In each one of us lives, side by side with the surface part, the so-called civilized part of us, the ‘wild’ part, that part that never got tamed, that never submitted itself to language, but is still an integral part of the animal life, of the natural life, of OUR life.
The American Indian called this part of us the ‘totem’. That wild part of us, that ancient, untamed part, is associated with some animal, which becomes the guide in moments of need.
If we take time to listen to that ancient part inside us, this ‘animal’ will come to us in dreams, in secret hints, in unguarded moments, in intuitions, to show its face, its energy, its personality.
That personality, that totem, is often suppressed in our daily ‘civilized’ life, but once we learn to ‘feel’ it and trust it, it will reveal things about ourselves that the surface personality does not know, does not even dream of.
Even though this totem is not ‘physical’, it lives mostly in the chest, in the heart chakra, therefore the American Indian says: ‘Let us look at the world not with our two eyes, but with the one eye that is the heart’.
Most people will go through their entire life without ever being aware of and knowing that wild part, that totem, on a conscious level, though on an unconscious level it is very much present in our daily lives, but, being kind of repressed or ignored, can also create havoc.
This totem, this spirit guide, this ‘animal’, is not something different from us. It is us, at our deepest, most true and unique level. It is the essence of us, the original wild, uncivilized, untamed part of us. The so called civilized part is the part which we acquire during life through a lifelong process of ‘taming’ by society, but it is not our true self, but is the ‘persona’ that we present to the world.
To depart on a journey of discovery of this wild part, this true, unspoiled, pristine part of us is not only a joy, but is also our salvation from the overuse of the brain, from language, from fantasying about life. And eventually it is also the salvation of our home, Planet Earth.
The following article is based on a series of interviews that I have held in different parts of the United States. Truth does not change its essence, it just changes its face.
Rediscover our wildness
We create systems that try to explain something that is basically unexplainable, which is life, the universe. As human beings we have to live in this world, we have to function in this world. Thus we have to create a certain order, a certain structure, in which everyone knows the ‘rules’.
These ‘rules’ differ from country to country, from culture to culture, from language to language, from religious society to religious society. They have been so pounded into us since childhood, brainwashing the child from birth onwards, ‘taming’ him, that we completely forget that these ‘rules’ are entirely arbitrary, manmade, and have nothing to do with that which is ‘out there’.
There is a famous story of a scientist meeting an American Indian, discussing the earth. According to the scientist the earth was a round ball rotating around the sun in space. The Indian was appalled at the ignorance of the scientist. So the scientist asked the Indian what he thought was the earth and ‘where’ it was, at which the Indian answered that everybody sensible knew that the earth was sitting on the back of a giant turtle (hence the name for America: turtle island). So the scientist asked, thinking to be clever, on what the turtle was ‘sitting’, at which the answer was: on the back of another turtle. Ha, thought the scientist, here I have you, and asked what the second turtle was sitting on, at which the Indian shook his head in disbelief and answered: Brother, it is turtles all the way down.
Who is right? Personally I would say: Neither.
The child at birth is ‘wild’, that is, it does not know language, rules, structure. Its brain, its heart, is untouched, uncorrupted . The world in which it is catapulted at birth is the great Unknown.
The word ‘corrupt’ comes from the Latin word ‘corrumpere’, which means to spoil, to destroy, to change for the worse. Hmmm, interesting.
Sounds like ‘le bon sauvage’ of Rousseau. His theory was that the human being originally is a ‘good and peaceful animal’, and that only afterwards he becomes corrupted by society and progress and becomes evil, malicious, full of mischief.
Right from birth the surroundings, the parents, school, society, begin to take this ‘bon sauvage’ and begins to groom it, to mould this raw clay in order to conform to the particular structure and language of that part of the world where it happens to be born, and gradually that ‘wild’ part of us, the bon sauvage, withdraws, but does not disappear. It just goes into hiding, intimidated by the vastness of the ‘corruption’ of society.
The child learns that the world is so or so, solar systems or turtles, and has to accept it since it has nothing to back either theory up. The wild part, the totem, may whimper in the background: Be careful, don’t be so gullible, but the noise surrounding the child is deafening, and forces it to accept the description given to it.
The price that comes with the words that the child learns, that describe and determine its world, is the loss of observation, of innocence, of ‘seeing’.
Again dipping into Latin, the word ‘innocence’ comes from Latin innocentia: harmlessness, from innocēns: doing no harm, from nocēre: to hurt, harm
Let us say I look at a tree. There are two ways of looking. One is looking, and the other one is seeing. They are two entirely diffident things.
By ‘looking’ at the tree I harm the tree.
Because I ‘know’ what it is, I ‘re-cognize’ it. I have seen millions of trees in the past, I know one when I see one.
By ‘re-cognizing’ the tree, which means ‘again knowing’ the tree (from Latin: ‘recognoscere’ recall to mind, know again (re- “again” + cognoscere “to get to know), in reality I do not see the actual tree in front of me, as I am busy dipping into my memory of all the trees I have seen in the past, of naming it a tree, of ‘liking’ it or ‘not liking’ it..
So the poor tree is left by itself, in all its glory, without an observer, while I am naming it and comparing it to other trees I have seen in the past.
We do the same to people, to everything. We never see the person as he/she is AT THIS MOMENT. We only see the memory of that person, the accumulated ideas that we have about that person, the like or dislike, the friend or foe.
‘Panta Rhei’ in ancient Greek means ‘everything flows’. The term is known as part of the philosophy of Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher of the late 6th century BC. He said “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” We and everything else are in Constant Motion.
With this Heraclitus means that we can never have the same experience twice, as everything is subject to continuous and relentless mutation, changing, flowing, flowing, on and on …..
What has it to do with the tree? The tree in front of me I HAVE NEVER SEEN in my life before. Impossible. The tree, from millisecond to millisecond changes, a leaf turns this way, a branch moves, NOTHING IS STAYING THE WAY IT IS: pantha rhei, but by thinking about it, naming it, seeing my memory, I DO NOT ‘SEE’ THE TREE AS IT IS NOW, AS IT IS UNFOLDING….
That is what we call ‘looking’. Looking is ‘killing’ the tree with our memories, our idea, our likes and dislikes..
Another way is ‘seeing’.
Carlos Castaneda spent years learning how to ‘see’, and not to just look at things.
And on the other side of the globe we have Suzuki, who urged his students to have ‘zen mind – beginner mind-
The beginner mind is the mind that has never seen the object in front of it before. It is the eye of the bone sauvage, unspoiled and ‘uncorrupted’ by education and society, free of memory and judgment.
‘Seeing’ is when you look at something AND DO NOT RECOGNIZE IT, do not compare it to something you have seen in the past. Which does not mean that your mind is a blank. On the contrary, it is extremely alive, aware, paying total attention to what is in front, but without spoiling it, without comparing it with something else, without corrupting it.
My favourite Buddhist story is when one day the Buddha was supposed to give a sermon. Hundreds of people were gathered from all parts. Before he started to talk, a small bird alighted on a branch above his head and began to sing its heart out. The Buddha listened carefully, enrapt in the sound. Finally the bird flew away, at which the Buddha got up, gathered his begging bowl and said: ‘Well folks, the sermon for today is over’. And left.
During the LockDown, when I was at ‘house-arrest’, because of my age (78), when I was not allowed to go out without risking a hefty fine, I spent a lot of time sitting outside in the garden on an old chair, looking at the trees, the animals, listening to the birds in the trees.
No thoughts, no feelings, just life flowing in front of me in its endless and relentless ‘pantha rhei’, no obstruction between the observer (me) and this endless flow, change, life on its path to what, to where, to when? I did not know.
On its way to no-where, to no-time, no-when, to no-why the wildness inside me merging with the wildness outside…
“Far back, far back in our dark soul, the horse prances..”