Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Finding The Inner Wilderness

I love the wilderness of Northern Ontario: white birch trees, slender slivers of light amongst dark evergreens; the massive granite shoulders of the precambrian shield; the sound of the loons calling out from lake to lake; what those of us who grew up there call “the bush.” For many years I took people into the wilderness to do solo ceremonies of fasting and prayer- vision quests. I take myself there each summer for restoration of body and soul. For me, the bush hits the reset button on my nervous system, reminds me on a visceral level of how I belong in this world.

But some recent health blips mean I may not be able to go to the wilderness this summer. So, I started wondering about what the wilderness offers me, exploring ways to provide myself with what I need in the city. Of course, it won’t be the same. The quiet vastness of a natural area largely uninhabited and minimally impacted by humans cannot be duplicated in a city of 2.6 million. And yet, it feels like a worthwhile quest- this looking inward for the wilderness that feeds me.

In the wilderness my body lets go in places where I did not know I was holding on. I feel my smallness in a good way, a way that makes it clear to the embodied soul/en-souled body I am just how crazy trying to “hold on” is in a vast reality of constant change. Laying on a sun-warmed rock I become a molecule of an infinite universe and every cell in my body feels, “Home,” on this mother from which I come.

In the city it’s easy to forget that the earth that I touch in the wilderness is here beneath me amidst the asphalt and the concrete. But it is, and all we have built- the skyscrapers and underground garages and subways- is a mico-thin layer on the vastness of the earth beneath us. When I remember this, I pay attention to all the places where my body is touching a surface- feet on floor or in the grass, butt in chair or on the ground, muscle and bones supported by a bed or beach sand- and explore letting go a little more into gravity. With just this gentle prompt my body unwinds, sinks more into the knowledge that wherever I am is here, and here is always on the earth I love.

In the wilderness I expand my ability to be with and be enlivened by the creative chaos around me: new seedlings sprout and are nourished by the decaying bodies of what was alive and now is dead or dying; some seedlings fall where the sunlight is insufficient and shrivel, while others thrive; wind and water and birds and animals unwittingly carry seeds to new locations, creating new possibilities for life and death.

Writing here in the city, I feel how the past is compost for the seeds of new stories, new ways of seeing. Some seedlings will remain in the “Unused bits” file on my desktop while others find their way into published work. The wilderness teaches me to allow and embrace the chaos necessary for both creative work and new growth in an old forest. Remembering this, I let go of trying to “organize” material that is still forming, shy away from the temptation to pretend to know where the writing will take me, what the book will be. An oak cannot be foreseen by simply looking at the acorn.

And still there is something else. The “wild” in wilderness- like the knowledge of belonging and the power of creative chaos- lives in me. It is what is untamed and uncensored, what is free from considerations about how I might be seen or heard (or read by) others. In other years, when I spent weeks alone in the bush in the summer, I forgot about how I looked, was surprised to see my sun-browned skin and bright eyes in the rear-view mirror of my car when I drove out to get supplies. I slept when I was tired and rose when I awoke- sometimes to view the moon shining on still water

It’s not always easy to find our natural rhythm in the city. And yet, the animal-self that has not lost contact with body-wisdom speaks to me. When I rise early and drop down into the pre-dawn hour, I find the end of a thread that guides me to eat and sleep and move and be still according to an internal rhythm that is older than electric lights and the sounds of traffic.

I will go to the wilderness again, when I am able. But I will not abandon the wilderness within me, even here in the city. I set aside time- days, weeks- to follow no schedule but the one my body and the impulse to write set. I cover my walls with the images and stories that come to me from dreams and daylight, writing amidst the delightful debris as I would on the shore of a lake, without trying to “tidy” or “organize” growth around me.

This summer, I rise before dawn while the city sleeps, greeting the pale light and birdsong that announce a new day. I stand on my small balcony and let the smoke of burning smudge- cedar, sage, sweet grass and lavender- remind me of ancient rituals that recognize the earth and call on the spirits of water, air, earth and fire. I put my hands to my heart and bow to the four directions here, amidst tall buildings, from the centre of the wilderness within.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer (c) 2013


  1. Living in a densely populated area and having a longer time out in Nature only at long intervals, I needed to find another kind of contact to the Earth. I found a quick opportunity around midday every day I'm in the office: I have to make just a brisk five minute's walk from the industrial area to a little wood. It is jammed between two noisy freeways and probably the remains of a much bigger forest, but there are trees of different kinds, heights and ages, and grass, bushes and shrubs, and flowers and lots of birds, bees, bumble bees, beetles, ants, butterflies. Sun and shade, puddles after rain, sand in my sandals... I ignore the freeways' noise and listen to the rustle of the leaves. As my break is 30 minutes, I have 20 minutes there and I enjoy every second. It is only when the weather is very inconvenient that I don't go there. It helps me to stay sane in the sometimes quite insane corporate world and I am happy to have it, even under such restricted conditions.

    I wish you a good and accessful approach to enjoy wilderness wherever you are.

    1. Nora, so glad you have a tiny life-sustaining natural place to visit in your weekday- and good for you for going there diligently. I heard a radio report last week about a study that compared a 20 minute walk/break in a non-green environment with one in a green environment (like the one you have close to you.) What they found was that people who went for the green had a 20% higher rate of memory and cognitive function after doing so- it really does nourish the brain and nervous system- no such results for a non-green break. :-)

    2. So my boss should be really happy with my kind of break ;-))

    3. So my boss should be really happy with my kind of break, too! :-)

    4. Absolutely! (Actually if this information was better known it would serve companies well to provide lovely green courtyards and spaces close at hand and to encourage employees to take break in them regularly. :-) )

  2. Just beautiful. And, "I feel how the past is compost for the seeds of new stories" is inspirational. Thank you, Oriah.

  3. Dear Oriah,

    Your naturing, nurturing, words of the wilderness seep quickly into my bones and being, my living center. They inspire images and memories and feelings of my childhood in Montana where I have just return to live after being gone for nearly 50 years.

    I love the "quiet vastness" of which you speak that causes me to immerse myself in thought near West Yellowstone and the mystery that unveils itself along the Madison River, which always captures my heart. The sound of water rushing over the rocks in the stream bed and the glitter of the sun's first rays breaking across the surface like stars dancing on the surface of the water soothes my soul.

    I did have the nurturing and soul soothing of the Tetons for the past ten years living in Jackson Hole Wyoming. The reflections and my being resonate on a different frequency here in Montana. I think you know what I mean.

    Sometimes, or at least briefly, I forget the feel of the earth beneath me and its vastness of which you speak, but part of me knows that I must return soon and wrap the arms of Mother Nature around me to survive well.

    Yes,Oriah, our internal rhythm is always there, but I can hear it and feel it more easily when I step into the wilderness.

    The wilderness has a way of creating simple order in our chaotic worlds. I will venture again in a week along the Gallatin River and down to West Yellowstone for a little while of renewal.

    Thank you for your words that reconnected me this morning with my spirit and the wilderness within and the memories without.

    Blessings to you on this day of new miracles.


  4. Dear Oriah, your words, sense of wonder and reverence move me so, thank you. I am moved to write to you with my prayers for your "Health Blips" and Wellbeing. My body wisdom has taught me, sometimes harshly, how to fully embrace wonder, gratitude and appreciation. How the miracle of my life and my body sometimes is swallowed in "the doing" until I learned that when the teachings require immediate and compelling acknowledgement from me, the answer is "yes", always "yes" rather than not now, not me, why...oh and to ask for the teachings to come gently, gently, I am willing and available to listen. Thank you Oriah for the great gifts you bring to the world. Teresa

    1. Teresa, ah yes- may the bodywisdom lessons come gently :-)

  5. Dear Oriah, I appreciate the way you wrote about acceptance and letting it be (another form of gentleness) in The Call, Discovering Why You Are Here, I am including it below,“...All the way home I kept thinking about the phrase let it be and how much less confusing I find it than being advised to let go. Letting go sounds like something we have to do. There have been a thousand times in my life when I have been clear that what I need to do was surrender, to let go. And I couldn’t do it no matter how hard I tried or prayed or declared my intention to do so. I thought it was an act of the will, something I could do, and I didn’t know how. Only now do I understand that letting go, surrendering to what is, is a kind of not-doing, a stopping, letting things be. When I surrender I stop doing something I am already doing. I stop resisting what is. I stop following thoughts and feelings and sensations into unconscious doing aimed at fulfilling the desire to make things different than the way they are. And in the space created by this stopping, if I am present, an experience of what I am and why I am here fills me. The phrase let it be reminds me that I cannot change what has happened by pulling away from grief and fear, cannot erase what is by refusing to be with it, can only let things be as they are and in this stopping provide an opening where the action that flows from the center of my being can find me...” Thank you Oriah for your inspiration, your words stir an uprising to lift and lighten, I believe that "Health Blips" provide us with an open door to examine our barriers, as Rumi stated: "Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it." ~Rumi
    Sending good wishes for your wellbeingness, thank you for the gift you are in the world, Teresa (PS) I appreciate the power of the postings that honour your site.

  6. Dear Oriah, thank you for this meditation on becoming One with the wilderness within us. And thank you, too, for the following line: "I feel my smallness in a good way, a way that makes it clear to the embodied soul/en-souled body I am just how crazy trying to “hold on” is in a vast reality of constant change." Recently a counselor who is able to get in touch with auras and chakras said that the lesson I'd come to learn in this life was to let go. I needed to look at the mega way I "hold on." And so that is where my heart and mind is now--attempting to recognize how I "hold on . . . in a vast reality of constant change." Peace.