchal programming and its moralism and sexual repression, surplus hoarding, and its armed extension: colonization.
Psychically, “the spectacle” infects our subconscious with the “thingification” of our selves and our daily experiences and interactions. Emotionally, we are left out cold and hungry for love and acceptance from an early age. We learn from observing others’ coping mechanisms, and shield our pain with defensive posturing. Spiritually, our relationships with the circle of life in which we live are mechanized by the dogma of Progress and Industrialism, so that we forget how interconnected we are with all the life forms on the planet.
This desensitization allows us to justify our participation in our own extinction, and it shows up in our disrespect for each other. We dehumanize each other, making assumptions and boiling people down into simplistic categories, to be easily discarded like the “resources” we use up so casually. Social scenes and all their gossip and politicking help us maintain our own, and everyone else’s image, keeping us all under control. We bolster our own defenses against each other whenever possible, competing for approval and status like there’s not enough to go around. This scarcity of approval can be traced back to our childhoods, which so often lacked real physical intimacy and nurturance, or encouragement and acceptance.
As progress marches onward, we fit ourselves into whatever constrictive roles and molds that are offered to us in order to be officially recognized. Our self-domestication reaches new depths, as we surrender our intuition and empathy to the manipulations and rationalizations of our minds.
As we see reflected in the pages of Green Anarchy, the practice of destroying Civilization and reconnecting with life happens on multiple levels, simultaneously. Physical confrontation with the machinery of Civilization, and physical rewilding through earthskills and earth-based lifestyles, are often emphasized as Anti-Civ praxis. But on a personal level, rewilding ourselves emotionally and spiritually also presents a serious challenge to a lifetime of indoctrination, and endless possibilities for self-discovery and heightened self-awareness.
The “false self”
Emotional recovery from Civilization will be a lifelong process for many of us. This is something not to feel discouraged by, but to take comfort and courage in our common experience as domesticated humans going feral. The other options definitely don’t seem too appealing: spend a lifetime in denial, distracted by our own indulgences in materialism, entertainment, and drugs, eventually have a nervous breakdown and/or commit suicide…you know the rest. So here we are, knee-deep in the deconstruction of our “false selves” as Brad Blanton names the enemy of the individual in his book, Radical Honesty.
Civilization’s logic tells us to use our minds to create an image of ourselves to project to the social world around us. This image protects our self from directly experiencing the emotional trauma we live with daily, and keeps others from seeing the self we ourselves are avoiding. Others project their “false selves” to us as well, and together we all support each others’ self-denial.
According to Blanton, “We conceal ourselves because we fear that the pain accompanying the act of self-disclosure will literally destroy us, or fundamentally damage our being in some horrible way. In addition, we fear we may destroy others with our truth-telling.”
We need others to play their roles as well. When emotions or fears are provoked, our minds rush to protect our image of ourselves. Rather than be reminded of the realness and rawness of direct, open interaction, we often avoid personal contact, opting for emails and phone messages instead of getting to the heart of the matter.
Blanton continues, “The ability to ‘get naked’ in front of other people who are still in their roles is important. Coming out from behind our roles permits us to look behind the roles of others. Because we can see more clearly, the threat of other people, posing in their roles, fades. Coming off it, dropping the roles we thought we needed for protection, turns out to be not only safe, but a place of power.”
The unmasking of ourselves starts in our own relationship to ourselves. But often it is through human relationships that we have the opportunity to share and express this self-awareness. We test our comfort levels and courageously push through uncomfortable feelings and insecurities. Sometimes finding this courage leads to greater levels of self-respect and self-worth, the lack of which lie at the root of much of our dissatisfaction with life.
Decivilizing the ways in which we communicate with other humans means discovering ways of interacting that feel direct and real, that achieve mutual empathy, and ultimately that lead to personal growth for everyone involved. As so many new possibilities require, this process also inevitably involves a negation of the habits and behaviors we’ve acquired as coping mechanisms for alienated life. Creating space within relationships and communities for the unfolding of this whole process is essential for mental, emotional and spiritual health. At times, it can be helpful to have loose formats or frameworks, tools and visions for this exploration, and they need to be organic enough to adapt to the variety of contexts in which we live, work and play.
The Talking Circle
“When imbalance arises and there is a need to discuss issues or make decisions, a Talking Circle is often called. At other times a Talking Circle may be held when People feel no more than a general desire to share personal truths. It is a respectful way of sharing that allows every individual’s truth to be spoken, and heard.” –Tamarack Song
Earth based peoples have often used the Talking Circle format for group communication, and it endures today in communities focused on rewilding. One variation is described in Tamarack Song’s new book, Sacred Speech-The Way of Truthspeaking, and practiced at Teaching Drum Outdoor School: Beginning with and ending with a group ritual like hand holding and a moment of silence, a “talking stick” is passed around the circle, beginning with the person who calls the circle. When one is speaking, there are no interruptions. Attentiveness is key, and each speaker must be completely heard. Negative body language or mutterings are considered disrespectful of the format.
When the circle has been completed, the first speaker asks if everyone has spoken their truth. If not, the stick goes around again, and again if needed, until all have felt heard. Anyone may pass the stick without speaking. There is no agenda, though there may be issues suggested at the beginning, and they can be discussed one by one. If all issues aren’t discussed before everyone’s restless, another circle is called for a later date. Consensus may be achieved, or it may not seem desirable or necessary. Rather than trying to “resolve” or “mediate” conflict and controversy, anger and resentment are simply brought to the surface. Communicating these feelings often results in a kind of a disarming of the passive-aggressiveness and hostility that can create tension in communities.
Interestingly, so much of our pent up anger and feelings of resentment come more from not feeling heard by each other than the actual conflicts themselves. Conflicts often arise when someone’s behaviors or actions trigger unexpressed, or unacknowledged feelings in someone else. These feelings are sometimes based on fears or anxieties that have nothing to do with the people involved in the conflict. Getting to the root of these fears, and respectfully expressing them to those with whom you live or work, can change dynamics drastically in one moment.
In Sacred Speech, Tamarack offers the Talking Circle as a way we can practice what he calls “Truthspeaking”. He credits his native teachers with awakening what he considers a lost consciousness common to all humans. Like Blanton’s “radical honesty”, speaking one’s truth is the key to living in the present, and letting go of attachment, judgement, regret, resentment, expectation, and fear: all the psychological neuroses that keep us miserable.
Our culture’s obsession with mental rationalizations for every emotion or sensation, has led us to the brink of insanity. It’s not enough to know this and simply accept the loss of ourselves. What seems like a powerless situation can be remedied by the simple act of reaching through the fog of alienation to vocalize the secrets and fears that we hide behind. Once we realize that we are all recovering from this near self-loss together, we can start to empathize with each other’s behaviors and roles. We can start helping each other escape from the prison of our minds.
“The being within which the mind resides yearns for freedom. The mind resists freedom. Freedom is antithetical to mind…The main thing that can free a person from his or her mind is telling the truth. Telling the truth is always interpreted by the mind as a threat to its security. When people think that who they are is their mind, they feel like they are committing suicide when they start telling the truth. It scares the shit out of them. And they are committing suicide in away. What dies in telling the truth is the false self, the image projection we have presented to the world. All real suicides, where people really died, were the result of a battle between being and mind. In those cases, the mind won.” –Brad Blanton, Radical Honesty
Tamarack Song – Sacred Speech-The Way of Truthspeaking
Brad Blanton – Radical Honesty: How to transform your life by telling the truth
Garfield, Spring and Cahill – Wisdom Circles: A Guide to Self-discovery and community building in small groups