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The Art of The Wander
For those of us who (through no fault of our own) forgot how
You probably did it naturally as a kid while playing outside. Maybe finding a robin’s egg on the ground lit your body up with knowing. Or putting juicy red yew berries in a mud pie gave your body an unnamable satisfaction. Or climbing a tree and sitting up in her branches doing nothing, gave your body comfort. My guess is that most of us grew up with some awareness of our connection to the natural world, before it was shamed out of us by our culture.
As a young adult, the idea that we are connected to the natural world in primary ways always sounded good. I remember reading the Carlos Castaneda series of books and yearning for a teacher who could teach me how to connect with the natural world and the world of energy more deeply, like Don Juan taught Carlos. The idea that I could connect with the Moon, or the sky, or a mountain, just as deeply as I could connect with a human, was mostly conceptual. It was just an idea.
Over the course of the last couple decades though, this went from being simply a good idea, to being a daily need. Connecting with a bird, or a tree, or the sun as she rises, is not something I think about. It happens in my body, prior to thought. Turns out, the teacher I was yearning for was the natural world.
I’ll admit that training in breathwork, QiGong, and other modalities that link us up with the world of energy that we often unconsciously participate in, has been a necessary set of training wheels for me. I seemed to need it to penetrate the fortress of superiority my mind had built up over a life of “education.” But even more foundational than energy practices is being out in the natural world without agenda.
And here’s where the practice of “The Wander” comes in. This is a name for something I have done everywhere I’ve been in my adult life, something so natural to us as humans that it’s odd to have to give it a name. I first heard it called this by my friends, wilderness guides Jacob and Madison, of Remembering Earth. Perhaps that nomenclature originated with Bill Plotkin of Animas Valley Institute? Or other wilderness guides? I like the name though, for its casual grace.
To Wander is simple. The only rules are to slow down, tune “in” for where your body is guided to go (rather than listening to some idea your mind has about what you “should” be doing,) always introduce yourself to any beings you are drawn to spend time with – like rocks, trees, creeks, spiders, a cloud (for me this happens non-verbally, and through pictures,) feel into consent for engagement (do not assume access to anyone and everyone,) and get quiet enough to listen. Let your body move, perceive, exchange, interact as your body is drawn to move, perceive, exchange, and interact.
I highly recommend regularly setting aside time for Wanders. It might feel conceptual at first. Over time it will be as natural and fulfilling as talking to your grandma.
Yesterday I was walking in the woods and held a question in my heart. As I walked, first a couple distinct, gentle breezes spoke, in quick succession. Then the trees themselves had things to say. This is not figurative. I mean this literally. The trees had messages for me. I can not (and do not want to) imagine life without this ongoing exchange. I did not demand or expect an answer from the natural world – I was just being with them, hanging out, much like I would hang out with a trusted friend. But on this particular evening, the forest chose to help me. At other times, I have helped the forest in specific ways. Always, the forest and I exchange breath – I give them my out breath, and they give me my in breath.
This practice of The Wander is something I wanted to share with you as a precursor to sharing about the Kincentric leadership retreat I just attended. Kincentric ecology predicates itself upon the awareness of the natural world as our kin. To many, this may sound intuitively right on, but if our connection to the natural world is only conceptual, this awareness will not live very deeply.
If you want to participate in the sea change of human awareness that is happening right now, in an effort to hand over a better world to the next generations, getting to know the natural world around you – whether a forest or a dandelion in the sidewalk – is one highly relevant thing you can do. Feeling into what the trees know, what the river proclaims, how the hummingbird connects dots through a field of joy… your decisions will come from a different place. The important part is training yourself beyond the conceptual, to the point where this awareness is a lived, moment-by-moment experience.