On the Art of Wildness

The more I contemplate issues of purpose and meaning—and have contemplated them historically, as finding meaning was the quest that brought this blog into being—the more I seem to move definitively toward purposelessness. That is, the more I begin to understand that it’s the need for such a quest that’s the problem. And that struggling with feelings of purposelessness and meaninglessness represent a kind of collective soul sickness. An impoverishment of the spirit that affects all of us, I think, at some point in our lives. 

But it really wasn’t until last weekend, as I was perched on a mountaintop immersing myself in the most extraordinary stillness, that I experienced what I would call a definitive shift in consciousness regarding these matters. I realized that as long as I am engaged in the practice (because I think today, more than ever, it must be a conscious practice) of being fully human, the need to make meaning disappears. That when I live deliberately and exercise all of my human capacities, even—and especially—the most rudimentary, the moments of my life become intrinsically full. I am then at one with nature and with my nature and no longer need to be weighed down by issues of meaning. I remember that I am wild, and the incessant need for purpose and meaning disappears. 

It’s a funny thing, really, the way this recognition of my own wildness came about. As, in hindsight, it seems like a brand of awareness I’d been circumventing for months. But it is, to be sure, one thing to acknowledge one’s own animal nature and quite another to embody it. To know it. Beyond cognition. Beyond rationality. Beyond words. It strikes me also that there is a terrific irony embedded in this discovery. With all of the reading I’ve been doing, all of the self-examination and reflection—or, perhaps, in spite of these things—it was nature that taught me this great lesson. Hiking shoes on. Resting on a rock. And sweltering under the Carolina sun. As it usually is. Perhaps we’d all do our souls a little better to commune with natural sources of knowledge, to listen to the stillness, instead of always speaking out of turn.

It occurs to me, too, that this renewed consciousness of my own nature helps me bring together, to my satisfaction, some ideas I’ve been wrestling with on this blog for months. The relationship between creativity and full-humanness, in particular. It’s a phenomenon Maslow calls self-actualizing creativity: the propensity of fully-functioning people to perform everyday tasks creatively. Thoreau, too, talks about this creative faculty, or inheritance, in Walden: 

Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged? – Henry David Thoreau

We become the artists of our lives by emancipating our wildness and learning what it means to use that range of capacities to be responsible for our reality. And, perhaps, take some time to stop and listen to the birds sing. But, I must stop myself here. Because what I’m suggesting, of course, is that we all have a creative inheritance, that creativity is a core part of our nature. In the past, I tended to wince whenever I encountered the sentiment that we are all creative. I’d think, “Well, that’s bullshit.” Then again, I suppose that depends on which limits you choose to place on human creativity. We’re not all painters, musicians, poets, or inventors. And I don’t think we all can be. I also don’t think that the best way to encourage creativity in the average person is to suggest they take up a craft, like painting or writing. Because they might never be able to do it, at least not with enough ease, agility, and adeptness that the experience is enjoyable. 

Do you know what I would say if someone asked me how to enhance, or awaken, their own creativity? If you want to be more creative, do something with your hands. Plant something. Or pick a handful of raspberries straight from the bush and eat them without sanitizing them first. Go the market, buy a chicken, and learn how to butcher it. Pick fresh herbs and eat them. Learn how to season your food with your hands—by instinct. Build a fire. Walk barefoot in the grass. Or strap on a pair of boots and learn what it means to make your way up a mountain or through a forest. Be human. Be physical with the world. If you want to awaken your ability to do everyday activities with the joy, with the lightheartedness of a child—to engage in creative play in all that you do—then you’ve got to learn how to use the abilities you’ve been given. This is the ultimate exercise in human creativity. And it’s something we can all do. And should do. Because this is a form of creative potential we’ve all inherited. And that it’s our distinctly human pleasure to discover. The rest is incidental.

19 responses to “On the Art of Wildness”

  1. Self actualization is the thing.
    Kudos to Maslow … and you for penning
    this deeply thought provoking piece.
    I see the human spirit as a reflection of
    the supreme Creator. Mostly like a broken
    mirror in need of a good dusting. This
    industrialized rat race is, as if by design,
    is dehumanizing.
    True freedom, perhaps, is a prize to be
    fought for? To overcome this present
    stifling darkness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • cheers to Maslow for seeing
      what many still refuse to see
      that a hard won part of freedom
      is emancipating ourselves from
      the prisons of our own perception,
      in which we suffer from a failure
      to recognize—or even risk
      contemplating—ourselves in our
      own reflections
      (its own individual war
      against the machine)

      Thank you for commenting 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. hey! i’ve done all of those things 🙂 i love this post. i think creativity can be widely interpreted & agree that there is a spark of it in everyone. i would love to see people manifest & celebrate their own creativity in a wide variety of ways. i know some do already.
    i like to call myself “feral” as there was an attempt at domestication that happily failed ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! The vast majority of the research I’ve done on creativity always talks about it the same way–as a result of divergent thinking, as related to sensory processing, etc. And there’s this huge part of me that wants to say, “No!” Like there’s this whole other dimension of human creativity that’s being ignored when scientists only study artists or analyze their work. And base their definitions of creativity on that. I really do think we all have the capacity to be creative in certain fundamental (and special) ways, and if we lived in a primitive society (say, where we built our houses with our own hands) it would probably be obvious, the norm, if you will and easier for us to celebrate in our own unique ways…And–full transparency–I only ever “helped” build a fire. 🙂 But I definitely understand that “feral woman” feeling. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can relate to this so much. I’ve been consciously going down the purpose and meaning finding road for a few years now and done masses of reading, including Maslow. But somewhere inside me was a little voice saying ‘does it all have to be this complicated, this arduous?’ Then Taoism came into my thinking which began to simplify these life questions and conflicts, and focused upon nature at the same time. I love nature, I love wilderness, so finding some simple truth immersed in it seems so fitting. I can so relate when you say this at the beginning of your post:

    ‘the more I seem to move definitively toward purposelessness. That is, the more I begin to understand that it’s the need for such a quest that’s the problem. And that struggling with feelings of purposelessness and meaninglessness represent a kind of collective soul sickness. An impoverishment of the spirit that affects all of us, I think, at some point in our lives.”

    This reminds me of some of the content in a book I’m reading, ‘The Importance of Living’ by Lin Yatung, who in 1937 was expressing some fundamentals in this regard, and challenging the ‘quest’ we humans have for life meaning with a quirky humour and a rebellious attitude. How we should be more in tune with our animal nature and our senses and aim to live a simpler life, that is where real happiness resides. It’s an interesting change from the more psychological and complex philosophical writing that I’ve digested, and came at a time when I needed some simplicity in the last two weeks. A feminisit, he is not, but it’s refreshingly different and brings one back to basics. Lovely post and very aligned with where I am at the moment :>)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Lynne! I am intrigued by the book recommendation. “The Importance of Living” sounds like something I’d like to dive into in the very near future. I’ve just started reading Alan Watts’s “Become What You Are” and returned to “Walden,” which always feels like a tremendous breath of fresh air, a reminder to live simply and recall that we are of nature first.

      I have to chuckle because my experience was so much the same. After all the reading I did on “being” and “becoming” and “self-actualizing,” etc. (fascinating, but arduous, to be sure), I, too, was wondering how complicated this whole enterprise was intended to be! I had even taken a break from reading that stuff in favor of some good fiction and rock and roll biographies. Sometimes these realizations come out of nowhere, seemingly. And it’s such an intuitive kind of understanding. The problem really is in the trying. Watts says it perfectly: “The illusion of self-mastery…stands in the way. But it is just when I discover that I cannot surrender that I am surrendered; just when I find that I cannot accept myself that I am accepted. For in reaching this hard rock of the impossible one reaches sincerity, where there can no longer be the masked hide-and-seek of I and Me, “good I” trying to change “bad Me.”

      And I agree that finding an answer like this in nature seems so “right.” We forget that the simple act of being in nature, of looking, listening, and exploring, affords us tremendous opportunities for rejuvenation of the spirit, for connecting with ourselves and the world in new ways. Thank you for commenting! I look forward to following up on the book recommendation.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m liking the sounds of Alan Watts, so he’s on my reading list now! And it’s reassuring to know that you also have been leaning towards simplicity after all the reading you have digested. Lin says searching for added meaning is such a human trait and can hamper our sheer enjoyment of life. Sometimes I wish I was a cat!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am afraid I have been an absent reader for too long, and I feel as if I’ve returned home in this post. What comes to mind are moments of transcendence, as one listens to the stillness, when things fit together on their own and announce it to us. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much! And welcome back. 🙂 I think that’s a perfectly astute description. It was, in fact, a moment of clarity in which my experience of self and world were somehow definitively changed.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow. What could I possibly write?

    “Perhaps we’d all do our souls a little better to commune with natural sources of knowledge, to listen to the stillness, instead of always speaking out of turn.”

    That was the sentence that grabbed me the most. I think what is so incredible about your writing is how you are able to ‘tap in’, and put down into words what others are thinking and feeling. I can only truly speak for myself – but reading others’ comments, it seems others might agree, too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! I am so glad this discussion resonates. I sense this is a topic I’ll be writing on for a while now. And to know that others share this kind of experience is a great reward! 🙂


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