Opening to Wildness

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Silver Spring, Maryland, Community Online on Thursday Evening
February 4, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all Online on Friday Evening
February 5, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Dear Still Water Friends,

In his essay “Walking, Henry David Thoreau famously wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” People have interpreted the phrase in various ways but, fundamentally, it suggests that there is something deeply meaningful about encountering things that move to their own beat. Wildness refers to the unpredictable and uncontrollable elements of life; “wild” things are “self-willed” and thus operate indifferent to our expectations or wishes. Thoreau experienced wildness most viscerally in the woods. In the woods, trees fall; rocks slide; rainbows appear; and we lose direction as we walk amidst uncharted terrain. Wildness also inhabits society. People do erratic things, crowds act impulsively, and, in general, human events can lead to unforeseen consequences.

For millennia, many people have looked upon wildness as a nuisance or, worse, a danger. It disrupts best laid plans and forces one out of one’s comfort zone. This is why many have long battled against it—trying to circumscribe, tame, or even banish it from their lives. Remarkably, at least for the affluent, we have been amazingly successful. Few of us wrestle with the elements, encounter wild animals, or even deal with the capriciousness of other people as we live in secure houses, under the rule of law, in striking distance of Amazon, and equipped with countless gadgets to make life comfortable and predictable.

Taming wildness has brought genuine gifts. Many of us appreciate living with predictability, security, and ease. But we may also wonder about the costs. As Thoreau suggests, pushing wildness out of our lives can also rob us of something essential.

I struggle with wildness. In my head, I appreciate the idea of navigating uncertainty, difference, and discomfort. I know that I cannot control everything and like to groove, in the abstract, on facing adversity. Moreover, I feel exceptionally alive when I’m in the woods and often get excited when facing unforeseen circumstances. But I have my limits. When it comes to sudden illness, a rattlesnake near our house, bitter cold, or people who act in ways that I find incomprehensible, equanimity and the thrill of uncertainty abandon me. My gut tightens; I brace against the encounter; I find myself down some chattering rabbit hole engulfed by runaway fear or anxiety. I guess I love the wild—but not the too wild.

As meditators, we know wildness. We witness it as future events dash earlier expectations, our minds spin in erratic directions, and the life we imagine ourselves living crashes against rough and tumble reality.

This Thursday and Friday, after our regular sitting practice, we will have the opportunity to reflect on wildness and the ways we respond to it.

  • How do we respond when life refuses to align with our expectations and desires?
  • What happens when we encounter people who have different notions of how life should be lived?
  • Are we missing something in our pampered lives?

You are invited to join us.

Two poems about wildness are below.

Warm wishes,

Paul Wapner

The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

The Dakini Speaks
by Jennifer Welwood.

My friends, let’s grow up.
Let’s stop pretending we don’t know the deal here.
Or if we truly haven’t noticed, let’s wake up and notice.
Look: Everything that can be lost, will be lost.
It’s simple — how could we have missed it for so long?
Let’s grieve our losses fully, like ripe human beings,
But please, let’s not be so shocked by them.
Let’s not act so betrayed,
As though life had broken her secret promise to us.
Impermanence is life’s only promise to us,
And she keeps it with ruthless impeccability.
To a child she seems cruel, but she is only wild,
And her compassion exquisitely precise:
Brilliantly penetrating, luminous with truth,
She strips away the unreal to show us the real.
This is the true ride — let’s give ourselves to it!
Let’s stop making deals for a safe passage:
There isn’t one anyway, and the cost is too high.
We are not children anymore.
The true human adult gives everything for what cannot be lost.
Let’s dance the wild dance of no hope!

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