“At times you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” - Alan Alda
Of all the ironies, is there any greater than the fact that we work (or at least labour) extremely hard to build a comfortable life only to then discover that this comfort atrophies into debilitating states of depression or numbness? It used to only afflict those at midlife, but with the advent of the quarter-life crisis, we are being provoked to get real earlier than ever before.
We empathise with protagonists such as Frodo. Why on earth would one want to give up the tranquility of the shire, to enter the dangerous unknown - replete with orcs, wraiths, giant spiders and other deadlies? Sure, Bilbo Baggins may feel alive while he is reading about dragons and glittering treasure but he is not crazy enough to want to encounter them! While we secretly urge these heroes-in-waiting on as they vacillate over whether or not to leave their ordinary worlds behind, we always do so from the comfort of the cinema or our living rooms.
The fundamental question seems to be whether we merely live vicariously through bold adventurers or use their journeys as an impetus to take our own. After studying mythology Joseph Campbell maintained that “The serpent, the rejected one, is representative of the unconscious deep wherein are hoarded all of the rejected, unadmitted, unrecognized, unknown or undeveloped factors.” Afraid of what our individuating will require, we heartily project our fears until our vision is impaired and all we can see is a dangerous and hostile world.
So perhaps the choice is really no choice at all. Resist doing the extensive excavation work to discover what talents lie dormant within us, or become resigned to the melancholy and lethargy that accompanies denial. That was the picture painted in the opening scene of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. I doubt it would have resonated with so many people had her story gone on to show her repressing her wilder intuition and instead, settling down to have a child, fulfill the role others wanted for her and put her crisis moment down to simply being a rough patch.
A generation ago we responded to the bravery of Robyn Davidson as she abandoned the blandness of a patriarchal suburban existence to traverse the outback and “place herself in the wilderness of her own accord,” as Suzanne Falkiner puts it.
For a more recent tale of an Australian rewilding her life, take a look at Clare Dunn’s, A Year Without Matches. She encompasses the wisdom of indigenous Australians who took to walkabouts as, “A fast from all things familiar that is designed to break the habitual patterns of the mind and allow a deeper knowledge to arise.” Fortunately, she doesn’t have to brave her quest entirely alone. In addition to her mentors, friends and the other courageous souls who join her, she fortuitously happened to pack the ultimate tome on rewilding, Women Who Run With The Wolves.
Whether travelling through the searing heat and dusty wasteland of the outback on a camel, foraging and battling the loneliness of spending a year in the bush, or mixing it up with a year of indulgence, self-discovery and the ordeal of love, rewilding your life is not for the faint-hearted. But all immature insects must pass through a larval stage before entering the chrysalis state in order to emerge as adults. Metamorphosis requires a caterpillar to liquefy and take on an entirely new form. Rewilding, becoming authentic, taking the hero’s journey, it doesn’t matter which analogy you choose; the process is the most radical one of all.
Clare perfectly captures the purging one must go through. While difficult to read about, it is even harder to experience. I once knew a very lucid and intelligent woman who likened her purging to that of a wild animal taking over her body. We would much rather opt for the more sanitised approach of casting our gaze toward the grace and beauty of a butterfly in motion, rather than endure seeing a caterpillar dissolve their entire bodies to become something grander.
Shortcuts... Simply Short-Circuiting
Scott Peck and other thinkers have proclaimed that for most people suffering is the only teacher they know. It is interesting to think that mental illness was all but absent from tribal societies. Equally curious, is the rise of doof culture. Having met people who spoke about the high level of connection they find at such festivals I decided to take a peek. The recipe of a natural bush setting, music, dance, alternative thinkers, beautifully designed and creative sets all augured well for something special. Unfortunately, the drug-fueled haze that characterise these events smacks of people mistaking momentary transcendence for something substantial.
While teaching through the 60‘s era, Joseph Campbell noticed a major drop off in people willing to take their inner journeys. Having found short cuts through drugs, a number of the students argued that they no longer needed to follow their bliss; they merely had to take it in a pill form. Campbell rued having advised people to, follow your bliss, remarking that he wish he’d said, follow your blisters.
Psychiatrist David Hawkins proposed that the reason stimulants are so enticing is that they block out the negative emotional states which pervade weakly developed mindsets, temporarily allowing a person to experience the bliss of the higher states. If that is the case, then it is little wonder that the bulk of people settle for temporarily experiencing elevated states, rather than grow into a more permanent one.
One of the most intriguing responses I encountered came from a young woman who was curious about all this fuss over elevated states. She decided to see how it felt and while she remarked that while it was a wondrous thing, she had no interest in doing it again. Having experienced a higher state artificially, she was determined to spend the rest of her days finding it naturally. Sentiments of a true quester - leaving the herd to find her authentic self. As Joseph Campbell surmised “You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.”
Clare Dunn spoke of solitude as the sledgehammer which restrains the ego long enough to let the soul breathe and be acknowledged. If you are game enough to rewild your work life, you can be sure that you’re in for a tumultuous time. Between now and our upcoming workshop, be challenged to take some time out, think about where you are, where you could be and how ready you are for the demands your unfolding will make on you. Spring is the time of rebirth after all.
Why go through the struggle of metamorphosis? Try reading the stories of Robyn Davidson, Clare Dunn and Elizabeth Gilbert and you can’t help but feel compelled to. This urging to individuate resides in us all. As mentioned in our last workshop, suffering is the ultimate alchemy. Embrace it. Welcome it. And remember what Janet Fitch said: